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Sustainability Degree Programs

Sustainability is the study of how populations can live and grow more responsibly. This article provides detail to help you decide if a degree program in sustainability is right for you.

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Overview of Bachelor's Degree Programs in Sustainability

Sustainability is less of a specific field and more of a philosophy, or lens, through which to view the interaction between humanity and the world it occupies. Bachelor's degree programs in sustainability are therefore broad and interdisciplinary. These programs aim to teach students how to examine the connections between politics, the environment, economics and development and use these connections to address issues on local or global scales. Read on to learn more about admission requirements, typical coursework and career information for a degree in sustainability.

Admission Requirements for Sustainability Programs

There aren't many specific requirements for beginning a program in sustainability, apart from gaining admission to the college or university. If you are interested in applying, you should have completed, or almost completed, a high school degree or GED program. Some concentrations or tracks within sustainability programs are heavily focused on hard sciences, and may require a strong scientific academic record or completion of prerequisite courses. You should also be prepared to convince an application committee of your interest in one or more focuses within sustainability.

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Sustainability Program Coursework

Whether or not you choose to concentrate in a particular type of sustainability, you will take a broad range of courses that include the following:

Introduction to Sustainability

This essential course provides a broad overview to incoming students about the meaning of sustainability and the issues it encompasses. You can expect to learn core concepts of sustainable practice in terms of environmental science, policy, social issues, resource use, and more. The course will also put into context the processes that gave rise to the world we live in, and how we can and do affect the future.

Social and Policy Dimensions of Sustainability

How governments manage their citizens and resources is a crucial consideration in the world of sustainability. This course looks at natural resource policy and law, and evaluates the role of different governmental institutions or organizations. It also covers strategic thinking skills, teaching students how to make a plan to achieve a particular vision.

Natural Resource Science

This course takes particular interest in the interaction between humans and the natural environment. It covers issues surrounding ecological resources such as water, and overarching ecological concerns such as climate change. It will also focus on the various social and economic drivers of land use around the world.

Sustainability and the Built Environment

The built environment is a term that describes all human modifications to the natural environment. This course essentially covers identifying and implementing sustainable practices in urban design and living. That might mean building practices, use of ecologically responsible materials, sustainable design of transportation systems or energy networks, and the effect of regulation of these areas on growth and resilience.

Capstone Experience

Toward the end of your degree program you might be expected or required to complete a practical project in sustainability science. This course will guide you through that experience, including project design, production, and presenting your solution to a real-life problem. This might be in the form of an internship with an organization or company, or could be an issue you identify and address yourself.

How to Choose a Sustainability Program

Sustainability programs may offer Bachelor of Arts (BA) or Bachelor of Science (BS) degree options, or both. A BA typically prepares students for careers in social science, management or policy, while a BS will be more focused on environmental science and engineering. You should research the course offerings and concentrations of each program to choose the one that best fits your career goals. You should also look at each program's offerings of internships and capstone projects, and choose one that provides the opportunity for extensive hands-on learning.

Career Options With a Degree in Sustainability

A strong focus on systems-thinking and analytical skills prepares students for careers, in any field, delivering socially and environmentally responsible products and services. One option is to become a sustainability specialist. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn't provide specific details about sustainability specialists, but it does include these professionals in the category of 'business operations specialists, all other.' According to the BLS, the median annual wage for these business operations specialists was $69,040 in 2016, and the predicted job growth for 2014-2024 is of 5%. Other options to consider include:

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