ETaP Graduate Option Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

This page includes answers to questions that are asked frequently by ETaP program prospective graduate students.

1) What academic degrees provide adequate preparation for admission to the ETaP program?

Energy, Technology, and Policy is an interdisciplinary program, and we accept strong applicants from a number of backgrounds. The diversity of our student body can be seen in the list of prior academic degrees for alumni and current students on our students and alumni web page. We do expect all incoming students to have completed at least one university level course each in calculus, statistics, chemistry, and physics.

2) Do I really need to take the GRE exam?

Yes, scores from the aptitude (verbal, quantitative, and analytical) section of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) exam are a required component of the application packet. Note that we do NOT require applicants to take any of the GRE subject tests. We do grant exceptions to the GRE exam requirement in rare cases where taking the exam is impractical or would represent a significant hardship. For example, the GRE exam is not offered in some countries and international or expatriate applicants residing in those countries may be granted a waiver for the GRE exam on a case by case basis.

3) What GRE scores do I need to gain admission to the program?

We do not use GRE scores as a screening tool in the application process. Rather, we use them as one piece of evidence in a broader application packet that also includes transcripts, a resume, the statement of purpose essay, letters of recommendation, etc. We do not have minimum score requirements for the GRE exam, but most applicants that we accept have combined scores for the verbal and quantitative sections that exceed 1150. In some cases we do accept applicants with lower GRE scores because other aspects of their application file indicate that they are very likely to excel in the program.

4) I took the GRE a number of years ago. How long are the results from a GRE test valid?

GRE scores are generally considered to be valid for five years from the time that the exam was taken. If your scores will be more than five years old as of the deadline that applies to your application (e.g., February 1 for applications to start in the fall semester), you should plan to retake the exam.

5) What GPA do I need to gain admission to the program?

As with the GRE, we do not use grade point averages (GPAs) as a screening tool in the application process. Nonetheless, most successful applicants to the ETaP program have a GPA that is 3.0 or better on a four point scale. Successful applicants with GPAs lower than a 3.0 must demonstrate a strong likelihood of success in our program through other items in the application file (i.e., resume, letters of recommendation, essay, GRE scores, etc.). Note that we often weight grades in the final 60 units of coursework more heavily than grades in classes taken earlier. In general, students with a GPA below 3.0 should consider including a brief note in which they explain the reason for their low GPA and why they believe that they are likely to perform at a higher level in the ETaP Graduate Program at HSU.

6) How important is the statement of purpose essay in the admissions process?

The statement of purpose essay is a very important component of the application packet. The essay provides you with an opportunity to articulate your reasons for applying to the program along with your research and professional interests. We are interested to know how the program fits into your career goals and how you intend to focus your energies during your time at Humboldt State. While it is not necessary to propose specific master’s thesis or project work in the statement of purpose, it can be very useful to describe research or project work that interests you strongly. Here, you might introduce the topic, explain why it interests you, and how you would approach answering a key research question or solving a key practical problem related to the topic. As a final note, we use the essay as a writing sample to evaluate each candidate’s ability to communicate clearly, so it is advisable to ensure that it is well written.

7) Who should I get to write my letters of recommendation?

We are most interested to receive letters of recommendation from people who are in a good position to evaluate your potential to succeed in our master’s degree program. For this reason, it is generally advisable to have at least one and preferably two or three letters from people who are very familiar with your prior work as an academic (e.g., a professor or researcher who knows your academic and/or research work well). If you have worked professionally, it can also be useful to have a recommendation letter from a former supervisor. Letters from relatives, friends, or people who are not in a good position to evaluate your potential as a graduate student are generally not appropriate.

8) What funding and work opportunities are available to incoming ETaP students?

Students in the ETaP program receive funding support from a number of sources, including federal and state financial aid, fellowships and scholarships, research assistantship and teaching assistantship jobs at the university, and jobs for businesses or organizations in the community. Information about funding support options can be found through the Funding Opportunities link on the ETaP website. The main source of research assistantship positions for ETaP students in recent years has been the Schatz Energy Research Center (see #9, below), and the main source of teaching assistantship positions has been the Environmental Resources Engineering department. Another common source of employment for graduate ETaP graduate students is the Humboldt Energy Independence Fund (HEIF), where students are often hired to work on projects aimed at reducing the environmental impact of energy use on the HSU campus. Over the past few years, ETaP students have successfully applied for funding from the Schatz Energy Fellowship, the Switzer Fellowship, the American Association for University Women (AAUW), and Wolford-Hegy Rotary scholarships. Students are encouraged to actively seek funding support from these and other similar sources.

9) What is the relationship between the ETaP program and the Schatz Energy Research Center?

The ETaP graduate program and the Schatz Energy Research Center (SERC) are separate entities, but they are closely linked in a number of ways. First, all of the HSU faculty members who do research through SERC are also affiliated with the ETaP graduate program. In addition, a number of students in the ETaP program work on research projects at SERC. ETaP students who work at SERC get their positions through a competitive application process.

10) What classes do students usually take to fulfill their elective course requirements?

The goal of the elective requirements is to allow students to deepen their expertise in an area of interest. Given the diversity of student interests and backgrounds, it is not surprising that ETaP students use a variety of courses to fulfill this requirement. Each student consults with their academic adviser to select a coherent package of appropriate courses. There are some common trends, though, for students with particular areas of interest and prior training. For example, some students take a series of engineering courses, where common classes include Thermodynamics (ENGR 331), Fluid Mechanics (ENGR 333), Water Quality and Environmental Health (ENGR 351), Transport Phenomenon (ENGR 416), Advanced Thermodynamics (ENGR 571), Building Energy Analysis (ENGR 573), Renewable Energy Power Systems (ENGR 575), and Solar Thermal Engineering (ENGR 577). Others emphasize economics, international development, anthropology, political science, or other similar disciplines with courses such as Environmental and Natural Resource Economics (ECON 423), Politics of a Sustainable Society (PSCI 373), Technology and Development (PSCI 464), International Development (ANTH 680), and Ecosystems and Society (EMP 620). A variety of additional courses are also available in other areas, including Natural Resources Management, Fisheries, Forestry, Biology, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and others. The HSU course catalog is available at this link.

11) Do I need to know my master’s project or thesis topic before I start the program?

No, it is not necessary to have a thesis or project topic before you arrive. The first semester in the program is a good time to explore new ideas and to talk with your peers and faculty about possible ideas. It is generally advisable to settle on a topic sometime early in the second semester in the program.

12) What is the difference between a master’s thesis and a master’s project?

In practice, master’s theses and projects are fairly similar in terms of the required rigor, length, and document format. The primary difference between a thesis and a project lies in the focus of the effort. A master’s thesis generally focuses on answering an academically relevant research question, while a master’s project focuses on contributing to the solution of a problem that is of practical interest to some person or group. Most ETaP students seek to carry out applied work with real world relevance.

13) If I want more information about the program than is available on the website, what should I do?

The primary point of contact for inquiries is the graduate coordinator, but prospective applicants should feel free to contact any member of the ETaP faculty to ask questions about the program. Faculty email addresses are available on the faculty page.

14) How should I go about selecting an adviser for my master’s thesis or project?

Each student is assigned an academic adviser when she or he is admitted to the program, but this person is not necessarily that student’s master’s thesis or project adviser. It is best to seek out an adviser during the first semester and – if needed – the beginning of the second semester in the program. In addition to a thesis or project adviser, it is further necessary for each student to recruit two more faculty members to serve on their master’s committee. Seeking out three committee members (chair plus two others) is a big task, and it is a good idea to start early. In general, you should take active steps to meet and interact with a number of professors once you have joined the program through coursework, meetings during office hours, and other venues.

15) What are the job prospects for ETaP graduates?

Fields related to clean energy and climate change mitigation have been growing rapidly, and in many areas there is a shortage of trained professionals to meet demand. In the United States, job growth has been especially rapid in areas such as energy efficiency, solar energy, and wind power. There are also significant opportunities for people with expertise in energy and climate change mitigation policy. In California, the rate of job creation in clean energy sectors has been almost ten times the rate of job growth in the wider economy.* ETaP students have a very good track record for gaining employment following graduation. Over 85% of our graduates have secured a job in the energy field or are enrolled in a related PhD program. The career paths chosen by ETaP graduates vary according to their areas of expertise and prior training. Recent graduates have jobs working for private sector consulting firms, local and national government agencies, public utilities commissions, and international development organizations.

*Environmental Defense Fund (2012), “Seven Growth Sectors Driving California’s Clean and Efficient Economy.”

How to Apply

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