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Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies

Environmental Studies Major

Why Choose an Environmental Studies Major?
Requirements for the Major

Undergraduate advisor: Academic Programs Office, 70 Science Hall, 608-262-7520; undergrad@nelson.wisc.edu

Why Choose an Environmental Studies Major?

The Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies is one of the world’s leading institutions for environmental studies and is the administrative home for the major. The major offers a robust and interdisciplinary curriculum that spans all contemporary disciplines that touch upon the environment. The curriculum includes biological sciences, physical sciences, and social sciences, as well as humanities, history, health, and modern culture.

The environmental studies major, offered by the College of Letters & Science and administered by the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, provides unique opportunities for undergraduate students to broaden their studies through interdisciplinary coursework related to the environment. The major must always be completed in tandem with a second major. This requirement is unique to the environmental studies major and allows undergraduates the opportunity to both broaden and deepen the focus of their other major with a perspective on the environment that spans a wide range of topics, and involves varying depths of application.

The major includes experiential learning opportunities via the capstone course and the field requirement, and encourages global interaction through study or internships abroad. With numerous travel abroad possibilities and ongoing access to a large selection of extracurricular events, graduates have countless combinations available to them. The outcome is a solid academic foundation in the study of the environment and access to a network of multidisciplinary problem-solving colleagues.

In today's world, the program prepares students to address modern challenges using interdisciplinary problem-solving approaches, applying both an understanding of, and practical experience beyond, a single academic discipline. Employers purposefully seek individuals with interdisciplinary and international preparation, and environmental studies students are ready to meet that need.

Requirements for the Major

The environmental studies major provides students with an academically rigorous course sequence that encompasses introductory through advanced understandings of the interdisciplinary field of environmental studies. The major requires a minimum of 30 credits, and must be completed in tandem with a second major at UW–Madison. Environmental studies undergraduates are present in all eight undergraduate schools and colleges. Students are allowed to overlap up to 15 of their major course credits with their other major, and graduates easily complete their requirements with a second major added on in four years.

  • Declare and complete an additional major.
  • Students must have a primary major declared by reaching 85 degree credits or the environmental studies major may be canceled.
  • At a minimum students must show 15 credits that do not overlap between the environmental studies major and each of the other major(s).
  • Students outside the College of Letters & Science may have to meet additional overlap requirements.
  • Overall a minimum of 15 credits at the Intermediate or Advanced level (IAD level indicator)
  • Minimum 2.0 GPA in major courses is required.

Students are required to take one course out of each of the following areas one of which must be at the intermediate or advanced level (I/A/D)

  • Environmental Humanities
  • Environmental Social Science
  • Physical Science
  • Ecological Science
  • Students are required to take five courses/15 credits from the thematic areas listed below.
  • Courses may be concentrated in one area or taken from multiple areas.
  • Courses used in the thematic areas cannot be used in the Foundation section.

Thematic areas include: Biodiversity; Climate; Energy; Food and Agriculture; Health; History / Culture; Land Use; Policy; Water


The field experience in the environmental studies major can be met in one the following ways:

  • A designated field course from the courses offered in the curriculum list indicated by an *
  • Participation in an environmental study abroad where 50 percent or more of the contact hours are in an out-of-doors situation.
  • Participation in an environmental internship where 50 percent or more of the contact hours are in an out-of-doors situation.

Students are encouraged to take Envir St 600 for their capstone course, though some alternatives are offered.

Students may enroll in their capstone course in any semester after they have reached junior standing.

Detailed information about requirements may be found in the Letters & Science section of the catalog.

Pass/Fail Courses. Courses in the environmental studies major cannot be taken on a pass/fail basis.

Double Counting/Course Overlap. With the exception of the Field Experience, courses listed under more than one category in the curriculum may be used to satisfy only one category.