Environmental Engineering Degree and Certification Information

Oct 10, 2019

Environmental engineering can be studied at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels. Explore each program and common course topics, as well as employment outlook and certification information.

Essential Information

Bachelor's degree programs in environmental engineering offer training in the fundamental concepts of engineering. They also look at how the environment can be affected by engineering applications and how engineering concepts can be used to protect the environment.

Master's degree students can often choose courses to create plans of study that meet their needs. Programs often require a final cumulative thesis or independent study project.

Doctoral programs in environmental engineering give students advanced training for careers in research or academia. They involve a 2-3 year study that works toward a formal dissertation. Students may also need to fulfill teaching experience and residency requirements.

As for program prerequisites, a high school diploma and standardized test scores are needed for the bachelor's program. Applicants to a master's program need a bachelor's degree in engineering (preferred) or a related field, as well as a background in math, science and engineering. Candidates for the doctoral program will need a bachelor's or master's degree in engineering or a related field.

A license is required to work as a professional engineer. Additionally, several professional engineering associations offer professional certifications that call for at least eight years of engineering experience.

Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Engineering

The undergraduate level of engineering introduces students to natural and physical sciences, high-level mathematics and engineering concepts and practices. Although environmental engineers can hold bachelor's degrees in civil, chemical or mechanical engineering, a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Engineering focuses on the environmental applications of engineering and its impact on protecting the environment. Exposure to other engineering branches is also common in undergraduate study. Once attained, a bachelor's degree holder can find entry-level engineering jobs. Students become familiar with concepts in calculus, physics, biology and chemistry, and are exposed to the fundamentals of engineering. They will also take multiple levels of natural science and mathematics and participate in indoor and outdoor lab experiments. Students can expect to become knowledgeable in areas such as:

  • Calculus and statistics
  • Biology
  • Physics
  • Organic and inorganic chemistry
  • Air and water pollution treatments
  • Computer methods

Master's Degree in Environmental Engineering

A master's degree in environmental engineering continues in-depth study of scientific and engineering concepts and environmental applications. Students may be able to build their curriculum from a selection of available courses. Classes at the master's degree level go further in-depth to the biological and chemical components of the environment and the engineering practices involved in improving environmental health for the public. Having attained a thorough conceptual knowledge at the bachelor's degree level, students can expect to expand on their expertise through courses in:

  • Aquatic and air chemistry
  • Solid and hazardous waste engineering
  • Pollution physics and chemistry
  • Ecosystem functions and characteristics
  • Environmental microbiology and biotechnology
  • Environmental policies and regulations

Doctor of Philosophy in Environmental Engineering

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) study primarily involves independent research that results in a dissertation. Earning a Ph.D. in environmental engineering can lead to high-level jobs that help make substantial contributions to society's environmental policies, innovation and health. Ph.D. candidates must fulfill research and coursework requirements and consult with a research adviser as they progress on their dissertation.

Popular Career Options

Increasingly, completion of a master's degree program is becoming a requirement for employment in engineering. Entry-level engineers typically work for large companies and gain project experience as engineering interns or assistant engineers on the path to becoming licensed. Many jobs are possible in this field, and potential employers can include government agencies, private and corporate businesses, research firms and engineering consulting firms. A few examples of possible job positions include:

  • Environmental consultant
  • Environmental researcher
  • Developer of company environmental regulations
  • Pollution control facility operator

Ph.D. holders in environmental engineering are the creative force behind developing and promoting a safe environment. Often, Ph.D. holders will be involved in advanced technical work for industrial companies, teach as university professors or work for private research companies to develop and implement solutions and innovations for environmental protection.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The American Academy of Environmental Engineers (AAEE) states that many employers now prefer candidates who hold a master's degree. Job outlook is favorable due to an increasing public focus on environmental protection resulting in more companies looking to environmental engineers to help prevent environmental hazards. Environmental engineers may expect a job growth of 5% during the decade 2018-2028. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ( reported that the median annual wage for environmental engineers in 2018 was $87,620.

Continuing Education

After completing a bachelor's degree program, graduates can continue to a master's degree in environmental engineering. Earning a master's degree will open up more job and research opportunities. After four years of field experience, state licensing must be attained to become a professional engineer.

Professional engineers are required to become licensed to provide public service. At least four years of post-undergraduate work experience are required in addition to passing state examinations. Certification is often offered by professional engineering societies, such as the AAEE, and earning certification can benefit advancement into specialized engineering jobs. Certification can be attained after eight years of full-time experience. For continuing education, a Ph.D. will provide additional benefits and qualify degree-holders for positions in teaching, research and advanced technical work.

Students interested in studying environmental engineering can pursue degrees in the field at the bachelor's, master's and doctorate levels, in order to work as environmental engineers. Graduates will need to obtain licensure to work with the public.

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