05 December 2013

Applying for a masters degree in water studies?

An anonymous candidate sent me this useful feedback:
I thought I'd give you an update on my progress with this "Water Masters" application process.

I have finalized my school list to Duke, Yale, Michigan Ann Arbor, and Oxford. From what I have gathered throughout this process, all of the above schools are extremely competitive and the grad cafe website certainly makes it seem as though acceptance rates are lower than I initially imagined they would be.

Some findings:

Duke and Yale refer to themselves as the "Big 2" and share yearly recruiting events that bring in some of the biggest firms hiring environmental studies students. These two schools are investing large amounts of money and actively recruiting professors in order to create various the leading academic program related to water study. Duke's Nicholas School, in particular, has started a "Water Initiative" and recently brough on a new Water Resource Management Director from UNC. When I spoke with Duke, they told me that their curriculum would allow for large amounts of freedom; as I am interested more in large-scale water infrastructure work, I was told that I would be able to manage my coursework to include work on finance and water engineering to counteract my liberal arts undergraduate degree. Yale professors never responded to any of my emails to speak but I ended up applying there anyways because of Duke's praise for the school. I will most likely have to visit Yale in person before I make any decision.

Michigan, on the other hand, is very proud of its Sustainable Systems concentration in which they focus on systems, rather than simply water studies. Interestingly, Michigan claims to have a large percentage of its graduate study body co-enroll with Ann Arbor's business school, which I take to mean it is slightly less environmental science focused and more environmental business focused. While the number of courses geared exclusively towards water study isn't large, I think that this graduate coursework may actually make more career sense as it would allow me to get into water or continue my current work with energy, clean tech, etc.

Oxford, with its Masters in Coursework of Water Science, Policy, and Management, seems to be far more theory-based and its one year length makes me hesitate as to its equivalence with some of the money drain 1-year Masters programs in the US. While I know that UK Masters programs are 1-year in length almost uniformly, I'm still debating the benefits of cost (1-year vs. 2-year) and academic experience that will come in choosing over versus the other. Oxford's release of jobs taken by recent graduates also shows a heavier weight towards policy and environmental research positions.

The other two water programs that I heard receive almost universal praise were UCB and Oregon State. UCB is considered by some to have the strongest environmental science program (despite what Duke and Yale might say) but seems to be very much research/field-work oriented. Oregon State, on the other hand, received praise due to its strong team of professors rather than its academic reputation. These two schools, again though, seemed to be more research focused rather than business focused, which convinced me to leave them out of my final application list.
Do you readers have more information, opinions or experiences to add?


  1. I highly recommend the UC system! Don't overlook UCSB Bren School of Environmental Science and Management. You should talk to the professors there.

  2. Duke's Nicholas School is great, and water resources seems to be one of the main program areas that is being revitalized with new professors, student groups, etc. It's a wonderful program that offers a good amount of flexibility, and I think would serve well for someone interested in water infrastructure. They also emphasize professional and career development.


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