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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 the Board of Professional Certification
  • If approved, be certified retroactive to June 1 of the application year (2021)
  • Have an active certification from ESA until June 30 five years later (2026)
  • In those five years, earn at least 40 continuing education units and self-report to ESA
  • Apply for recertification at the same level, or seek an upgrade
  • If all of your CEU were from approved providers or otherwise approved by the Governing Board, you will receive the certification you sought

Existing Certifications from 2020 and Prior

  • Between 2021 and 2025, apply for recertification at the current level, or seek an upgrade
  • Reviewed by the Board of Professional Certification
  • If approved, have new certification retroactive to June 1 of the application year
  • Have an active certification from ESA until June 30 five years later
  • In those five years, earn at least 40 continuing education units and self-report to ESA
  • Apply for recertification at the same level, or seek an upgrade
  • If all of your CEU were from approved providers or otherwise approved by the Governing Board, you will receive the certification you sought

The intention of the CEU requirement is to improve the value of the certification in the eyes of employers, decisionmakers 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 ESA Governing Board endorsed this new business model in November 2020; staff is currently working with the Board of Professional Certification to identify providers and build a roster, which we will first publish in January 2021 and update on a rolling basis.

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

  • ESA programming, up to 50%
    • Annual Meeting session attendance; higher value will be placed on activities like symposia, workshops and short courses
    • Attending chapter meetings and policy workshops
    • Participating in training programs like the Strategies for Success course
    • Attending webinars
    • 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%
    • 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.

A full framework will be published on this website in January 2021. 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 Board in its evaluation.

How much is the application fee?

Application fees vary based on ESA membership and the level of certification. Please refer to the Process Timeline and Application Fees page for more information.

How do I handle the membership verification section on the application if I don’t have or remember the 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.

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.

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

The Directory of Certified Ecologist is updated quarterly using data from the ESA Membership Portal. Please log in here to update your personal information. Because this 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

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 Board of Professional Certification will request it.

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

The Board of Professional Certification meets in June of each year to evaluate all applications, and all applicants are informed of their status by the end of June. Please refer to the Process Timeline and Application Fees page for more information.

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

Call 202-833-8773 or email us at

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 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. There are also places on the application forms 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, when reviewing applications for certification, considers scientific curriculum in sciences at the basis of and in related fields to ecology to adequately provide foundational concepts in ecology. 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. 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 used in the certification process. For smaller, less well-known and virtual institutions, both abroad and in the U.S., additional information and/or documentation is encouraged.

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 a week for 12-14 weeks, or two field/lab hours a 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. Number of contact hours includes the time for exams.

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 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.

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

No, the Board cannot assess your qualifications in full until the review period. If you believe a class may require further explanation, we encourage you to provide that information in your application.

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 Guidelines 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 deadline of January 31/February 1 every year. If you cannot meet the minimum post-degree work experience by this date, you should apply for the next lower certification level or wait until next year to apply.

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

If you are using a lower degree to fulfill the educational requirements for the level at which you are applying, work experience during graduate school will count as half-time and should be listed accordingly in your application. If educational requirements were met in a graduate program past the qualifying degree, length of experience will begin after the completion of the final required course to meet the basic educational requirements for certification.


How do I know when it is time for me to re-apply?

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 when that year’s application period opens. Please ensure that the 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. 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. Which form do I use?

  • If less than two years 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 year in which your certification expired. Please note that all recertifications will require meeting CEU requirements by 2026.
  • If more than two years have elapsed since your certification expired, you must complete a new certification application and include all required materials, including letters of recommendation and transcripts, if applicable. You should note in your application materials that you were previously certified by ESA, as well as 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.

References and Letters of Recommendation

How many references and letters of recommendation do I need?

Applicants for new certifications and certification upgrades must provide two references and two letters of recommendation – see the Requirements Checklist.

  • References: List two individuals who can vouch for your professional skill and/or academic excellence. These individuals may be contacted during the formal application review process. At least one of your references should be a current ESA member. To verify your intended reference’s membership status, use the Member Directory (members only; login required) or contact
  • Recommendations: Recommenders should not be related to you in any way. Using the automated system in the application process, they will be requested to write letters of recommendation for you (you may wish to contact them first to ensure that they will do so). 

Recertification applicants must provide two references but are not required to provide letters of recommendation. At least one of these references must be a current ESA member OR a Certified Ecologist or Certified Senior Ecologist, and should be clearly indicated as such on the application form.

There is an exception for applicants from a country other than the United States who cannot obtain a letter from suggested recommenders; if this describes you, please submit two letters of reference or recommendation as required from a supervisor, advisor or colleague, and a personal statement explaining why you are unable to provide letters of recommendation from ESA members or a certified ecologist.

Please note that these letters will only be required for new certifications 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.

Who should I ask for references or recommendations?

Your references and recommenders should be colleagues, supervisors, advisors, or other individuals capable of evaluating your credentials in an informed and objective manner. Do not request a reference or letter of recommendation from a subordinate or a family member. You may only choose one reference from your current organization.

How do I go about obtaining an ESA member as a reference or recommender?

If you are an ESA member, you may log in and use the Members Directory to see if any of your references/recommenders are already current ESA members.

Can letters of recommendation be sent by e-mail?

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

What 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 fee 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 five years (from June 1 to June 30).

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 I 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.


Can I apply after the deadline?

The application deadline is always at the end of January or beginning of February each year. Online application forms will be closed on the day of the deadline, so it is not possible to apply after that point. You will need to wait to apply when the new cycle opens.

Can I send my application for next year in advance?

All applications are online-only, and are open during November through January 31 or February 1 every year. No mailed or emailed applications will not be considered.

If my recommendation letters are not submitted before the deadline, how does that affect my application process?

All certification application materials are due by the application deadline. If you suspect that your recommendation letters will be delayed beyond that date, please contact us at

Thank you for your interest in our certification program, and we look forward to your application.