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Change Leadership for Sustainability Program

Degree FAQs

Sustainability Science and Practice degree FAQs

The title of the program – Sustainability Science and Practice - suggests it is for natural scientists. Is it also useful for engineers or social scientists or humanists? 

We use "science" in an inclusive manner, including natural and social sciences, humanities and engineering. Knowledge from all these areas is crucial to sustainability challenges. The program is suitable for anyone keen to learn how to approach 21st century challenges from an interdisciplinary and systems perspective, and to develop mindsets and skills for leading change.

How does someone get an MS vs. an MA (or vice versa)?

Pre-requisites for the award of the MS degree include a math and statistics course as well as an ethics course. The MS degree also assumes that the requirements of an undergraduate BS degree have been met. A student with a BA can get an MS; they simply need to complete the necessary requirements. Pre-requisites for the award of the MA degree include an ethics course. Required courses for the Sustainability Science and Practice degree have been assigned units that count toward the arts or science degree (indicated on the spreadsheet available on the program website). Students should reach a majority of units in science to be awarded an MS and a majority of units in arts to be awarded an MA degree.

How do prospective students choose/find an advisor?

We have a list of faculty members who have expressed willingness to act as advisors for students in the program. We recommend that prospective students develop a short list of prospective advisors by reading through the biographies of the faculty on our list, and also identifying other faculty that they know - or know of - who might be reasonable advisors. When drawing up the short list, prospective students should think about shared interests, focus areas of faculty teaching and research, and what they’d like to emphasize in their own studies or future work. At that point, prospective students may contact the faculty to ask for a meeting to explore whether the advising relationship is going to be a good fit for both parties, or seek advice from the Change Leadership for Sustainability Program director or executive director. Please note that while the official advisor-of-record must be on the Academic Council (i.e., Professor, Associate Professor or Assistant Professor), students can have a co-advisor who is not in one of these positions. We recommend that students consult with the executive director or program director about co-advising relationships.

What is expected of the advisor and the student?

Faculty advisors are expected to serve as intellectual advisors and professional mentors, preparing students to be ready for, and competitive in their future careers.

A prospective faculty advisor will meet with a student prior to application submission to:

  1. Discuss the students motivation for applying to the program;
  2. Plan and review course lists and selection; and
  3. Discuss what the advisor/advisee relationship will look like.

Once admitted, the student and advisor should meet quarterly to:

  1. Review courses for that quarter and sign off on the study list;
  2. Discuss career goals and practicum choices;
  3. Help connect the student with larger networks outside of Stanford for sustainability work;
  4. Engage the student in relevant research opportunities and projects;  
  5. Discuss practicum choices, and participate in review of final practicum projects. The program director will be an additional resource for students specifically for practicum planning, mentoring and completion, and students are expected to talk with their advisor and the program director about this area of their curriculum.

Meetings and Scheduling

The student is responsible for scheduling the quarterly advising meeting. In-person meetings are encouraged; however, phone or Zoom meetings are acceptable if mutually agreed. If a student is on leave of absence, we encourage him/her to check in with his/her advisor each quarter via email. If an advisor is on sabbatical, we expect that planning for this would have been covered in an earlier meeting. We have seen that most faculty members on sabbatical continue the advising relationship with existing advisees, and meetings shift from in-person to phone or zoom.

VPGE – Important Materials and Academic Guidance, Advising and Mentoring

We recommend and request that advisors and students review the excellent materials provided by the Vice Provost of Graduate Education. Advisors should encourage a review of these materials during the first meeting with their student.

Can a course not listed in the program requirements be considered as an alternative pre-req or requirement, or as an additional elective?

Yes, we are happy to look at other courses for all of these categories. For an alternative to a pre-req or required course, please complete the petition form found here: Alternate Course Petition Form

Some of the EARTHSYS courses on the requirements list require a course subject pre-requisite (e.g., biology course) or indicate ‘or graduate standing’. What does that mean?

Given the interdisciplinary nature of our program, and our acceptance of students from all undergraduate majors, we understand that some students will not have some of the course subject pre-requisites asked for in certain required courses. Since our students are at the graduate level, the expectation of faculty teaching these courses is that students are mature enough to undertake any additional work that might be necessary to ensure that they understand the material and can perform well in the course. This may include additional reading or attending office hours. They are not required to take the required course subject pre-requisite.

What does the practicum involve?

The practicum is an opportunity for students to put theory into practice. It is designed to develop the student's identity as a transformative leader through practice. The practicum should be conducted with an organization outside of Stanford. Students should be able to act as a change agent working to apply knowledge, mindsets and tools from the course to a concrete challenge or project. The student will work to identify an organization and then work with a staff member/mentor to design and plan a project. The practicum can be completed in a variety of ways: in between quarters, as a final dedicated project, or part-time alongside academic work. Students who have a relevant prior internship or practicum experience may utilize this under certain conditions. As a 4-unit course, students should expect the practicum workload to span approximately 120 hours.

Do you offer course assistantships?

The program has CA positions available for the four SUST courses, and SUST program students have priority access to these positions. If students are offered a CA/TA/RA-ship in another department or program, the program is happy for the student to take the position but cannot provide funding for it.

What are you looking for in the statement of purpose?

The statement of purpose is the prospective student’s opportunity to share with the committee why they are interested in this particular co-term, what they hope to gain from it, and how they plan to use the degree in their future. We do not need to read about academic background – we can see that from the transcript; however, hearing about particularly inspiring courses or themes in which you developed expertise relevant to this program is of interest. Telling a story in a statement of purpose, for example, of key influences that triggered a passion for sustainability, is a compelling aspect of a statement of purpose. Prospective students can reach out to the Hume Center for assistance in writing a statement of purpose.

Stanford, and Stanford's School of Earth, Energy and Environmental Sciences offers several different graduate programs associated with environment, resources, and sustainability.  How do I distinguish among them?

Sustainability Science and Practice

The Change Leadership for Sustainability Program offers a co-terminal masters degree (MS or MA) in Sustainability Science and Practice. There are relatively few pre-requisites for the program, which is open to students pursuing any BA or BS undergraduate degree. Students in the program are required to take courses in each of three major focus areas: Understanding Complex Social-Environmental Systems; Understanding Decision Making and Developing Strategies for Change; Designing Innovations with Impact at Scale. In addition to required courses, there are required areas, offering a selection of courses from which students choose. Students also choose electives to fill out their course list. A practicum during which students apply some of their learning in real-world situations, is also required.

The Change Leadership for Sustainability Program focuses on building a set of perspectives, frameworks and tools for leading change effectively, no matter what sector of interest. It requires a strong complex systems perspective, including analytical approaches to understanding the interactions, trade-offs, feedbacks and connections among social, technical, human and natural assets of social-environmental systems. Moreover, its particular emphasis on decision making, strategy and design for scaled transformation is unique to this program.

Earth Systems

The Earth Systems Program offers an undergraduate BS as well as a co-terminal MS degree in Earth Systems and an MA in Environmental Communication. Students are expected to have fulfilled most of the requirements of the BS in Earth Systems before being accepted into the MS program. Most students use the MS as an opportunity to focus on and gain mastery in a topic or research area of interest to them, often choosing one of the Earth Systems tracks: Human Environmental Systems; Biosphere; Energy, Science & Technology; Land Systems; Sustainable Food and Agriculture; or Oceans and Climate, for their area of study. While most Earth Systems students will have completed an internship prior to the graduate program, no internship or practicum is required. Many students opt to conduct research that culminates in a masters thesis, but as this is a course-based degree program, there is no thesis requirement.


The Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources (E-IPER) offers PhD as well as joint MS degrees.The MS program is for students concurrently enrolled in professional degree programs (MBA, JD, MD) or in certain PhD programs. The MS is not offered as a stand-alone or co-terminal degree. The MS program is flexible, with a small number of required courses and  additional course options within specific tracks: Cleantech; Climate and Atmosphere; Energy; Freshwater; Global, Community and Environmental Health; Land Use and Agriculture; Oceans and Estuaries; Sustainable Built Environment; and Sustainable Design).

General Co-terminal Policy FAQs

Do I need to enroll in courses on both transcripts?

The university does not require you to enroll in courses on both transcripts. In general, coterm students with both records open may take all units for a given quarter on either transcript or across both transcripts.

How many units do I need to take for academic progress?

This depends on your tuition group. If you are in the undergraduate tuition group, like many newly matriculated coterms, you will still have to enroll in at least 12 units on either or across both transcripts. If you are in the graduate tuition group, you may enroll in 8-10 units, or 11 or more. You move to the graduate tuition group automatically ONLY if you have had your UG degree conferred or have reached the 13th quarter. If you have summer or non-AP Transfer units, you should look at how we count quarters

Why can’t I drop units on one of my transcripts?

Axess is unable to count units across two transcripts, so if you only have one course on a transcript, it won’t let you drop them before taking to someone about leave, etc. Coterms should submit a HelpSU ticket via the Student Services Center. If this is messing up your bill, don’t worry, it will adjust once the ticket is processed.

Axess let me enroll in more than 20 units now that I am a coterm. Do I still need to petition?

Any students in the undergraduate billing group must petition to exceed units, even if Axess allows you to enroll in more than 20 units. If you exceed units and do not petition, you will have an enrollment hold placed on your record.

When do I change tuition groups?

Students are automatically transferred into the graduate tuition group at the 13th quarter, or at the 16th quarter if receiving two undergraduate degrees. Tuition group policy can be found here

What will I be charged once I change tuition groups?

Current tuition rates can be found here.

Can I keep my undergraduate financial aid and have an assistantship?

Yes, but you need to talk to financial aid because your undergraduate aid will be adjusted/decreased.

Can I apply for 13th quarter aid?

Coterms may not apply for additional undergraduate aid for the 13th quarter unless they can demonstrate that they need a full schedule of UG units to complete their requirements. This is rare and usually applies to transfer students and those who had a late major change. Financial Aid office policies around co-terms can be found here.

How do I request an exception, late change in enrollment, or late change of grading basis?

If the course is on the UG transcript, then students should submit a request for exception form to UAR

If the course is on the graduate transcript, it is not possible to request a late change of grading basis. All other requests are made via the Student Services Center.

Petition to Change Course Enrollment (GR)

Request to Withdraw After the Deadline (GR)

Can I have an assistantship and take more than 10 units?

This depends on the number of hours the assistantship requires. Full details can be found here.

Can I graduate early/before the 12th quarter and live on campus?

Yes, if there is availability. You will need to fill out a formal request. Availability is lowest in autumn and highest in spring during the regular academic year. Most coterms do not choose to graduate early because they don’t want to make the request and face even a low risk for losing housing.

Can I live on campus after my guaranteed undergraduate housing status ends (usually at the end of the 4th year/12th quarter)?

Coterms are eligible to live on campus, but they have no guarantee and should apply early for the greatest possibility to secure a spot in graduate housing.

If I leave my undergraduate degree open beyond the 12th quarter, can I maintain my guaranteed housing?

Not if you have exceeded your guaranteed timeframe.

Am I allowed to take leave?

UG students are allowed 2 years of leave. Coterms do not have any additional leave, but may still use any remaining UG leave if the coterm program allows leave. Students may only request one year at a time, but may renew after a year if they have not maxed out their time.

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