Conservation Degrees and Certification Programs

Learn about undergraduate and graduate programs in conservation. Read about program prerequisites, courses, popular career choices and optional professional certification.

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.

Graduates of all education levels who have an expertise in conservation may find career opportunities with governmental agencies, private consulting firms or non-profit conservation and environmental organizations. Optional certifications are available through some professional associations.

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 explore topics like soil and water quality, wetlands analysis and wildlife preservation. They also learn the intricacies of policy issues and the complex environmental decrees that help shape many research and conservation initiatives.

Course Topics

Students in conservation-related programs generally have a strong background in mathematics and science. Classes in the following subjects are common:

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

Popular Careers

Since bachelor's degree programs in environmental science emphasize policy and science, graduates can hold several positions in government or business. Some common career options are listed below:

  • Conservation forester
  • Natural resource specialist
  • Hydrologist

Professional Certification Information

The Society of American Foresters offers certification for people who have at least a bachelor's degree. To become certified, foresters must have at least five years of relevant employment experience and pass a written test.

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. Students could conduct research to determine the amount of land to set aside to preserve a particular ecosystem or species. They may also evaluate the risks of certain technologies on biodiversity and develop strategies to manage at-risk populations.

Educational Prerequisites

Applicants need a bachelor's degree and must have completed extensive college coursework in biology, chemistry, geology and statistics to enroll in these programs.

Program Coursework

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

Popular Career Options

Many governmental agencies and private environmental conservation firms hire people who have master's degrees in environmental science. Graduates can work in the field, as researchers or as advocates. Popular careers include:

  • Natural resources conservation researcher
  • Natural resources manager
  • Wildlife biologist

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. Students can investigate the relationship between wildlife habitats and their supporting terrestrial and aquatic environments. Curricula focus less on classroom instruction and allow students to plan their courses of study.

Educational Prerequisites

Applicants to environmental science PhD programs must have completed previous college coursework in statistics, the natural sciences and mathematics. Admissions officers often require applicants to meet minimum standards for undergraduate grade point averages. Some programs allow students who hold bachelor's degrees to enroll in PhD programs, but many require completion of a master's degree.

Program Coursework

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:

  • Ecosystems
  • Landscape ecology
  • Population ecology
  • Environmental biology
  • Hydrogeology
  • Oceanography
  • Environmental chemistry
  • Geochemistry
  • Geophysics
  • Watershed hydrology

Popular Career Options

The research and statistical skills covered in environmental science PhD programs prepare graduates for a range of advanced careers. Popular career choices for doctoral graduates include those listed below:

  • Conservation science professor
  • Climate change researcher
  • Research forester

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