How to Apply

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

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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 can be submitted via the supplemental application.

Official Transcripts

Official 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.

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 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. These letters may be 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), International English Language Testing System (IELTS) or the Michigan English Language Assessment Battery (MELAB), if required.

If you are unsure whether you need to submit English proficiency test scores, please read more about the requirement. An admitted applicant whose TOEFL (paper-based) test score is below 580; TOEFL Internet-based (iBT) test score below 92; IELTS score below 7; or MELAB below 82 must take an English assessment test upon arrival. You must then register for any recommended English as a Second Language (ESL) course(s) in the first semester you are enrolled.

Supplemental Application

The supplemental application (also known as area of interest and advisor questionnaire) is required for Environment and Resources and Water Resources Management. The admissions committees like to see information regarding your area of interest, potential advisors you have contacted, and any faculty members who have agreed to serve as your advisors.

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

All 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 the support of a faculty member before admission, include this information in your application materials. Each program has slightly different requirements for finding an advisor.

Environment and Resources MS and PhD

A faculty advisor must be identified before an applicant is admitted to this program.

Water Resources Management

The admissions committee does not require that applicants identify an advisor before their admission; however, applicants are encouraged to do so.

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.


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

Following Acceptance

After an applicant has been admitted, one hard copy of an official, unopened transcript needs to be submitted to:

Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies
Attn: Graduate Program Admissions
550 N Park St., Room 70 Science Hall
Madison, WI 53706-1491