Environmental Sciences and Engineering Graduate Application FAQ

Thank you for considering the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering, a constituent department of the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. We appreciate your interest in our program(s) and your application.

Q: My official GRE/TOEFL scores don’t show in my application – where are they?
A: Please make sure they were sent to the correct code by the Educational Testing Service (ETS): 5816.  If they were and are still not showing after a week or so: did you use a different physical or email address when you sat the GRE?  If so, they won’t pull automatically to your application.  Just send us an email and we will ask the Graduate School to find and manually pull your scores.  Sometimes there can be quite a delay before your scores show, even if your address information matches.  If you supplied unofficial/self-reported scores, this won’t affect the evaluation of your application – but the official scores do need to eventually show if you are admitted.

Q: I noticed that the UNC Graduate School has minimum GRE, TOEFL, and GPA requirements.  I don’t meet one or more of these.  Can I still apply? What are the most important factors in achieving admission?
Yes.  However, admission is very competitive.  You may wish to address any deficiencies in these requirements in your personal statement – for instance, your overall GPA may be low but it increased once you discovered a major you were passionate about, or personal circumstances meant that you could not devote yourself to studying for the GRE.  You will want to emphasize any factors or achievements that counterbalance these deficiencies.

The most important factor in admission to research degrees (MS, MSPH, MPH, PhD) is a willing faculty advisor.  Without that, you will not be admitted.  You are free to get in touch with faculty in advance, but bear in mind that some may not be taking on students in a given semester, or would prefer that you apply before communicating with applicants.

Q: Can I get out of submitting GRE/TOEFL scores?

We can request a waiver of the GRE if you possess a terminal degree (for example, a PhD, JD, MD, DVM).  A regular master’s degree (MS, MA etc.) is not enough.  Regarding TOEFL scores, please note the policy on the Graduate School’s instructions page.  If you have any questions, please get in touch.

Q: Do you have Spring admissions?
Yes.  However, it is usually a very small group, and the majority of students apply for Fall.  Most students who enter in Spring have been in close contact with their prospective advisor well in advance.  We currently do not offer admission to the MSEE or MPH in Spring.

Q: What about the multiple deadlines?
A: The Graduate School sets a deadline in mid-December for applicants who wish to be considered for their merit awards and fellowships.  However, because we nominate people for these awards later in January, you will be considered for this funding even if you wait until mid-January to apply – so don’t panic if you can’t get it in “on time”.

Our final deadline is in early April (in 2016, it will be April 12).  However, it is a very, very good idea to apply as early as you can in the whole process, especially if you are interested in any kind of funding.  Note that you can submit your application without all your recommendation letters and GRE/TOEFL scores having been received (see above).  The application usually opens in September.

Q: I’m still waiting for a recommendation letter/official GRE scores to arrive!  Can I submit?
YES!  You’ve done your part.  We can accept recommendation letters and official scores after the application is submitted.  Note if your reference is having trouble, they can always send their letter to us and we can upload it for them.  Also, it is very helpful if you provide unofficial scores in the space provided in the application (be truthful!), as this helps us start the evaluation process as early as we can.

Q: Why do MPH applicants need to apply using SOPHAS??
SOPHAS is a centralized application service used by schools of public health. In our department (Environmental Sciences and Engineering) we only accept SOPHAS applications for MPH applicants, and if you wish to apply to the MPH you must use SOPHAS.  Once you apply through SOPHAS, you will get an email within a week or so from the UNC Graduate School with instructions on how to proceed with the UNC application.  You will need to pay the UNC application fee as well as the SOPHAS fee.  Without the UNC application, your application will not be considered.

All other applicants (MS, MSPH, MSEE, PhD) should apply directly through the Graduate School.

Q: What about funding? 
A: By applying, you are automatically considered for merit-based funding.  While our final deadline is in early April, apply as early as possible, preferably before January.  The UNC Graduate School sets an early deadline (usually in early-mid December) for Graduate School funding.  However, this is actually a soft deadline and we usually have two or three extra weeks.  This is also a relatively small percentage of the funding on offer, and usually goes to students with especially high GRE scores, exceptional academic records and/or experience.
This also does not include research assistantships, teaching assistantships and the like which are decided by the Department.  If you are admitted, you will be considered for these types of awards as well as smaller, discrete awards administered by the Gillings School of Public Health and the Department.  International applicants are considered for funding along with domestic applicants.
If you have some form of external funding (e.g. an NSF fellowship, or funding from an employer or government), please let us know.

Q: I’d like to visit some time to check the place out.  Do you offer funding for travel?
A: The Gillings School of Global Public Health usually hosts Open Houses in the Fall Semester (for prospective students) and in March (for admitted students); the Department also typically has an Open House in February.  We also welcome ad hoc visits, which may be an especially good option if you live close by.

We sometimes have limited funding available for visits.  You will be contacted if funding is available for you to visit; usually this is if a faculty member is particularly interested in meeting you.  Unfortunately, we do not normally have funding for international applicants to visit – however, if a faculty member is interested in working with you, they may arrange an interview over Skype or telephone.

Q: What should I put in my personal statement? What are you looking for in a student?
A: What do you want to do?  Why?  And why here, at UNC-Chapel Hill?  Be concise, clear, and be specific.  Talk about your personal experiences and background that are relevant to your interests.  Which faculty member(s) do you want to work with?
Don’t write too much – a maximum of two pages is the advice we give students.

Q: You said I needed an advisor to be admitted (for the PhD this is most important; for the MS/MSPH/MPH, less so, and for the MSEE, not important).  Can I get in touch with a faculty member in advance?
A: Certainly.  Some faculty, however, get a lot of emails from prospective students, and may choose not to reply.  Some prefer that you apply, first.  In any case, you should include a resume and make sure any communication you have with them is respectful, concise and only includes relevant information.

Q: Do you have any prerequisites, or preferred majors?
A: We admit a wide variety of students.  However, a solid background in general science and mathematics is typical.  MSEE applicants typically have at least some biology and chemistry as well as an ABET-accredited (or equivalent) engineering degree.

The majority of applicants have backgrounds in environmental sciences and/or engineering, biology, chemistry, or a related major.  If you are wondering about the suitability of your background, please get in touch.  We’ve had majors in subjects like anthropology, music, and computer science before – it depends on what you want to do.

Q: Where can I find information on degree requirements, demographics etc.?
A: At the Gillings Program Search.  Please let us know if you have additional questions.