Natural Resources & Environmental Sciences, MS

for the degree of Master of Science in Natural Resources & Environmental Sciences(on campus & online)

department head: Robert Schooley

director of graduate programs: Jeffrey Matthews

department website: 

department faculty:

overview of college admissions & requirements:

online program admissions:

overview of grad college admissions & requirements:

college website:

department office: W-503 Turner Hall, 1102 South Goodwin Avenue, Urbana, IL 61801

phone: (217) 333-2770

fax: (217) 244-3219


Graduate Degree Programs in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences

Graduate Majors:

Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, MS (on-campus & online)

Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, PhD

Joint Degree Program:

Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, MS and Law, JD

The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences is a broad and diverse department offering flexible M.S. and Ph.D. degrees. The mission of the department is to establish and implement research and educational programs that enhance environmental stewardship in the management and use of natural, agricultural, and urban systems in a socially responsible manner. The department is composed of approximately 24 faculty, 60 affiliates, and 160 graduate students. Offering education and research in a variety of disciplines, the department provides a systems-level perspective that few other departments can offer. Further illustrating the breadth of natural resources and environmental sciences, research areas include but are not limited to:

  • agronomy/agroecology
  • aquatic chemistry
  • conservation ecology
  • ecosystem science
  • environmental education
  • fish and wildlife ecology and management
  • forest ecology
  • humans dimensions of the environment
  • landscape ecology
  • microbial ecology
  • natural resource economics
  • natural resource policy
  • plant ecology
  • physiology and genetics
  • restoration ecology
  • quantitative and spatial analysis
  • soil science and conservation
  • sustainability


NRES graduate advisers are seeking students with strong letters of reference, evident motivation to undertake graduate study, relevant experience, and good preparation in prerequisite courses. Graduate applicants must have an undergraduate grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 (A = 4.0) calculated on the last 2 years of undergraduate coursework to be admitted with full status. Ph.D. applicants must have earned an M.S. (or expect to be awarded the degree before beginning the NRES program) with a grade point average of at least 3.5. Applicants should have adequate preparation in the fundamental sciences and courses appropriate to their proposed field of study (applicants should talk with prospective advisers about the background they expect). Those without the necessary prerequisites may be accepted conditionally, and the undergraduate courses must be completed before the degree will be awarded. The Graduate Record Examination (GRE) is required of all students applying to the campus M.S. or Ph.D. program. There is no minimum score for admission, and the results will be examined along with GPA, letters of recommendation, statement of purpose, research experience, and other information in the application package. However, successful applicants typically have a combined quantitative/verbal/analytical GRE percentile of at least 70%. Students whose native language is not English are required to submit the results of the TOEFL or IELTS as evidence of English proficiency.  Official scores are required to be submitted directly from TOEFL/ETS or IELTS to the University.  Minimum English test scores and other information for international applicants can be found at: Applicants who are not U.S. citizens must also submit evidence that they have sufficient financial support for their program of study. Prospective graduate students are urged to apply for admission to the degree program as early as possible, preferably six to ten months before the beginning of the semester in which they expect to enroll. Prospective students must review important application information available a Applicants to the campus programs wishing to be considered for a university-level fellowship must apply for admission to the fall semester by December 15th, and, to be considered for any college or departmental funding, the application deadline is January 1st.

Graduate Teaching Experience

Although teaching is not a Graduate College requirement, experience in teaching is considered an important part of this graduate program, particularly for Ph.D. students.

Faculty Research Interests

Graduate degree programs in NRES are informed by the major areas of faculty research, which include:

  • agronomy/agroecology
  • conservation ecology
  • ecosystem science
  • fish and wildlife ecology and management
  • forest ecology
  • global environmental change
  • human dimensions of natural resources and ecology
  • landscape ecology
  • microbial ecosystems
  • natural resource policy
  • plant ecology
  • physiology and genetics
  • quantitative and spatial methods
  • restoration ecology
  • soil science and conservation
  • sustainability
  • water/biogeochemistry
  • wetland ecology

Students in NRES can participate in affiliated programs like those listed below.

Program in Environmental and Resource Economics: Students involved in the program in Environmental and Resource Economics (pERE) explore the complex relationships between natural resource allocation, environmental quality and economic prosperity. Students and faculty from five other University departments in addition to NRES are using economics to analyze policy toward some of today's most critical environmental and natural resource issues.

Human Dimensions of Environmental Systems: NRES graduate students may participate in HDES, an interdisciplinary program comprised of faculty from six colleges at Illinois. Participants are united in the study of connections between humans and the environment. The program is built on the premise that the best insights are not limited to the domain of a single discipline and is interdisciplinary in all its pursuits.

Financial Aid

Several sources of financial aid are available within the department:

  • research assistantships, supported by federal and grant funds made available to the natural resources and environmental sciences faculty
  • teaching assistantships
  • departmental fellowships
  • University fellowships
  • College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences Jonathan Baldwin Turner Fellowships
  • waivers of tuition and fees

Most NRES graduate students with financial support have a research assistantship provided by the adviser. Appointments as research and teaching assistants and fellows provide a stipend and waive tuition and some fees.

Financial aid is granted on a competitive basis. Applicants are judged for academic potential based on past performance, experience, motivation, dedication to the designated area of interest and, where applicable, the potential to satisfy the objectives of a donor. Fellowships have minimum GPA and GRE score requirements. Information about the current availability of financial aid can be obtained from the graduate coordinator or, in the case of research assistantships, directly from faculty members working in the area of interest.

for the Master of Science in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences (on campus & online)

Two options are open to students who wish to pursue a Master of Science degree in the Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences. The M.S. Thesis Option program helps students develop into researchers. Coursework is no longer the primary focus, and students learn how to create, plan, and carry out independent research. The M.S. Non-Thesis Option program guides students in the acquisition of professional expertise beyond the undergraduate degree. The program requires a culminating/capstone experience, which may be satisfied in one of three ways: an individual investigative project, a collaborative, possibly interdisciplinary, group project, or a professional internship experience. The Non-Thesis Option may also be appropriate in special cases where a student executes a major special project which is equivalent to a M.S. thesis, but which does not lend itself to the thesis format. Students on campus are admitted into the thesis option and, under certain conditions, may be allowed to transfer into the non-thesis option by petitioning the Department. In contrast, all students in the online M.S. program are admitted into the non-thesis option and, under certain conditions, may be allowed to transfer into the thesis option by petitioning the Department.

The thesis option requires that the student satisfactorily complete a minimum of 32 hours of graduate coursework, of which a minimum of 12 graduate hours are 500- level courses. This coursework shall include NRES Seminar (500) each semester, minus one, that the student is enrolled, Professional Orientation (594) and 4 to 12 graduate hours of Thesis Research (599), which culminates in the completion and oral defense of a thesis.

A non-thesis option student must satisfactorily complete a minimum of 32 hours of graduate coursework, of which a minimum of 12 graduate hours are 500- level courses, Professional Orientation (594), and 3 to 8 hours of capstone experience in the form of a Capstone Research Project (503), Capstone Internship Experience (505), or Capstone Group Research Project (507). The student must prepare and submit a report analyzing the capstone learning experience and perform satisfactorily on written and oral final examinations.

The online M. S. graduate program in NRES enables students to continue their education in disciplines related to natural resources and environmental sciences through part-time study at locations away from the Urbana-Champaign campus. This program meets the needs of persons currently working or wanting to work in the areas of conservation, ecology, restoration ecology, soil science, sustainable development, urban ecology, urban forestry, urban wildlife management, and water resources management. Students can enroll in individual courses for professional and/or academic advancement, or apply for admission to the M.S. degree program. All online M.S. students are admitted to the non-thesis option, though, under certain conditions, a degree-seeking online student may petition the Department to transfer to the thesis option. Application deadlines and other important information are available at

for the Master of Science in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences

For additional details and requirements refer to the department's Graduate Handbook and the Graduate College Handbook.

This degree program can be completed either on campus or online; with or without a thesis, the requirements are listed below:

Thesis Option

Thesis Option:
NRES 594NRES Professional Orientation1
NRES 599Thesis Research (min/max applied toward degree)4-12
Completion, defense and deposit of thesis
Total Hours Thesis Option32
Non-Thesis Option:
NRES 594NRES Professional Orientation1
Select one of the following:
Capstone Research Project
Capstone Internship Experience
Capstone Group Research Project
Written final examination; preparation, presentation, oral exam, and approval of a capstone project report
Total Hours Non-Thesis Option32

Other Requirements

Other requirements may overlap
Minimum 500-level Hours Required Overall: 12
Minimum GPA: 3.0