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Sustainability master’s degree guide

Are you passionate about the environment and want expert skills that will help you protect it? Then consider studying for a sustainability masters or other postgraduate qualification. Our guide explains all.


What is a sustainability master's degree?

A sustainability course can be a valuable stepping stone towards work or research in the emerging field of sustainability.

Courses let you explore sustainability in various contexts, from the scientific to the political and socio-economical. They’re designed to help you prepare for a career that addresses real global issues.

You can focus your studies on a range of related disciplines, like:

  • Anthropology
  • Architecture
  • Development
  • Engineering
  • Geography
  • Health
  • Management
  • Tourism 

Students come from various backgrounds. They include recent graduates from related subject areas and professionals already working in environment-related jobs.


Why do a master's degree in sustainability?

Sustainability is a highly relevant area due to the current climate crisis. Governments worldwide are investing more and more into green jobs. If you want to work towards finding solutions for a more sustainable world, then a degree in this area could be for you.

During a masters, you’ll deepen your theoretical knowledge and enhance your practical skills in sustainability. Your course may include industry placements or collaboration projects with organisations tackling relevant issues, such as the World Health Organisation or the United Nations.

You’ll develop a wide set of interdisciplinary and specific skills that will make you highly employable within the green economy. You’ll also develop transferable skills such as:

  • Analytical and technical research
  • Critical thinking and evaluation
  • Communication and people skills
  • Leadership and teamwork
  • Time management and organisation
  • Theoretical and informed decision making 


What qualifications can you get?

Qualification options include masters, doctorates, certificates and diplomas in sustainability. Each will have a slightly different focus and style of teaching.

Taught masters in sustainability

Universities across the UK offer Master of Arts (MA) and Master of Science (MSc) degrees in sustainability. An MA course will have a humanities focus, and an MSc will focus on natural or social sciences. Both are taught causes that involve lectures, seminars and a dissertation or research project.

Research in sustainability

Research and doctorate degrees are usually Master of Philosophy (MPhil) or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), where you spend a significant amount of time on a large research project. You’ll work with supervisors and specialists, but most of your work will be independent.

Certificates and diplomas in sustainability

Postgraduate certificates (PGCert) and postgraduate diplomas (PGDip) are shorter versions of the master’s qualification. They help you deepen your knowledge and can be useful if you’re already working in a related career.


What jobs can you do with a master's degree in sustainability?

Graduates go into roles within local and national governments, research institutions, international organisations and private sector companies. Jobs include in areas such as:

  • Carbon management
  • Environmental assessment
  • Governmental research
  • Policy
  • Pollution control
  • Resource management
  • Sustainable energy
  • Urban planning
  • Waste management
  • Wildlife conservation 

Many masters sustainability graduates continue their studies and work towards a doctorate degree in sustainability.


What are the sustainability master’s degree requirements?

To qualify for a sustainability master’s course, you’ll usually need:

  • MA/MSc – bachelor’s degree (or equivalent) with upper second-class honours (2:1) in a relevant subject such as biology, conservation, ecology, archaeology, geography or anthropology

Depending on the course and university, you might be admitted if you have significant professional experience relevant to the area, along with a demonstrated strong interest and knowledge of sustainability.

For other postgraduate courses, you’ll usually need:

  • PGCert/PGDip – same as for a masters
  • MPhil/PHD – same as for a masters along with a relevant master’s degree (or equivalent). You may need to submit a research proposal


What sustainability courses are there?

Examples of postgraduate sustainability degrees available in the UK:

  • Global Strategy and Sustainability MSc
  • Sustainable Design MA
  • Sustainable Development MSc/PGCert/PGDip
  • Sustainable Energy Technologies PhD
  • Sustainable and Ethical Business Management MSc
  • Sustainable Synthesis and Catalysis MPhil/PhD


What do you learn in a sustainability master’s degree?

Potential module topics and research themes include:

  • Behaviour change
  • Bioenergy
  • Built environment
  • Climate design
  • Data collection and research methods
  • Energy, water and food
  • Environmental governance
  • Environmental impact assessment
  • Heritage protection
  • Ocean and coastal science
  • Resource management
  • Sustainable development policies
  • Sustainable transportation
  • Waste systems 


How will you be taught and assessed?

If you’re on a taught master’s course (MA/MSc), you could learn through lectures, seminars, field trips, practical sessions, guest talks, experimental project work, workshops, case studies and problem-based study. Assessment could be through coursework, essays, lab reports, research projects, presentations and exams.

If you pursue a research degree (MPhil/PhD), you’ll work with expert supervisors but receive less support than on a taught course. You could be assessed through formal progress reports, an independent research project and oral exams, known as vivas.

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How long is a master’s degree in sustainability?

It depends on your chosen course. Generally, full-time courses last:

  • MA/MSc – one to two years
  • MPhil – one to two years
  • PhD – three to four years
  • PGCert – around 15 weeks or one term
  • PGDip – around 30 weeks or two terms

Part-time courses can last twice as long.


Similar subjects to sustainability

Examples of other subjects like sustainability that you could study at postgraduate level:

  • Biology
  • Conservation
  • Environmental science
  • Geology
  • Meteorology
  • Oceanography

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