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Sustainable Development FAQs


Sustainable Development FAQs

  • Applications for the PhD program are due on December 15, 2023.

  • The PhD program generally takes six years to complete. Students are heavily encouraged to complete the program within six years, as funding is not guaranteed past the 6th year.

  • We generally receive about 135 applications per year and enroll 4-6 students per cohort.

  • The students we admit have different academic, professional, and national backgrounds. While there is not one single, ideal profile, the essential common qualities are the ability to do extensive quantitative work and the interest in and commitment to sustainable development work.

    In recent years, students have had backgrounds in subjects including geography, environmental science, civil engineering, economics, chemistry, and physics. Most of them already hold master's degrees, and most of them have professional experience.

  • Students admitted to the program come with a variety of educational and professional backgrounds. While there are no fixed academic requirements for admission, typically successful applicants have the following:

    1. A strong background in natural sciences or engineering, with usually three or more courses in college-level science
    2. Two economics courses, preferably including microeconomics and econometrics
    3. A strong grounding in mathematics, including at least two courses in college-level calculus through multivariate calculus (Calculus III in the US) and at least one college-level course in linear algebra. 

    Candidates who do not have all the prerequisites may be considered at the discretion of the admissions committee.

  • No. Students will have to complete two years of course work, write a master's thesis, and take comprehensive exams before they have to formulate a PhD dissertation proposal. However, you need to have a well-developed idea about what your research interests are.

  • No. SIPA and/or Columbia students will have to apply separately just like everyone else. All applications for the PhD in Sustainable Development go to GSAS admissions.

  • We welcome applications from both professionals and students. Relevant prior professional experience does strengthen the application. We expect that the strongest applicants will have outstanding academic and professional qualifications.

  • The GRE is required.

    Students who are non-native speakers of English must also take the TOEFL or IELTS test. The only exception to this rule is for students who have completed a bachelor's degree at an institution in an English-speaking country. Students who have completed only a master's degree with English as the language of instruction must still submit TOEFL or IELTS scores in support of their application. More information on test scores and other admissions info can be found on the GSAS Admissions' page.

  • No. GRE scores expire after five years. 

    For students with expired GRE scores, who have subsequently enrolled in a graduate-level program at a US institution, expired scores will be accepted. The applicant must upload a personal copy of the official score report to the online application system If GSAS already has the official score report on file, GSAS will append the scores to the application after it has been submitted.

  • Yes. You are free to submit the references that you believe best support your application. Two or more academic references are preferred, and even one reference from a professor who knows your work is helpful, but the committee also recognizes that professionals who have worked for several years may have difficulty obtaining references from their college studies. In such cases, relevant professional references are certainly acceptable. Personal references, e.g., family or friends, are not acceptable.

  • Yes. All admitted students are guaranteed full funding for six years. This includes the cost of tuition as well as a salary and stipend (fall, spring, and summer). More info on salary and stipends can be found on the GSAS Financial Aid page.

  • Yes. Health insurance is covered in full for students and dependents of students in the program.

  • Mostly likely, no. This program has a high component of required core courses (see the curriculum description). Credit for previous graduate work done elsewhere, while very rare, may be granted on a case-by-case basis, at the discretion of the program directors—after students have already been admitted to the program—and cannot exceed a total of 30 credits.

  • No, students will have to complete two years of course work, write a master's thesis, and take comprehensive exams before they have to identify a dissertation supervisor.

  • No. The program is full-time and on campus.