Environmental Design Education and Training Program Info

Environmental designers find ways to integrate natural and synthetic elements for building interiors, landscapes, cities and transportation projects. Learn about the programs available, common courses and employment outlook.

Essential Information

Environmental design programs are commonly taught at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels. Some schools also combine undergraduate programs with a professional architecture program to allow graduates to qualify for licensure and specialize in the field of environmental design. Graduate programs involve significant research, and often require previous education or a degree in a related field.

GED or high school diploma required for admission to a four-year university, but additionally, students may have to apply for admission to environmental design after completing a year of courses. Bachelor's programs typically incorporate hands-on design studio learning. Master's programs require a bachelor's and may require a research proposal. The programs can vary in focus, with some specializing in interior design or architecture, while others concentrate on urban and city planning, or landscape. Field work or practicum experience is usually included. PhD programs look for students with a master's degree, preferably in a related field, such as architecture, industrial design or landscape architecture.

Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Design

Bachelor's degree programs in environmental design, such as the Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Design or Bachelor of Science in Architecture Environmental Design, are considered pre-professional programs for those interested in further study of architecture, landscape architecture or urban planning, as well as students who want to work in entry-level jobs in designing, planning or a related area. Some programs focus on building architecture and design while others put more emphasis on urban design and planning.

The studies of natural designs and methods, landscaping and other environmental issues are typically part of all programs. There are also a few schools that offer a combined bachelor's degree program along with a master's degree in architecture to qualify individuals to become licensed architects. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) planners and architects typically have master's degrees (

Typical bachelor's degree programs in environmental design include general education and major coursework. Some course topics may be:

  • Sustainable design strategies
  • Construction material and methods
  • Master plans in urban design
  • Computing tools for environmental design
  • Landscape architecture

Master's Degree in Environmental Design

Master's degree programs in environmental design are focused on specific training in the theories of design with an eye toward making spaces appealing from an ecological and environmental perspective. This type of program may appeal to professionals in the architecture or urban planning field who want to further their skills as designers of environmentally friendly places. These programs also typically have a research focus, as well as a thesis option. Some programs offer specialization in particular areas, such as designing for hospitals or health care facilities.

Courses can vary depending on the direction of the program, and whether students chose a research track. Course topics may be:

  • Theories of environmental design
  • Seminars in environmental design concepts
  • Strategies and analysis in research
  • Evolution of American architecture and landscape
  • Creating healing spaces

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Environmental Design

Ph.D. programs in environmental design are designed for professionals trained in architecture, landscape architecture, urban planning or building design who are seeking to advance their education in designing with the environment in mind. The programs focus heavily on research and students are given many opportunities to conduct research in a variety of design issues, such as building learning centers for young children that mirror natural areas. Similar programs are available in design or environmental design and planning.

Most programs focus heavily on research and include a dissertation. Some course topics may include:

  • Methods for conducting research in environmental design and planning
  • Historical perspectives of architecture, design and planning
  • Current methods in building design, landscape architecture and interior design
  • Common problems in environmental design
  • The use of statistics in research

Popular Career Options

Earning a bachelor's degree in environmental design can be used as a foundation for further study in architecture, planning, landscape design and related fields or for entry-level positions in the design and planning industry. Depending on an individual's educational and professional background, earning a Ph.D. degree in environmental design can lead to several career options. Some possible job titles for different degree levels may be:

  • Associate or assistant planner
  • Drafter
  • Industrial designer
  • Surveyor
  • Technical photographer, writer or illustrator
  • Landscape architect
  • College professor
  • Postsecondary school administrator
  • Corporate sustainability director
  • Planning department chief

Continuing Education

Earning a bachelor's degree in environmental design can be used as a foundation for further study in architecture, urban planning or a related area. Many accredited colleges and universities offer master's degree programs in architecture and urban planning. Architects are licensed in most states, and educated through a 5-year bachelor's degree program in architecture, or a master's degree in architecture. Most states do not license urban planners, but employers prefer planners have an advanced degree, according to the BLS.

Planners can seek out voluntary certification through the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP), a part of the American Planning Association. Earning the AICP credential requires an exam, as well as certain educational background. The AICP states that graduates with an undergraduate or graduate degree in a subject other than planning can become eligible to take the exam after completing four years of planning work experience. The American Planning Association also offers continuing education resources for professionals in the field.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

An individual who earns a master's degree in environmental design, depending on the type of program, may seek a job as a regional or urban planner, who works to determine the best use for land and helps oversee growth and urbanization. The BLS predicted a 6% growth in jobs for urban and regional planners during the 2014-2024 decade, which is about as fast as average. The median annual salary for a regional or urban planner was $68,220 in May 2015, the BLS reported.

Bachelor's, master's and doctorate degree programs in environmental design focus on the environmental side of architecture to prepare students for a wide array of careers in the field. Some possible job titles include drafters, urban and regional planners, designers and architects, but most graduates will need state licensure to be an architect.

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