Deciding to enroll in a graduate or professional degree program is one of the most important decisions a student will make in the course of their professional career. However, embarking upon graduate study before knowing what you want to do could be a mistake. If you decide to pursue graduate study, you will be making a major commitment of time and money.  

Students interested in knowing more about graduate school are encouraged to meet with the Environmental Studies Academic Coordinator (Bren 4312B) or Academic Advisor (Bren 4313). Additionally, UCSB Career Services offers students resources on applying and choosing a graduate school. 


Simply put, a post undergraduate education is where one goes to upgrade their knowledge, enhance their skill set, gain research experience, and/or explore and learn new theories. Most elect to pursue graduate opportunities to gain greater financial/earning power, advance a career, or engage in a career change. A graduate education can be acquired by a variety of educational organizations including colleges and universities, technical institutions, and professional certificate programs to name a few. These programs differ form undergraduate education in that they offer greater depth of training with increased specialization, concentration, and intensity of instruction. Study and learning at the graduate level is more self-directed and assumes students are well prepared in the basic elements of their field of study. 

To learn more about the what, when, how, and why of graduate school, check out Career Services amazing Grad School webpage. Here, you can find information about what is grad school, how you should decide if it's the right fit you, how to search for programs, the admissions timeline and process, and more!  


Graduate degrees are available in almost any subject and come in three levels - credential/certificate, master, and doctorate, and two types - academic (research) & professional. 

1. The Master's Degree 

The master's degree is a one to three year program designed to provide additional education or training in the student's specialized branch of knowledge, well beyond the baccalaureate study. Master's degrees are offered in many different fields, but can be best explained by grouping them into two main types of programs -- academic and professional

  • Academic Master's: The master of arts (M.A.) and master of science (M.S.) degrees are usually awarded in the traditional arts, sciences, and humanities discipline. The M.S. can also be given in technical fields, such as engineering and agriculture. 
    • Emphasis on Research and Scholarship: Academic graduate degrees, such as Master of Science (MS), emphasize research, scholarship, and the advancement of knowledge in a specific academic discipline. They are often pursued by individuals interested in careers in research, academia, or specialized fields within their discipline. Original research, research methodology, and field investigation are emphasized. 
    • Research Thesis: Academic graduate programs typically require students to complete a research thesis (for master's degrees). These research projects contribute to the body of knowledge in their respective fields. 
    • Flexible Career Paths: Graduates with academic degrees have a broader range of career options, including teaching at the university level, conducting research in academic or industry, and pursuing leadership roles in various organizations.
    • Interdisciplinary Study: Academic graduate programs often encourage interdisciplinary study and the exploration of diverse research interests within a specific academic discipline. 
    • Workload/Timeline: These programs usually require the completion of between 30 and 60 credit hours and could reasonably be completed in one or two years of full-time study. They may lead directly to the doctoral level. 
  • Professional Master's: These degree programs are usually designed to lead the student from their undergraduate degree to a particular profession. Professional master's degrees are oriented more toward direct application of knowledge than toward original research. Often, professional master's programs conclude with students completing individual or group study projects relevant to their field of studies. Such master's degrees are often designated by specific descriptive titles, such as master of business administration (M.B.A.), master of social work (M.S.W.), etc. 
    • Focus on Practical Skills: Professional graduate degrees are primarily focused on developing practical skills and knowledge needed for specific careers or industries. They are often oriented towards preparing students for professional practice in fields like law, medicine, business, education, and public policy. 
    • Terminal Degrees: In some cases, professional degrees are terminal, meaning they are the highest level of education required for a particular profession. For example, a Juris Doctor (JD) degree is the terminal degree for lawyers, and a Doctor of Medicine (MD) is the terminal degree for medical doctors. 
    • Hand-on Experience: Many professional degrees include hands-on training, internships, clinical rotations, or practicums to ensure that students gain practical experience in their chosen fields. 
    • Specific Career Path: Graduates with professional degrees often enter careers directly related to their field of study. These programs are typically designed to meet the educational requirements for licensure or certification in a particular profession. 

Explore some Common Professional Degrees that ES Majors Pursue!

2. The Doctoral Degree

The Doctoral degree is widely considered the highest degree awarded and requires successful completion of a regimen of coursework and research beyond the master's level. Like master's degrees, it can best be defined by separating it into two categories -- academic/research and professional

  • Academic/Research Track, or the Ph.D. (doctor of philosophy) is the most common doctoral degree awarded in academic disciplines. Doctoral programs involve advanced coursework, seminars, and the writing of a dissertation that describes the student's own original research, completed under the supervision of a faculty advisor(s). Often students who enter the Ph.D. track with just a bachelor's degree automatically complete their academic master's degree as part of their academic doctorate. In such cases, a comprehensive exam is normally given, usually after two to four years of study and completion of all coursework. Successful completion marks the end of the student's coursework, their master's level education, and the beginning of their research/dissertation as required for the Ph.D. Total time spent on an academic doctoral program ranges from 4-7 years. 
    • Dissertation Requirement: Doctoral candidates must complete a substantial dissertation, which represents a significant contribution to their field. 
    • Specialization: Students specialize in a specific area of their field, becoming experts in that subject matter. 
    • Academic Rigor: These programs are academically rigorous, with a focus on research, and often include comprehensive exams. Doctoral students wrk closely with a faculty advisor or supervisor who guides them through their research process, provides mentorship, and offers support. Ph.D. candidates are encouraged to publish their research in academic journals and present their findings at conferences to contribute to the academic discourse. 
    • Versatile Career Path: Graduates are well-prepared for careers in academia, research, industry, and leadership roles in various fields. 
  • Professional Doctorate degrees are awarded primarily in professional fields, such as medicine (M.D.) dentistry (D.D), law (J.D.), veterinary (V.M.), pharmacy (Pharm.D.), education (Ed.D. or doctor of education) and business administration (D.B.A. or doctorate of business administration). Time spent in such disciplines can range from 3 to 6, or more, years beyond an undergraduate degree. They often include in-depth internships or on the job training programs such as residency or clerkships. They may conclude with some form of exit exams that lead to a board certification issued by a state or federal oversight agency. 

3. Credential/Certificate

Credentials/certificates are considered professional types of education and usually are earned by completing a combination of courses, internships, and/or apprenticeship in a specialized area of training. These are often awarded in the form of a license or certificate after passing a professional exam or finishing a minimum number of service hours. These programs are convenient and/or can be required for certain types of professions in business, technology, education, and management. They include certificate programs in computer programming, health services management, or emergency management training (EMT); credentials for primary or secondary level teaching, law enforcement and firefighting; or licenses, such as certified public accountant, civil engineer, boat captain, and stockbroker to name a few. 


This list is only a sample of the various resources available online. Students should do their own research and meet with the Environmental Studies Academic Coordinator or Advisor for further questions. 

Graduate School Directories and Search Engines

Peterson's Grad School Search
Peterson's offers a comprehensive search engine for finding graduate programs, including environmental studies. 
This website provides a database of graduate programs across various fields, including environmental studies. 

Princeton Review Grad Schools Search
Princeton Review's search tool allows you to filter and find graduate programs in environmental studies.
Provides a directory of environmental science programs, which includes graduate programs in environmental studies.
While the name suggests a focus on PhD programs, this portal also includes master's and other graduate-level programs in various disciplines, including environmental studies. 

US News Grad School Search
US News provides rankings and a search tool for graduate programs, including environmental studies.
This website focuses on master's programs worldwide and includes environmental studies programs. 

Graduate Guide
This website is a comprehensive search guide for graduate programs. you can filter to find graduate programs related to environmental studies. 

Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Campus Sustainability Hub
AASHE's hub includes a database of sustainability programs, including graduate options. 

Specific Environmental Interest Directories

Data Science 
This website focuses on graduate programs related to Data Science, including those with an environmental emphasis. 

Geospatial Science and Geographic Information Systems Master’s Degrees
This website focuses on graduate programs related to geospatial sciences and GIS. 

Professional Science Masters Programs
This website provides a comprehensive search guide for students interested in pursuing a professional science master's. 

Law School Search Engine 
This website focuses on helping students find the right law school. 

Environmental Policy Degrees
This website gives an insight on environmental policy degrees, programs, and careers. 

Additional Graduate School Resources

UCSB Graduate Division 

The Gevirtz School of Graduate Education 

College of Letters and Science Advising 

Graduate School Examination Information: