Environmental and Urban Studies Major Requirements (before Fall 2019)

The undergraduate major is housed in the Social Sciences Collegiate Division and emphasizes interdisciplinary approaches to environmental issues incorporating models and methods from the humanities, social and natural sciences. The curriculum is organized around several elements, including a common introductory sequence required of all majors, focused course work in three broadly conceived thematic tracks, a required thesis, and a required internship or field studies component. A minor concentration is also an option for students interested in pursuing coursework in Environmental and Urban Studies.

As of academic year 2017–18 the Environmental Studies major will be known as Environmental and Urban Studies. This new title reflects significant enhancements to the major that include the introduction of a new thematic track focused on human interaction with place, space, and the built environment in urban regions. 

The new Urban Environment Track will complement the two existing tracks devoted to study of the interactions of humans and the environment. It is designed to give students a deeper theoretical understanding of cities and practical strength in addressing urban and environmental challenges. It brings a spatial and place-based perspective to these questions, using built form and environmental context as key, conceptual lenses to investigate the social, economic, and political dimensions of urbanism.

Within this new track, students will have the opportunity to study cities from multiple disciplinary perspectives and engage with the historical and theoretical processes of city making, covering issues such as: urban planning for sustainable cities; big data and its potential for improving urban quality of life; the environmental costs and benefits of urbanization; the growing problem of social segregation in urban neighborhoods; the resilience of urban neighborhoods; and the fiscal complexities of urban infrastructure and maintenance.

Students who are majoring in Environmental and Urban Studies are expected to build a foundation for studying environmental questions by completing basic course work both in the natural sciences and in quantitative analyses. The program draws on the existing strengths and interests of College faculty in a variety of disciplines and divisions. The curriculum is organized around required elements that include:

  1. An introductory set of courses (ENST 21201 and ENST 21301, can be taken in any order)
  2. Course work in three broadly conceived thematic tracks
  3. A thesis
  4. An internship or field studies component or the Chicago Studies certificate

The three thematic tracks are: 

  1. Environmental Economics and Policy
  2. Socio-natural Systems and Frameworks
  3. Urban Environment

Although students will design a program of study that will emphasize one of the tracks, course work from each will be included.

Summary of Major

Students who are majoring in Environmental and Urban Studies must take thirteen courses according to the following guidelines.

  1. Students are required to take the two introductory courses in Environmental and Urban Studies (ENST 21201 Human Impact on the Environment-ENST 21301 Making the Natural World: Foundations of Human Ecology). These courses can be taken in any order and provide an overview of contemporary environmental issues and the theoretical and empirical approaches used to understand and address them.  
  2. Thematic Tracks. Students complete a total of six courses: four courses within the track they have selected as their area of emphasis and two complementary courses from the remaining tracks. Lists of approved courses can be found here.
    • Environmental Economics and Policy Track: This concentration emphasizes issues such as environmental law, development, globalization, and policy studies. This track has a more applied focus and is inclined more toward present-day issues and strategies in the context of politics, law, and economics.
    • Socio-natural Systems and Frameworks Track: This concentration emphasizes environmental history; landscape studies; human ecology and demography; and environmental ethics, philosophy, and representation. Included in this track are courses on cultural and historical constructions of the natural and the human. This track emphasizes intellectual frameworks as well as the use of substantive information from the social sciences, sciences, and humanities.
    • Urban Environment Track: This concentration emphasizes theoretical and practical perspectives on human interaction with the urban, physical environment. The track encourages a spatial and place-based urban perspective, meaning that built form and environmental context provide the conceptual core through which the social, economic, and political understanding of urbanism is pursued. The track approaches nature and dynamics of cities by capitalizing on the growth of interest in urban planning, urban sustainability, and urban design.
  3. Quantitative Analysis. One course must be taken to demonstrate competence in quantitative analysis. Students may choose to take either STAT 22000 or an equivalent.
  4. Environmental Science and Geographical Sciences.  Students must take a total of three approved courses in environmental sciences and geographical studies, as broken down below. Lists of approved courses can be found here.
    • Students in the Environmental, Economics, and Policy Track and the Socio-natural Systems and Frameworks Track must take two environmental sciences courses and one geographical sciences course
    • Students in the Urban Environment track must take two geographical sciences courses and one environmental science course.
  5. BA Thesis.  Students are expected to develop significant independent research projects in close consultation with their preceptor and faculty adviser. In consultation with Environmental and Urban Studies preceptors, students prepare a topic page that is due eighth week of Spring Quarter in their third year. At this time, students are also required to secure a faculty adviser. The thesis adviser may be chosen from among the faculty teaching in Environmental and Urban Studies and related fields. The preceptor serves as a second reader on all theses. Where appropriate, outside scholars, scientists, or policy experts may be added as additional readers with the approval of the program director. 

In Autumn Quarter of their fourth year, students register for ENST 29801 BA Colloquium I, which is designed to teach research skills and more generally to aid the research and writing process. The final version of the BA thesis is due by the second Friday of the quarter in which the student plans to graduate. Students wishing to build additional time for research or writing into their schedules may speak with their thesis adviser about potentially taking ENST 29900 BA Thesis (Reading and Research).

This program may accept a BA paper or project used to satisfy the same requirement in another major if certain conditions are met and with the consent of the other program director. Approval from both program directors is required. Students should consult with the directors by the earliest BA proposal deadline (or by the end of their third year, when neither program publishes a deadline). A consent form, to be signed by the directors, is available from the College adviser. It must be completed and returned to the College adviser by the end of Autumn Quarter of the student’s year of graduation. All forms for the BA Thesis can be found here.

  1. Internship or Chicago Studies Certificate. In addition to course work, students will be required to participate in an approved internship or field studies program with significant links to their program of study. Completion of the Chicago Studies Certificate Program will satisfy this requirement. See below for details.

Summary of Requirements

ENST 21201

Human Impact on the Environment


ENST 21301

Making the Natural World: Foundations of Human Ecology


Four courses in the thematic track of emphasis §


Two courses in the remaining thematic tracks


STAT 22000

Statistical Methods and Applications (or equivalent) *


Three courses in environmental sciences or geographical studies +


Internship/field studies experience


ENST 29801

BA Colloquium I


Total Units



Students may use a maximum of 200 units of supervised individual reading and research credit (ENST 29700, 29701, 29702, or equivalent) toward their primary track requirements in the major.


Credit may be granted via examination.


Must come from approved lists, found on the department's website.


Application for admission to the Environmental and Urban Studies program should be made to the program preceptor, who explains requirements and arranges a preliminary program of study. Admission to the major or minor is complete when a program of study has been approved by the program director. This program of study, which the student formulates in consultation with both the program preceptor and the program director, should be in place by a student's third year.

Students will need to formalize their declaration of the major on my.uchicago.edu and provide regular documentation of any program approvals from the department to their College adviser for the requisite processing. 


Students who are majoring or minoring in Environmental and Urban Studies must receive quality grades in courses taken to meet the requirements of the program. 


Eligibility for honors requires an overall GPA of 3.0 or higher, a GPA of 3.5 or higher in the courses taken to meet the requirements of the program, and a BA thesis that is judged to be superior by the faculty and preceptor readers.

Experiential Learning Opportunities

The Environmental and Urban Studies major offers experiential learning opportunities through the Chicago Studies Quarters and the new Chicago Studies Certificate Program. Students in all tracks, and in particular the Urban Environment track, are encouraged to enroll in these programs, which offer immersion in the academic, experiential, interdisciplinary study of Chicago and its region. For more information about these programs, please see the listing in this catalog or visit chicagostudies.uchicago.edu.

Chicago Studies Quarter

Each spring, a small cohort of students studies the culture, politics, and history of the city through a curriculum of three interrelated courses with a common theme through the Chicago Studies Quarter. Admission to the program is competitive. Courses are taught by Chicago specialists from a variety of disciplines and join classroom instruction with weekly excursions and cocurricular activities.

All courses in the Chicago Studies Quarter will have an Environmental and Urban Studies course number. They are also listed in all three tracks of the major and can therefore be taken to satisfy requirements either within or outside the student’s primary track.

Chicago Studies Quarter: Calumet

Since 2012, the Calumet Quarter has offered a one-quarter, intensive, experience-based program focused on human land use in the Calumet Region just south and east of the city. As of 2017–18, it will merge with the Chicago Studies Quarter and be officially known as the Chicago Studies Quarter: Calumet. It features integrated courses, projects, field trips, guest lectures, and presentations, and integrates perspectives from the sciences, humanities, and social sciences in the study of local environments and communities. 

Chicago Studies Quarter: Calumet is offered every other year. Courses taken as part of this program can be used to satisfy requirements in all three tracks of the major.

Chicago Studies Certificate

New in 2017–18, the Chicago Studies Certificate is designed for students who wish to integrate their academic inquiry with positive impact in Chicago through sustained community engagement, urban scholarship, and creative expression. The certificate is overseen by the University Community Service Center in collaboration with the Environmental and Urban Studies program, which supervises the program’s academic requirements.

Completion of the Chicago Studies Certificate will satisfy the internship/field study requirement for the Environmental and Urban Studies major. 

Minor Program in Environmental and Urban Studies

Students who are not Environmental and Urban Studies majors may complete a minor in Environmental and Urban Studies. Such a minor requires that six courses be taken according to the following guidelines:

ENST 21201

Human Impact on the Environment


ENST 21301

Making the Natural World: Foundations of Human Ecology


Four courses in one of the three thematic tracks *


Total Units



Must be chosen in consultation with the program director.

Students who elect the minor program in Environmental and Urban Studies should meet with the program director before the end of Spring Quarter of their third year to declare their intention to complete the minor and select appropriate courses. The approval of the program director for the minor program should be submitted to a student's College adviser by the deadline above on a form obtained from the adviser.

Courses in the minor (1) may not be double counted with the student's major(s) or with other minors and (2) may not be counted toward general education requirements. Courses in the minor must be taken for quality grades, and at least half of the requirements for the minor must be met by registering for courses bearing University of Chicago course numbers.