Discover a one-year, career-focused master’s degree in natural resources

The Master of Professional Studies (MPS) in Agriculture and Life Sciences offered through the field of Natural Resources is available for returning or continuing students interested in a professional career path in environmental science and management. This degree typically is pursued by a person already employed in an environmentally related professional capacity who plans to continue in this field, or by a more recent graduate seeking further coursework to enhance their skills and training in specific areas.

The MPS degree is designed for candidates whose interests are not primarily research-oriented, but instead focused on a career in environmental management working with local and international government agencies, non-government organizations, and academic institutions. Students in the MPS program maximize their career potential by acquiring advanced skills required for a career in environmental management, expanding their professional abilities and networks, and becoming more immediately marketable in the field of Natural Resources.

MPS students in Natural Resources are fully integrated into our graduate field and are an important constituent of our diverse, highly talented, and impressive graduate student community.

MPS Focus Areas

While students have the opportunity to customize their own course of study with their faculty advisor, the field of Natural Resources offers several areas of focus for MPS degree candidates. Focused on the latest advancements in environmental management, the MPS emphasizes improvements that promote human health and well-being and advance environmental sustainability.

Up close view of tree rings.

Environmental Management

The sheer complexity, interrelatedness, and multiple facets within the broad field of Environmental Management and Sustainability make this profession as exciting as it is rewarding. Within this area of focus students in Cornell’s Field of Natural Resources will be embedded in an academic community of highly motivated, broadly diverse and globally renowned experts and practitioners of Conservation, Policy, Ecology, Resource Economics, Environmental Attitudes and Decision Processes, Sustainable Practices, and Social Ecological Systems. Participating students will learn some of the most advanced techniques and hone skills that are both highly effective and marketable for environmental agencies, organizations and institutions, and environmentally concerned businesses. Consistently ranked among the top university environmental programs globally, our multidisciplinary curriculum is designed to build high-level practitioners, developing successful methods and solutions to tackle some of our world’s most important environmental issues. Suggested courses include: 

  • Planning for Environmental Conservation and Sustainability
  • Applied Remote Sensing and GIS for Resource Inventory and Analysis
  • Introduction to Environmental Planning
  • Resource Management and Environment Law
  • Decision Making in Natural Resources Management

Water Resource Management

Water scarcity is rapidly becoming the most limiting resource globally—due to the complex interactions of an expanding human population, mismanagement, and undervaluing of water—and the predicament is only being exacerbated by climate change. With more than 35 classes and 65 faculty, Cornell is a leading institution for studying every aspect of water resource management from fisheries to hydropower, from ditch networks and streams to the Great Lakes, which comprise >20% of the world’s freshwater. Students will take a common set of courses introducing both the biophysical and social dimensions of water resource management, and then get in-depth exposure to field, laboratory and analytical skills needed to address water problems globally. Suggested courses include: 

  • Sustainable Water Resource Management in the Face of Climate Change
  • Water Management in an Era of Growing Water Scarcity 
  • Planning for Environmental Conservation and Sustainability
  • Water Measurement and Analysis Methods 

Social Analysis and Decision Making

People and the environment are intricately intertwined, and the success or failure of environmental stewardship often depends on understanding and integrating people in environmental decision making. Cornell and the Field of Natural Resource are leaders in applying interdisciplinary approaches to understanding and addressing environmental problems. In this focus area students take a variety of courses across a range of disciplines that will provide them with the skills needed to consider and engage people, agencies, policy makers, and institutions in environmental management. Suggested courses include: 

  • Human Dimensions of Coupled Social-Ecological Systems
  • Introduction to Community and Environment Dispute Resolution
  • Environmental Governance
  • Environmental Policy Processes

Sustainable Systems

Implicit to the concept of sustainability is the wise use of natural resources, without degrading the environment or undermining the ecological processes that contribute to long-term stability. The Sustainability Science focus area offers a multidisciplinary approach to concepts, applications, and contemporary techniques involved in ensuring maintenance, stability, and long-term health of some of the world’s most critical resources. This area of focus overs a breadth of disciplines and a wide variety of possible topics including socio-ecology, management of local and global fisheries, sustainable forestry, water resource management, food security and sustainable marine ecology and policy. Suggested courses include: 

  • Advanced Conservation Biology: Concepts and Techniques
  • Environmental Finance and Markets
  • Toward a Sustainable Global Food System: Food Policy for Developing Countries 
  • Global Seminar: Building Sustainable Environments and Secure Food Systems for a Modern World

Forest Ecology and Management

Forests are increasingly important to the well-being of human communities, providing direct benefits and ecosystem services, such as sequestration of carbon dioxide, maintenance of high biodiversity and conservation of water, nutrients, and soil. In the field of Natural Resources, we focus on rejuvenation, regeneration, and re-establishment of natural cycles, to improve forest health and create self-sustaining forest ecosystems. This program draws from the resources of dozens of courses at Cornell that provide advanced tools, such as computer modeling and GIS analysis, and combines the latest understanding of biogeochemical cycling, carbon sequestration and forest community dynamics. Courses will examine mechanisms of sustainable use, resistance and adaptations to disturbance, and policy implementations to simultaneously reduce negative impacts, maintain productive ecosystems and contribute positively to local and global climate systems. Students will have access to professionals and facilities at the Arnot Teaching and Research Forest, Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, thousands of acres of CALS forestlands throughout New York, extensive maple production forests, and Cornell Botanic Garden’s suite of 42 Natural Areas. Suggested courses include: 

  • Forest Ecology
  • Forest Management and Maple Syrup Production
  • Woody Plant Identification and Use
  • Ecology and Evolution of Plant-Pathogen Interactions
  • Woody Plant Selection, Design, and Landscape Establishment

Additional MPS focus areas

In addition, the field of Natural Resources also offers the following MPS areas of focus:

  • Quantitative Ecology
  • Community-Based Natural Resource Management
  • Ecosystem Biology and Biogeochemistry
  • Fishery and Aquatic Science
  • Conservation Biology
  • Wildlife Science
  • Applied Ecology
  • Risk Analysis and Management
  • Policy and Institutional Analysis

and the potential to create your own curriculum. 

Alumni Spotlight

Vanvay Chitpaseuth MPS '22

After I graduated from the MPS program in NRE at Cornell,  WCS-Laos offered me a leadership position as the Program Director for Bolikhamxay Landscape, and the program in Bolikhamxay province is the biggest program under WCS-Laos' umbrella. 

For my experiences as an MPS student in Natural Resources and the Environment, I could say that studying at Cornell is the greatest experience in my life, even it was only a one-year study. I learned a lot in classes,  and the courses helped me learn new things and improve my skills, including thinking critically about possible techniques for supporting sustainable conservation and employing new techniques for biodiversity assessment by using many interesting technologies such as camera traps, sound recorders, GIS and mapping.

During my study at Cornell, the most interesting class for me was Applied Conservation Ecology. The class offered me a great opportunity to learn how to use many interesting devices and tools, especially the field practice involving finding salamanders—it was so great, even though it was so cold.

For my career goal, I will try to support and provide opportunities for capacity building for young conservationists in Laos as much as I can. I believe that these conservationists could have positive impacts on conservation work in the future and they are capable of tackling all challenges as they become a new generation dedicated to conservation in Laos. 

Alumni Spotlight

Ian Winick MPS '22

Ian completed his MPS in Natural Resources and the Environment in 2022. Inspired by the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, the focus of his capstone project was the conservation biology and restoration ecology of a rare perennial plant in the Finger Lakes region of New York. He began his MPS with the goal of securing a job in natural resources management, but found a passion for research and decided to continue into academia. Determined to maximize his professional development while at Cornell, he also volunteered as a botanist for the Finger Lakes National Forest in a grassland enhancement project, authored a white-paper section on mangrove restoration for IUCN Thailand, and presented his capstone project at the Midwest-Great Lakes Chapter of the Society for Ecological Restoration. After graduating, Ian received a research associateship in the Department of Natural Resources and the Environment at the University of Arizona, where he is now working on his PhD. Working in the field of plant ecology, he studies the effects of converging climate change and high-severity wildfire on plant communities in western conifer forests with the goal of informing thoughtful, research-driven land stewardship. 

Alumni Spotlight

Kate Riley MPS '21

Kate began a MPS in Natural Resources in the fall of 2021 to explore the intersection of agriculture and conservation. She was unsure of what opportunities might be on the other side of her time at Cornell, but was excited to have the freedom to explore courses from across the University. After graduating in May, the contacts she made while developing her capstone project helped her secure a position as the Land Conservation Specialist with the Finger Lakes Land Trust. As part of her job she assists in acquiring land for a growing network of nature preserves and watershed protection projects. As a New Yorker, she feels lucky to have the opportunity to give back by protecting the future of unique wild and working lands close to home.

Alumni Spotlight

Andrew Zepp, MPS '89

"In my case, the MPS project resulted in the creation of the organization that now employs me so that was clearly the most helpful in terms of my career goals."

Men near tree
Ian Winick
dog and woman by stream
Andrew Zepp stands in front of a tree and speaks to a crowd

CALS MPS program details

Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) Master of Professional Studies (MPS) program is an accredited, course-based, one-year Master’s degree program that emphasizes professional development and intellectual investigation in the areas of agriculture, life sciences and global development.

Though similar to a Master of Science (M.S.) degree in its academic rigor, the MPS degree differs from a traditional M.S. degree in its structure and focus. An M.S. is research-based, with students building a thesis over the course of two or three years. In contrast, the MPS degree is a one-year, course-based program where students study the intricacies and in-depth questions of their field of study. Instead of a thesis or research project, MPS students complete a capstone project during their final semester. To understand this difference in greater detail, please visit our FAQ page.

MPS students are part of a community of diverse students and faculty who share common goals, connecting research and practice to solve complex problems. 


The Master of Professional Studies program has two main components:

  • Coursework: Students work with a faculty advisor to map out their individualized course of study based on their areas of interest. The majority of courses (20 credits) will be within CALS; however, students have the opportunity to take courses across Cornell.
  • Capstone project: With the guidance of a faculty advisor, students work on solving a real-world problem.
  • Satisfactory completion of a minimum of 30 credit hours related to the candidate's professional interest, as agreed upon with the faculty advisor.
    (a)   Twenty credit hours must be taken within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and at least 30 credits must be in graduate-level courses (5000-level and higher).
    (b)   A maximum of 6 of the required 30 credit hours may be earned through the student's problem-solving project (see third bullet).
    (c)   A maximum of 6 graduate-level credit hours earned outside the program, at Cornell University or elsewhere, may be counted toward these requirements at the discretion of the student's faculty advisor. These credits must be appropriate to the subject of study and completed not more than five years before admission.
  • Completion of a minimum of two semesters. One semester must be earned by carrying a minimum of 12 credit hours. In certain circumstances, the second semester credit may be earned by accumulating the remaining credit hours in the School of Continuing Education and Summer Sessions at Cornell University or through transfer of credit (see item c above).
  • Satisfactory completion of a problem-solving project under the supervision of the faculty advisor. This project may be an action program, the development of a plan to address a pertinent problem, the development of materials or methodology suited to the student's situation, or the development and execution of research appropriate to the profession. A formal project report must be submitted to and approved by the candidate's faculty advisor. 
  • A minimum semester grade point average of 2.5 (minimum of 18 credit hours with letter grades at Cornell).
  • Completion of the degree within four years of admission. Some fields of study may have special requirements, so students should check with the field's director of graduate studies for specific details.

Students work with top-ranked faculty who are leaders in their field on an experiential project that fosters professional skill development through the creation of solutions to real-world problems.

CALS MPS admission requirements

The ideal candidate will demonstrate a passion for the importance of gathering and analyzing data to make strategic decisions, competency in university-level science coursework, and an interest in applying knowledge gained in a professional career.

  • Strong statement of purpose from the prospective student clearly expressing the rationale for pursuing a professional degree, including an outline of their desired professional trajectory, an articulation of their learning objectives, how they would achieve these objectives through the program, and how they would benefit by an MPS degree.
  • Three strong letters of recommendation reflecting both academic and professional potential
  • Curriculum vitae (CV) or résumé
  • Admitted applicants generally meet one of the two following criteria:
    • GPA ≥3.5 with evidence of strong foundational coursework and a demonstrated ability to succeed in Cornell courses
    • ≥ 3 years of continuous professional experience in a related professional field with evidence of strong potential to succeed in a natural-resources-oriented field
  • International student requirements:
    • Students must meet either TOEFL or IELTS requirements. TOEFL requirements: 22 Speaking, 20 Reading, 20 Writing, 15 Listening. IELTS:  Overall band score ≥ 7.0. Required TOEFL scores are assigned and reviewed by the Cornell Graduate School. Our field follows Cornell Graduate School requirements.

Compare a CALS Professional Master's (MPS, MFS) to an M.S. degree

MPS, MFS and M.S. programs lead to graduate-level master’s degrees. Which is right for you? Here's how they compare: 

Final ProjectCapstone projectThesis
LengthTypically one yearTypically 2-3 years
FundingSelf-funded, usually with federal and/or private loansFunded by the department with  stipends and teaching  assistantships
Ideal forIndividuals who want to pursue careers in industry, government or nonprofit agencies; some continue in researchIndividuals who are interested in pursuing careers in research or academia