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Frequently Asked Questions

General Inquiries

How does this work now?

After the addition of a CEU component to the program, ESA’s certification looks approximately like this:

New Applicants as of 2021

  • Apply at the appropriate level
  • Reviewed by staff, escalated to the Board of Professional Certification in some cases
  • If approved, be certified retroactive to the first of the month of approval (March 1, 2022, e.g.)
  • Have an active certification from ESA until the last day of the same month 5 years later (March 31, 2027, e.g.)
  • In those 5 years, earn at least 44 continuing education units and self-report to ESA*
  • Once those CEUs are completed within the 5 years, seek recertification or an upgrade
  • Recertifications will be reviewed by staff to ensure compliance with CEU requirements (may escalate)
  • Upgrades will be reviewed by the Board of Professional Certification to ensure that suitable activities for the level sought have been completed

Existing Certifications from Prior to 2021

  • Between 2021 and 2025, apply for recertification at the current level, or seek an upgrade
  • Expire on June 30; 5 years from the date of current certification
  • May upgrade or recertify at any time
  • New certification retroactive to the first of the month of approval
  • Have an active certification from ESA until the final day of the same month 5 years later
  • In those five years after recertification or upgrade*, earn at least 44 continuing education units and self-report to ESA
  • Apply for recertification at the same level, or seek an upgrade
  • Recertifications will be reviewed by staff to ensure compliance with CEU requirements (may escalate)
  • Upgrades will be reviewed by the Board of Professional Certification to ensure that suitable activities for the level sought have been completed

This page has a full description of the process, timelines, and fees.


*Only report activities (CEU) during the time of your current certification.

*If you’re applying for recertification you may add professional development activities in the cover letter of your application. 

The intention of the CEU requirement is to improve the value of the certification in the eyes of employers, decision-makers, and the public; to give practicing ecologists a meaningful recognition for taking part in professional development activities they are likely pursuing already; to help ecologists find prime opportunities to grow as scientists and as managers, writers, educators, etc.; and to build relationships with practitioners across the related scientific landscape.

Where can I get CEU?

The program is designed for any certified ecologist to be able to earn CEU through:

  • ESA programming
    • Annual Meeting session attendance
    • Attending chapter meetings and policy workshops
    • Participating in training programs like the Strategies for Success course
    • Attending webinars (watching the recordings count, too)
    • Presenting science at the Annual Meeting, chapter meetings, or in hosted virtual events
    • Publishing in ESA journals
    • Serving as a mentor in one of our career development programs
  • Other programming (at least 50% in CEU Category I)
    • Attending or sharing science at other professional scientific events in related disciplines
    • Publishing in other peer-reviewed journals
    • Taking college or university science courses
    • Workshops and seminars, in-person or virtual, on such topics as data visualization, science communication, coding, etc.
    • Volunteering in a scientific capacity at such local attractions as parks, botanical gardens, arboreta, zoos, and aquariums, etc.
    • You can view our lists of approved providers and training opportunities, or find the opportunities that best meet your personal professional development needs

It is our intention that ESA-certified ecologists have well-rounded skills by fulfilling CEU across a broad spectrum of activities that demonstrate their scientific and professional expertise.



How do I know which level of certification best matches my credentials?

Please review the guidelines for each level and use your best judgment. We recommend that you provide as much background information as possible to assist the staff and Board in their evaluation.

How much is the application fee?

We strive to make sure that our certification is one that’s affordable to get, especially for people early in their careers. ESA members enjoy significant savings.

Certification Level (new applications and upgrades) ESA Member Non-Member
Ecologist in Training (EiT)  $0  $20
Associate Ecologist (AE)  $25  $50
Ecologist (CE)  $100  $200
Ecologist Emeriti (CEE)  $100  $200
Senior Ecologist (SE)  $150  $300
Senior Ecologist Emeriti (SEE)  $150  $300
Recertifications at all levels*  $25  $50

* This applies only for recertifications before or during the 2-year grace period. Please see the Recertification section for more information.

When is my application due?

We no longer operate with a fixed application period; instead, you are free to start and complete an application as you are able, at any time of year.

Where can I get more information on the application process and required materials/documents?

You can check the How It Works page for a breakdown of the application process and the Prepare Your Application Materials page for detailed information on the requirements for each ESA certification level.

How do I handle the membership verification section on the application if I don’t have or remember my ESA ID?

Check your member status here. ESA members receive a discounted fee for application for certification. You can renew your membership and update your other information here.

How many copies of my application does ESA need?

Only one application per person is required. All applications must be submitted online via our application portal. You are however encouraged to keep copies of files that you upload as part of your application.

Are supplemental materials required?

No, but they are encouraged, particularly for applicants working in nontraditional fields or positions, as well as for new Senior Ecologist applicants, who need to demonstrate written output. Mention these materials in your cover letter as well as in any applicable fields in the application. If additional information is sought about your publications or other work, the staff will request it.

When can I expect to be informed of my certification status?

We guarantee that you will receive some notification of your status from us within 60 days of application, and likely much sooner than that. Applications with complete information are easiest to evaluate and respond to, whether by staff or the Board of Professional Certification. In such cases, as additional materials are requested or clarifications are sought, there will be some final delays in the process. Staff will nonetheless communicate clearly and fully and respond to your needs.

Who do I contact if I am having difficulty with the application process?

Call 202-833-8773 or email us at

I don’t remember my certification level or its validity. How can I find the information?

All ESA current certified ecologists can be found on the Directory of Certified Ecologists. All ESA-certified ecologists, including those whose certification expired two or more years ago, can find their own certification level and status information under the My Certification tab in the ESA Membership Portal.

I have a current certification, but my name is not on the Directory of Certified Ecologists. How can I correct this?

If your name is not found on the directory, please contact The directory will be updated after verification. You are also invited to add information about yourself as we improve the directory.

I am an ESA-certified ecologist and would like to update my information in the Directory of Certified Ecologists.

The Directory of Certified Ecologists is updated quarterly using data from the ESA Membership Portal (for established certification-holders) and data from the application (for newcomers). You are also invited to add information about yourself on this form. Because updating the directory is in part a manual process, it is possible to miss a name when updating information — if your name is not found in the directory but your certification is current, please contact

I’ve been a Certified Ecologist or Senior Ecologist for at least 10 years and I’m no longer employed full-time, is there a certification for me?

Yes, Certified Ecologist and Senior Ecologist certification holders who hold that status for at least 10 consecutive years and are no longer working full-time may upgrade to each level’s respective Emeriti designation. Contact for more information

Educational Requirements

One or more of my degrees is not in ecology. Can I still apply for certification?

Yes, provided you can meet the educational requirements and can show that your recent work experience involves the application of ecological and biological principles to an appropriate degree for the level at which you are applying. Supplemental materials, such as reports or other publications, may be particularly helpful in demonstrating this. You can also use your cover letter to explain how the content of your degree program relates to the field of ecology.

If your degree is in a field outside of ecology, the qualifying degree being used for certification must still be in a related science, i.e., environmental science, plant science, biogeosciences, etc.

If I don’t have a degree in ecology, what are some examples of courses that would qualify me?

The Board of Professional Certification considers scientific curriculum in sciences at the basis of and in related fields to ecology to adequately provide foundational concepts. Those concepts are:

  • Organisms
  • Populations
  • Communities
  • Ecosystems
  • Landscapes
  • Biomes
  • Biosphere

These are considered core elements in the Four Dimensional Ecology Education Framework (4DEE) endorsed by ESA in 2018. Visit the 4DEE website for a more thorough explanation of what ESA considers to be foundational concepts in ecology. Note that these are not course titles per se, but the overall subject matter that an ecologist should have a background in.

If you have any questions about coursework that you would use for certification as an ecologist, please email

One or more of my degrees is from an international institution. Can I still apply for certification?

Yes, provided your institution is accredited and that all grades are reported as equivalent to the grading system we follow. For smaller, less well-known, and virtual institutions, both abroad and in the United States, additional information and/or documentation is encouraged. If you have concerns about how your credentials may be reviewed, provide an explanation and context in your cover letter.

I did not attend a school with a traditional semester/quarter system, or I have continuing education courses. How can I determine my credit hours?

One semester hour equals one classroom meeting per week for 12-14 weeks, or two field/lab hours per week for 12-14 weeks. Therefore, a full three-credit course has three lecture hours per week, and a four-credit course has three lecture hours plus two lab hours, or two lecture hours plus a four-hour field trip.

Also, a total of 45-46 contact hours of class time equal a three-credit lecture. A person in a six-day course with eight hours per day of contact time then has 48 hours or the equivalent of a three-credit lecture in semester hours. The number of contact hours includes the time for exams.

You may only count continuing education courses once toward your certification (as meeting either education or CEU requirements). If counting for CEU, please use the value assigned in the framework.

Does ESA require or endorse any continuing education programs?

ESA is requiring continuing education beginning with the 2021 certification year. As this program develops, it will naturally coincide with certification programs run by other scientific societies. Without a formal agreement with other organizations, ESA is unable to verify if any scientific or other content is valid for continuing education per another organization’s program requirements, nor can we guarantee if programming from another organization that is not a verified, approved provider will be considered suitable to meet our program requirements, but we certainly welcome any scientist who wishes to participate in our activities. Contact if you have questions about a course or event that you may wish to attend for CEU and do not see the hosting organization on our list of approved providers, and please provide feedback about how ESA can better serve your needs.

All participants in the certification program are encouraged to seek professional development opportunities that best meet their goals.

Can you review my course list and/or program of study before I send in my application?

No, we cannot assess your qualifications in full until your application is being reviewed. If you believe a class may require further explanation, we encourage you to provide that information in your cover letter.

Are transcripts required?

The Board requires college/university transcripts for anyone applying for a new certification or a certification upgrade based on having earned a higher degree. Transcripts may be official or unofficial (but, if unofficial, must appear on institutional letterhead) and will be used to determine your length of professional experience and competency in ecological coursework. Please visit the Requirements page for details.

Work Experience Requirements

What is the cutoff date for achieving the required length of work experience?

Length of experience will be evaluated up to the date of application. If you cannot meet the minimum post-degree work experience by this date, you should apply for the next lower certification level or wait to apply until you have fulfilled the requirement for your desired level.

Can time spent during graduate school count toward my work experience?

Professional experience during graduate studies shall be counted the same as any other professional experience regardless of whether it was undertaken during a degree program such as a master’s or doctoral program. If courses during graduate training are used to satisfy the minimum education requirements, professional work experience may be counted after the last such course is successfully completed.


How do I know when it is time for me to recertify?

Certification lasts five years, as indicated on your document of certification. It is your responsibility to note the dates on your approval letter and certificate, but ESA will follow up, via email, with all individuals whose certifications are expiring. Please ensure that ESA has a current email address for you on your profile in the ESA Membership Portal.

All currently certified ecologists can be found on the Certified Ecologist Directory, and all certified ecologists whose certification expired fewer than two years ago can find their own certification level and validity information under the My Certification tab in the ESA Membership Portal.

Why does ESA require recertification?

The certification program is intended for actively practicing ecologists who maintain best practices and familiarity with new research. Thus, the Board wants to ensure that you continue to meet the requirements for the level at which you were certified and that you have developed competencies commensurate with a higher level. For this reason, it is important that you provide dates for all relevant activities on your updated CV and publications list, and report your continuing education activities annually.

My certification has lapsed, but I’d like to recertify, what should I do?

  • If two years or fewer have elapsed since your certification expired, and you wish to continue at the same level, you may apply for recertification and note the lapse in your cover letter. If approved, your certification will be retroactive to the month and year in which your certification was approved, and CEU requirements must have been met within 5 years of the application date. Please note that all subsequent recertifications must meet the CEU requirements.
  • If more than two years have elapsed since your certification expired you may apply for recertification but will have to pay a penalty fee. The penalty is the cost of recertification for each year of lapse. You do not need to complete a new certification application – you must apply using the form titled Re-Certification (Lapsed).

For example, if your certification expires in 2022, you have a 2-year grace period (or until 2024) to recertify without a penalty fee. The regular cost for recertifications at all levels is $25 for ESA Members and $50 for non-members.

However, if you decide to recertify in 2025 – which equals 3 years of lapsed certification – you’ll have to pay a $75 fee. If you decide to recertify in 2026, you’ll have to pay a $100 fee.

You should note in your application materials that you were previously certified by ESA, as well as the professional development activities you have participated in.

How do I apply for a higher level of certification than my current one?

Complete an upgrade application as opposed to recertification. If the Board determines that you do not meet the requirements for the higher level, you will be considered for recertification at your current level.

Do you still have my old application on file? If so, may I reuse portions of it instead of filling out the whole application again?

All applicants for recertification must fill out the entire online application.

While the Board does bear in mind that you were previously certified at a specific level, they require evidence that you have remained active and continued your professional development in the years since your last certification. We also try to maintain a minimum of personal information in our systems.

Letters of Recommendation

How many letters of recommendation do I need?

Applicants for new certifications, certification upgrades, and recertification at the EiT, AE, and CE levels must provide two (2) letters of recommendation – see the Certification Requirements page.

Who should write my letters of recommendation and what should these letters contain?

Your recommenders should be colleagues, supervisors, advisors, or other individuals capable of evaluating your credentials in an informed and objective manner. Do not request a letter of recommendation from a subordinate or a family member.

A letter of recommendation should speak to the recommenders’ direct experience with the applicant’s academic, research, or work history. It should be a first-hand confirmation that the applicant has demonstrated academic, research, or work expertise in the field of ecology. Recommenders should be colleagues, supervisors, advisors, or other individuals capable of evaluating your credentials in an informed and objective manner.

Specifically, letters should vouch for your professional involvement as a practicing ecologist, or for Ecologists in Training (EiT) comment on your education and training as well as any professional experience if applicable.

Using the automated system in the application process, recommenders will be requested to write letters of recommendation for you. We strongly encourage you to contact them first to ensure that they will do so, and notify them that they should expect a message from ESA. You may also wish to ask them to check the junk/spam folders as well. Letters of recommendation must be on company letterhead, signed by the recommender, and uploaded in .pdf format via the form the recommenders will receive by email. If a recommendation’s agency/company prohibits the use of letterhead for such instances, the letter of recommendation may be provided with no letterhead but must contain an explanation describing the policy.

Please note that these letters will only be required for new certifications (not for recertification or upgrades) once the CEU component has been fully adopted after 2025.

What should be in the letters of recommendation?

A letter of recommendation should speak to the recommenders’ direct experience with the applicant’s academic, research, or work history. It should be a first-hand confirmation that the applicant has demonstrated academic, research, or work expertise in the field of ecology. All letters of recommendation (for all certification levels) must have language that attests to the applicant’s background and career as a professional ecologist.

Can letters of recommendation be sent by email?

No, letters can only be submitted via the online form that will be emailed to the individuals whose recommendation you seek. Letters must be on company letterhead and be signed and sent by the recommender directly via upload. If recommendations cannot be provided on company letterhead due to company policy, please indicate this in the letter or accompanying email. Letters without a signature or without letterhead and lacking an explanation will not be considered.

Application Fees

Which methods of payment does ESA accept?

Online payments may be made by PayPal, VISA, MasterCard, or American Express are processed through the payment links at the end of each of the online applications.

Can I pay my application and ESA membership fees simultaneously?

No. If you are not an ESA member or your ESA membership has expired, join or renew your membership first on the ESA Membership Portal. When you receive a confirmation of your ESA ID number, you may use this number in your certification application.

Will I need to pay the application fee again next year to maintain my certification?

No. Your certification is good for 5 years.

Can my application fee be returned if I am not approved or decide not to go through with the certification process?

No, certification fees are non-refundable. Applicants who are denied on the basis of not meeting the qualifications, or those who fail to complete the entire application process, will not be refunded.

If I pay the non-member certification rate and become certified, do I get a free ESA membership?

Yes. New applicants who are not members of ESA and are approved for certification will receive a free membership for the year of that certification. All ESA memberships (except life and emeritus) are based on the calendar year and run from January 1 through December 31.