Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs

This page provides information for prospective graduate students who are interested in studying issues related to public policy, energy, and the environment.

Prospective students interested in working at the intersections of public policy, energy, and the environment have access to several graduate degree possibilities at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. A first basic distinction is between programs that result in a master's degree and those that result in a Ph.D. A second is to decide whether to apply to the La Follette School of Public Affairs, the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies, or another department. The UW Energy Institute has a good set of links to these additional programs.

Students seeking a terminal master's degree

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A terminal master's prepares one for a professional career. Jobs available to such students include positions with government agencies, non-governmental organizations, and in the private sector. In addition a small share of students continue on to Ph.D. programs at UW and at other universities. Examples and statistics are available for the La Follette School and the Nelson Institute.

For a focus on public policy, energy, and the environment, there are two main degree-granting programs at UW–Madison: Public Affairs and Environment & Resources. At the La Follette School of Public Affairs, one must further decide whether to assume a domestic (MPA) or international (MIPA) perspective. In addition, "focus fields" and "certificate" programs augment each degree program by developing proficiency in specific areas. The following list provides the main combinations of degrees and extensions to them that are available to students planning to work in this area:

1. La Follette MPA or MIPA and Energy Analysis and Policy certificate.
2. La Follette MPA or MIPA and energy and environment policy area.
3. La Follette MPA or MIPA and 1-3 courses on energy and environment.
4. Environment & Resources M.S. and Energy Analysis and Policy certificate.
5. Joint master's degree between the La Follette School and Nelson Institute.
6. University of WIsconsin–Madison undergraduates can apply to the La Follette accelerated program in their junior year.

Application for the EAP program can be done at anytime — although earlier in the graduate program allows more flexibility in course selection. MPA and MIPAs can use this spreadsheet for planning coursework that meets both the Public Affairs and EAP requirements.

Other UW–Madison master's programs that may be of interest include: Agricultural and Applied Economics, bio-energy, engineering programs, Global Health, and Urban and Regional Planning.

Students seeking a Ph.D.

A Ph.D. is a research-oriented degree. These programs include course work on theory and methods to train students to produce original research using state-of-the-art approaches. The main option at UW–Madison for work in this area is:

  • Environment & Resources Ph.D. and EAP certificate.

One needs to identify an academic adviser to be admitted to this program. The Nelson Institute Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment (SAGE) provides information on possible advisors, as does the Nelson Institute directory. As of summer 2012, I am not planning on admitting new students for Spring 2013 or Fall 2013 entry.

Other UW–Madison programs available for doctoral research in this area include: Agricultural and Applied Economics, bio-energy, engineering programs, and Urban and Regional Planning.


  • The La Follette School offers an accelerated program beginning in an admitted undergraduate's senior year
  • The Nelson Institute offers an undergraduate major in environmental studies
  • The Nelson Institute also offers an undergraduate certificate in environmental studies
  • The UW Energy Institute lists other undergraduate opportunities, especially in engineering and bio-energy.

Funding resources

In most cases students should plan to apply for funding at about the same time they apply for admission. My experience is that it is atypical for admitted students to receive funding at the time of admission that is sufficient for their entire time to complete their graduate degree. However, almost all students are subsequently able to fund their education through a combination of project assistantships, research assistantships, teaching assistantships, and fellowships. Students seek out these opportunities through their own departments and others over the course of their graduate study.

Good summaries of funding resources are available from the La Follette School, the Nelson Institute, and the UW–Madison Financial Aid Office.

The sources listed below are of special interest for students working in this area: