Skip to main content Skip to local navigation
Home » Current Students » Degree Requirements

Degree Requirements

MES Program

The MES degree is a full-time, six-term, two-year program. Students in graduate studies maintain continuous registration by being registered and enrolled in courses during Fall, Winter and Summer terms until completion of their program.

Program Requirement: a minimum of 36 credits of coursework and a major research requirement.

Students typically take 9 to 12 credits per term in the first four terms, allowing them to fully focus on their research in the remainder of the program. Students accumulate coursework credits through regular courses, individual directed studies or experiential learning. However, upon the recommendation of your advisor, program or diploma coordinator, you might need to complete additional credits to fulfill your learning objectives as stated in your Plan of Study and program or diploma requirements.

Required Courses: ENVS 5100 Interdisciplinary Research in Environmental Studies (Term 1), and a method or research design course (of your choice) in the first three terms of the program. Students are also required to take ENVS 6102 in the fourth term of their program if they have not yet advance to the research stage (MES III).

For complete details on the MES program, please see the MES Program Handbook (.pdf).

The MES program is organized around three progressive stages: 

MES I (Term 1)Preparation of the initial Plan of Study in parallel with coursework and learning activities supporting the exploration of the area of concentration.
MES II (Terms 2 and 3)Consolidation of knowledge within the area of concentration through coursework and learning activities culminating in a final Plan of Study and research proposal.
MES III (Terms 3 to 6)Completion of the learning outlined in the Plan of Study, and completion of the major research demonstrating competence in the area of concentration.

A student’s MES program is recorded in the Graduate Dossier System, which is a university database designed for the MES program. The dossier includes students’ enrolment forms, Plans of Study, examination reports, and grades or qualitative evaluations for each course. Students are responsible for maintaining the accuracy of their dossiers.

New students are trained on how to use the Dossier System, and OSAS staff support graduate students by providing ongoing technical assistance.

Every incoming MES student is assigned a faculty advisor who assists in developing their Plan of Study and progressing through the program.

As you prepare for your research, you will be asked to nominate your research supervisor in the Graduate Dossier System. Supervisors are typically faculty members in the Environmental Studies program but can also, exceptionally, be a faculty member from another program at York, or even someone outside York with the approval of the Graduate Program Director. Your faculty advisor can become your research supervisor, in which case a second faculty member will be scheduled to be present at your MES II to III Exam. Students considering completing their major research in the form of a thesis paper must refer to the Faculty of Graduate Studies’ thesis requirements.

The Plan of Study forms the basis of the MES learning model. The Plan of Study is a statement of intent and commitment that gradually becomes more detailed as students progress through the program.

Each student’s Plan of Study is developed in consultation with their assigned faculty advisor. Students decide on the focus of their MES program, establish what they want to learn and propose their path to acquiring the desired knowledge, methods, skills and perspectives necessary to complete the degree. The Plan of Study is the basis for the student’s selection of courses and learning activities. The Plan of Study serves as the basis for advising sessions, examinations and progress through the different stages of the program.

While the content and approaches vary considerably with each student, the basic structure is consistent across all plans of study. A template of the Plan of Study/Research Proposal is provided in the Graduate Dossier System.

The Plan of Study is the basis of advancement to different stages of the program. There are different types of examinations to monitor students’ progress: the MES I to II exam, general examinations, the MES II to III exam, and the final exam.

A Dean’s exam is scheduled at any time during a program if a student does not have an approved Plan of Study in place, receives an Unsatisfactory grade, or has otherwise failed to meet program requirements as specified in the Academic Regulations. A Dean’s exam may result in either withdrawal from the program or the development of clearly defined steps and a timeline to address the conditions that led to this exam.

In the first term, and as part of ENVS 5100, students meet weekly with their faculty advisors to discuss and receive feedback on the different elements of the Plan of Study. Advising sessions can be individualized or in a group. The MES I to II exam, held following the submission of the initial Plan of Study in the latter part of the first term with the student’s advisor and an assigned second reader, determines whether the student’s plan adequately frames their program. The exam will likely specify revisions, but an approved plan advances the student to the MES II stage.

In the MES II stage, students continue taking courses and developing their Plan of Study. General Examinations are advising sessions in which the student and faculty advisor discuss an iteration of the Plan of Study and progress in the program.

Students should complete at least one methods/research design course in the first three terms of their MES program to better develop their research proposal (either a major paper, project, portfolio, or thesis).

Students entering their Term 4 will be required to enrol in ENVS 6102 Research Proposal if they have not already advanced to MES III. (This requirement does not apply to MES/JD students.) The outcome of ENVS 6102 is an MES II to III exam before the end of that term.

The MES ll to lll Exam

Prior to the MES II to III exam, each student will meet with the Graduate Program Advisor in OSAS to review their dossier and check that the information (including grades, credits and enrolment) is accurate and complete.

The MES II to III Exam (held in Term 4 at the latest) ensures the student’s final Plan of Study and proposal for major research (major paper, project, portfolio or thesis — and human participants research ethics and risk protocols, if applicable) demonstrate a substantive command of the area of concentration in the plan and proposal. The exam involves two faculty members: the student’s faculty advisor and the research supervisor (or another faculty member if the advisor and supervisor are the same person). Students advancing to MES III then focus on their Major Research (ENVS 7899 with no assigned credits).

Research Ethics and Risk

Research ethics approval is required for research involving human participants. Funded research, research with more than minimal risk and research involving Indigenous peoples must be reviewed by the York Office of Research Ethics.

Ethics protocols for coursework and/or major research involving human participants must be submitted and approved in the Graduate Dossier System by the EUC Research Committee. In addition to submitting a final Plan of Study and research proposal, an ethics checklist, TCPS ethics tutorial (see, written informed consent letter (template available) and participant selection must be uploaded and submitted in the Graduate Dossier System. Students should monitor the approval process in the dossier to respond to arising concerns and/or proceed with approval. Research involving human participants may not begin until approval is given. Ethics protocols for an MES thesis must be approved by the Office of Research Ethics and Faculty of Graduate Studies (see

MES/JD Program

The Master in Environmental Studies/Juris Doctor (MES/JD) program is the first and only program of its kind in Canada, offering students the opportunity to earn a MES degree at York’s Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change and a JD degree at Osgoode Hall Law School in four years. The MES/JD program encourages students to integrate these two critical fields and prepares them for a range of careers in environmental affairs, law and planning, including positions in private law firms, government, business corporations and the non-profit sector.

Please note that applicants to the joint program must apply and be accepted into both programs separately. Students may apply to both programs simultaneously or during their first year in either program. For detailed information regarding application deadlines and admissions requirements, see the Osgoode and Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change admissions pages.

For complete details on the MES/JD program, please see the MES/JD Joint Program Handbook (.pdf).

MES Planning Program

The MES Planning Program is recognized by the Ontario Professional Institute of Planners and the Canadian Institute of Planners. With social and environmental justice as an underlying theme, the program offers an interdisciplinary master’s program in planning, which addresses the complex social and environmental problems related to planning in an era of profound transformation in climate, urbanization and nature. Our graduates have become planning leaders in Canada and abroad.

For complete details on the MES Planning program, please see the MES Planning Program Handbook (.pdf).

We are dedicated to educating skilled professional planners committed to sustainability, justice and equity. Our objective is to provide a broad array of learning opportunities to give students the competencies, knowledge and skills to excel in their professional careers. In addition to our strengths in urban, and regional environmental planning, we give students the chance to expand the boundaries of planning through:

  • planning for diversity and social justice – multicultural planning, planning with Indigenous communities, gender planning, and planning in international settings;
  • planning for emerging environmental problems – climate change, sustainable energy and food security
  • planning with communities – participatory planning, action learning, community organizing, community development, facilitation, negotiation and mediation.

Our faculty members are a mix of academics and practitioners who conduct research and practice in a broad range of planning fields, including urban and regional planning, environmental planning, critical urbanism and political ecology. Students are also attracted to our work in resource management, social and environmental impact assessment, arts and culture, and public participation. Our strength is in guiding and facilitating student-driven research.

Graduate planning education aims to develop students’ capabilities to think critically across and within a range of fields in planning and to develop the skills necessary to effect positive, lasting change in the world. MES Planning students come to the program from a wide variety of backgrounds, including the social sciences, natural sciences, health sciences, humanities and professions. They represent a diversity of cultures from across the globe, reflecting the diversity of Toronto itself. The structure of our student-centred program is attractive to mature students and those seeking a career change. This mix of students encourages creative exploration of new directions in planning.

Planning is approached from diverse perspectives theoretically, substantively and practically. Each student prepares an individualized Plan of Study, within which certain requirements must be met to ensure the program qualifies for recognition by CIP/OPPI. These requirements are set out in the Planning Checklist (in the EUC Graduate Dossier system).

With the successful completion of the program requirements and following convocation, students receive a certificate confirming completion of their Ontario Professional Planners Institute (OPPI) and the Canadian Institute of Planners (CIP) accredited program. The breadth and depth of planning education at York provide an enriching, diverse learning environment and prepare students for the complexity and magnitude of the real-life problems planning practitioners face in today’s world.

PhD Program

The PhD in Environmental Studies requires full-time registration for a maximum of 18 terms, six years (not including leaves of absence and other exceptional circumstances). There are two mandatory courses in the PhD program, ENVS 8102 PhD Research Seminar for incoming PhD candidates in the first term of their program and ENVS 8103 PhD Research Design Workshop in term 5.

Our doctoral program follows three stages: Program Plan, Comprehensive Examination and Dissertation. The two first stages are regulated by the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change, while the Dissertation Proposal and Dissertation are regulated primarily by the Faculty of Graduate Studies.

For complete details on the ES PhD program, please see the ES PhD Program Handbook (.pdf).

The Program Plan stage typically spreads over two terms. In the first term, a PhD candidate develops their Program Plan with their supervisor and through the required ENVS 8102 PhD Research Seminar. The Program Plan serves as the student’s proposal for the comprehensive examinations.

The student also assembles their Comprehensive Committee, typically made up of the supervisor (from EUC) and two additional members (typically, with at least one of the additional members from EUC).

In the second term, the Program Plan is reviewed, revised and approved by the Advisory (Comprehensive) Committee. Once the Program Plan is approved, the student uploads to the Environmental Studies Graduate Dossier System.

Students are typically expected to have an approved Program Plan before the end of the third term.

During the Program Plan and Comprehensive Examination stages, students are encouraged to take courses in EUC and other graduate programs at York University.

There are two mandatory courses in the PhD program. ENVS 8102 PhD Research Seminar is required for incoming PhD candidates in the first term of their program. It offers an introduction to select interdisciplinary themes in environmental studies. Critical exploration of interdisciplinary research problems assists with the preparation of the Program Plan and addresses questions emerging from the students’ comprehensive research fields. The course also provides opportunities to explore the various facets of academic life, including teaching, research, writing and professional development.

The course ENVS 8103 PhD Research Design Workshop, normally in term 5, is designed to assist PhD students in developing their Dissertation Proposals through a critical and interdisciplinary exploration of research design, epistemology, methodology, and ethics as relevant to students' proposals.

Grading in the ES PhD Program is Pass/Fail. An “Unsatisfactory” grade will result in automatic withdrawal from the program.

Following the approval of the Program Plan, students enter the Comprehensive Examination stage, which allows them to gain comprehensive knowledge of particular fields and theories (and their respective epistemologies and methodologies). During this stage, students are asked to read widely, yet in a focused way, to draw out prevailing themes, issues and debates in chosen literature.

The purpose of the PhD Comprehensive Examination is to ensure that the student:

  1. has in-depth knowledge of the fields their research is situated in;
  2. is capable of critically and rigorously engaging with current theoretical, methodological and/or empirical debates in their fields.
  3. is capable of undertaking the independent work needed to successfully complete a dissertation and contribute to academic debates.

Each comprehensive field (generally two. occasionally three) is typically examined on the basis of a thorough literature review organized around the exploration of a problem, debate, theme, classificatory scheme, argument, trajectory or position within a (inter)disciplinary field.

Students are expected to review 60 to 75 significant books or their equivalent in articles or works in other formats in total across their comprehensive areas. Comprehensive work may take any of the following or other forms as defined and agreed upon with the Comprehensive Committee:

  • Integrated paper (25 to 30 double-spaced pages, plus bibliography) that exhaustively elaborates a particular aspect of the comprehensive area.
  • Review paper (30 to 40 double-spaced pages, plus bibliography) that systematically, synthetically and critically reviews a particular field.
  • Course syllabus (for an upper-level undergraduate course), including course rationale, readings, lecture topics, evaluation criteria and assignments. Course design usually also includes a teaching philosophy statement or reflection and lecture notes for two proposed classes.
  • Take-home examination paper(s) based on questions developed by the committee, with a clear deadline (not to exceed one term).
  • “In-situ” day exam based on questions handed out the same day or a few days ahead of time (materials and notes allowed).
  • Portfolio (two or three pieces of work), such as a refereed publication, exemplary course paper, book chapter, book reviews, conference papers and/or creative works.
  • Oral, visual or other type of original work (such as film, video, sculpture, dance, performance, multi-media, art installation) supported by a written account that conceptualizes related intellectual debates and issues.

Each comprehensive area is typically examined separately but may also be presented and examined collectively if agreed to the Comprehensive Committee.

The outcome of a Comprehensive Examination can either be acceptable, acceptable pending specified revisions or unsatisfactory. In the case of an unsatisfactory decision, the Comprehensive Committee shall give written instructions for revisions and schedule a second exam within a six-month period. Failure to pass a second exam will result in a withdrawal from the program for failure to meet academic standards.

Upon approval by their Comprehensive Committee, PhD students are required to upload each Comprehensive Examination into the Environmental Studies Graduate Dossier system.

Students are typically expected to finish this stage before the end of the eighth term.

Following the successful completion of the Comprehensive Exams and coursework, a PhD student prepares their Dissertation Proposal. After the successful approval of the Dissertation Proposal, the student advances to candidacy (or ABD – all but dissertation).

The Dissertation Proposal is reviewed and approved by the student’s Supervisory Committee, which may consist of the same members as the Comprehensive Committee, as long as they are appointed to the Faculty of Graduate Studies.

The Dissertation Proposal and Dissertation are regulated by the Faculty of Graduate Studies (FGS), so the Supervisor and Supervisory Committee need to be officially nominated to the Faculty of Graduate Studies using the Supervisor & Supervisory Committee Approval form. The form is submitted to the Office of Student and Academic Services (OSAS) for the Graduate Program Director’s recommendation and FGS approval. PhD students are expected to have their Dissertation Proposal approved by their Dissertation Supervisory Committee before the end of the eighth term.

The Process

The PhD Dissertation Proposal details the research topic and design and must include a working title, a focused research statement, a succinct literature review, a detailed methodological section, a proposed schedule of activities, a tentative outline of the dissertation and an extensive bibliography. Recommended length varies between 3,500 and 6,000 words. The longer range (6,000 words) exceeds the FGS recommended proposal length so as to allow inclusion in the proposal of a topical literature review that might otherwise have been covered in a third Comprehensive Exam. Students should familiarize themselves with the FGS Dissertation Requirements and Process.

Graduate students undertaking research involving human participants are required to follow the appropriate procedures and obtain ethics approval before conducting research activities. All graduate student researchers must complete the TCPS tutorial to establish that they have completed the necessary education component and attach their certificate of completion to their protocols. Students also must maintain active registration status while conducting the approved research. For more information on the ethics protocols and procedures for research involving Indigenous Peoples or the distinctions between funded/unfunded and minimal/more than minimal risk research, see Research Ethics on the FGS website.

Once approved, the Dissertation Proposal (including ethics protocols if human participants are involved in the research) is submitted to the Environmental Studies Graduate Dossier system for the Graduate Program Director’s recommendation and FGS approval.

A risk assessment, if applicable, must be approved by the Research Committee through submission in the Environmental Studies Graduate Dossier system.

Next Steps

Once the student has completed a full draft of the Dissertation, the supervisor and committee members must determine whether the Dissertation is suitable for examination. The supervisor is responsible for assembling the Dissertation Examination Committee and scheduling the Dissertation examination. A Recommendation for Oral Examination: The Doctoral Dissertation Form must be submitted to OSAS for the Graduate Program Director and FGS approvals. Contact for more information

The Dissertation must be completed before the 18th term. A student will be automatically withdrawn after 18 terms but may petition for a short extension or reinstatement to defend at a later time.

Graduate Diplomas

With a graduate diploma in the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change at York University, you have the opportunity to add another qualification to your degree, satisfying a specific academic or professional interest – without investing more time or money.

This graduate diploma is offered jointly by the York University graduate programs in Education and Environmental and Urban Change. It is designed to provide opportunities for graduate students and educators in schools, community organizations, cultural institutions and advocacy groups to develop expertise and participate in research, theory and practice in the field of environmental and sustainability education.

Students must complete four required and elective courses (12 credits), in addition to a Plan of Study and major research related to environmental and sustainability education. A requirement checklist for this diploma is available in the Graduate Dossier System.

For complete details on the ESE diploma, please see the MES Program Handbook (.pdf).

The Business and the Environment diploma is offered jointly by EUC and the Schulich School of Business. Completed as part of either the MES or MBA degree, the diploma provides the perspectives, understanding, tools, skills and recognition for York graduates to become leaders in the field of business and sustainability.

MES students must complete four required and elective courses (12 credits), in addition to a 12-week internship in an approved organization, a Plan of Study and major research related to business and the environment. A requirement checklist for this diploma is available in the Graduate Dossier System.

For complete details on the B+E diploma, please see the MES Program Handbook (.pdf).

Learn More

The Graduate Program in Environmental Studies at York is an exciting environment to pursue innovative, socially engaging, career-ready education. Contact our Graduate Program Assistant to learn more.