Off-Campus Masters Degree in Soil Science

Today's competitive market requires continuous professional development, particularly in academic areas that fell outside one's major during undergraduate training. Our school, in cooperation with UMass Continuing and Professional Education (CPE), offers the opportunity for advanced training in soil science. Students enrolled in this program already hold a Bachelor's degree in a science-related field such as geology, engineering, public health, biology, or environmental sciences. Over a decade ago, the school began offering soil science courses at an off-campus location to facilitate training of non-soil scientists, enabling them to meet the educational requirements for certification as a Professional Soil Scientist. Eventually this program developed into a 30-credit program that upon completion, grants a Master of Science degree in Plant and Soil Sciences. Although the degree is in Plant and Soil Sciences, our off-campus program is limited to the field of soil science. This program is designed to meet the needs of working professionals who do not have the time or the opportunity to enroll in a traditional, full-time graduate program. Most students enrolled in our classes want to further their education because it expands their technical expertise. Others have used the advanced training for job advancement.
Off-Campus Soil Science Courses
Off-campus soil science courses are offered on a regular basis, generally on Saturdays, at a central location in Massachusetts, often in Worcester. Some of the courses, such as soil morphology and mapping, may travel throughout southern New England. We try to offer 2 courses each Fall and Spring semester, for a total of four 3-credit courses per year. Short, 1-credit courses are offered during the summer. Many courses are now offered on-line. Courses are generally identical to courses offered at the Amherst campus, and are often taught by the same instructors. Some of the instructors work in the private sector or for governmental agencies. All hold advanced degrees in their specialty area with most having a Ph.D. degree. Courses are offered on a rotating basis, allowing the student to take at least 6 different courses over a 2-year cycle. No courses may be taken on a pass/fail basis. Courses offered on a regular basis include:
STOCKSCH 515 - 3 cr Microbiology of the Soil*
STOCKSCH 566 - 3 cr Soil Formation*
STOCKSCH 575 - 3 cr Environmental Soil Chemistry*
STOCKSCH 585 - 3 cr Inorganic Soil Contaminants
STOCKSCH 597I - 1 cr Hydric Soils (on-campus 2-day workshop)
STOCKSCH 597J - 1 cr Advanced Hydric Soils (on-campus 2-day workshop)
STOCKSCH 597M - 3 cr Soil Morphology and Mapping
STOCKSCH 597O - 3 cr Organic Contaminants
STOCKSCH 597S - 3 cr Intermediate Soil Science
STOCKSCH 697S - 3 cr Literature Seminar*
Courses marked with * are recommended for certification as a Professional Soil Scientist and are required for graduation with a MS degree in Plant and Soil Sciences. The above courses are offered off-campus through the Division of Continuing and Professional Education. Please contact CPE at 413-545-2484 to register for the courses or to find out which courses are scheduled for the upcoming semester.
You do not need to be enrolled in the MS program to take any of the above listed courses. Anyone holding a BS degree may register for these courses.
Soil Science Certificate Program
Certification as a Professional Soil Scientist is offered through several agencies. On a regional level, the Society of Soil Scientists of Southern New England (SSSSNE, P.O. Box 258, Storrs, CT 06268,, and on the national level ARCPACS ( provide registration/certification. Both of these organizations follow federal standards for soil science certification requiring a minimum of 15 credits in soil science courses, with the stipulation that a breath of course work is completed, i.e. courses should be spread over several soil science subgroups (e.g. soil chemistry, soil classification and formation, soil physics, soil microbial ecology, or soil conservation). There are additional educational requirements to qualify for certification/registration. Check with the certifying organizations for details.
You do not need a MS degree to meet minimum educational requirements for certification as Registered Soil Scientist.
See the New England Soil Science Certificate program.
Master of Science Degree Requirements
A minimum of 30 academic credits is required for graduation. Most of these credits can be earned through enrollment in the above listed off-campus soil science courses. The university requires that at graduation you also will have completed at least 12 credits in courses at the 600-level or higher. This generally can be accomplished by completing the 600-credit independent study (PLNTSOIL 696), the 1-credit seminar presentation course (PLNTSOIL 793), the 3-credit soil literature seminar course (PLNTSOIL 697S), and one other course at the 600-level. This often can be accomplished by taking the 600-level biostatistics course mentioned below.
The program requires that by graduation time you have taken at least 2 courses in statistics, biometry, or related fields. Courses taken during your undergraduate studies may be counted towards this requirement. The UMass-Amherst Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology offers a statistics course each semester (Fall: BIOST&EP 540; Spring: BIOST&EP 640) at the UMass Medical school in Worcester. These courses are generally taught midweek at night and may now also be offered on-line. You can register for these courses through the UMass Graduate Registrar. You may also check with local colleges to see whether they offer a similar 600-level course that perhaps fits your schedule better. Make sure to get approval from the Graduate Program Director prior to enrollment in a non-UMass course. Note below the requirements for transferring such a course.
In addition to obtaining at least 23 credits in the above listed courses (including statistics), M.S. candidates are required to sign up for the following classes:
STOCKSCH 696 - 6 cr Independent Study
STOCKSCH 793 - 1 cr Seminar Presentation
Each M.S. candidate is required to complete an independent study project prior to graduation. This may be an extensive and critical review of the literature, a comprehensive evaluation of data or information gathered in your professional position, or another type of project that involves a critical evaluation of information. Once you have completed a minimum of four regular soils courses, you should talk with your academic advisor to select an appropriate project topic. Once a topic has been selected, you must prepare a project proposal and defend your proposal before your Guidance Committee (GC). Once formal approval for your course packet and the project is granted by the GC, you can start your project. A description of the project, a comprehensive review of the appropriate literature, and a critical evaluation of the results is to be summarized in a final report to be submitted to the Guidance/Examination Committee (GC/EC). You should submit drafts of your final report to your academic advisor prior to submitting the report to the entire GC/EC. You can sign up for the seminar course through Continuing and Professional Education. Contact the program coordinators (413-545-2484) about proper enrollment procedures.
Prior to graduation you must present a seminar to the School. You may select the topic of the seminar, and often the independent study results are used as the basis for this presentation. Be prepared to give a professional presentation using PowerPoint. Make sure you formally sign up for the 1-credit seminar presentation (STOCKSCH 793) through CPE at the beginning of the semester that you plan on presenting the seminar.
The final step in completing the requirements for the Master of Science degree is, upon finishing all other requirements, to pass an oral final examination. A 3-member Examination Committee will administer this exam. A positive majority vote by the Committee is required to successfully complete the program.
The Application Process
You can apply for admittance to the UMass Off-Campus Master of Science Program in Plant and Soil Sciences by completing the standard UMass Graduate School application form available on the web ( The application process requires that you submit GRE scores less then 5 years old and that you hold a bachelor degree from an accredited academic institution. The GRE scores are a school requirement that is not waived. Please make sure that you apply to the Plant and Soil Sciences Off-Campus program when completing the application form. Fall applications should be received by November 1, and Spring applications by April 30.
Once admitted to the program you will be assigned an academic advisor. Contact your advisor prior to taking courses to ensure that appropriate classes are taken. Once you have taken some courses, your advisor, in close consultation with each degree candidate, will recommend to the Graduate School (through the school Graduate Program Director) appointment of a 3-member Guidance Committee consisting of at least 2 members of the UMass Plant and Soil Sciences Graduate Faculty. Eventually the Guidance Committee will take on the role of Examination Committee to administer the final examination.
Important! It is the MS candidate's responsibility to maintain academic eligibility by signing up for a formal academic activity at UMass each Fall and Spring semester. This may be accomplished by taking a UMass course, or signing up for the independent study project or the final seminar presentation. If you are not signed up for a formal UMass academic activity you have to pay the program fee or else you will be disenrolled by the Graduate School. See the Graduate School for details.
Statute Of Limitations
Upon admittance to the university you have 3 years to complete all degree requirements. This is called the Statute of Limitations. Because most of the students enrolled in this program are working professionals with limited time to dedicate to academic endeavors, most will exceed this time limit. The Statute can be extended by petitioning the school Graduate Program Director. The petition should explain the reason for the delay, anticipated progress, the projected completion date, and must be supported by a statement from your advisor. Contact the Graduate Program Director for additional details.
Transfer of Credits for Courses Taken Elsewhere
University regulations permit transfer of up to 6 credits (grade B or better) for appropriate graduate level courses taken at other educational institutions within three years of admission to the Off-Campus program. You must formally petition the UMass Graduate School for permission to transfer credits for graduate level courses taken elsewhere. The first step is to contact the Plant and Soil Sciences Graduate Program Director and request, in writing, permission to transfer the desired courses into your off-campus program. These courses may not have been applied to another degree program.
New England Soil Science Certificate
The UMass Division of Continuing and Professional Education offers a formal soil certificate program endorsed by all land-grant institutions in New England. The purpose of this program is to enable students to earn over 15 credits in soil science courses. Classes can be taken at different participating universities including the University of Connecticut (Storrs;, University of Maine (Orono;, University of Massachusetts (Amherst;, University of New Hampshire (, University of Rhode Island (, and the University of Vermont (
For additional information, contact:
The Off Campus MS Program Director
Dr. Baoshan Xing
22 Stockbridge Hall
80 Campus Center Way
University of Massachusetts
Amherst, MA 01003-9246
(413) 545-5212
The Program Coordinator
Dr. Mickey Spokas
31 Stockbridge Hall
80 Campus Center Way
University of Massachusetts
Amherst, MA 01003-9246
(413) 545-3068
The Graduate Program Director
Dr. Geunhwa Jung
206 French Hall
University of Massachusetts
Amherst, MA 01003
(413) 545-2243
For information about courses presented in off-campus locations contact:
Victoria Matthew
Program Coordinator,
UMass Amherst Continuing & Professional Education
100 Venture Way, Suite 201
Hadley, MA 01035-9430
(413) 545-0475
Related Links
American Registry of Certified Professionals (ARCPACS)

Soil Science Society of America

Society of Soil Scientists of Southern NE

Society of Wetland Scientists

UMass Division of Continuing & Professional Education

UMass Graduate School