Lake Michigan coast

Are you interested in the economics and politics of water? Ready to be part of the next generation of water policymakers?

The water policy thesis track in the Master of Freshwater Sciences offers an interdisciplinary, research-based program that will prepare you for a career in research and industry, or to further your studies in a PhD program. Thesis track students work closely with water policy and economics experts to conduct original research and learn how to develop water policy that offers solutions for long-term environmental health and quality of life.

Program Type


Program Format

On Campus
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Water Policy That Creates Change.

The School of Freshwater Sciences is home to the Center for Water Policy, which connects water policy experts from throughout UW System. You will have opportunities to learn from legal experts and natural resource economists who know how to bridge the gap between science, policy and water resource management. Your research will prepare you to develop interdisciplinary solutions to freshwater issues.

Learn more about the Center for Water Policy

Professor Melissa Scanlan, director of the Center for Water Policy, discusses climate change with CBS News.

Turn science into action with a freshwater sciences master’s degree specializing in water policy.

While earning your graduate degree, you will

  • Learn from world-class faculty within a small-class environment.
  • Build a multidisciplinary science foundation.
  • Develop in-demand technical and professional skills.
  • Gain research experience working with experts in water policy and economics.

Students in the MS thesis program must be accepted by a faculty member who will serve as the major professor and be primarily responsible for matriculation. 

The School of Freshwater Sciences admits new thesis students for fall and spring semesters.

  • Fall applications are due January 15
  • Spring applications are due October 1

Prerequisite Coursework

The following prerequisites are strongly recommended:  

  • At least one semester of coursework in three of the following at the college level: chemistry, biological sciences, physics, calculus, microeconomics, statistics, political science or advanced algebra.  
  • One additional semester of chemistry, biological sciences, physics, microeconomics, Geographic information systems, or statistics.  

Admission will be considered based upon the applicant’s academic and/or professional background, proposed course of study, and possible additional coursework once in the degree program, should important preparatory gaps be identified.  

You must meet Graduate School requirements in addition to the following to be considered for admission:

  1. Bachelor’s degree
    A bachelor’s degree in biology, chemistry, economics, geosciences, mathematics, physics, public policy, or other appropriate natural science, social science or engineering discipline.
  2. Undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0.
  3. Three letters of recommendation from persons familiar with the applicant’s scholarship and/or research potential.  
  4. GRE Scores – Strongly recommended
    Submission of scores on the General Test of the Graduate Record Examination taken within the past five years are not required, but strongly recommended. Submit your scores to UWM (code 1473) and to the School of Freshwater Sciences (code 508).

The student must indicate in the Statement of Purpose (part of the formalized application process) the track to which they are applying and the intended focus of their MS studies. The statement must also indicate how their previous education has prepared them for graduate studies.

Minimum degree requirement is 31 graduate credits.

Required courses
or ATM SCI 500G
Applied Water Statistics and Data Manipulation 1
Statistical Methods in Atmospheric Sciences
FRSHWTR 781Water Law for Scientists and Policy Makers3
FRSHWTR 890Science Communication3
FRSHWTR 900Colloquium in Freshwater Sciences1
Choose one of the following four courses:3
FRSHWTR 502GAquatic Ecosystem Dynamics
FRSHWTR 504GQuantitative Freshwater Analysis
FRSHWTR 506GEnvironmental Health of Freshwater Ecosystems
FRSHWTR 583GCost-Benefit Analysis for Environmental Resource Decisions
Master’s Research and Thesis Credits6
FRSHWTR 985Master’s Research and Thesis (Up to 6 credits)
Select 12 credits in consultation with the students major advisor
Total Credits31
1 ECON 413G if needed in an “off” year.

Freshwater sciences master’s thesis students are typically funded through faculty research projects. We strongly recommend you reach out to faculty members whose interests align with your own to discuss potential research and funding opportunities.

The School of Freshwater Sciences also offers competitive assistantships and scholarships. For more information about other financial aid options, please visit UWM Financial Aid.

Of the MS thesis graduates we have tracked (93% of them), 89% went into a water-related job and 11% enrolled in a PhD program.

Our thesis graduates are working with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Geological Survey, The Nature Conservancy, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD), the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission (SWRPC), and Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Important Dates
January 15: Deadline for fall admission applications

October 1: Deadline for spring admission applications
School of Freshwater Sciences
Great Lakes Research Facility
600 E Greenfield Avenue
Milwaukee, WI 53204

Phone: 414-382-1700