Environmental Systems Program

Environments for environmental systems

The Environmental Systems Program recognizes the growing demand for environmental specialists and is designed to prepare undergraduates to enter a broad spectrum of environmental careers and graduate programs in the natural sciences, social sciences, public policy, law, and business. 

This interdisciplinary program recognizes that local, national, regional, international, and global environmental problems do not fit neatly into traditional academic departments. A measurable part of society’s inability to effectively manage complex environmental problems stems from the lack of specialists who can apply analytical tools that cross disciplinary boundaries. Many environmental specialists possess little training in the natural sciences including both the fundamental ideas and methodologies of the earth and environmental sciences. The Environmental Systems (ESYS) major was created to address both of these shortcomings.

Program Learning Outcomes for the Environmental Systems program are available here.



The requirements for completion of the Environmental Systems major include a lower-division core, two upper-division courses, a three-course upper-division integrating sequence (ESYS 101, ESYS 102, ESYS 103), an upper-division statistics course, advanced courses in one of four tracks, and the senior integrative project (ESYS 187A/187B) and senior seminar (ESYS 187C). Any questions concerning the requirements should be directed to the Faculty Director or the program advisors. Students completing the advanced tracks in “Earth Sciences,” “Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution,” and “Environmental Chemistry” will be awarded a B.S. in environmental systems. The B.A. In environmental systems will be granted to students completing the “Environmental Policy” track within the major.

A grade-point average of 2.0 or higher in the upper-division major program is required for graduation. Students must receive a grade of C– or better in any course to be counted toward fulfillment of the major requirements. In exceptional cases, students with a grade-point average in the major of 2.5 or greater may petition to have one grade of D accepted.  All courses must be taken for Letter Grade (except ESYS 187A and 187B).

Links to printable degree checklists are below.  

If you are interested in transferring into UC San Diego as an Environmental Systems (ESYS) major, please see our ESYS Transfer Student Information.  

NOTE: The requirements for the ESYS major were updated in Fall 2017.  If you entered UC San Diego prior to Fall 2017, your major requirements might be different than those found below.  Contact an ESYS advisor if you are unclear of your specific major requirements.


See degree checklists for details on the lower-division requirements for each track. These courses should all be completed early in student's degree program. 




A full listing of the curriculum for each major within the Environmental Systems Program is available at the links below. 


A minor in Environmental Systems will expose students to the interdisciplinary approach necessary to address environmental problems.  The program places a strong emphasis on a rigorous natural science foundation.  Thus, most of the courses related to the minor have significant prerequisites; students planning an Environmental Systems minor should check catalog course description carefully. 

The minor consists of twenty-eight units, at least twenty of which must be upper-division.  Up to 2 courses for the minor may be taken on a Pass/Not Pass basis, (upper or lower division).  Students must earn at least a letter grade of C- in the remaining 5 or more courses used for the minor.  Students considering the Environmental Systems minor are strongly advised to meet with program advisors.

The minor is structured as followed:


Any two of the following lower-division courses, if they are NOT lower-division requirements for the student’s major, may be applied to satisfy eight of the total units necessary for the minor:


At least 2 additional upper-division courses from upper-division electives from the advanced tracks in the Environmental Systems major.  Links to the four advanced tracks are: Earth Sciences, Ecology, Behavior, and EvolutionEnvironmental Chemistry and Environmental Policy

Required core courses

Environmental Systems 101, offered every Fall Quarter
Environmental Systems 102, offered every Winter Quarter
Environmental Systems 103, offered every Spring Quarter

NOTE:  ESYS 102 and ESYS 103 both have significant prerequisites; students planning an Environmental Systems minor should check course descriptions and prerequisites carefully. 


Available ESYS upper-division course offerings across departments for all majors are listed here: ESYS FA21 Courses. Please note that this course list is not exhaustive and other courses can be considered via petition. Contact an ESYS Advisor on the VAC (vac.ucsd.edu) with any questions.


ESYS 10. Introduction to Environmental Systems (4)

This course explores the interdisciplinary character of environmental issues through an examination of a particular topic (climate change, for example) from numerous disciplinary perspectives (e.g., biology, chemistry, physics, political science, and economics). Prerequisites: none. (W)

ESYS 90. Perspectives on Environmental Issues (1)

Provides an introduction to environmental systems. Faculty members from departments in the natural sciences, geosciences, and social sciences will offer perspectives in these areas. (F)


Required Courses for the ESYS Major

NOTE: ESYS 101, 102, and 103 should be taken by end of the junior year.

ESYS 101. Environmental Biology (4 units) Fall

This course surveys biochemical and physiological processes governing the relationship between organisms and their environments, such as those involved in element cycling and cellular homeostasis. The course introduces biological perspectives on human activities ranging from antibiotic use of genetic engineering.

Prerequisites: BILD 1 or 2 or equivalent, or consent of instructor. (F)

ESYS 102. The Solid and Fluid Earth (4 units) Winter

Earth's dynamic physical systems interact in complex ways with profound impact on our environment. Processes such as volcanism and weathering enable geochemical exchange between solid and fluid (ocean and atmosphere) systems. Sea-level and climate changes interface with tectonic processes.

Prerequisites: Math. 10A, CHEM 6A, Physics 1A or consent of instructor (W).

ESYS 103. Environmental Challenges: Science and Solutions (4 units) Spring

This course explores the impacts of human, social, economic, and industrial activity on the environment. It highlights the central roles in ensuring sustainable development played by market forces, technological innovation and governmental regulation on local, national and global scales.

Prerequisites: Math 10A-C or Math 20B or by consent of instructor or by permission of instructor.

ESYS 187A/187B. Senior Project (2 Quarters for a total of 8 units) (Fall/Winter)

The ESYS Program places a significant value on interdisciplinary problem solving and all majors are expected to complete an integrative Senior Project in their final year. The Senior Project is designed by the student to focus on an interdisciplinary environmental problem or research topic and is developed either individually or as part of a team over two quarters. Appropriate topics for the Senior Project could conceivably include biodiversity conservation, coastal zone management, environmental health, climate change, environmental justice, and/or urban air quality. An important component of the Senior Project is an off-campus or laboratory internship where students might work on, for example, the development of a comprehensive management plan for a threatened ecosystem.

Prerequisites: senior standing, majors only.

!! Important Additional Details !!

Enrollment and Grading Policy: ESYS majors will typically enroll in ESYS 187A in the fall quarter and ESYS 187B in the winter quarter of their final year and ESYS 187C in the spring quarter of their final year. ESYS 187A and 187B will account for four units of credit toward the degree each quarter and will be taken on a pass/no pass basis. ESYS 187C will be taken for a letter grade.

ESYS 187C. Environmental Systems Senior Seminar (4 units) (Spring or Summer Session)

The Senior Seminar provides a venue for the presentation and group evaluation of the ESYS Senior Projects.
Prerequisites: ESYS 187B.


ESYS 199. Independent Study (2-4 units)

Faculty guided readings or projects in the area of Environmental Systems.

Study Abroad


Useful Tips!

If you are considering Study Abroad courses, it's important to meet with your major advisor early to discuss how it might fit in with your academic plan. As an ESYS Major, you will be required to complete your Senior Internship Project during your last full year at UC San Diego, so be sure to plan any Study Abroad experiences before then! Remember, programs and requirements change constantly. Visit the program or university website for the most up-to-date information. If you do not meet the minimum GPA requirement, contact the program or university directly to find out if an exception can be made. Summer only programs: remember to check the calendar! Many programs begin in early June, before UC San Diego spring quarter finishes.



FOR MORE INFORMATION: studyabroad.ucsd.edu


Earth Watch: https://earthwatch.org/ DIS Study Abroad in Scandinavia: https://disabroad.org/copenhagen/programs/sustainability/​ Sustainability program in Copenhagen Broadreach College:  www.broadreachcollege.com Organization for Tropical Studies (Duke University): http://www.ots.ac.cr/ Costa Rica and South Africa SEA Semester: http://www.sea.edu/ Live and study on a 134-foot sailing vessel.  Programs focus on marine and environmental Studies. School for International Training (SIT):  http://www.sit.edu Australia, Brazil, Ecuador, Madagascar, Panama, Tanzania Wildlands:  http://www.wildlandsstudies.com/ Quarter programs all over the world.  All involve camping and hiking. CIEE:  http://www.ciee.org Programs in Costa Rica (same program as EAP Costa Rica Trop Bio), Australia Tropical Ecology Summer (check dates)
  • New Climate Change Program in Chile.


School for Field Studies: http://www.fieldstudies.org/ Programs in Panama, Turks & Caicos, Australia, New Zealand, Kenya/Tanzania, Costa Rica.



UC EAP:  https://uceap.universityofcalifornia.edu/



This list is not inclusive of all courses eligible for major credit. Petitions must be submitted for all courses and credit within the major is not guaranteed.

Costa Rica- Tropical Biology & Conservation
  • ESYS/ EBE Track: Two Upper Division Electives
UC Natural Reserve System Field Course- California Ecology and Conservation
  • ESYS/ EBE Track: Three Upper Division electives, one of which could count as the Upper Division Lab requirement



ESYS Senior Internship Project

The ESYS Program places a significant value on interdisciplinary problem solving and all majors are expected to complete an integrative Senior Project in their final year. 



Contact Us

Current UCSD Students: Please submit your questions via the VAC. An advisor will respond to you within 1-3 business days.

Zoom Advising

Available Appointment Times: Monday - Thursday: 10:00AM - 11:30AM & 1:30PM - 3:00PM. Email an ESYS Advisor and include your PID, brief description and 3 appointment times that work for you. An advisor will contact you to confirm your appointment time. All petitions and forms should also be sent to an ESYS Advisor via email.

Environmental SYStems Advisors

Sid Eads - Student Affairs Coordinator
Phone: 858-822-4604 / Email: sleads@ucsd.edu

Karla Vega - Student Affairs Coordinator
Phone: 858-534-8157 / Email: k3vega@ucsd.edu