I am writing this post with the intention of sharing my experiences of trying to get into Ph.D. programs in Environmental Analysis and Design for those who might be interested in applying to these programs in the future.

I think it is better to start with a little intro about myself. I have been deeply interested in the area of environmental influence on the well-being of people for more than 15 years. This interest started in the middle of the 90s when I first heard about Feng Shui. Unfortunately now and then Environmental Psychology as a field of study is almost undeveloped here in Russia, so even getting my graduate degree in one of the best psychological universities in the capital of Russia, I was not able to find a possibility to write my thesis in the field of Environmental Psychology. Furthermore, there is no Master’s or Ph.D. program in Environmental Psychology in Russia.  This is very disappointing, because in Russia I still have a right, as a Russian citizen, to get a Master’s degree or Ph.D. for free, but there is nobody who can provide such an education in this field. So I had to look for possibilities abroad. As people who are interested in the area, you probably already know that there are not too many programs in the world where you can study Environmental Psychology (most of them you can find on the APA page). Because I am most interested in the influence of the built environment on people, I decided that I should consider applying in two places: for Ph.D. in the College of Human Ecology of Cornell University for one of Design and Environmental Analysis Graduate Program – Ph.D in Human Behavior and Design and also for Ph.D. in the School of Social Ecology of the University of California in Irvine – Ph.D. in Social Ecology with a Concentration in Environmental Analysis and Design. Actually I had some doubts about applying to the UCI program because on the faculty list I could not find a potential supervisor who has persistently been focused on the area of Design-Behavior research, such as, for example, Franklin Becker has been at Cornell. Therefore, I wrote an email to the Faculty Advisor at the UCI to alleviate my concern about this. I got a prompt and very informative answer that they do have appropriate supervisors for my research area (with a list of names).

The procedure of application is similar enough for both Universities with a couple of exceptions.

Cornell University

UC Irvine

Online application



Statement of Purpose



letters of recommendation



Official transcripts

scanned, attached to the online application

must be in sealed envelopes as issued by the school(s) you have attended

Writing sample


Curriculum vitae



the desired combined score should be greater than or equal to 310

no minimum required GRE score

TOEFL (for international students)

DEA overall Minimum: 105, plus Graduate School minimums must be met for each section: writing: 20, listening: 15, reading: 20, speaking: 22

on the TOEFL iBT minimum score of 80 (or IELTS with minimum score of 7 with a score of no less than 6 on any individual module)


January 5

January 15


$ 95

$ 100
($80 for U.S. Citizens and lawful U.S. Permanent Residents)


And specifically these couple of exceptions turned out to be the most complicated part of the application process for me.

1. It is almost impossible to get official transcripts in Russia “in sealed envelopes as issued by the school(s) you have attended” because nobody requests them in this format in Russia, so there are just no such procedures in our Universities as “issuing official transcripts in sealed envelopes”.  The matter is that an official transcript from a Russian University is an official state document that is released just once upon graduation, and if any institution needs the official copy of the transcript, they just ask for a notarized copy of it. Therefore, when I went to my Universities (I have two graduate degrees) asking about issuing transcripts in sealed envelopes, they just did not understand what I wanted. So I had to look for information on the Internet about how other applicants in Russia are solving this problem. So, the solution was:

1)     you have to buy 2 envelopes for each University you have to get transcripts from;
2)     you have to make two copies of each of your transcripts;
3)     you have to go to each University and to find there a person who is officially allowed to put the University stamp on the copies and sign that the copy is valid;
4)     then you should put one of the valid copies in the prepared envelope and seal it, then ask the official to put the University stamp on this sealed envelope to make it officially sealed by the University (actually, when you talk to the officials, you do not have to ask them but convince them because they do not understand why they should do all these steps that is not even their job);
5)     then you take the second copy to a translation company; after they have translated the paper, you put it in the second prepared envelope and ask the translation company to put their stamp on the sealed envelope;
6)     after this you go to, for example, FedEx, where you insert both your sealed envelopes into FedEx’s envelope and finally send it to the University you applied to (but actually FedEx can refuse to send your sealed envelopes because they want to check what exactly you are sending by opening your envelopes).

So, it is what I had to get through to send the official transcripts to UC Irvine.

2. There is no information on the College of Human Ecology page about the size or subject of the writing sample. I wrote an email to the Graduate Field Assistant at Cornell asking for advice about a proper type of writing sample, but unfortunately I never got an answer. So I had to review other Universities’ recommendations for writing samples. It seems that usually Universities want to see your “mind at work” in the area related to the academic interest you want to pursue in your Ph.D. program, 10-15 pages length (sometimes they add that it is better to send, as a writing sample, the written work that was distinctly evaluated by your supervisor). But, as I said before, I could not find anybody in my University to supervise my graduate thesis in Environmental psychology, so I did not even write anything significant in this field (only one simple literature review in Russian about Nature’s influence that was published in conference proceedings). I do have written works from both of my Universities that were exceptionally evaluated by supervisors and committees (both my graduate thesis in Management-Economics and Psychology received the highest grades), but unfortunately they do not have a connection to Environmental analysis. So I had to take a risk and write a new work specifically for this field of study, and I still don’t know how good or bad it is due to the lack of a supervisor’s critique.

Unfortunately in the period prior to the tests and the application deadline one of my closest family member was hospitalized and died there in 1,5 months later. Russian hospitals are subject of another article, but as a psychologist I can say that besides the trauma by loss of a person you loved, you will get traumatized by seeing the way your loved one is treated in Russian hospitals and by the way your are treated there yourself as a visitor. For that reason, right before the application deadlines I was in such a state of being that I did not even know if I should apply or not. But I was able to focus myself and make all the necessary steps before the deadlines. So I had applied for both programs.


Then I had to wait for the answers from the Universities. While looking for information about usual dates of getting notifications, I found an interesting site where other people share the information about being accepted or rejected (thegradcafe.com). I saw on that page that somebody was accepted for Ph.D in Cornell on 11th of March. I got my notification from Cornell on 14th of March, unfortunately with the sentence “after careful consideration, the Graduate Faculty regrets to inform you that your application has not been selected for admission”.


I continued to wait for notification from UC Irvine. I found information on the UCI site that “a general deadline for admission offers is April 15. Your patience is requested and greatly appreciated, as we know that waiting to hear a decision can be stressful”. So I tried to be patient and wait till April 15. But when on the 18th of April I still didn’t get the notification, I wrote an email to the Director of Graduate Student Services of School of Social Ecology asking to provide me with any information about my application status.  On the 22 of April, because I still did not get any information from them, I decided to call the director. Asking on the phone about my application status I gave my name and application number, but she could not find any information about my application and told me that all the notifications of acceptance or rejection already have been sent. Then I was just curious to know what had happened with my official transcripts then, since I had sent them directly to her office. She found them very fast, but still there was no application anywhere. Thus, she asked me to forward my application confirmation to her, so that she would be able to determine what exactly had happened with my application. Since I was away from the computer at the time, I promised to send it when I return home. Two hours after this conversation I came home to find two new emails from her already. The first email said that my application had been found and that she will send me the response about the decision when she receives this information from the review committee. The second email arrived 30 minutes after the first one with the attachment dated the same day that said “your application, letters of recommendation, expressed interests and objectives, and other supporting materials in your file were all taken into consideration during the committee’s review process. Although yours was an excellent application, we regret to inform you that you were not selected”. I was quite surprised with the speed my application was found, compiled with the transcripts, and reviewed by the committee. I just wonder if I had any chance of being accepted after she said that “all the notifications were already sent”.


So, that was my experience of getting into Ph.D. programs that I wanted to share.