The course and credit requirements stipulated by the Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, in conjunction with the Graduate School of Penn State University.

The Graduate School requirements and specific Department requirements dictate the following guidelines. It is the responsibility of M.S. degree students to consult with their adviser prior to each registration period. Before the conclusion of the first semester, the student and adviser will collaborate on developing a Graduate Academic Plan (GAP), which will be subject to approval by the students committee. The Graduate Academic Plan may be adjusted with the consent of the committee during any registration or drop/add period. It is important for the plan to include alternative course options in case the student encounters difficulties in securing their preferred courses.

Minimum Graduate Credits

To meet the Graduate School’s requirements, candidates are required to successfully complete a minimum of 30 credits worth of courses at or above the 400-level. Among these credits, a minimum of 20 must be earned specifically at the University Park Campus. Courses completed to overcome deficiencies are excluded. Moreover, these credits must align with the specified minimum credit requirements outlined in the following items:

1. SARI - Scholarship and Research Integrity

Penn State requires training related to research integrity and must be fulfilled during the initial year of registration. Requirements include five hours of in-person discussion, typically met by successfully completing two (2) credits of SOILS 597 Research, Integrity, & Communication course, AND completion of the CITI online course. In extraordinary cases, the student's adviser, in consultation with the Graduate Program Coordinator and Program Head, will determine the acceptability of any alternative to the five hour in-person requirement.

2. Major Field Courses

Twelve (12) credits of 400-, 500-, or 800-level formal courses in the major field are required (at least 6 of the 12 credits must be 500-level or higher, excluding seminars and independent studies).

The selection of coursework in the major field will be tailored to align with the students' primary educational goals, which include the achievement of thesis research, mastery of discipline-specific subject matter, and preparation for a successful career. Any courses within this field or other departments will be deemed suitable for inclusion in the major if they align with these objectives. To optimize the program's effectiveness, it is advisable to select a cohesive series of related courses.

The student, in collaboration with their thesis advisor and the advisory committee, will have the responsibility of selecting the courses in the major field. The thesis advisor will oversee the direction of the student's academic studies on a semester-by-semester basis.

Students who intend to pursue a Ph.D. degree after completing the M.S. program should familiarize themselves with the admission and graduation requirements of the Ph.D. program. Although certain courses taken at the M.S. level may be applicable to the Ph.D. program's requirements, admission to the Ph.D. program may necessitate additional preparation in various study areas beyond the minimum requirements for M.S. graduation. It should be noted that the successful completion of an M.S. degree within the department does not guarantee acceptance into the department's Ph.D. program.

3. Dual-title Courses (Optional)

Six (6) credits of 400 or 500-level formal courses in dual-title area excluding seminars and independent studies, except where such courses are specifically allowed by the dual-title department.

A dual-title degree is a fully integrated program of study that allows students to define a problem that combines both the graduate major and dual-title fields. A dual-title graduate degree program cannot exist as a separate (stand-alone) graduate degree program at Penn State. Other departments and discipline areas of the University govern dual-title requirements. A faculty member representing the dual-title area will serve on the student's committee as co-Adviser and/or co-Chair. For additional information on dual-title degrees, we recommend visiting the Intercollege Degree Programs webpage where you will find comprehensive details.

4. Minor or General Studies Courses (Optional)

Six (6) credits of 400 or 500-level formal courses in a minor or general studies area. (at least 3 of the 6 credits must be 500-level or higher, excluding seminars and independent studies, except where such courses are specifically allowed by the minor department)

A minor consists of integrated or articulated work in one field related to, but different from the major field. Other departments and discipline areas of the University govern minor requirements. A faculty member representing the minor will serve on the student's committee. As an alternative to a minor, general studies coursework may be taken in a field or fields different from the major field when considered by the thesis adviser and the advisory committee to have significance and value for the student.

5. Statistical Methods Courses

Six (6) credits at the 400- or 500-level formal courses in statistical method topics such as analysis-of-variance, correlation, regression, and design of experiments, and are approved by the student's committee. (at least 3 of the 6 credits must be at the 500-level or higher) Courses taken during the M.S. program may be used toward the statistics major, minor, or the general studies formal course requirement if approved by the Statistics Department.

6. Thesis Research Courses

Six (6) credits of SOILS 600 or 610 (thesis research) are required and it is expected that the student will produce an original research thesis that directly aligns with their chosen major discipline. These credits can be assigned a letter grade (A, B, or C) or left ungraded (R). Please note that a maximum of 6 credits can be assigned a letter grade, while a maximum of 15 credits (graded or ungraded) can be counted towards fulfilling the overall 30-credit requirement.

The commitment of time necessary to conduct rigorous research and successfully finalize a thesis that presents a notable advancement within the field, as an essential component of your academic pursuit, may demand a substantial allocation of supplementary hours per week. The specific duration will be contingent on the intricacies and scope entailed by your chosen thesis topic.

7. Supervised Teaching Experience Course

One (1) credit of SOILS 602 supervised teaching experience is mandatory for all M.S. Soil Science students. As part of this requirement, students are expected to serve as a teaching assistant (TA) on at least one occasion. During their time as a TA, students collaborate with a faculty member to formulate a comprehensive teaching plan and enhance their teaching abilities. The supervising faculty member assumes the role of mentor to the TA and evaluates their performance at the end of the semester.

Upon appointment as TAs by the department, students can register for SOILS 602 in the respective semester. The purpose of these credits is to facilitate the meaningful development of the graduate student's teaching skills. However, it is important to note that 602 credits cannot be used to fulfill any specific requirement for an advanced degree, such as the 30 credits necessary for a M.S. degree.

8. Seminar/Colloquium Course

One (1) credit of SOILS 590 seminar presentation is required near the end of the student's degree. In extraordinary cases, the student's adviser, in consultation with the Graduate Program Coordinator and Program Head, will determine the acceptability of any alternative to this seminar presentation.

9. Supplemental Credits

Additional credits from 400-, 500-, 600-, or 800-level formal courses as needed to give a total of 30 that supplement one or more of the areas: thesis, major, minor, and general studies. Credits for independent study courses may also be included.

10. 500- and 600-Level Coursework within the Program

Eighteen (18) credits of 500- or 600-level formal courses are required to fulfill the graduate school’s course requirement.

11. Deficiencies

Any admission deficiencies should be addressed and resolved to the students' committee's satisfaction. It is important to note that such deficiencies do not contribute towards the mandatory 30 credits needed for the completion of a master's degree.

Additional Courses

Additional courses and requirements as required by the adviser and advisory committee.

Seminar Attendance

The candidate is expected to regularly participate in departmental Seminars every semester during their registration period at University Park Campus.

Teaching Experience

Students who have successfully obtained a ½ time graduate assistantship are obliged to maintain their full-time status by enrolling in a range of 9-12 credits per semester. Additionally, they are expected to fulfill their assistantship duties, which typically demand an average of 20 hours per week. These responsibilities may encompass serving as a teaching assistant during semesters in which the student is granted a departmental assistantship. It is estimated that completing the M.S. degree will take approximately two years for students with a ½ time assistantship.

Final Examination

A Final Oral Examination (Thesis Defense) based on the student's thesis and academic training is required.

Summary Checklist

The M.S. requirements are summarized in the checklists ("M.S. SOILS Checklist" and "Summary of Graduate Coursework for M.S. SOILS Degree" forms). It is the responsibility of the student to maintain these checklists, and to have them approved by the Major Adviser and Graduate Program Head prior to graduation.