Graduate Requirements


Minimum requirements for entry into the Environmental Engineering Program:

  • Math: equivalent of 2 years, including calculus, linear algebra and differential equations
  • Science: 1 semester of physics, 2 additional semesters of science (physics, chemistry, biology)

Additionally, we strongly recommend:

  • Experience with Matlab or other high-level programming language
  • Physics and/or chemistry coursework beyond the minimum listed above

We also consider the following classes to be additional prerequisites. They can be taken during your graduate study, but if they are, they would not count towards your graduate degree:

  • Fluid Mechanics (CE 100)
  • Introduction to Environmental Engineering (CE 111)
  • Hydrology or Water Chemistry (CE 103 and CE 115. One of these can be taken as part of graduate program.)

Note: applications from non-engineering students are strengthened if engineering classes, particularly those considered prerequisites, have already been taken at the time of application.


  • Environmental Engineering welcomes applicants from both engineering and non-engineering disciplines.
  • List one of the Areas of Emphases (AQE, EFMH, WQE) in the "Other" field on the application. See Application instructions.
  • Students interested in pursuing a doctoral degree are encouraged to explore active areas of research of Environmental Engineering faculty members by viewing current research topics described on faculty and research group web pages.
  • See Environmental Engineers of the Future as a possible source of funding.

Course descriptions

See Berkeley Academic Guide for all CEE course descriptions.

Berkeley Graduate Division's Degree Policy

All UC Berkeley graduate degree programs must conform to minimum requirements established by Graduate Division.  See Degrees Policy.


The Master of Science degree (MS) provides fundamental education in environmental engineering, science and design. This prepares you for professional practice or for advanced study leading to a doctoral degree.

Master of Science: Plan I

  • thesis
  • 20 units of course work typically over 4 semesters
    • 8 must be graduate courses in the major; of these 8 units, no more than 4 units can be for individual study and research.
    • the remaining 12 units may be approved graduate and advanced undergraduate courses.

Master of Science: Plan II

The large majority of our graduate students follow Plan II which consists of coursework and the Comprehensive Exam. If you have a strong preparation for graduate work in environmental engineering, a typical program of study will consist of eight 3-unit courses evenly split over 2 semesters. Most courses will be at the graduate level within the program.

  • 24 units of course work typically over 2 semesters
    • 12 units in graduate Environmental Engineering (2 of these 12 units can be CE 299)
    • a maximum of 4 units (out of the total 24 units) can be CE 299
    • 3 courses in the Core Requirement (described below)
    • The remaining 12 units may be approved graduate and advanced undergraduate courses. The plan of study must be approved by the Environmental Engineering faculty, represented by your graduate adviser.
    • Only limited credit can be given for upper division CEE courses considered as preparation for graduate study. These courses are: CE 100, CE 103, CE 111, and CE 115. Specifically, only one of CE 103 or CE 115 can be counted as MS degree units. Credit will not be given for CE 100 or CE 111. Credit is also not given towards the graduate degree for the technical communications courses IDS 140 and E 190.
  • Overall GPA of 3.0 (B) for upper-division and graduate courses with minimum of (C-) as passing grade in any course.
  • A 3-hour written closed-book 4-question Comprehensive Examination is required or an individual project. The questions cover prerequisite and core course (see below for more details).

Core Requirement

Select core courses from 3 of the 4 areas.  Core courses are listed below for each area.  All are offered in academic year 2022-2023. Other courses are also offered, but are not considered core.
(1) Environmental fluid mechanics
  • CE 200A Environmental Fluid Mechanics I

(2) Air quality
  • CE 218A Air Quality Engineering

(3) Hydrology
  • CE 203 Surface Water Hydrology

(4) Water Quality
  • CE 211A Environmental Physical-Chemical Processes
  • CE 211B  Environmental Biological Processes


Comprehensive Examination

The Comprehensive Exam is administered each year at the end of the spring semester.  (If you are a 3-semester MS student, contact the lead graduate adviser to discuss scheduling your exam if you have not yet completed the requisite core classes by the end of your second semester.)

You must respond to 4 questions, each addressing material covered in upper division prerequisite classes or graduate core courses in Environmental Engineering at Berkeley. Reference materials (texts, reference books, notes, etc.) are not permitted. Calculators are allowed.

The exam covers:

Prerequisite electives. Select 1 of:

  • CE 103 Hydrology
  • CE 115 Water Chemistry


  • Core classes. Select 3 core classes covering 3 areas from the list above.

You must take the exam in its entirety. You will receive a grade of Pass or Not Pass. If you earn a grade of Not Pass, you may retake the exam once to earn a Pass. The exam must be retaken at a normally scheduled time.

See sample past exams for example questions.

Concurrent degree MPP/MS

A concurrent degree program is offered between CEE graduate programs and Public Policy. The online application will be sent to both CEE and Public Policy, indicating interest in the Joint Degree program MPP/MS (a sub-program will need to be specified for the MS).

If you are admitted and enroll into one program and then decide later that you would like to add the second program, you must add the second degree objective through the usual admissions process.

MS Guidelines

  • The normal load for a full-time graduate student who is making satisfactory progress toward the degree is defined as 12 units of exclusively graduate level course work (200 series), or 16 units of exclusively undergraduate level course work (100 series), or a proportionate combination. Every semester in residence, students are expected to enroll for a minimum of 12 units of course work and/or research (CE 299). There is no option for part-time graduate study in the CEE department.
  • Graduate students must maintain an overall grade point average of at least 3.0 (B) on the basis of all upper division and graduate courses taken in graduate standing. The minimum passing grade in a course for a graduate student is C-.
  • You must make a formal application for advancement to candidacy when you have completed half of the requirements for the degree and no later than the end of the third week of classes in the semester when you expect to receive the degree. See Student Forms.
  • You are expected to formally consult with your academic adviser on at least 2 occasions during your plan of study, before the commencement of your first and final semesters of study, respectively. Each semester, graduate advisers set aside time for one-on-one appointments near the beginning of the semester. Graduate advisers and all other faculty are available for consultation during scheduled office hours and by appointment throughout the academic year.
  • Students with an engineering undergraduate degree earn the Master of Science in Engineering. Students with an undergraduate degree not in engineering receive the Master of Science in Engineering Science.


PhD Guidelines

  • A bachelor's or master's degree from an accredited institution or a recognized equivalent is required.  If you hold only a bachelor's degree, you must earn the master's degree while progressing towards the PhD.  A demonstrated superior level of academic achievement (minimum 3.0 GPA) in your graduate studies and support of a faculty research adviser are required.
  • Within the graduate courses, a minimum GPA of 3.0 within the major and above 3.0 in the minor fields. See description of required coursework below.
  • Each PhD student must have a Graduate Adviser and a Research Adviser. These advisers may be, but are not necessarily, the same individual.
    • The Graduate Adviser is assigned by the Env. Eng. faculty and provides general academic guidance and helps with administrative matters. 
    • The Research Adviser supervises your dissertation research and assists in identifying funding paths. You are responsible for securing a faculty member to act as your Research Adviser. Each faculty member has a general obligation to serve as a research adviser to PhD students, but has the right to accept or decline, at his/her sole discretion, to supervise any specific student. Research Advisers for PhD students are typically selected from the core Environmental Engineering faculty. Faculty from outside the CEE department may serve as co-advisers.
  • You formulate your own individual plan of study in consultation with a faculty guidance committee. A Blue Card describing your plan of study, must be approved by a guidance committee of 3 faculty members. The guidance committee must approve any subsequent changes as the plan of study is pursued.
  • Course work: a minimum of 30 units in the major and 2 minor fields with minimum of 12 in the major and 6 for each minor.  See Course work below.
  • The remaining 6 units can be satisfied by graduate-level major courses and/or minor courses at the graduate or upper-division level.
  • Preliminary Exam - see the department handbook for additional detail.
    • During the second year of residency (including the MS year), students must pass an oral preliminary examination focusing on the student’s ability to orally demonstrate mastery of and ability to apply core knowledge in the major area of research. Two chances are given to the student to pass the examination. See details below.
    • The PhD Preliminary Exam is an oral exam given by a committee of 3 Environmental Engineering faculty members. It should be taken during the student's second year of graduate study (first year post-MS) and will focus on the student's preliminary preparation for PhD study. Students who fail on their first attempt will be given a second attempt. Students who fail a second time will not be allowed to continue in the program.
    • The Preliminary Exam starts with a brief (1 page) abstract provided to the committee and a short (~10 minute) presentation that each describe the student's identified general research area. The exam will focus on the student's preparation in the fundamentals required in the specified research area as well as the student's ability to work effectively in an oral exam setting, including working at the board and communicating clearly, and preliminary development of a research focus.
  • Qualifying Exam - see the department handbook for additional detail.
    • The PhD qualifying examination is administered by a committee of 4 faculty members, at least two from CEE, with each minor subject represented by a faculty member, and with at least one member from outside of CEE. The qualifying exam consists of a written prospectus, a brief oral presentation to the examination committee, and an oral examination. The student provides a prospectus to the Qualifying Exam committee in advance of the exam which outlines the research plans for the student's PhD dissertation. The expectation is that this prospectus should be about 10 pages long (single-spaced). At the start of the exam the student will present a summary of the prospectus (approximately 15-20 minutes). The remainder of the exam period consists of the oral examination, which is generally used to gauge the student’s preparation, mastery, and research plans. 
    • The PhD Qualifying Exam should be taken near the end of the third year of graduate study (including MS year). The student will provide a prospectus to the Qualifying Exam committee in advance of the exam which outlines the research plans for the student's PhD dissertation. The expectation is that this prospectus should be about 10 pages long (single-spaced). At the start of the exam the student will present a summary of the prospectus (approximately 15-20 minutes).
    • Updated process for the ENV Qualifying exams as of June 2023: The Qualifying Exam committee consists of 4 faculty members, of which at least 2 must be from the major area and at least 1 must be from outside CEE. Your main research advisor may serve on your qualifying exam, but cannot be the chair of your exam committee. (The chairs of the qualifying exam may not serve as the chair of the dissertation committee).  For more details on procedures and advice from your fellow students, please see the Guide.
    • You must apply for advancement to candidacy after passing the Qualifying Exam and completing all other degree requirements other than research, writing, and filing of the dissertation.
  • Dissertation committee of 3 faculty members (with 1 from outside the student’s major discipline) approves the dissertation.
  • The PhD program typically requires an additional 4-5 years after the MS degree.

Course work (PhD)

The Major
  • The major must consist of a minimum of 12 units of graduate course work selected from CE 200-219. Each minor must contain a minimum of 6 units. The remaining 6 units needed for the 30-unit requirement can be satisfied by taking additional graduate-level major courses and/or minor courses at either the graduate or upper-division level. 
  • Undergraduate courses in the major may be appropriate, but do not count against this minimum requirement. These requirements are designed to ensure that all doctoral students achieve a minimum depth and breadth both within Environmental Engineering and in related disciplines, while allowing flexibility for students to pursue individual goals.
  • All lecture and laboratory courses completed while a registered graduate student may be considered as part of the PhD program of study. Specifically, these include courses taken while a graduate student at Berkeley or elsewhere.
The Minor
  • Each minor must consist of a cohesive set of courses but need not be from a single department. The minor subjects should broaden the base of academic preparation by complementing the major. Minors can also provide preparation and support for planned dissertation research. 
  • At least 1 minor must be outside the Civil and Environmental Engineering department.
  • A minor that contains courses in the College of Engineering must include at least 3 units of graduate (200-series) course(s).
  • A minor that contains no courses from the College of Engineering may consist entirely of upper division (100-series) courses.
  • No courses in Environmental Engineering may be used in a minor (generally, CE 100-119, 173, and 200-219).


The doctoral dissertation is a cornerstone of the PhD degree. You are encouraged to explore research possibilities with individual faculty members at the earliest possible date. If you are admitted directly to the PhD program, such consultation should occur during the first semester in residence if the matter has not already been discussed during the admissions process. If you are admitted to the MS degree program and you wish to consider pursuing a PhD, you are likewise encouraged to begin such consultations early.

A dissertation committee of 3 faculty members, including 1 from outside your major discipline, is appointed by the Dean of the Graduate Division (based on recommendations from your Graduate Adviser) after you have advanced to candidacy. You are expected to consult regularly with the members of this committee to review your progress. Each member of the committee must read and approve of the dissertation.

Examples of some current research areas:

  • characterizing and improving indoor and atmospheric air quality
  • treatment processes for drinking water, wastewater, and hazardous wastes
  • environmental chemistry
  • quantification of contaminant transport processes in multimedia environments
  • soil chemistry
  • chemical transformation reactions
  • subsurface thermal and biological remediation technologies
  • identification and restoration of degraded ecosystems
  • environmental microbiology surface-water hydrology
  • estuarine dynamics
  • mixing in the environment
  • sediment transport
  • environmental fluid mechanics
  • coastal zone processes in estuaries and shorelines
  • numerical modeling of turbulence
  • atmospheric boundary layer processes