Careers for Environmental Policy Majors: Job Options and Requirements

Sep 28, 2019

A degree in environmental policy can lead to careers working for businesses, nonprofit organizations, or the government. It's possible to become a conservation scientist or forester with a bachelor's degree. Lawyers need to complete law school and earn a Juris Doctor degree.

Essential Information

Environmental policy is an academic field that focuses on how man's activities impact the natural world and how governments and other organizations develop solutions to negative impacts through law and regulation. Government, private industry and nonprofit organizations employ environmental policy majors. Read on to learn about career options and requirements applicable to environmental policy majors.

Career Lawyer Conservation Scientist Forester
Education Requirements Graduate degree Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 6% 4% 1%
Average Salary (2018)* $144,230 $65,320 $63,150

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Career Options

There are many career opportunities for environmental policy majors, especially those who combine their policy studies with additional education in science, law, real estate or economics. Multiple government agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), employ environmental policy majors in positions that focus on land use, resource conservation, project or staff management, policy making and policy enforcement.

Environmental policy majors who would like to work outside of government may find success with corporations, law firms, political organizations and nonprofits that take a special interest in environmental policy or the relationship between business and the environment. Since these organizations seek to address environmental issues within particular contexts, applicants may be required to have field-specific technical training in addition to their environmental policy background.

Conservation Scientists

Those who wish to work to protect the environment at a hands-on level should consider a career in conservation science. These scientists observe and study environmental areas and forestry activities to ensure that the public and private organizations adhere to environmental laws. They also research new methods of conservation.


Foresters oversee activities in forests, particularly controlled burns. They determine whether workers are performing controlled fires in the most efficient and environmentally responsible way. Both foresters and conservation scientists typically require a bachelor's degree.

Environmental Lawyer

Environmental lawyers represent parties who wish to bring legal suits against those who are breaking environmental laws. Like all lawyers, those working to protect the environment need a graduate law degree and must pass the state bar exam.

Environmental Policy Career Requirements

The EPA hires a select few college graduates each year for a special employment and training opportunity called the Environmental Careers Program (ECP). The ECP is a 2-year period during which participants complete accelerated on-the-job training to prepare for careers at the EPA. People from many educational backgrounds are encouraged to apply for the ECP, including environmental policy majors who are strong leaders, communicators and academic achievers.

In addition to their bachelor's degree, environmental policy majors may want to consider obtaining a graduate degree. According to the EPA, while graduate degrees are not always required for their positions, applicants with master's or doctoral degrees often begin employment at a higher pay rate than those with bachelor's degrees. For those unsure of what degree to pursue next, the BLM lists scientific, leadership and legal careers as being particularly in demand, so educational programs in any of those areas may pair especially well with an environmental policy background.

Some environmental policy majors pursue Juris Doctor degrees and become attorneys who specialize in environmental law. Environmental law attorneys actively engage in environmental issues through the courts and the legislative process at both the state and federal levels. This may take the form of representing parties in disputes involving environmental regulations, advising clients of how environmental law affects them or assisting lawmakers in creating environmental policy that is relevant in contemporary society.

Career and Salary Information

The job prospects and earning potential for people in environmental policy careers can vary by job title and employer. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expected a 6% uptick in job opportunities for lawyers between 2018 and 2028. These professionals earned an average salary of $146,230 in May of 2018. The number of employed conservation scientists and foresters was expected to increase by only 4% and 1%, respectively, during the same time period. The average salary for foresters was $63,150 and the average salary for conservation scientists was $65,320 in May of 2018, according to the BLS.

Individuals with a major in environmental policy may work for government agencies that are responsible for overseeing land use and conserving natural resources, while others may choose to work for companies, nonprofit organizations, or legal firms that are interested in the environment. Lawyers may pursue cases where environmental regulations haven't been followed; conservation scientists perform studies and seek ways to conserve resources, and foresters maintain forests. All of these professions can expect slower than average to average job growth from 2018 to 2028.

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