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Master in Environmental Studies

Join an interdisciplinary master’s program that challenges you to look at natural, social and built environments differently. In this self-directed program, centred on an individualized Plan of Study, you will learn how to redefine the boundaries of environmental research to create positive social and sustainable change. 

Students pursing a Master in Environmental Studies may study these critical issues:

  • Urban planning
  • Environmental management
  • Global inequalities
  • Energy and climate change
  • Sustainable food systems
  • Indigenous justice

In place of a fixed set of curriculum offerings, the MES approach to learning supports students’ ownership of and responsibility for their education through a Plan of Study. You will develop your own Plan of Study with the support of a faculty advisor, who will provide personalized guidance as you transition through your studies, including internship opportunities. The program also offers the flexibility to complete your MES research work as a thesis, major paper, project or portfolio.

The 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).

Program Structure

The MES program is organized around three progressive stages: 

(design in columns mod)

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.

Graduate Dossier System

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.

MES Supervision

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.

MES Program Options

Students enrolled in the MES program can pursue a specialized graduate program or diploma. A student must first declare their interest in such a program and/or diploma in the Graduate Dossier System, where respective requirement checklists are available.

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.

What You Will Learn

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, 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.

Innovative Research

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.

Student Diversity Brings Strength

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.

Plan of Study

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 provides an enriching, diverse learning environment and prepares students for the complexity and magnitude of the real-life problems planning practitioners face in today’s world.

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.

If you wish to enrol in this program, please contact the MES/JD Coordinator.

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.

Environmental/Sustainability Education Diploma

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.

If you wish to enrol in this diploma program, please contact the Environmental and Sustainability Co-ordinator.

Business and the Environment Diploma

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.

If you wish to enrol in this diploma program (and subsequently propose an Internship). please contact the Business and the Environment Co-ordinator.

Other York graduate diplomas

Other York graduate diplomas are available to MES students.

The Plan of Study

Structure of the Plan of Study

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.

Plan of Study and Examinations

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.

MES I: Initial Plan of Study (Term 1)

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.

MES II: Final Plan of Study and Research Proposal (Terms 2 to 4)

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 an MES thesis must be approved by the Office of Research Ethics and Faculty of Graduate Studies (see

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.

Risk assessment, if required or recommended by the research supervisor, is also submitted in the Graduate Dossier System. Information about travel information and insurance, travel advisories, required vaccinations and next of kin contact information must be uploaded and submitted. Students should monitor the approval process in the dossier to respond to arising concerns and/or proceed with approval. Research involving risk may not begin until approval is given.

Options for Major Research\

There are four options for MES III major research work: a major paper, major project, portfolio or thesis. The desired length for a major paper, major project or portfolio is typically 25,000 to 30,000 words (excluding the bibliography, tables, charts and appendices). Students choosing one of these options enrol in ENVS 7899 Major Research (for no assigned credits) after advancing to MES III.

MES Major Paper

A major paper synthesizes the area of concentration or explores one or more of its components in depth. The major paper is expected to contribute to a student’s knowledge and may also contribute to knowledge in general.

MES Major Project

A major project represents an applied activity. The output or representation of a major project will be determined by the nature and form of the activity; it may be written, oral, performed or graphic. A major project report accompanies the activity and reiterates the activity’s objectives, describes the problems or issues addressed, outlines what was done and learned, and connects back to fulfillment of the Plan of Study.

MES Portfolio

A portfolio is a compilation of works (written and/or other media) that are integrated into a coherent whole. It offers students the opportunity to produce pieces (typically two to four) in various media (such as academic essays, material for popular audience, visual media and performance work). The components of a portfolio are usually introduced through a short synthesis paper.

MES Thesis (EU/ENVS 7999)

Like the major paper option, the thesis synthesizes the area of concentration or explores one or more of its components in depth. The thesis is expected to contribute to a student’s knowledge and may also contribute to knowledge in general. In the MES program, there is no substantive difference between a major paper and a thesis. A thesis, however, is a public document and is regulated by the Faculty of Graduate Studies. All forms must be submitted to OSAS for recommendation.

MES III: Research and Program Completion (Terms 4 to 6)

MES III students are typically enrolled in research work in the second year of their program (Terms 4 to 6) or earlier. Students must complete their major research by the end of term 6. Students should submit a final draft at least one month prior to the deadline or as agreed with their supervisor to allow sufficient time for revisions.

Students can upload their major research work in the Graduate Dossier Systemat any time during the term, but the final deadlines in any year are always the last business day of November in the Fall term, of March in the Winter term and of July in the Summer term (see Important Dates). Extensions are not possible. Once all the documents for the MES final exam have been submitted in the Graduate Dossier System, a final examination is scheduled.

Thesis Requirements

The thesis has different requirements and timelines. A Thesis Supervisory Committee must be nominated before the end of the third term (or one year ahead of anticipated thesis submission) and consists of a minimum of two faculty members, at least one of whom must be from the Environmental Studies program and acts as the supervisor. A thesis proposal (and relevant ethics protocols) must be approved by the committee and submitted not less than three months prior to the date set for the oral examination to the Faculty of Graduate Studies through OSAS. Typically, the proposal is submitted substantially earlier, since most thesis research projects take longer than three months. The thesis will be examined by the committee and an external examiner prior to the MES Final Exam.

Final Examination

The MES Final Examination evaluates the student’s general understanding in environmental studies, along with their substantive competencies in their area of concentration. The final exam also pays considerable attention to the major research. It is usually held with three faculty members (a supervisor, an advisor and a chair who is arm’s length from the student’s program).

EUC compiles students’ exemplary major research works in the Outstanding Graduate Student Paper Series. A database of titles of MES major papers, major projects, portfolios and theses are also available under Research.

Registration and Enrolment

MES students are expected to register (including accepting and paying fees) in the York Registration and Enrolment Module (REM) and to enrol in courses for each term of the program in both REM and the Environmental Studies Graduate Dossier System. Registration in REM is done using the Passport York online system. It is the responsibility of the student to register and accept fees in REM prior to the registration deadline each term to avoid a $200 late registration fee.

Course enrolment (to be discussed with your advisor) is open until the second week of each term. Enrolment involves completing a Course Advising/Enrolment form in the Graduate Dossier System, as well as adding courses in REM (using catalogue numbers). Enrolment in the Graduate Dossier system and REM must always match perfectly.

Students register and enrol in courses during Fall, Winter and Summer terms. Course offerings are limited in the Summer term, so Summer enrolment typically involves Individual Directed Study and/or Experiential Learning credits. Students must also enrol in major research, even though such courses have no assigned credit value.

Catalogue numbers are provided for each course to add to REM but note that catalogue numbers are not provided for ENVS 6102, 6599, 6699, 7799, 7899 and 7999, as these courses require manual input by OSAS. You will be enrolled in these courses once OSAS receives complete paperwork in the Graduate Dossier System.

Registration and enrolment block

A student’s registration and enrolment may be blocked because of financial debt, an admissions requirement, a problem with enrolment paperwork from a previous term, or per the request of a faculty advisor or supervisor. Students may inquire about the reason for any block by contacting OSAS. Before contacting OSAS, take note of the error message received when attempting to enrol, as this will assist OSAS in identifying which type of block is being invoked.

Graduate Course List

Students should check the list of graduate course offerings regularly for updates to the timetables. While most courses are offered every year, some specialized courses are offered only in alternate years The course list can be searched by course number, term, year or days of the week.

It is also possible for students to enrol in a graduate course in another program, take an existing environmental studies course for extra credits, design their own course in collaboration with a faculty instructor or gain credits for experiential learning.

Grading System

The interdisciplinary nature of the MES program encourages exploration, creativity and breadth of study by using a Pass/Unsatisfactory grading system in conjunction with qualitative feedback from instructors.

MES students do not receive letter grades for their work, and official York transcripts show grades of Pass (P), Withdrawn in good standing (W) or Unsatisfactory (U) only. A Pass grade is equivalent to a “B” letter grade or better; anything less is unsatisfactory. A “U” grade in a course usually triggers a Dean’s exam to assess the student’s performance in the program. Two “U” grades automatically lead to a withdrawal from the program for failure to maintain good academic standing.

Graduate students are expected to complete all course work by the last day of classes in each term. In exceptional circumstances, if course work is incomplete at the end of the term, a student may request a short extension from the course director and may receive a temporary Incomplete (I) grade. If the work is not submitted and graded by the course director within the pre-approved extension period, the “I” grade will become a “U” grade.  Students are not permitted to carry more than one Incomplete grade into the next term. Students cannot advance to MES III (research) with an Incomplete grade.

If applying for external funding or to another graduate program, a student may request a letter grade evaluation of a course from the course director or an overall grade assessment of their entire program by contacting OSAS. Such grade assessments are not necessarily required by other programs but have been used by students to successfully apply for scholarships and to other graduate programs.

ENVS 6102 MES Research Proposal

This individualized course (3.0 credits) can be completed by students as early as Term 2 but as late as Term 4 to finalize their Plan of Study and develop their MES Research Proposal. The research supervisor generally acts as the course director. The outcome of the course is the MES II to III examination, after which the student begins their Major Research.

ENVS 6599 Individual Directed Study (IDS)

If a student’s Plan of Study requires specific knowledge or skills that cannot be acquired through an existing graduate course at York, then the student may propose to enrol in ENVS 6599: Individual Directed Study for three or six credits per term, for a maximum of 18 credits per program. To enrol in an IDS course, the student must submit a detailed description of the work (including a complete bibliography if relevant) to be undertaken in the term (see Graduate Dossier System) and add this course on their Advising/Enrolment form. OSAS will post the course in REM.

EU/ENVS 6699 Experiential Learning

An experiential learning course earns students credit while they work or volunteer in the field. The field experience must be related to the Plan of Study and must be approved by the student’s advisor. Experiential learning can be taken for three, six, nine or 12 credits per term for a maximum of 18 credits during the MES program. A work placement of eight to 10 hours per week for 12 weeks is equivalent to three credits. A student wishing to enrol in this course must first secure a field experience position (by receiving an email confirmation from the on-site field supervisor) and discuss it with their faculty advisor or instructor.

Students enrol in this course under an EUC faculty instructor, who will evaluate their experiential learning report to be submitted by the last day of the term. In addition to the name of the organization, field supervisor (and email) and position title, the report (of 2,500 words maximum) should describe:

  1. the tasks and/or activities for which the student was responsible;
    1. the learning experience, and substantive knowledge and skills gained; and
    2. the relation of the experience to the student’s Area of Concentration and components.

Courses in Other Graduate Programs

Students can request to take a course in another graduate program at York though the Faculty of Graduate Studies petition. The student must obtain the permission of the course instructor (with a signature or by email). The form and confirmation must be submitted to OSAS for approval by the Graduate Program Director.

4000-Level Undergraduate Course

Under exceptional circumstances and if it’s directly related to their Plan of Study, a student can request to enrol in one 4xxx-level undergraduate course by filling in a request for a graduate student to enroll in an undergraduate course. An undergraduate or integrated course taken during the BES program cannot be taken again at the MES level.

Request to Take a Course for Additional Credit

Students who want to substantially increase their work in the course can request to take an Environmental Studies  graduate course for an additional three credits in the Graduate Dossier System, with the course director’s permission.

All enrolment forms should be submitted in the Graduate Dossier System. Incomplete enrolment forms or packages will delay processing.

Changes in Course Enrolment

Before the deadline to change enrolment each term (usually two weeks into the term), students can change the courses they are enrolled in by completing the Change Enrolment form in the Graduate Dossier System.

Students can add or drop courses in the Graduate Dossier System and in REM during the first four weeks of the term using the petitions to add or drop a course. Past that one-month deadline, students must use the Petition to Retroactively Withdraw from Course in the Graduate Dossier System to drop a course. A grade of Withdrawn (W) will be assigned on the student’s record and appear on their transcripts. A student cannot carry more than three Ws during their program.

Leaves and Withdrawals

Per the Faculty of Graduate Studies regulations, students are eligible for leaves of absence under exceptional circumstances:

  • A compassionate leave of absence can be taken any time after the first term of study for medical, personal or family reasons.
  • An elective leave can be taken for one term only following the first term of study and prior to Term 5 of the MES program.

Students cannot have any incomplete grades or outstanding course work from previous terms when petitioning for an elective leave of absence. Students cannot use an elective leave for activities that form part of a Plan of Study (such as a field experience, individual directed study or individual research).

You may petition for voluntary withdrawal, but you would only be eligible for reinstatement or readmission into the program if your academic record is in good standing.

Petitions for leaves and withdrawals using the Faculty of Graduate Studies’ Academic Petition form must be accompanied by relevant documentation and submitted to OSAS by stated deadlines for EUC and Faculty of Graduate Studies approvals.