Conservation Degrees and Certification Programs

A degree in conservation offers students a diverse education with a strong emphasis on the sciences and research methodology, as well as a sensitivity to the political and social impact existing laws have on the environment.

Essential Information

Conservation is a broad interdisciplinary field that combines the natural sciences with public policy, statistics, business and law. Degree programs specifically in conservation are rare, but many schools offer programs in related fields like environmental science and natural resource management. There are also programs that highlight the conservation aspects of a particular area, such as wildlife ecology and conservation or natural resource conservation. Students at all degree levels are typically required to complete an internship and/or final project such as a thesis or dissertation.

  • Program Levels: Bachelor's degree, master's degree, doctoral degree
  • Conservation Program Fields: Conservation and Environmental Science
  • Prerequisites: High school diploma for bachelor's program; bachelor's degree for master's program; master's degree or dual bachelor's degree for doctoral programs

Bachelor's Degrees in Conservation

Bachelor's level programs typically emphasize the business and policy-making aspects of conservation, along with practical conservation skills. Students learn the intricacies of policy issues and the complex environmental decrees that help shape many research and conservation initiatives. Graduates of the Bachelor's program are eligible to enter certification programs to specialize in a certain area of conservation such as the certification offered by The Society of American Foresters. An interest in more specialized fields will likely develop as students will be exposed to various topics pertaining to conservation throughout the bachelor's program. Classes in the following subjects are common:

  • Environmental health and economics
  • Fish and wildlife
  • Forest preservation
  • Dendrology
  • Wildlife ecology
  • Conservation biology

Master's Degrees in Conservation and Environmental Science

Master of Science (MS) degree programs emphasize the research methodology and statistical analysis behind environmental data. Programs focus on biological, economic, political and social influences on conservation. In addition to a bachelor's degree, applicants to the MS program must have completed extensive college coursework in biology, chemistry, geology and statistics. Students in MS programs are often required to complete a thesis project demonstrating their ability to conduct original environmental research. Environmental science master's programs could include courses in the subjects mentioned below:

  • Environmental chemistry
  • Wildlife ecology and management
  • Ecological toxicology
  • Biogeochemistry
  • Environment and human health
  • Wetland ecology

Doctoral Degrees in Environmental Science

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programs in environmental science focus on advanced research in areas such as forest ecology and management, watershed and wetlands science, urban forestry, building practices and remote sensing information systems. Curricula focus less on classroom instruction and allow students to plan their courses of study. Applicants to environmental science PhD programs must have completed previous college coursework in statistics, the natural sciences and mathematics typically with standard minimum GPA requirements. Environmental science PhD programs provide extensive hands-on training in data analysis, sample gathering and natural resource conservation. Programs generally require that students select a specialized area in which to perform research for their dissertations. Students might take courses or research topics noted below:

  • Landscape and population ecology
  • Environmental biology
  • Hydrogeology
  • Oceanography
  • Geochemistry and Geophysics
  • Watershed hydrology

Popular Career Options

Program coursework at the bachelor's level emphasizes policy and science, preparing students for a more generalized range of conservation careers. Students who choose to continue their education in conservation begin to hone their research skills at the master's level and focus these skills on a specialized area at the PhD level.

Bachelor's DegreeConservation forester
Natural resource specialist
Master's DegreeNatural resources conservation researcher
Natural resources manager
Wildlife biologist
Doctoral DegreeConservation science professor
Climate change researcher
Research forester

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