Become an Environmental Consultant: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become an environmental consultant. Research the education requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career as an environmental consultant.

Should I Become an Environmental Consultant?

Environmental consultants are earth scientists who assist in the creation, analysis and enforcement of government policies designed to protect the environment from industrial hazards. They typically work for government agencies or consulting firms, monitoring and inspecting work sites to assure compliance with local health and safety standards.

Daily work in this profession is usually done in an office or lab, with occasional work in the field. Field work can be physically demanding, and require working in all weather conditions. Work days can be long, with occasional odd hours. Traveling may be required for meetings or presentations.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Bachelor's degree is standard, though some employers seek consultants with master's degrees
Degree Field Environmental science or a related field
Experience 2-5 years of related experience
Certification Voluntary certification is available
Key Skills Critical thinking, written and verbal communication, complex problem solving, coordination, judgment and decision making, active learning, analytic computer skills, mapping, database software, familiarity with field equipment, soil and water sampling
Salary $66,250 per year (median salary for all environmental scientists and specialists, 2014)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Job postings by employers (November 2012), American Council for Accredited Certification, O*NET OnLine

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Environmental consultants work with private companies and government agencies to identify problems in the environment and create solutions. A degree in environmental science, a field that examines environmental systems and problems, is particularly applicable for this field. Other potentially relevant degrees include biology, geology and chemistry. A degree program in environmental science typically includes class work in such courses as ecology, environmental remediation, environmental law, toxicology, chemistry, geology and biology.

Success Tip:

  • Take part in an internship program. An aspiring environmental scientist who participates in an internship with an environmental consulting firm during undergraduate study may have an advantage over other candidates when pursuing job opportunities. Duties and responsibilities of interns may include conducting research, organizing projects, assisting in presentations and participating in laboratory work.

Step 2: Complete Graduate Studies

While a bachelor's degree is sufficient for some environmental consulting positions, some employers prefer that applicants have a master's degree. At the master's level, environmental science degree programs may allow potential consultants to tailor their education to issues in which they're most interested.

Step 3: Gain Work Experience

For positions in this field, employers look for applicants with up to five years of work experience. An aspiring environmental consultant may find it helpful to begin this career by accepting an entry-level position in a relevant field. Positions such as research assistant, technician and field analyst can provide individuals with experience in data collection, analysis and processing. Occasionally, consulting firms may consider hiring entry-level employees who have achieved an advanced enough level of education.

Step 4: Consider Earning Certification

There are a number of organizations that offer certifications in environmental science, including universities, consulting firms and the American Council for Accredited Certification. It may be necessary to research both the needs of a particular employer and state requirements in order to determine which certification will be most useful in any given situation.

Step 5: Advance Your Career

Environmental consultants with experience working in the field can advance their career by moving up to the position of project manager. Beyond that, they can become a director, overseeing the project managers and working directly with the clients. An experienced environmental consultant with good client connections may also choose to start their own firm.

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