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How to Apply to the PhD Program

The Bren School is a graduate school within the Graduate Division of UC Santa Barbara. Applications to the Bren School are completed through the UCSB Online Graduate Application. Please note that you may apply to only one department at UCSB per admissions cycle. The Bren School’s PhD in Environmental Science and Management program accepts applications for Fall matriculation only. 

Bren's Commitment to Holistic Admissions

The Bren School proudly stands by a holistic admissions process for our graduate programs. Bren's admissions committee looks for well-rounded applicants with excellent academic performance, maturity, work experience, great letters of recommendation, and strong personal statements. Each applicant offers a unique suite of experiences and accomplishments that are fully considered by the admissions committee. Before you apply, please read about Bren's holistic admissions process to understand how we weigh and consider your application materials, as well as how to request an application fee waiver. 

UCSB Graduate Application

Applications to the Bren School are completed through the UCSB Graduate Application Online. The application portal opens September 1 each year.

Important Dates & Deadlines

For Fall 2021 PhD Start Date:

Online application opens September 1, 2020
Application deadline December 15, 2020
Admissions decisions Late March 2021

Required Application Materials Checklist

  • UCSB Graduate Application (online application)
  • Non-refundable application fee
  • Statement of Purpose essay
  • Personal Achievements/Contributions essay
  • Resume or C.V.
  • Three Letters of Recommendation
  • GRE scores* Please note the GRE scores requirement has been waived in response to the COVID-19 pandemic 
  • Transcripts

Application Materials:

Non-refundable application fee

There is a required non-refundable fee of $120 for domestic applicants and $140 for international applicants. Applications are not processed until the fee is received. This fee can be paid by credit card or with a check/money order using the Check/Money Order Submission Form found on the last page of the online application.

Applying for a Fee Waiver 

Application fee waivers are available to qualified U.S. citizens and permanent residents who demonstrate evidence of financial need or proof of participation in an undergraduate research program. McNair Scholars and Project 1000 applicants are among those eligible. Fee waivers are not available to international applicants.

To apply for a fee waiver, follow this procedure within your online application: click on the Payment Information tab and scroll down to the fee waiver information. Then, select the option relevant to you and upload your supporting documentation.

Do not submit a fee waiver the day before the application deadline; it will not be processed in time and your fee waiver request will not be reviewed. Please submit a fee waiver request at least two weeks before the application deadline.

For more information, read FAQs about the UCSB graduate application fee

Statement of purpose essay

The Statement of Purpose (SOP) should provide evidence of your promise as a member of the academic community and should summarize your past research experience, discuss the current state of your research, and explain the future work you hope to pursue. It should also address why the Bren School is the most appropriate place for you to pursue your studies. 

The SOP should be at least one page but no more than two. Formatting style (e.g., line spacing, typeface, or font size) is up to the discretion of the applicant. Review UCSB Graduate Division’s statement prompts before applying.

Personal achievements/contributions essay

UC Santa Barbara is interested in a diverse and inclusive graduate student population. In your Personal Achievements/Contributions (PAC), please describe any aspects of your personal background, accomplishments, or achievements that you feel are important in evaluating your application for graduate study. For example, please describe if you have experienced economic challenges in achieving higher education, such as being financially responsible for family members or dependents, having to work significant hours during undergraduate schooling, or coming from a family background of limited income. 

In your PAC, you may also describe any unusual or varied life experiences that might contribute to the diversity of the graduate group, such as fluency in other languages, experience living in bicultural communities, academic research interests focusing on cultural, societal, or educational problems as they affect under-served segments of society, or evidence of an intention to use the graduate degree toward serving disadvantaged individuals or populations.

The PAC should be at least one page but no more than two. Formatting style (e.g., line spacing, typeface, or font size) is up to the discretion of the applicant. This document should be uploaded directly to the UCSB e-application. You may upload this document directly to your online application. 

Writing tips: Writing the Personal Statement

The UC Berkeley Graduate Division provides an online resource called Writing the Personal Statement which is especially helpful in guiding applicants on the Statement of Purpose and the Personal Achievements/Contributions Essay.

Resume or Curriculum Vitae

Applicants should include all relevant research or professional experience, as well as any publications produced, grants secured, or labs/courses taught.

Letters of Recommendation

Three letters of recommendation (maximum of four) are required as part of your application. For the PhD program, it is beneficial if an applicant can provide at least two letters from faculty members who are familiar with his or her academic abilities. We realize that this may be difficult for applicants who have been out of school for a number of years. If this is not possible, students are requested to provide letters from professionals in supervisory or managerial roles who can attest to their scholarly ability and potential, creativity, dedication, and work performance, among other attributes. 

Letters of Recommendation should be uploaded electronically by the recommenders onto the applicant's online application. You will be asked to supply the name, email address, and current institution/organization of each recommender. Once supplied, the online application will provide instructions to each of your recommenders via email. 

If you are using a Letter Service (such as Interfolio or a university career center) to submit one or more letters, you will be able to indicate this information within the recommender profile. UCSB needs a rating on our rating scale from each recommender you indicate. If the letter will come from a letter service, we will only request the necessary rating from your recommender. 


Please note the GRE scores requirement has been waived for 2021 admission in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Bren School will not be accepting any GRE scores from applicants this year.

While GRE scores must be submitted in order to be considered for admission to UCSB, neither UCSB nor the Bren School enforce a minimum GRE score. Learn more about our holistic admissions approach.

The Bren School does not require a subject test for its applicants. The Bren School does not accept scores from other exams, such as the GMAT, in lieu of the GRE.

UCSB’s Graduate Institution (GI) code is 4835. Please use this number on your GRE score sheets and confirm you select the graduate institution option and not the Undergraduate Institution (UI) option. A department code is not necessary to have scores sent to UCSB. GRE test scores are valid for five years after the testing year in which the test was taken (July 1–June 30). Please allow 4-6 weeks for ETS to transfer your scores to the UCSB Graduate Division, which keeps all scores in its database until they expire.

As part of your application you must also self-report your GRE scores. The self-reported scores are used in matching your official scores on file. Once you initiate your application, please complete the "Exam" tab with the required demographic and exam information.


You will be required to upload transcripts from all institutions you’ve attended to your application. These uploaded transcripts are required to be official documents created by the university but can include "unofficial" transcripts that are generated by an online student portal -- as long as the transcripts include the name of the student, the institution, the grades, and a grading scale. For more details, view the UCSB Graduate Division's details and tips on uploading transcripts.

If you are admitted and decide to attend the Bren School by submitting a positive Statement of Intent to Register (SIR) with UCSB, you will be required to send official transcripts directly from the institution(s) attended to the UCSB Graduate Division (not the Bren School). The only exception to this requirement is for admits who attended UCSB as an undergraduate, in which case official transcripts are not required since UCSB can verify academic records using their student data-tracking systems. 

Transcripts for International Students
If you have received your degree, please include your degree certificate within the same file as your transcripts. The uploaded document must include both the original language transcript and the certified English translation. English transcripts are required and must be a complete, exact and literal translation of the original transcripts. English translations must be provided by the school or an official agency.

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Take the next step toward your future.

Request more information, bring your questions to a webinar with our admissions manager, or start or complete your online application.

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