The admissions office has been receiving lots of questions from admitted students about specializations within the Masters of Environmental Management Program: Am I required to specialize? What are the benefits? Are there any drawbacks to declaring a specialization? I thought I would take a moment to weigh in.

First and foremost, students are NOT required to specialize. However, MEM students have the option to enroll in any of eight specializations, such as Business and the Environment, Ecosystem Conservation and Management, and Environmental Policy Analysis. For a full list of available specializations, visit our page on the MEM curriculum.

Most specializations require between 18 and 24 credits and share a similar overall structure, consisting of core courses, electives, and a capstone course or project. There is some flexibility built into the specializations: alternate courses can sometimes fulfill the requirements following a Petition for Required Course Substitution assuming the course “approximates the content and/or spirit of the requirement.”

Now the important question: Should I specialize? What are the benefits? There are a few benefits to specializing – First, the specializations provide a clear, easy to follow curriculum for those students with very specific interests. Second, upon completion of the requirements, students who specialize receive formal acknowledgement of completion of that specialization on their official transcript. Therefore, students with specific career goals seeking more guidance in designing their curriculum may prefer to specialize.

On the other hand, many students choose Yale F&ES’s MEM program because of the ultimate freedom it provides. They like that there are no required courses and are excited by the prospect of creating their own curriculum from scratch. Students seeking this flexibility probably should not specialize.

Now a little about my own experience – I have chosen to loosely follow the ecosystem conservation and management specialization. As a joint law student, I wanted to make the most out of my short time at F&ES, taking the courses that best fit my interests and career goals. At times these courses aligned with those required by the specialization, and at times they didn’t. As a result, I’ve used the specialization requirements as helpful guidelines, but have ultimately chosen whether to take a course based on how it fits in with my goals.

In addition, the career development office assured me that I could still note a focus in ecosystem conservation and management on my resume, despite not following F&ES’s specialization track exactly. This may be important for students seeking an internship or employment in a particular field.

Ultimately, your time at F&ES is short! I recommend choosing the courses that best fit your interests and goals. If those courses tend to align with the requirements of a given specialization, then specializing is likely the right choice for you. If not, not specializing may allow you to get the most out of the MEM program.  Please feel free to contact me with questions about specializations and my own experience ( I hope to see many of you at the open house this week!