An In-Depth Guide to Environmental Science Degree [2023]

Find what environmental science degree is, explore its types and majors, potential jobs, and benefit from expert guidance.

Environmental Science Degree

Did you know that every action we take, from the simplest daily choices to major global decisions, impacts the environment?

Our world is currently confronted with many pressing environmental issues, including the impacts of climate change, the widespread pollution problem, and the alarming depletion of our precious natural resources.

As these issues become more pressing, the need for environmental awareness and sustainable solutions has never been greater. This is where environmental science degrees come into play, offering a pathway to understanding and addressing these challenges head-on.

Imagine being equipped with the knowledge and skills to impact the world around you positively. Environmental science degrees provide a unique opportunity to explore the intricate relationships between humans and their environment while finding innovative ways to protect and preserve our planet.

This article will delve into the fascinating realm of environmental science degrees, uncovering their possibilities and the exciting journey they offer.

On This Page

What is an Environmental Science Degree?

An environmental science degree encompasses a multidisciplinary curriculum integrating various scientific disciplines to examine the environment and its intricate interactions with human activities. By studying biology, chemistry, ecology, and geology, students comprehensively understand environmental issues while honing the necessary skills to tackle them effectively.

In the contemporary world, the significance of environmental science has escalated considerably. Opting for an environmental science degree empowers you to play a pivotal role in addressing these critical concerns.

Nowadays, there has been a notable upsurge in public awareness and interest surrounding environmental issues, leading to novel trends and advancements within the field. Concepts like sustainable development, eco-friendly technologies, and green initiatives have gained significant traction.

As an environmental science student, you have the unique opportunity to actively participate in these emerging trends and play a crucial role in devising innovative solutions that promote and encourage responsible environmental stewardship.

What are the Environmental Science Degree levels?

Environmental science degrees are offered at various levels of education, each providing unique opportunities for learning, specialization, and career advancement. Whether you’re just starting your academic journey or looking to enhance your expertise in the field, there’s a degree level that suits your aspirations.

Let’s explore the different levels of environmental science degrees and the benefits they offer:

Certificate in Environmental Science

A certificate in environmental science is a short-term program that introduces students to the foundational concepts and principles of the field. It typically covers a specific area within environmental science, such as conservation, sustainability, or environmental policy.

Getting a certificate can enhance your resume and demonstrate a commitment to environmental issues, making it ideal for individuals seeking to upskill or explore the field before pursuing higher education.

Entry Requirements: Vary depending on the institution, but generally require a high school diploma or equivalent.

Associate in Environmental Science

An associate degree in environmental science is a two-year program offering a comprehensive introduction to the basic principles and disciplines within the field. It provides a solid foundation for further study or entry-level positions in environmental science-related careers.

This degree provides hands-on experience through fieldwork, lab experiments, and practical assignments, plus unique internships or cooperative education opportunities, allowing students to gain real-world experience.

Entry Requirements: High school diploma or equivalent.

Bachelor of Environmental Science

A bachelor’s degree in environmental science is a four-year undergraduate program providing a broader and more in-depth understanding of environmental science concepts. Later on, this degree is an excellent base for specialization in specific areas such as ecology, climate change, or environmental management.

A bachelor’s degree in Environmental science enables entry into a wide range of environmental science careers or serves as a stepping stone for advanced degrees.

Entry Requirements: High school diploma or equivalent. Some institutions may have additional requirements such as specific courses or minimum GPA.

Master of Environmental Science

A master’s degree in environmental science is a postgraduate program that provides advanced knowledge and specialization in a specific area of environmental science. It typically involves coursework, research, and may require a thesis or capstone project.

This degree level enhances career prospects, especially for leadership roles or positions in research and academia, and  May offer networking opportunities and connections with industry professionals.

Entry Requirements: Bachelor’s degree in environmental science or a related field. Some programs may require relevant work experience and a competitive GPA.

Ph.D. in Environmental Science

A doctorate (Ph.D.) in environmental science is the highest level of education in the field, making you a recognized authority. It focuses on original research and the advancement of knowledge in a specific area of environmental science.

Pursuing a doctorate degree will give you the opportunity to contribute to cutting-edge research in environmental science, and open doors to teaching positions at universities and research institutions.

Entry Requirements: Master’s degree in environmental science or a related field, meeting the admission criteria set by the university, including minimum GPA, letters of recommendation, statement of purpose, and, in some cases, standardized test scores.

Disclaimer: The entry requirements for a degree in Automotive Technology may vary depending on your university and state. However, here we have outlined the general qualifications that are frequently asked for.

What specialties and concentrations can you find in Environmental Science Degree programs?

As you embark on your journey into environmental science, it’s essential to discover the vast array of specialties and concentrations available within the degree programs.

These specializations allow you to delve into specific areas of interest and better understand the environmental issues that matter most to you. Pursuing these concentrations can tailor your education to align with your passions and career aspirations.

Let’s explore some of the most sought-after and popular specialties within environmental science degree programs and uncover the exciting benefits of pursuing these areas of expertise.

Ecology

Ecology, a field within environmental science, focuses on investigating ecosystems and exploring the intricate dynamics between organisms and their surroundings. Pursuing this concentration, you will gain a holistic understanding of the complex relationships within ecosystems, acquire skills in field research, data analysis, and ecological modeling, and contribute to biodiversity conservation and sustainable management of natural resources.

Possible careers in: environmental consulting, wildlife conservation, ecological restoration, and research.

Geoscience

Geoscience is a discipline that emphasizes examining Earth’s physical elements, encompassing rocks, minerals, landforms, and natural processes. Specializing in geoscience within environmental science programs will help you explore the impact of geological factors on the environment, including studying natural hazards, geological formations, and the interactions between Earth systems.

You will develop a comprehensive understanding of Earth’s geological processes and their environmental implications and contribute to sustainable land management, resource exploration, and environmental impact assessment.

Possible careers in: geology, environmental consulting, natural resource management, and geotechnical engineering.

Atmospheric Science

Atmospheric science focuses on studying the Earth’s atmosphere and the processes governing its behavior. Suppose you specialize in atmospheric science within environmental science programs. In that case, you will delve into topics such as weather patterns, climate change, air pollution, and the impacts of atmospheric phenomena on the environment and human health.

Also, you will develop skills in analyzing atmospheric data, modeling climate scenarios, assessing air quality, and contributing to understanding climate change and formulating strategies for mitigation and adaptation.

Possible careers in: meteorology, climate research, environmental policy, air quality management, and renewable energy.

Environmental Chemistry

As an aspiring environmental chemist, you’ll dive into our environment’s intricate world of chemical processes. With a focus on understanding pollutants, their behavior, and their impacts on ecosystems and human health, you’ll develop valuable skills in analytical techniques and environmental monitoring.

By pursuing this specialization, you can actively contribute to pollution prevention, remediation efforts, and the development of sustainable chemical solutions. With career opportunities in environmental consulting, toxicology, and waste management, the world of environmental chemistry is both intellectually stimulating and impactful.

Possible careers in: environmental monitoring, toxicology, environmental consulting, and waste management.

Soil Science

As a student specializing in soil science, you’ll unravel the hidden secrets beneath our feet and explore the vital role soils play in ecosystems and sustainable agriculture. By studying soil properties, composition, and nutrient cycling, you’ll gain valuable insights into soil conservation and fertility.

By acquiring soil analysis and land management skills, you’ll become equipped to contribute to sustainable agriculture, land use planning, and ecosystem restoration. A career in soil science opens doors to diverse opportunities, including soil conservation, agronomy, and environmental consulting. Your expertise will make a profound impact on the future of our planet.

Possible careers in: soil conservation, agronomy, environmental consulting, and land rehabilitation.

Courses & Curriculum in Environmental Science Degrees

Now that you better understand the different levels, specialties, and concentrations in environmental science degrees, let’s delve into another crucial aspect: the courses and curriculum you can expect to encounter in these programs. 

Environmental science degree programs offer diverse courses that delve into the intricacies of ecosystems, dissect environmental policies, and engage in practical fieldwork. These courses will equip you with valuable knowledge and skills and empower you to make a meaningful and positive impact on our environment.

Introduction to Environmental Science

This foundational course serves as your gateway into the world of environmental science. You will develop a broad understanding of the foundational principles, key concepts, and pressing challenges in environmental science.

By the end of this course, you will have a profound appreciation for the intricate interplay and dynamics of the natural world. Armed with this knowledge, you will gain valuable insights enabling you to address environmental challenges and actively contribute to sustainable solutions effectively.

Environmental Policy and Management

Understanding the policies and regulations that shape environmental practices is essential. This course explores local, national, and international environmental laws, policies, and governance structures. You’ll also study environmental management strategies and techniques for sustainable resource use.

Sustainable Energy Systems

Studying sustainable energy systems plays a vital role in the quest for a greener and more sustainable future. This course explores renewable energy sources, energy efficiency, and the technologies that drive the transition to a low-carbon society. You’ll learn about solar, wind, hydroelectric, and geothermal energy systems and emerging technologies like bioenergy and fuel cells. Through hands-on projects and case studies, you’ll develop a comprehensive understanding of the challenges and opportunities in sustainable energy.

Pollution Prevention and Remediation

The pollution prevention and remediation course focuses on understanding the causes, sources, and consequences of pollution, as well as strategies for prevention and remediation.
In this course, you’ll explore various types of pollution, including air pollution, water pollution, soil contamination, and hazardous waste.

You’ll delve into the scientific principles and technologies used to assess, monitor, and control pollution. Through case studies and practical exercises, you’ll learn about innovative approaches and best practices for preventing decay at its source.

Field Methods in Environmental Science

Fieldwork is an integral part of environmental science. In this course, you will acquire diverse field techniques essential to environmental science. Through hands-on learning, you will master skills like sampling, data collection, and analysis. You’ll become familiar with equipment such as GPS devices, data loggers, water quality meters, and soil sampling tools. 

Moreover, the course emphasizes the importance of data integrity and research ethics. You’ll learn how to design field experiments, maintain accurate records, and analyze data collected. By collaborating with classmates and instructors, you’ll experience the value of teamwork and effective communication in scientific research.

On-campus vs. Online Environmental Science Degrees

When contemplating pursuing an environmental science degree, it is crucial to assess the various options at your disposal carefully. Your decision must align harmoniously with your unique circumstances and aspirations, guaranteeing a gratifying educational experience within environmental science.

Now, let us delve deeper into the key considerations that come into play when choosing between on-campus and online environmental science degree programs.

On-campus Environmental Science Degrees

Pros:

Immersive Learning Environment: On-campus programs offer the opportunity to engage in hands-on laboratory work, field studies, and collaborative projects, fostering a deeper understanding of environmental science concepts.

Face-to-face Interaction:In-person classes allow direct interaction with professors and classmates, creating a dynamic learning environment where you can ask questions, engage in discussions, and build valuable connections.

Campus Resources: On-campus students can access various resources, including libraries, research facilities, and extracurricular activities, enriching their educational experience.

Cons:

Fixed Schedule: Attending classes on campus often requires adhering to a set schedule, which may be challenging if you have work or family commitments that demand flexibility.

Geographic Limitations: On-campus programs may require you to relocate, limiting your options based on location and potentially incurring additional costs.

Online Environmental Science Degrees

Pros:

Flexibility: Online programs offer the flexibility to study at your pace and on your own schedule, allowing you to balance your education with other personal or professional commitments.

Accessibility: Online education breaks down geographical barriers, providing access to reputable programs regardless of your location.

Self-directed Learning: Online courses promote independent learning, fostering self-discipline, time management, and technological skills that are highly valuable in today's digital age.

Cons:

Limited Hands-on Experience: Online programs may have limitations in providing extensive hands-on laboratory work and field experiences, which are crucial aspects of environmental science education.

Limited Face-to-face Interaction: While virtual communication tools facilitate interaction with instructors and classmates, online programs may offer a different level of in-person engagement and immediate feedback than on-campus programs.

What to consider when choosing an Environmental Science Degree?

Now that you have a deeper understanding of the available options, it’s time to explore the key considerations that can assist you in choosing the ideal environmental science degree program.

To make the best decision, evaluating various factors that align with your academic and career goals is crucial. Considering the factors below, you can be assured that your chosen program is the perfect fit for you.

Here are some practical tips to assist you in selecting the ideal environmental science degree program:

1. Accreditation

Look for programs accredited by reputable accrediting bodies. Accreditation ensures the program meets specific quality standards, guaranteeing a rigorous curriculum, qualified faculty, and valuable learning experiences. There are a few bodies that accredit Environmental Science education. One of them is ABET, concentrating on accrediting schools in applied sciences, computing, and engineering. Another specialty accreditation agency is National Environmental Health Science and Protection Accreditation Council. It establishes national guidelines for Environmental Health program education regarding training, faculty, enrollment, and other managerial aspects of a significant program.

2. Curriculum and Specializations

Review the program’s curriculum and the range of specializations offered. Ensure that the coursework aligns with your interests and career goals. Research opportunities to deeper explore specific areas of environmental science, such as ecology, environmental policy, or sustainability.

3. Faculty Expertise

Research the qualifications and expertise of the faculty members within the program. Experienced professors with diverse backgrounds and research interests can provide valuable insights, mentorship, and opportunities for collaboration.

4. Internship and Fieldwork Opportunities

Check if the program offers internship or fieldwork opportunities. Practical experiences in real-world settings provide hands-on learning and the chance to apply theoretical knowledge to environmental challenges.

5. Facilities and Resources

Consider the range of facilities and resources provided to students, including cutting-edge laboratories, research centers, and access to databases or field equipment. These resources can significantly enhance your learning experience and equip you with valuable practical skills.

6. Alumni Network and Career Support

Explore the program’s alumni network and career support services. A strong network of graduates and career resources can offer valuable connections, job placement assistance, and mentorship opportunities.

7. Financial Considerations

Take the time to evaluate the program’s cost, including tuition fees and living expenses. It’s crucial to conduct thorough research and explore potential scholarship, grant, or financial aid opportunities that can help alleviate the financial burden. By researching available financial assistance, you can make a more informed decision that aligns with your financial circumstances and ensure you can fully embrace your educational journey without undue financial strain.

What can you do with an Environmental Science Degree?

Environmental science is witnessing remarkable growth and importance in today’s world of significant challenges such as climate change, pollution, and other pressing environmental issues.

With the increasing awareness and concern for the well-being of our planet, those who decide to pursue an environmental science degree are positioned at the forefront of creating meaningful change.

From exploring the unseen world of microbiology to analyzing ecosystems as an environmental scientist and designing sustainable solutions as an environmental engineer, the opportunities for impactful careers are vast.

Career Outlook

Environmental Science offers diverse paths in government agencies, research institutions, non-profits, and consulting firms. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a fantastic 8% growth in demand for environmental scientists, fueled by rising concerns for environmental issues and sustainability. 

About 7,800 openings for environmental scientists and specialists are projected each year, on average, over the decade, many are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Salary Potential

While making a positive impact on the environment is rewarding in itself, it’s essential to consider the financial aspect too. According to the BLS, the median annual wage for environmental scientists and specialists was $76,530 per year, as of the latest data. However, it’s worth noting that salaries can vary depending on factors such as experience, location, and industry.

Additionally, as you gain expertise and experience in the field, you may have opportunities for advancement into managerial or leadership roles, which can lead to higher earning potential.

So, not only can you contribute to a healthier planet, but you can also build a stable and fulfilling career with an Environmental Science degree.

Top Environmental Science Degree Jobs you can get:

Environmental Scientists and Specialists

Environmental scientists and specialists use their knowledge of the natural sciences to protect the environment and human health.

Average Salary - Job Positions

Average Salary

$76,530 per year

College Degree Type Needed For Job Position

Degree Level

Bachelor's

Environmental Science and Protection Technicians

Environmental science and protection technicians monitor the environment and investigate sources of pollution and contamination.

Average Salary - Job Positions

Average Salary

$47,370 per year

College Degree Type Needed For Job Position

Degree Level

Associate`s

Geoscientist

Geoscientists study the physical aspects of the Earth.

Average Salary - Job Positions

Average Salary

$83,680 per year

College Degree Type Needed For Job Position

Degree Level

Bachelor's

Environmental chemist

 Environmental chemists are responsible for collecting and testing soil, air and water samples to determine their quality and how they affect the environment.

Average Salary - Job Positions

Average Salary

$61,413 per year

College Degree Type Needed For Job Position

Degree Level

Bachelor's

Environmental Consultant

Environmental consultants offer expert advice to clients in regards to how to manage environmental issues and reduce a company’s overall carbon footprint.

Average Salary - Job Positions

Average Salary

$67,580 per year

College Degree Type Needed For Job Position

Degree Level

Bachelor's

Urban and Regional Planner

Urban and regional planners develop land use plans and programs that help create communities, accommodate population growth, and revitalize physical facilities.

Average Salary - Job Positions

Average Salary

$78,500 per year

College Degree Type Needed For Job Position

Degree Level

Master`s

*Please be advised that the average salary provided by BLS may deviate significantly from state to state and occupation, depending on various factors.

Popular Colleges with Environmental Science Degree Programs

When it comes to pursuing an environmental science degree, several renowned colleges and universities in the United States offer exceptional programs. These institutions provide a rich academic environment, experienced faculty, and numerous opportunities for research and practical experience.

Here are five of the most famous colleges for environmental science degree programs:

SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

Located in Syracuse, New York, the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) is renowned for its focus on environmental education and research. ESF offers undergraduate and graduate environmental science, biology, and environmental studies programs. The college emphasizes interdisciplinary approaches to environmental problem-solving and provides students with hands-on research and fieldwork opportunities.

University of California, Santa Barbara

The University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) is internationally recognized for its excellence in environmental science education and research. The Environmental Studies Program at UCSB offers a wide range of interdisciplinary courses exploring environmental issues’ social, economic, and ecological dimensions. Students have access to state-of-the-art facilities and research centers, allowing them to engage in cutting-edge research and collaborate with leading experts in the field.

University of California Berkeley

As one of the top-ranked universities in the world, the University of California Berkeley (UC Berkeley) offers a comprehensive environmental science program. The Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management provides students with a strong foundation in environmental science. It specializes in conservation and resource studies, ecosystem management, and environmental economics and policy. UC Berkeley’s commitment to sustainability is evident through its research initiatives and campus-wide efforts to reduce its environmental footprint.

Yale University

Yale University, located in New Haven, Connecticut, is renowned for its commitment to environmental research and education. The Yale School of the Environment (YSE) offers a range of environmental science and policy programs, including a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies. The program emphasizes interdisciplinary approaches, allowing students to integrate scientific knowledge with policy, management, and social sciences. Yale’s comprehensive research centers and initiatives provide students hands-on learning experiences and opportunities to address pressing environmental challenges. The university’s strong focus on sustainability and environmental leadership makes it an attractive choice for those passionate about environmental science.

Oregon State University

Oregon State University (OSU) is recognized for its outstanding environmental science programs and its commitment to sustainability. The College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in environmental science, providing students with a solid foundation in environmental systems, natural resources, and sustainability. OSU’s location in the Pacific Northwest offers diverse ecosystems, forests, and coastal environments that serve as living laboratories for students to gain hands-on experience.

Featured Colleges

FAQ about Environmental Science Degree Programs

Earning an Environmental Science degree equips you with a diverse set of skills that are essential for addressing complex environmental challenges.

Through this program, you will develop a strong foundation in scientific research methods and data analysis, enabling you to conduct rigorous investigations and draw meaningful conclusions. Additionally, you will acquire knowledge of environmental laws, regulations, and policies, allowing you to navigate the legal framework surrounding environmental issues.

Earning an Environmental Science degree offers numerous benefits for both personal and professional growth. Firstly, it opens up various career opportunities in multiple sectors.

With this degree, you can work in government agencies, consulting firms, nonprofit organizations, research institutions, and more. The demand for environmental scientists continues to grow as societies increasingly recognize the importance of environmental sustainability.

Pursuing an Environmental Science degree also allows you to positively impact environmental issues and contribute to sustainability efforts. This sense of purpose and the opportunity to work towards a more sustainable future can provide immense personal fulfillment.

There are several professional organizations specifically tailored to environmental science professionals.

These organizations provide resources, networking opportunities, and career development support. Some prominent professional organizations include: The Environmental and Engineering Geophysical Society (EEGS), The Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences (AESS), The Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) , The National Association of Environmental Professionals (NAEP).

These organizations provide opportunities for professional development, access to scientific journals and publications, conferences and events, and networking with experts in the field.

Funding options for an Environmental Science degree can come from various sources. Some potential avenues for financing your degree include:

  • Scholarships and grants:
  • Federal student aid programs
  • Fellowships and assistantships
  • Tuition reimbursement programs
  • Personal savings or part-time jobs
  • Employer tuition assistance programs
  • State-specific financial aid programs

Alternative career paths with an Environmental Science Degree include environmental consultant, sustainability specialist, environmental policy advisor/analyst, conservation scientist/ecologist, environmental educator, environmental health and safety officer, environmental engineer, wildlife biologist/natural resource manager, environmental data analyst/researcher, climate change analyst, and environmental planner/coordinator.

Key challenges in Environmental Science today include addressing climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution and contamination, resource management, and environmental justice.

Opportunities lie in technological advancements, sustainable solutions, interdisciplinary collaborations, policy and advocacy, environmental education and outreach, and international cooperation.

The demand for Environmental Scientists is expected to grow due to increased awareness of environmental issues and the need for sustainable practices.

Environmental Scientists are sought after in government agencies, consulting firms, nonprofit organizations, research institutions, and industries such as renewable energy, waste management, and environmental consulting.

Environmental science contributes to sustainability efforts by assessing environmental impacts, developing sustainable resource management strategies, promoting biodiversity conservation, influencing environmental policies, and providing scientific knowledge and expertise for sustainable decision-making and practices.

Wrap Up

  • Shape Your Skills: Choose specializations such as Ecology or Atmospheric Science to enhance your knowledge. The right program, accredited and offering practical opportunities, transforms you into a capable scientist and advocate for sustainability.
  • Career and Contribution: Your degree opens up a wide range of job prospects while letting you tackle key environmental issues. This is not just about advancing your career but about making a real-world impact.
  • Opportunities and Growth: Join a sector with ample opportunities, spanning government bodies to industries focused on sustainability. Your passion and skills are in great demand.

Now, consider your role in this context. Picture yourself making active contributions to a more sustainable world. Experience the excitement of leading significant changes.

The time is now to turn this vision into action. Begin your journey with an Environmental Science Degree today.

Your commitment to this path will benefit our planet for generations to come. Take the first step towards shaping the future.

Editorial Disclaimer

The College Compass is reader-supported and committed to maintaining complete editorial independence. All views expressed are solely ours and are not influenced by any external party. We may include affiliate links in the article, which helps us earn a small commission to support our work. We always have a link to the source for any data or information we include. Learn more about our editorial practices.

Explore More Degrees & Majors

Scroll to Top