As you explore graduate school options, it’s natural to have lots of questions. We created this FAQ to help provide answers to some of the more common questions we receive from prospective students as they explore the graduate programs we offer in the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering (ESE). You’ll find tips and resource links below that we hope will help guide you through your process. If you have additional questions that our FAQ doesn’t answer, please contact ESE Student Services at email@example.com.
APPLICATION AND ADMISSIONS
How do I apply to one of the ESE graduate programs?
Please apply through The Graduate School’s website. From the list of departments, select Environmental Sciences and Engineering (under Public Health). Click the “University’s Required Application Materials” link under the Other Requirements section. Then, click “Graduate School online application,” which will bring you to: https://applynow.unc.edu/apply.
Do I need a specific Bachelor’s Degree to apply to any of the ESE Master’s programs OR to the Doctoral (PhD) program?
- For our Doctoral program, prospective students should hold an undergraduate-level degree in an appropriate science, math or engineering field, or comparable bachelor’s degree with exceptional qualifications.
- For our MS program, students should hold a Bachelor’s degree in an appropriate science, math or engineering field.
- For our MSEE program, application to this program is open to individuals who have completed undergraduate degrees in engineering or physical/natural sciences. Successful applicants typically will have taken calculus through differential equations, inorganic chemistry, and physics with calculus. MSEE students must complete at least one course in biological sciences and one course in probability/statistics prior to enrolling or during the graduate program. Note that taking these courses during the program may extend time to graduation. Students who are interested in conducting research in addition to meeting the basic degree requirements should indicate their research interests in their personal statement. UNC undergraduate programs of study that meet the above requirements include the BSPH with Engineering for Environmental Change, Climate, and Health Minor; the BSPH with Environmental Physics Concentration; and the Applied Sciences and Engineering minor.
Do I have to make contact with a potential faculty mentor before submitting an application?
You are free to contact faculty members before submitting your application, but doing so is not necessary. The discussions between you and potential faculty mentors can take place after we review your application. For students interested in research degrees, we recommend that in your personal statement you indicate clearly the faculty member(s) you’d most like to work with and the research topics you’d be most interested in working on.
How do I email faculty as a prospective graduate student?
Talking to faculty as prospective graduate students can be valuable to gain information on job/assistantship positions, laboratory research, curriculum in the graduate program, and even general mentorship and advising. When reaching out to faculty, the message should be precise yet effective. Faculty are often extremely busy, so it may be unlikely that they are able to read through a very detailed message. Instead, remain brief in your message and choose a subject heading that succinctly details your intentions. The body of the message should include a brief introduction of yourself, your intentions for reaching out, and proposed steps that you would be interested in taking with the faculty member. You can find a list of faculty members and their research areas here.
What general criteria does the ESE Admissions Committee use to review applications for your graduate programs?
Our admissions committee reviews each application in its entirety, considering the following factors:
- Work and other relevant experience
- Research experience
- Statement of purpose
- Letters of recommendation
Prospective graduate students should also review The Graduate School’s admissions criteria, which includes information about minimum GPA and test scores.
What should I include in my personal statement?
Include the following in your personal statement:
- Answer questions requested in the program’s personal statement prompt.
- Clearly define your career goals.
- Demonstrate that you understand what the program offers and demands.
- Provide details of any experience relevant to your program of interest.
- Highlight strengths and experiences that extend beyond your grades and test scores.
For those pursuing a research degree, identify the faculty members and topical areas you’d be most interested in working with.
If you can identify weaknesses in your application, admissions committee members likely will be able to identify them, too. Address weaknesses directly by explaining extenuating circumstances as appropriate or providing evidence that your skill levels are reflected more accurately by some other assessment. These details may be included in your statement of interest.
What makes a personal statement excellent vs average?
An excellent personal statement will describe your career goals and how pursuing a graduate degree in our department will contribute to those goals. We also want to learn how your previous experience and interests align with the faculty you propose to work with and how the skills you developed through academic, work or extracurricular activities are transferrable to what you hope to do at UNC ESE. Finally, describe, using examples from your work, lived and/or other experiences, how your joining our department would be mutually beneficial.
How do I make my application materials competitive?
In addition to your personal statement, our individualized application review process includes reviewing the applicant’s academic performance, previous research and lived experiences, and letters of recommendation. Be sure to provide examples on your resumé/CV or in your personal statement of leadership, dissemination of previous research (at conferences or publications).
Who should write my letters of recommendation?
Recommendations should come from professional or academic sources best qualified to evaluate the applicant’s potential as a graduate student. Choose letter writers who know you well and can describe your strengths and potential. Avoid soliciting letters from family friends, other students or employees you supervise. Click here to see recommendations and similar information for specific programs.
What is the average GPA, IELTS, TOEFL scores for admitted students?
The data found here represents the average GPA and standardized test scores for admitted students to UNC graduate programs. Test scores are only one piece of a completed admission application and are reviewed together with all other submitted materials. The Graduate School at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill encourages applications from all interested students regardless of test scores. More information about IELTS and TOEFL score requirements can be found here. The minimum requirement for GPA can be found here.
How many students are admitted into the ESE graduate program each year?
This number varies year to year and can be dependent on faculty’s current advising load and availability of funding for additional students. In the past, an incoming cohort comprised of master’s and doctoral students consisted of around 30 students.
When will I hear that I’ve been admitted to the program?
The UNC Graduate School notifies students of their admissions decisions, and the timeline varies between each program. The ESE department notifies students on a rolling basis until the application deadline in May.
I’m interested in the Environment, Climate and Health concentration of the Master of Public Health (MPH) program. Does the MPH program have a different application process than the other ESE graduate programs?
Yes. Students need to complete two applications when applying for the MPH program. You can find more information about the different ECH concentration here.
What is SOPHAS?
SOPHAS (the Schools of Public Health Application System) is a centralized application system that allows you to apply to multiple public health institutions using one application. If you are applying to a SOPHAS program, please start the process early. Official transcripts, test scores, letters of recommendation, and statements of purpose all go through SOPHAS.
What is the difference between the December and February application deadlines for the MPH program?
Applicants wishing to be considered for available funding opportunities should submit their SOPHAS application by December 1, 2023 and their UNC supplemental graduate school application by December 12, 2023. If applicants miss the priority funding deadline, the final application deadline for Fall 2024 is February 1, 2024 for the SOPHAS application and February 13, 2024 for the UNC supplemental graduate school application. More information here.
I am submitting my application to the MPH program (Environment, Climate and Health concentration) through SOPHAS. Why am I also expected to apply directly to UNC-Chapel Hill and pay another fee?
At UNC-Chapel Hill, applicants interested in graduate programs apply and are admitted through The UNC Graduate School rather than to specific departments or schools. The UNC Graduate School charges its own application fee. More information here.
If I have questions about the MPH Environment, Climate and Health (ECH) concentration, who do I talk to?
Courtney Woods, Program Director, and Adia Ware, Assistant Director of Academic Advising. You can find their contact information here.
What are some of the key differences between each of the graduate degrees in ESE?
- MPH – For students who are interested in practice and want to solve public health problems in the community. Terminal degree intended for students with STEM exposure or strong interest in health-related areas. Prepares graduates for careers in practice or management in the field of public health with emphasis in environmental sciences and engineering.
- MS – For students with a strong background in the sciences or engineering and who are interested in advanced education or careers in research, practice or management in the field of environmental sciences and engineering. This degree also prepares students to go on to doctoral programs.
- MSEE – For students who have a strong quantitative training and who are interested in advanced education or careers in engineering. Terminal degree intended to prepare students for careers in practice, management, or research in the field of environmental sciences and engineering.
- PhD – For students who have a strong background in the sciences or engineering who are interested in careers in research or where advanced analytical skills are central. Our students go on to work in industry, government, and academia.
How long does it typically take to complete each of the ESE graduate programs?
- MS – 2 years
- Professional degree – 1 year
- Research degree – 2 years
- MPH – 2 years
- PHD – approx. 3-6 years depending on background and scope of project. Five (5) years is common.
How do I make sure that the ESE graduate program is a good fit for me?
If you do your research about the department, look at courses offered, the type of research faculty are conducting, and reach out to faculty and current graduate students, you will gain a good sense of the program and what it has to offer. Consider what you hope to get out of a graduate program, use this FAQ as a guide, and reach out to ESE Student Services with questions as you move through the process.
Which graduate degrees are research focused in ESE?
TUITION, FUNDING & FINANCIAL AID
What is the cost of attendance for Gillings students?
Tuition rates are determined by the North Carolina General Assembly and may not be finalized until late summer each year. Visit the UNC Cashier’s Office website for the most recent tuition and fee information.
Do I have to do something beyond submitting my application to be considered for financial support from UNC?
No. When you submit your application you will be automatically considered for the full range of financial support, including through research assistantships and fellowships offered by ESE, Gillings, and the UNC Graduate School.
What’s the difference between funding and financial aid?
Funding refers to money awarded by the department/concentration. Funding is typically merit based. Financial Aid refers to money awarded based on FAFSA determination. Students who wish to apply for financial aid will need to complete the FAFSA. Usually, financial aid through the FASA programs is considered a loan and needs to be repaid.
What type of funding is available?
Funding may come in the form of scholarships, Graduate Research Assistantships (GRA), Teaching Assistantships (TA), and/or other awards from ESE. Funding varies based on the degree a student is pursuing. The following are types of funding offers students may receive as a graduate student in ESE:
- Non-Service Awards: No work requirement; considered Financial Aid, but unlike the Financial Aid from FAFSA does not have to be repaid. This includes Federal Training Grant fellowships (See more details below).
- For-Service Awards (most common): Students expected to work for pay
- Graduate Student Research Assistantships (GRA) for research responsibilities, often related to your thesis/dissertation work.
- Teaching Assistants (TA) for teaching support for one or two semesters during Academic year (no summer support).
NOTE: Both TA and GRA positions are paid monthly as a paycheck at the end of the month to your checking account (stipend). If the stipend for either a TA or GRA position meets the minimum stipend amount for each semester, tuition & fee, and health insurance (GSHIP) is covered for the months worked, if summer months are not worked, no GSHIP can be awarded, and student must enroll in Student Blue.
- Other For Service Awards (HOURLY SHRA or RA positions): Students work in the capacity of an Hourly Temporary Employee.
- Faculty assigns work and approves hours every two weeks – this could be research or administrative work.
- Paid every two weeks and only for hours entered in the TIMS system, based on hourly wages.
- Does not qualify for tuition and fees, or health insurance (GSHIP).
- Max number of hours per week (not over 40 hours per week, all jobs combined within UNC).
- Training Grants: Stipends provided to students as they receive training in a research setting. Award amounts and criteria vary. Application processes and deadlines vary by department. Typically training grants are categorized as Non-Service Awards.
- Amount paid is set by the training grant based on pay schedule published by NIH (amounts are firm and not negotiable).
- Student qualifies for tuition and fees, and health insurance (GSHIP) while assigned to training grant.
- Students are required to be enrolled full-time. Additional work for pay is permitted for up to 10 hours per week, but such work should enhance rather than detract from your development as a researcher.
- Schoolwide Donor Funded Awards: Privately funded awards, which are used to recruit and retain students and support educational costs. Award amounts and criteria vary.
- Students cannot apply directly. They must be nominated by their department or concentration area during the schoolwide awards cycle which begins in December. Recipients are notified in March via e-mail. Admitted students are asked to accept or decline funding offers no later than the enrollment deposit deadline.
- Schoolwide School Based Tuition (SBT) Public Health Scholarships: Awards funded out of SBT, which are used to recruit and retain students and support educational costs. Only available to MPH and MSEE students. Award amounts and criteria vary. Awards may have a work requirement and cannot be used for student travel. Students cannot apply directly.
For more information about funding opportunities, we encourage students to use the following links:
- Visit Student Job Postings to view available opportunities.
- Visit UNC-CH Financial Aid Outside Scholarships
- Graduate School Funding
- Graduate School Scholarships/Fellowships (e.g., Royster, Dissertation Awards, Weiss, Summer Research Fellowships Programs). Awarded and managed by The Graduate School. May have restrictions or specific stipulations.
- The Grad School has a lot of information here:
- Loans and Financial Aid
Should I ask the faculty member who I want to work with if they could fund me and how many of their current students are funded?
Yes. We encourage students to contact faculty directly to begin a conversation about the availability of funding. Students can reach out to faculty before submitting their application.
Is it appropriate to talk with current graduate students, ESE Student Services, or ENVRSO about my funding questions?
Yes, we encourage students to have these conversations. If you’re not sure where to start, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. You can learn more about ENVRSO, our department student organization here.
When will I be notified of funding?
When incoming students apply to Gillings they are automatically considered for the merit-based funding that we have. The ESE Admissions Committee along with department faculty review applicants on a rolling basis and make admissions and funding decisions. The awarding process for newly admitted students begins in December, and award recipients are typically notified by mid-March.
ESE’s graduate admissions application is open until May, and students who apply closer to or by this deadline will be considered for any available funding. Students are strongly encouraged to apply by the December Graduate School Fellowships deadline, which is December 12, 2023.
Is there funding available for international students?
Teaching assistantships (TA) and graduate research assistantships (GRA), our most common forms of funding, are available to international students. Unfortunately, other forms of funding are often limited for international students. There are no Gillings schoolwide awards for which you can apply for directly at this time. However, prospective students are considered for departmental funding during the admissions process.
- The Gillings Awards and Funding website has been updated with additional resources that are available. Including a student jobsite which advertises assistantship opportunities, and there are links to private scholarship opportunities external to UNC. If you have not already, we would encourage you to visit the Office of Scholarships and Student Aid’s website for international students.
- Please also note that international students with work authorization are permitted to work as student employees on-campus at UNC. There are several steps that all international students must follow before being hired or working as a student employee. International students seeking or accepting employment are responsible for ensuring that employment is considered “on-campus.”
- Visit the International Student Scholar Services (ISSS) for more information.
How do I apply for financial aid?
Once students are admitted, they can begin applying for assistantships across campus. Since the School of Public Health is relatively small, it is wise for admitted students to apply for any assistantships at UNC that are of interest. We include a number of funding opportunities in our ESE Weekly Student Newsletter, which incoming students are added to after they have accepted their offer of admission. Other places to look for jobs include UNC Wellness, Research, Innovation and Global Solutions and the UNC Writing Center.
Here is a link to the UNC Gillings Financial Aid webpage: https://sph.unc.edu/students/financial-aid/
How do I obtain in-state residency?
The UNC Registrar’s Office and NC Residency Determination Service (RDS) would be best able to advise you on how to receive North Carolina Residency for tuition purposes. Please also review the Graduate School’s residency information. You will qualify for in-state tuition once you are classified as a resident by RDS.
Because the ESE department has limited Tuition Remission (out-of-state tuition) dollars, we strongly recommend all out-of-state, non-international students apply for residency (in-state status) after residing in North Carolina for 365 days. International students do not qualify for resident status regardless of years in program. If you are an international student with a funding commitment from the department, you will have remission covered for the length of the funding commitment.
How do I qualify for tuition remission and other benefits?
Visit the Graduate School’s website for more information on the eligibility requirements for tuition and fee coverage. “Tuition remission” is the difference between the tuition for NC residents and the tuition for out-of-state students (i.e., non-resident and international students). Please also reference “How do I obtain in-state residency?” above. More information about residency can be found in our Student Handbooks.
Are dissertation awards available?
We do not have department specific or schoolwide dissertation awards (e.g. fellowships or other awards that provide funding for students to focus primarily on their dissertation) that students can apply for directly. The Graduate School does provide dissertation focused fellowships, which you can learn more about here.
What are the typical award amounts?
Award amounts vary each year based on available department funding, funds received from donors, and other factors. Many students combine funding from a variety of sources including the ESE department, Gillings, UNC Graduate School, UNC Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid, assistantships, employer contributions, etc. to fund their education. Please also see the UNC Graduate School FAQ for more information about stipends.
Is summer aid available?
Summer aid is available through the Office of Scholarships and Student Aid. If your FAFSA is completed by mid-May, you will automatically be considered for summer aid. The summer is considered a part of the prior academic year, so you will need to complete an earlier FAFSA to be considered. Visit the university’s financial aid website for more information.
Are application fee waivers available?
Application fee waivers and information about the requirements are available through UNC’s Graduate School here.
I am a military affiliated student, where can I find information on VA Benefit Payments?
Click here for more information on the process for VA Benefit Payments. If you still have questions after reviewing the information, contact the GI Bill Services Official in the Office of the University Registrar.
I did not complete my FAFSA before the priority deadline. Will I still be considered for aid?
Yes, you will still be considered for aid while the FAFSA is open.
I submitted my admissions application after December, will I still be considered for funding?
You must apply before mid-December to be considered for certain Graduate School merit awards; however, it is still possible to receive other schoolwide and departmental awards or departmental assistantships that are available at the time you submit your application.
Is the Gillings School of Global Public Health accredited?
The Gillings School of Global Public Health is accredited by the Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH), an independent, private, nonprofit corporation recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
If I have additional questions, who should I contact?
- This student affairs link provides a list of contacts for different programs in Gillings.
- This link provides a list of upcoming dates for open houses, webinars, and similar informational events where you can find more information.
- If you have additional general questions, you can contact the ESE Student Services team at email@example.com.
- If you have questions specific to the MPH, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
- For any technical issues with the online application, please email UNCSlateSupport@unc.edu.
What kinds of emergency resources are available for students once they matriculate?
Students have access to lots of resources once they become a UNC graduate student. Below is a short list of some of the most important ones to know about.
- The Carolina Cupboard – Gillings
- Gillings Funding and Financial Aid
- Office of Scholarships and Student Aid
- Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS)
- Dean of Students Office
Can I apply to more than one graduate program in the same cycle?
Yes. However, please note that per The Graduate School, a non-refundable $95.00 application fee is required for each program to which you apply. Application fee waivers and information about the requirements are available through UNC’s Graduate School here.
What’s it like to be a graduate student at Gilling’s and to live in the Chapel Hill area?
Current ESE graduate students are open to speaking to prospective students about their experiences in the ESE program and what it’s like to live in the area. Please contact email@example.com to be connected with a student who can help answer your questions. Current graduate students also participate in our Admitted Graduate Student Day to share their experiences with new admits. This event takes place each Spring semester.
What student lead organizations can I join in ESE, Gillings, UNC ?
There are lots of ways to get involved here at UNC Chapel Hill. Below are just a few of the many opportunities to consider.
- Minority Student Caucus,
- Student Government Association
- International Students and Scholars Services
I’m interested in transferring from another institution to one of your graduate programs. Is that feasible? And if so, how?
All prospective graduate students, including those with previous college credits in related degree programs, must complete an application as a new student. The Director of Graduate Studies in consultation with faculty will determine if the ESE department will accept credits earned at another institution. Such decisions typically are based on a review of course syllabi.
Master’s students (UNC students and non UNC students) may transfer up to 30 percent of the credits required for a degree. Credit transfers must be approved by the UNC program in which you are enrolled and by the UNC Graduate School. Transfer credits are approved by the ESE Director of Graduate Studies.
Contact ESE Student Services
Jennifer Joyce Moore
ESE Academic Coordinator