Environmental Science Degree

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What is Environmental Science?

Environmental science is a branch within biology that seeks to intimately understand the relationships that exist in the natural world including the way organisms operate in relationship to their environment.  The primary goals of an environmental scientist include the following:

  1. Assess how human’s affect the environment
  2. Comprehend how humans engage with their environment
  3. Understand how the natural world works

Environmental science is a multi-disciplinary area of study that incorporates several fields of study together.  Examples of the areas of study rolled into environmental science include: geology, chemistry, public policy, biology, ethics, philosophy, sociology, geography, political science, and economics.  By blending these disciplines together, an environmental scientist can prudently assess environmental challenges from a holistic point of view.

Environmental science is the study of physical, chemical and biological processes and how they affect the environment.  Additionally, environmental scientists attempt to understand problems such as pollution, climate change, and resource depletion in a scientific manner. Individuals in this field will work in various locations and with varied employers in order to ensure the safety and preservation of resources and ecosystems.

What Do Environmental Scientists Do?

An environmental scientist performs a number of different functions dependent upon the job and scope of the project at hand.  For example, an environmental scientist may be tasked to assess the potential impact of a policy or procedural change on our natural resources.  From this starting point, natural resources can be parsed into non-renewable natural resources and renewable natural resources.  Non-renewable natural resources such as crude oil, minerals, coal, natural gas, and nuclear energy.  On the other hand, renewable natural resources include sun, wind, water, timber, soil, biomass, geothermal energy.   From this simple example, an environmental scientist has a substantive challenge to assess natural resource management through a holistic lens that integrates science with humanities and public policy to arrive at an objective assessment of a change or modification to a rule or piece of legislation.

Best Environmental Science Degrees

A variety of on-site and online degree programs exist within the study of environmental science from accredited colleges and universities across the country.  Programs range from bachelor degree programs to graduate degrees in environmental science.  To help you determine the program best for you, we have a brief summary of each below to further explore.

Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Science

An on-site or online bachelor’s degree in environmental science is a four-year program if classes are taken on a full-time basis.  The bachelor degree program is conferred as a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (BS) depending on the design and content of the coursework.  Students in a bachelor degree track will have the opportunity to take a series of liberal arts classes such as communications, creative writing, and psychology coupled with core classes to provide students with critical thinking skills and a holistic world-view.  Core classes in environmental science typically include geography, oceanography, calculus, physics, biology, ecology, statistics, computer modeling, conservation biology, environmental chemistry, and environmental policy.  By leveraging science principles with deep problem-solving skills, students will be equipped to launch a career in a variety of industries to positively influence issues on a local, regional, and global scale.

Master’s Degree in Environmental Science

The master’s degree in environmental science is a 1-2 year program most frequently conferred as a MS or Master’s of Science.  Students in the master’s degree track can elect to specialize in fields of study such as terrestrial ecology, toxicology, marine ecology, freshwater ecology, economics, policy, and law.  The courses taken as part of the master’s degree program will be a result of the area of specialization selected.  Classes in a environmental science program will typically include the following examples: geography, atmospheric science, ecology, oceanic studies, evolutionary biology, civil engineering, economics, public policy, chemical engineering, environmental engineering, urban planning, and law.

Doctorate Degree in Environmental Science

The doctorate degree in environmental science is a 4-6 year program that includes upper level courses, labs, seminars, hands-on learning, and a board approved dissertation project.  Through the use of computer analytics, engineering acumen, technical writing prowess, and environmental knowledge, a PhD student will be equipped to step into a variety of management and leadership positions in a public company, private corporation, government agency, or non-profit organization.   Classroom-based degree options and online doctorate degrees in environmental science may be available through select schools and may be worth investigating to complete your PhD program through the learning modality that makes the most sense for you.

Educational Requirements in Environment Science

Students seeking a degree in environmental science will be exposed to multiple scientific disciplines and learn to combine them in theoretical and practical settings.Due to the variety of sciences necessary to be able to properly work in the field, individuals will have to have strong backgrounds in math as well be knowledgeable regarding scientific theories, methodologies and technologies that may affect the study of environmental science and the gathering and examination of research. Degrees are available at all levels, though a bachelor's degree is typically required to be considered for employment.

Coursework may include classes in:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Geology
  • Ecology

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Employment Opportunities in Environment Science

Individuals in this field will seek employment either through government agencies or programs, or through private companies that seek to evaluate the effect of their business on the environment and how to be more eco-friendly. Additionally, employment within research studies or non-profit organizations is also possible. Higher level degrees allow individuals to be considered for grants to conduct their own research programs and employment as educators, with doctoral recipients often working within a university to conduct experiments and research.

Job Growth and Related Environmental Fields

Careers in environmental science are expected to grow at a rate of 11% in the coming decade adding some 10,200 jobs during this reporting period.  This increase in jobs can be attributed to increasing concern by governments, businesses, and individuals over the environment and how to prevent environmental disasters. The average wage for an environmental scientist is $68,910 a year.  A large portion of environmental scientists work for government agencies but private businesses are beginning to employ more in an effort to keep green. Growth is also being seen in private consulting firms.

Top Careers in Environmental Science

Environmental scientists can find themselves working in a number of different industries for a variety of employers.  As part of your due diligence in the field, you need to understand the range of jobs that exist in environmental science to understand the jargon and job titles that map to the degree program.  An example of the top careers in environmental science include:

  • Wildlife Biologist
  • Biological Survey
  • Safety and Health Specialist
  • Park Ranger
  • Wetlands Ecologist
  • Environmental Scientist
  • Fisheries Biologist
  • Soil Conservation Specialist
  • Water Resources Specialist
  • Field Researcher
  • Natural Resource Scientist
  • Marine Biologist
  • Aquatic Toxicologist
  • Environmental Chemist
  • Naturalist
  • Endangered Species Biologist
  • Environmental Inspector
  • Restoration Ecologist

Top Employers of an Environmental Scientist

  1. Scientific and Technical Consultants       20,260
  2. State Government Agencies                       19,140
  3. Local Government Agencies                       11,740
  4. Architectural and Engineering Firms       10,340
  5. Federal Government Agencies                     5,240

States with the Highest Employment of Environmental Scientists

  • California              14,790
  • Florida                    5,320
  • Texas                       5,050
  • New York               3,700
  • North Carolina      3,370

Top Paying States of an Environmental Scientist

  1. District of Columbia    $109,620
  2. Texas                                $90,000
  3. Colorado                          $88,830
  4. Alaska                               $86,760
  5. New Mexico                     $85,880

If you are interested in environmental science, you may also like environmental studies, natural resource conservation and biology.   As an additional resource, you can also read our blog post titled Top College Degrees for Animal Lovers for more information.  The Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences (AESS) and the National Association for Environmental Professionals (NAEP) are world-class organizations in this field.  Students may find benefit to learning more about each organization and how they may benefit their careers by visiting their respective websites.

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Career Summary: Environmental science Major




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