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EnvEng FAQs

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EnvEng FAQs

The following questions are commonly asked by students applying to the Environmental Engineering (EnvEng) Program at Stanford. Many of the answers are relevant to all graduate programs in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, but some relate just to the EnvEng Program.

If you still have questions after reviewing these pages please email

Application Procedures

What happened to the EES and EFMH programs?

The Environmental Engineering and Science (EES) and Environmental Fluid Mechanics and Hydrology (EFMH) programs were merged to form the EnvEng program which reflects the highly interdisciplinary nature of Environmental Engineering.  The EnvEng curriculum is more flexible than the EES or EFMH curricula and offers students the opportunity to design a program of study that suits their interests. Please see the EnvEng degree requirements for more information.

What materials do I need to apply?

TOEFL scores are required of all applicants whose first language is not English. Exceptions are granted for applicants who have earned a U.S. bachelor’s or master’s degree from a college or university accredited by a regional accrediting association in the United States, or the equivalent of either degree from a non-U.S., college or university of recognized standing where all instruction is provided in English.  

Note: The GRE is no longer required for your application to Civil & Environmental Engineering

How can I get an application?

Application materials typically become accessible online by early September. If you wish to be considered for financial aid, these application materials are due in early December — see the website for the exact deadline. The standard application form includes a question on whether you want to apply for financial aid, so no special financial aid forms are needed.

I need a waiver on the application fee.

Applicants who are citizens or permanent residents of the U.S. are eligible for a waiver of the application fee if they can obtain a GRE fee waiver for the current academic year. The GRE Fee Waiver Certificate can be printed from the web.  Note: The GRE is no longer required for your application to Civil & Environmental Engineering

For foreign students, Stanford University will not — under any circumstances — process application materials without an application fee. We realize that this strict policy presents difficulties for students from certain foreign countries, but Stanford will no longer allow us to make ANY exceptions to this rule, no matter the reason.

What minimum scores are needed to be admitted?

Our department does not have any minimum numerical requirements for either the GPA or for the GREs. Instead, all application materials are evaluated in their entirety, to assess the relative strengths and weaknesses of each applicant, taking into account various factors (described more fully under Admissions Procedures). We will often admit an applicant with a weakness in one area if the applicant appears to be strong in the other areas; however, we are less likely to admit applicants who seem weak in multiple areas.

For foreign students required to take the TOEFL, the university does not allow us to admit anyone whose TOEFL score is less than 575 (paper-based, or 230 for the computer-based test, or 89 for the Internet-based test); in the EnvEng program, we seldom admit students with TOEFL scores of less than 593 (paper-based, or 243 for the computer-based test, or 97 for the Internet), because experience has shown that such students find it difficult to do well in our graduate program.

Can I apply to start in Winter or Spring Quarter?

The program is structured to allow MS studies to be completed within three quarters, so many of our winter and spring quarter course offerings have as prerequisites courses offered in the autumn. Because of this, these two programs offer admission only starting in autumn quarter.

Where do I send the application and supporting material?

Online applications are forwarded directly to the department. Supporting documents, i.e., transcripts, letters of recommendation, should be mailed to:

Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Graduate Admissions Coordinator
Yang & Yamazaki Environment and Energy Building, Room 314, MC 4020
473 Via Ortega
Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305.

What is the application deadline?

If you wish to apply to be considered for merit-based aid — applications and supporting material are due in early December. See our department’s admissions website for the specific date.

Admission Procedures

What are the criteria for graduate admission decisions?

The EnvEng program evaluates graduate applications based on three general criteria.

First, we evaluate your academic preparation by looking at where you went to school, what you studied and what kinds of grades you got (not just your GPA, but which classes you did well/poorly in, and whether your grades tended to get stronger or weaker as you progressed). For verbal skills, we rely much more on the English skills you show in your statement of purpose, and on TOEFL scores for nonnative speakers.

We also look closely at your statement of purpose to evaluate how well your interests and abilities match the EnvEng program focus areas. We also look for the answers to three questions:

  • Why are you interested in environmental engineering?
  • Why do you want to continue on for graduate studies?
  • Why do you feel that Stanford’s EnvEng program will help you fulfill your educational objectives?

Finally, we look closely at your recommendation letters to find out what others say about your strengths and weaknesses. So we hope that your letter writers know you fairly well, have a technical or scientific background, and can provide insights into your suitability for our academic program.

What is the procedure for admissions at the MS Level?

At the MS level, each program in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department chooses a faculty committee to review the MS-level applicants. This committee evaluates how well-qualified you are for admission, and whether your interests are a good fit with the program. In the EnvEng program, we have a target class size of 30-40 MS students; by looking at what fraction of the admittees in recent years have chosen to attend Stanford, we can estimate how many students we should offer admission to. We do not use waiting lists; instead, each applicant is either offered or not offered admission. Many years, we must turn down well-qualified applicants to stay within our target class size.

If you are offered admission, we will indicate in the letter whether we will be seriously considering you for merit-based funding. Our funding resources for MS students are quite limited — the entire EnvEng faculty reviews the applications of those students being seriously considered for financial aid, and decides as a group which individuals should receive funding offers.

What is the procedure for admissions at the PhD level?

Our department’s policy is to admit only PhD students who have full funding (stipend plus tuition), either from an outside fellowship or from funds provided by their faculty research sponsor. So to be admitted, a faculty member needs to judge you to be a promising candidate for their research program and have funds available (usually a research assistantship from a funded project) to fully support you.

At the PhD level, applications to the EnvEng program are circulated among our faculty to assess whether their research areas overlap with your background and interests. The decision to admit is made by the individual faculty member whose research group you would be joining. Typically, PhD applicants do not receive decision letters until mid- to late March, due to the time it takes to complete this review process.

Because the PhD admissions criteria include funding, and because funding depends on getting research projects funded, the number of students admitted to the PhD program varies greatly from year to year, and from faculty member to faculty member. Only rarely do we consider applications outside of our usual January-March schedule, because usually the number of applications we receive in January already exceeds the amount of funding available.

Do we accept non-engineering majors?

The EnvEng program gladly accepts students with non-engineering academic backgrounds. Almost every year, our MS class includes students with undergraduate degrees in areas like physics, biology, chemistry and geology, and we also occasionally get students with more unusual backgrounds like ecology, economics and mathematics.

For prerequisites, the EnvEng program would most like to see a year of college calculus, an introductory class in fluid mechanics, an introductory class in organic chemistry, and a class in molecular or cellular biology. While we will admit students who lack some of these prerequisites, we will encourage them to pick up the course background they lack BEFORE arriving at Stanford (because we assume in our fall quarter classes that they already have this background).

Is financial aid available for MS students?

Financial aid decisions are made once the admissions process is completed. We can offer a small number of financial aid packages to MS students using funds made available to our EnvEng group. These nine-month fellowships are awarded based entirely on merit (without any consideration of financial need or citizenship). In a typical year, seven to nine financial aid packages are offered at the MS level in the EnvEng program. For general financial aid information, go to Financial Aid Information.

Should I send an updated transcript with my fall quarter/semester grades?

Yes, do go ahead and send updated versions of your transcript. While this is not required, it is helpful to see what classes you are taking in your senior year and how you are doing.

How about research opportunities at the MS level?

The nine-month MS program in EnvEng requires 45 units of coursework and no research. Research assistantships tend to be given to PhD students, so this is not a reliable source of financial aid for our MS students. However, all of the MS students in the EnvEng program, whether funded or not, are offered the opportunity to participate in research projects as part of their first year of study — it is up to them to decide how they want to divide their time between classes and research. A total of up to 9 units of research coursework (which is equivalent in research involvement to a 25 percent research assistantship over three quarters) can be credited toward the 45 units of coursework required to earn an MS degree in the EnvEng program.

Students wanting more extensive involvement in research typically stay on to pursue an Engineer’s or PhD degree after completing the MS. For post-MS studies, students are admitted only if full financial aid is available to them (either from their research supervisor, or from outside funding sources).

How am I assigned a faculty member as my MS advisor?

Since the nine-month (three quarter) MS program in EnvEng focuses on coursework, students do not need to affiliate themselves with a research group. Instead, each MS student admitted to the EnvEng program is assigned a coursework advisor by the admissions coordinator. At the MS level, the primary responsibility of the advisor is to assist the students in selecting classes.

Students wishing to continue on for PhD-level work typically spend the first few months of their MS year becoming better acquainted with the various faculty and their research areas before deciding with whom they would like to work.

Questions Regarding Submitted Applications

Have all my application materials been received?

Please wait until mid-February to ask about the status of your application, no matter what program in our department you are applying to! Most of January is spent assembling the individual application folders and assessing whether each one is complete. If anything is missing from your application in early February, we will send you an email informing you of what is missing.

Why haven't I heard yet whether I've been admitted?

Since our department receives over 500 applications (for all our programs combined), an entire month or more is required for the department staff to sort out the materials into separate folders for each applicant, and log their information onto the Stanford computer system. When folders are considered “complete,” they are then given to the faculty admissions committee in the appropriate program for review. We do not use a mathematical formula to arrive at an admissions decision; instead, we read the entire contents of each application to assess the overall strengths/weaknesses of each applicant. As you might suspect, this takes quite a bit of time; the EnvEng program typically spends more than six weeks reviewing the applications we receive. This is why the decision letters for admissions get mailed out continuously from mid-February through late March.

We realize some graduate programs at other U.S. institutions mail out admissions decisions earlier than we do. However, it is important to us to thoroughly evaluate each application and to carefully consider each admission decision. Therefore, we are not willing to institute shortcuts that might accelerate our application review process.

Why haven't I heard yet regarding financial aid?

Decision letters on admission are typically mailed out between late February and mid-March; these letters will indicate whether or not your application will be considered for financial aid.

Each program must wait to hear from the Department and from Stanford’s School of Engineering before knowing how much funding will be available for financial aid in a given year. There are also two types of School of Engineering-level fellowship awards where we must first “nominate” candidates, and then wait to hear whether our nominees have been selected for funding. Thus, while you will be notified of the decision regarding admission sometime between late February and mid-March, we usually are not able to make financial aid offers until late March.

Since Stanford does not waive tuition, we usually offer “full” fellowships, in which tuition is fully paid for, and a monthly stipend is provided, which is considered enough to fully support the student. In recent years, the EnvEng program has been able to offer seven to nine students full financial aid packages at the MS level, with funding recipients selected based on who appears strongest to us academically (without consideration of financial need or citizenship).

I applied to the PhD program but was admitted to the MS program. Why?

We admitted you initially to the MS program because you do not have an MS degree. Stanford School of Engineering requires graduate students to fulfill course requirements equivalent to an MS even if they are interested only in the PhD. These MS course requirements can typically be completed within a nine-month period (three quarters of study).

Students admitted to our MS program who are interested in continuing on for a PhD fill out a one-page form in January of the MS year, indicating whether they want to pursue an Engineer’s or PhD degree, and which faculty member(s) they would like to work with. The application materials used for the MS admission (like transcripts and recommendation letters) are reused. Whereas we do admit MS-level students without financial aid, we only admit post-MS students if full funding (tuition and stipend) is available to support them. Also, whereas MS applications are reviewed by an admission committee for the program (based on mutually-agreed-upon criteria), PhD applications are reviewed only by the individual faculty member(s) whose research group the student is interested in joining. To be admitted for PhD studies, the faculty member has to judge you as a good prospect for doing PhD-level research in his/her group; and have adequate funding available to fully support you [unless you have an outside fellowship].

I was admitted, but didn't get funding — where can I get financial aid information?

We get many very strong students applying to our program, and it is disappointing to us that we can't offer more of them financial support for their MS studies, because we realize that it is costly to attend Stanford. Stanford does not permit any sort of tuition waiver.

If you are U.S. citizen, you were sent information on loans available through Stanford. The other possible option, if you qualify based on financial need (as judged by recent tax returns and other financial information), is to apply for federal work-study funds. For more information, contact Sally Gressens, the Assistant Dean for Graduate Studies in the School of Engineering at

Our RA/TA resources are very limited, and tend to be used to support our ongoing PhD students. Occasionally, RA funds become available over the summer (because a new project gets funded). If PhD students aren't available to do the work, then the professor may offer the RAship to an incoming MS student. However, this occurs sporadically — in four of the five past years, no MS students have been offered RAships.

In recent years, some students admitted to our program without funding have come to Stanford feeling certain that they will be able to secure a TAship or RAship. Despite admirable resourcefulness and great persistence, these unfunded students have not been successful at finding assistantship funding inside or outside of our department. These unhappy students have asked us to make this situation abundantly clear to potential students who do not receive funding. Their message to you is: Do not accept admission to the EnvEng program at Stanford without funding unless you are willing and able to borrow or afford the full costs of education.

We realize that many applicants will likely not be able to attend Stanford without financial assistance. The EnvEng faculty have had an ongoing debate about whether we should offer admission to such applicants. Some feel that it is frustrating for the applicant to be offered admission without financial aid (and that the applicant will wonder why we have ignored their clearly stated need for funding), so they favor just telling such applicants that they were not accepted into the MS program. Our current practice in the EnvEng program is to let these applicants know that we judged them as academically qualified for the program by admitting them, even if we aren't able to offer them funding.

I was told I would be considered for financial aid. What are my chances?

In recent years, the EnvEng program has been able to offer funding to most, but not all of those applicants who were notified that they would be considered for financial aid. The percentage funded fluctuates depending on how much funding is made available to our program from the university, the School of Engineering and our Department.

I received a financial aid offer from another school. How soon will Stanford let me know about financial aid?

Stanford (as well as about 300 other U.S. universities) belongs to the Council of Graduate Schools (CGS). All CGS members have signed a resolution saying that any prospective graduate students receiving offers of financial aid (scholarships, fellowships, traineeships or assistantships) have until April 15th to respond. You should have been sent a copy of the CGS resolution with your written financial aid offer from the other school.

You can examine the CGS website for the text of the resolution, and to check whether this other university is a member. Stanford mails out financial aid offers toward the end of March, which should give you adequate time to make a careful, informed decision about which school to attend before the April 15 deadline.

For more information on financial aid, please go to our Financial Aid Information page.

Other Questions About the EnvEng Graduate Program at Stanford

How much does Stanford tuition cost?

Tuition rates change each year and can be found on the Registrar's website:

How long does it take to complete the MS program?

Our MS program is coursework only, and can be completed in 3 quarters (9 months) or 5 quarters (15 months). The decision on the number of quarters depends on the needs of each individual student, including coursework pre-requisites, cost, and future career or degree goals.

How do current MS students apply to go on for a PhD?

Students who wish to stay on for a PhD become affiliated with a particular research group when they begin their post-MS studies. Since many students starting an MS are not sure whether they want to stay on for a PhD, our program does not require them to make this decision until midway through their MS studies. If they decide they are interested in pursuing a PhD, then a faculty member must agree to officially admit the student into his/her research group. Students are not admitted to the PhD unless full funding (tuition and stipend) is available to support them, usually from the faculty member’s sponsored research funding.

How long does it take to complete the PhD program?

Stanford requires PhD students to complete at least 90 units of study beyond the MS degree. This represents a minimum of 2-1/2 years of post-MS study. However, it is typical in the EnvEng program for a PhD student to take 4-5 years beyond the MS to complete a PhD thesis of the quality and depth we expect of our students.

I have been admitted. Can I postpone my admission to a later year?

In the EnvEng program, we routinely grant requests to defer admission by one year, but do not allow deferrals of more than one year. If you have been offered financial aid, you cannot defer your funding offer. Requests for a 1-year deferral should be sent to the department’s admissions coordinator ( If you wish to be considered for funding a second time, you will need to notify the department’s admissions coordinator by the end of January of the following year that you wish to reactivate your admission and be considered for financial aid; otherwise, you should notify us of your intent to attend by the beginning of March of the following year, so that you will receive materials like on-campus housing information in a timely manner. Note that if you were not offered funding in the year you were first admitted, it is extremely unlikely you will receive funding if you defer for a year.

When will I receive my I-20 form?

Foreign students offered admission to a U.S. university are sent an I-20 form so that they can obtain a visa. At Stanford, a single central office oversees filling out the thousands of I-20 forms needed each year for newly-admitted foreign students. They will not begin preparing your I-20 form until after you mail in the response form, indicating that you will be attending Stanford. Once this response form is received from you, it typically takes 8-10 weeks for Stanford to mail an I-20 to you. At the department level, we cannot do anything to speed up this process. Foreign students are encouraged to seek a visa promptly upon receiving their I-20; we have been told that in certain countries, non-immigrant visa requests are currently taking up to several weeks to be processed by the U.S. Consulate, due to increased security procedures. More information about visas at Stanford can be found on the Bechtel International website.

I have not taken the undergraduate pre-requisites. What should I do?

In rare circumstances students are admitted to the EnvEng MS program without the requisite undergraduate math, statistics, and chemistry courses. These courses must be completed before the MS degree can be granted and they cannot count toward the MS degree requirements. 

Students lacking background in undergraduate courses in fluid mechanics and aquatic chemistry and biology are strongly encouraged to obtain the background during their MS, although credit for only one of the required courses can count toward the MS degree. Students in recent years who have enrolled in our program without these course in their background have told us that they feel at a disadvantage relative to their classmates in certain classes, and have found that they need to work harder at times, or to seek more help from the TA.

If you feel comfortable with organic compound nomenclature, how chemical composition can influence characteristics like solubility, volatility and susceptibility to reaction, and the basics of kinetic and redox reactions in aqueous systems, you will be adequately prepared for related courses in our program. Otherwise, you will need to enroll in a course at the level of CEE 177 Aquatic Chemistry and Biology while at Stanford, particularly if you are interested in focusing on courses related to aquatic chemistry and biology or process engineering.

In a similar vein, if you are interested in environmental and geophysical fluid dynamics or hydrology and water resources, we will be assuming at the beginning of autumn quarter that you are familiar with basic fluid mechanical concepts (e.g. streamlines; laminar vs turbulent flows; conservation of momentum, mass and energy); if these concepts are familiar to you from a class you took in Physics or some other scientific area, you will be adequately prepared. Otherwise, you will need to take an undergraduate fluid mechanics course while at Stanford, at the level of CEE 101B Mechanics of Fluids.

How/When do I preregister for classes?

Stanford does not do preregistration for classes, because the vast majority of courses do not have limits on class size. Instead, students spend the first week or two of each quarter sitting in on classes they are thinking of taking, to better assess which courses they would benefit from the most. Each year, our department holds an orientation for new graduate students, usually on the Thursday before autumn quarter classes start; you will be mailed an announcement regarding this orientation in August. As part of the orientation, each program will meet with their newly-admitted students to go over the degree requirements, describe their course offerings, and offer advice on which classes you should consider taking.