How to Apply

This is the application process for the Nelson Institute’s graduate degree programs in Environment and Resources or Water Resources Management.


Application materials must be received by these dates.

Environment and Resources

  • December 1 for admission to the following summer session or fall semester
  • October 15 for admission to the following spring semester

Water Resources Management

  • January 15 for admission to the following summer session or fall semester
  • October 15 for admission to the following spring semester

Application Requirements

Applicants to the PhD program must have a post-baccalaureate degree (i.e., MS, MA, JD or MBA), or significant comparable experience. Students who apply without post-baccalaureate credentials or equivalent experience must first apply to the MS program; such students may apply for admission to the PhD program once they have made sufficient progress.

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Application Form

All applicants must complete the UW-Madison Graduate School’s online application form.

Resume or CV

A current resume or CV is submitted online through the Graduate School’s application.

Official Transcripts

Either official or unofficial transcripts for all previous undergraduate and graduate study (international academic records must be in the original language accompanied by an official English translation) need to be uploaded during the application process. Unofficial transcripts will suffice for the purpose of applying. For those who get admitted, they will then need to upload official transcripts upon receiving notification of admission from the UW-Madison Graduate Admissions Office.

Statement of Purpose

The statement of purpose should be 1-2 pages and describe the applicant’s graduate program objectives and career focus. It should:

  • Be as specific as possible
  • Include a description of the problem or issue of primary interest to the applicant
  • Illustrate how the applicant expects to combine various courses or disciplines to achieve the stated objectives.

This statement, a critical test for admission, must reflect a desire to pursue an interdisciplinary course of study and (if applying for a PhD or MS thesis program) an individual research project to prepare for a career in academia or management and use of natural resources.

The Nelson Institute is committed to admitting a diverse student body to help students become inclusive, productive, and involved members of our communities. The admissions committee is expected to apply a holistic approach in reviewing applicants, which gives more dimension and breadth to the application review process.

Applicants are encouraged to share information about how their unique backgrounds and experiences, with respect to the statement of proposed goals and plans, have prepared them for graduate study in the Nelson Institute (e.g. gender, racial/ethnic/cultural heritage, socioeconomic class, age, first-generation college student, geography, historical underrepresentation, multicultural and/or international experience, sexual identity/orientation).

Letters of Recommendation

Three letters of recommendation are required, preferably from people acquainted with the applicant’s academic or professional qualifications. We will accept as many as four letters. Recommenders may write about an applicant’s qualities and character traits such as:

  • Verbal skills (in English)
  • Written skills (in English)
  • Quantitative skills (if applicable)
  • Analytical skills
  • Research skills (if applicable)
  • Collaboration
  • Leadership
  • Creativity
  • Independence
  • Intellectual curiosity
  • Maturity
  • Reliability/dependability
  • Motivation/drive
  • Self-discipline/focus

These letters are submitted online through the Graduate School’s application.

English Proficiency

Every applicant whose native language is not English, or whose undergraduate instruction was not in English, must provide official scores from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), if required.

If you are unsure whether you need to submit English proficiency test scores, please read more about the requirement. Admitted applicants must take an English assessment test upon arrival if their scores are below one of the following:

  • TOEFL (paper-based) below 580
  • TOEFL Internet-based (iBT) below 92
  • IELTS below 7

They must then register for any recommended English as a Second Language (ESL) course(s) in the first semester they are enrolled.

Supplemental Application

The supplemental application, also known as the area of interest and advisor questionnaire, is required for Environment and Resources. It is not applicable to Water Resources Management. The admissions committee likes to see information regarding your area of interest, potential advisors you have contacted, and any faculty members who have agreed to serve as your advisor.

Nobody is admitted to Environment and Resources without acquiring faculty advisor commitment. Prospects can apply to the program without it, but they should keep contacting appropriate faculty in the days and weeks that follow in order to try to obtain advisor support. Water Resources Management does not require faculty advisor commitment in order to be admitted to the program.

Note: International student financial information will be requested by the Graduate School only if the department recommends admission. The Graduate School provides a list of international student expenses.

Additional information can be found on the Graduate School website.

Faculty Advisors

Environment and Resources applicants are encouraged to consult, in advance, faculty members with whom they share research interests. You can browse our faculty profiles to identify potential advisors.

When you find a faculty member whose research overlaps your interests, send them a statement of your interests and goals and attach a curriculum vitae or resume. After you have made initial contact, follow up to determine whether the faculty member can accommodate you and whether any funding might be available.

If you obtain an advisor commitment before submitting your application, include this information in both your statement of purpose and supplemental application. If you acquire the support of a faculty member after having already submitted your application, then please email and inform Jim Miller at so he can follow up with them to verify their commitment.

Environment and Resources MS and PhD

Applicants must obtain faculty advisor commitment to be admitted to this program.

Water Resources Management

Applicants do not need to obtain faculty advisor commitment to be admitted to this program. The program chairperson serves as the initial faculty advisor for those accepted.

Advice for Contacting Professors

When you contact potential faculty advisors, we urge you to consider providing:

  • A few sentences about your research or professional interests
  • A brief explanation of how your interests overlap with theirs
  • Your undergraduate institution and grade-point average
  • Your TOEFL (if appropriate)
  • Your curriculum vitae or resume

Please note that faculty members receive numerous queries from prospective graduate students, so it helps to carefully prepare your email.