Five-year program at YSE shapes leaders in environmental science
Yale College students interested in pursuing a career in environmental science have the opportunity to complete a master’s degree at the Yale School of the Environment in one year instead of the customary two.
Virginia Peng, Contributing Illustrator
The Yale School of the Environment offers a five-year accelerated master’s program for Yale College students who wish to pursue graduate studies in environmental science.
The five-year Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science-Master’s program at YSE is an opportunity for Yale students to obtain a master’s degree in one year instead of the customary two years, after fulfilling their undergraduate degree. This degree program began 20 years ago. Interested students apply in their senior year of college and are encouraged to take a year or two off to work before returning to Yale to complete their graduate studies. Students can apply for a Masters in Environmental Management, or MEM, or a Masters of Environmental Science, or MESc.
“The ultimate objectives of both YSE and EVST have been to produce the next generation of environmental scientists and leaders who can bring the best available science into the design of evermore effective solutions,” John Wargo GRD ’81, chair of the environmental studies major and program at Yale College told the News.
Applying to the program
Natasha Feshbach ’20 MEM ’23 first heard about the program during her junior year. As an environmental studies major at Yale, she thought that the program would be “too good of an opportunity to pass up.”
Feshbach explained that the transition from undergraduate studies in environmental studies to her fifth year as a part of the MEM program was seamless. Many of the prerequisite classes needed for graduate study in environmental science, such as chemistry and physics, are already included in the undergraduate major.
Dorje Wu ’21 MEM ’23, a current five-year Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science-MEM student, heard about the program from an upperclassman friend during his sophomore year. Wu already knew he wanted to pursue graduate studies, and the five-year program at Yale was an opportunity to fulfill that goal while saving time and money.
“Implicity, I also think I had a desire to apply to the [five-year] program as a way to make up for my ‘lost’ year due to COVID,” Wu wrote in an email to the News.
Like Feshbach, Wu said that the program did not have a major effect on his senior year.
However, he did take a few YSE classes during both semesters of his senior year to bolster his application and show that he was “academically ready for grad school.”
Community at YSE
“There are so many things I enjoy about YSE but the two biggest ones for me are the community and classes,” Wu wrote. “I really liked MODs — YSE’s 3-week long orientation in August for all incoming students. It was a great way to not only bond with other students but also to learn about different environmental topics and to get involved with New Haven … I’ve also really enjoyed classes — of course, there are great professors here but I was surprised how approachable they all are.”
The Yale College alumni who participate in the five-year joint degree program do not form a distinct group within the regular MEM student body at the School of the Environment, said Feshbach. However, she noted that she knew some of her current classmates from her undergraduate studies at Yale.
Wu likened the community at YSE to the undergraduate residential colleges since there are “around 150” students in his cohort.
Undergraduate majors for interested students
Yale College students who are interested in the program do not have to major in environmental studies but should demonstrate how their undergraduate coursework has prepared them for an accelerated course of study at YSE. Specifically, Yale College students who complete eight courses that faculty deem as “substantially equivalent” to graduate courses at YSE are eligible to apply to complete a master’s degree in one year. Wargo added that courses cross-listed between the College and YSE can count towards the eight course requirement.
Students who major in environmental studies as undergraduates pick a concentration within the major, Wargo added. The concentrations are centered around the major themes within environmental science including climate change, renewable energy and urban environments. YSE master’s students can also pick specializations similar to these undergraduate concentrations, thereby allowing interested students to continue working on their undergraduate area of interest.
“Faculty at YSE, then FES, recognized that students who pursued certain majors were especially qualified for the 2-year master’s degree programs, and that some had taken graduate or advanced undergraduate courses that were substantially equivalent [to] some of the requirements of the 2 year Master’s programs,” Wargo wrote in an email to the News.
The most common majors of applicants other than environmental studies include ecology and evolutionary biology, earth and planetary sciences, economics, political science and anthropology, according to Wargo.
Interested students can also pursue double majors with environmental science and economics, earth and planetary science or ecology and evolutionary biology during their undergraduate careers.
“YSE faculty have been especially interested in students who wish to build on their Yale College senior research projects while in graduate school,” Wargo wrote. “This could be supported by field or laboratory research, or computer modeling of complex systems needed to understand environmental problems. Other students master computer-based spatial analyses to study pollution distributions, health disparities, ecological change over time, and patterns of urban growth.”
Gap year requirement and professional development
Normally, the program requires admitted students to spend one or two years working before coming back to Yale to finish their degree. Wargo explained that the break between undergraduate and graduate studies allows students to come into the master’s program with a clear idea of their specialization and career pathway. Yale College alumni can also apply to the five-year program up to two years after graduating.
Feshbach also lauded the resources at the School of the Environment as a major attribute of the program. She said there are a variety of resources available to students pursuing careers in environmental fields and many opportunities for professional development.
“I’m in a really cool class called ‘Social Justice in the Global Food System,’” Feshbach said. “The whole class is a partnership with the city of New Haven.”
The students in the class work together on projects and partner with community food organizations in New Haven to explore inequalities in food access. The class combines both theory and practice by encouraging students to apply theoretical knowledge and frameworks to their real-world projects.
Although environmental studies is a relatively new and non-traditional career path, the career resources at YSE ensure that students are prepared to construct their own paths and support students through their educational and professional journey, Feshbach said.
The School of the Environment also offers joint degrees with the Yale Law School, the Jackson School of Global Affairs and the School of Management, among others.