The program provides a common core for all environmental engineers, and allows students to tailor the program to their interests.The program provides a common core for all environmental engineers, and allows students to tailor the program to their interests.

Graduate Study
Environmental Engineering & Science
Curriculum & Requirements

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Eligibility and Admission

The program looks for students whose academic preparation and work experience support their development in the environmental area.

Superior students who hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree in environmental engineering, civil engineering, or chemical engineering are eligible for admission to the graduate program without remedial coursework. Superior students with degrees in other engineering disciplines or chemistry, biological sciences, geology, and other scientific disciplines are eligible for admission, but they may be required to take remedial courses that do not confer graduate credit.

The minimum coursework background required for all students is:

  • Full sequence in differential and integral calculus (Math 220, 224, and 230)
  • Differential equations (Math 250)
  • Classical physics (Physics 235-1 and 2)
  • One year of chemistry (Chemistry 101, 102, and 103)
  • Computer programming (Computer Science 110)
  • Fluid mechanics (Mechanical Engineering 241)

The courses in parentheses are given at Northwestern University. They can be used to assess equivalency or can be taken on a remedial basis, thus not for credit.

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Master of Science Requirements

To earn a master of science in civil and environmental engineering with a focus on environmental engineering and science, students must complete the following:

1) Satisfy the University’s residency requirement of three quarters. (A minimum of three units and a maximum of four units constitutes full-time residency for any quarter.)

2) Complete at least 12 graduate-level units in this manner:

  • Complete environmental engineering and science master’s degree core program courses (6 units), plus the CIV_ENV 516 seminar each quarter. Students who have already completed equivalent coursework will not be required to repeat courses at Northwestern.
  • Complete specialization courses (3 units) to be approved by environmental engineering and science faculty.
  • Complete graduate-level elective courses (3 units) to be approved by environmental engineering and science faculty.

Full-time students who do not need remedial courses are able to complete the MS degree coursework in three academic quarters, or nine months. The necessary requirements for remedial courses may extend the program’s duration beyond nine months. In addition, an independent research project may also extend the program’s duration beyond nine months.

The typical MS program does not require an MS thesis, although an independent study project can be arranged at the discretion of the student and a faculty adviser and may produce a written report. At the invitation of the faculty, MS students may prepare an MS thesis and receive thesis-research credit. Normally, thesis research is reserved for the PhD student.

See the curriculum plan for detail.

2023 MS Curriculum Plan

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PhD Requirements

Candidates for the PhD degree may enter the program with a BS or an MS degree. Candidates for the PhD must complete the following requirements:

  • Satisfy The Graduate School’s residency requirement of eight quarters of full‐time registration (defined as registration for a minimum of three units or a maximum of four units during each of the eight quarters).
  • Meet The Graduate School’s requirement for a minimum of nine graduate‐level courses for a letter grade even if entering with an MS degree. Students continuing for the PhD degree after obtaining the MS degree at Northwestern generally are not required to take further courses for a grade, although most do take additional courses because further coursework may be required by your advisor.
  • Complete coursework necessary to prepare for independent research in the student’s research area. The coursework is determined by the student and his or her adviser with advice from the student’s preliminary examination committee.
  • Pass the candidacy exam based on the defense of a short (5 pages) written research proposal. This exam is typically administered in the Fall quarter of the second academic year, just after the student has completed the core courses of the EES program. The next milestone is the defense of a prospectus (full proposal of ~ 15 pages) that takes place after performing one year of full-time research at least.
  • Committees: The candidacy examination committee must be comprised of three environmental engineering and science faculty, excluding the anticipated faculty advisor. The prospectus committee must have a minimum of three members who must be on the environmental engineering and science faculty. We encourage at least one member outside the Department and students may have additional members beyond the minimum. Students will provide a yearly update of their progress to their committee in the form of a meeting, a two‐page summary of progress, and short presentation.
  • Complete a program that provides a mentored teaching experience.
  • All PhD students must give at least one environmental engineering and science seminar prior to their formal defense (typically in the fourth year).
  • Successfully present, defend, and submit a PhD dissertation that constitutes a significant and original research contribution.

Full‐time students typically complete the PhD requirements three to four years after completing the candidacy examination. Since many research fields are interdisciplinary, students usually take a significant number of their courses from areas outside the environmental engineering and science program, such as chemistry, biochemistry, applied mathematics, geology, geotechnics, and chemical engineering.

Dissertation research is carried out under the supervision of the student’s faculty adviser. Selection of faculty advisers takes place during the student’s first year in the PhD program. In some cases, having co‐advisers is desirable to facilitate interdisciplinary research.

PhD Handbook

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Satisfactory Academic Progress

The first element of evaluation is performance in coursework, which is measured both by the student’s grades and individual evaluations by professors. These are discussed in our EES group meetings. Students must maintain a 3.00, but students whose GPA falls below 3.50 are given careful consideration before they are allowed to move on to research.

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  1. A PhD student should be considered for Admission to PhD Candidacy no earlier than the end of the first academic year (3 quarters) and no later than the end of the second academic year. PhD students must have a research advisor who has agreed to supervise their PhD studies before consideration.
  2. For each PhD student, the Program Areas conduct a Qualifying Exam that the student must pass before consideration. The Program Areas are free to choose the form of the Qualifying Exam.
  3. Once a quarter, the Program Areas forward a list of the PhD students to be considered for Admission to PhD Candidacy by the CEE Graduate Committee. The Graduate Committee will review the records of all students, and discuss their research potential, and issue approvals. PhD students will be admitted to PhD Candidacy only upon this final approval by the Graduate Committee.


The prospectus process typically involves development of a written research proposal that will culminate in the dissertation. This research proposal is also typically delivered in oral form to the prospectus committee.

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Dissertation Defense

PhD dissertation research and thesis writing typically takes between three and six years. If a problem arises, students will be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. Students must provide an oral defense of their thesis before their dissertation committee, revise their thesis as advised, and receive the approval of each committee member.