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Environmental Studies: Overview of Common Adult Education Courses

If you are passionate about nature and the environment and would like nothing more than a career that lets you work to protect the planet's natural resources, then a program in environmental studies might be for you. Read about common courses in these programs, as well as get information about career options.

Here we discuss the available undergraduate and graduate degree programs in environmental studies and see some of the common coursework for each degree option. Students can also explore possible career opportunities, as well as salaries and job outlook.

Program Information

Those seeking an education in environmental studies can pursue an associate's, bachelor's or master's degree in the subject. Environmental studies examines various environmental issues and applies science to help solve them. Graduates of this field often work to protect human health and the environment using their acquired background in the natural sciences. Course topics vary by program level, with some programs offering specializations like energy management, sustainability or environmental biology. Programs often incorporate science lab work and may include internships.

Programs At a Glance

Associate Degree

  • 2 years in length.
  • Requires a diploma/GED.
  • Available on-campus and online.

Bachelor Degree

  • 4 years in length.
  • Requires a diploma/GED.
  • Available on-campus and online.

Master Degree

  • 2 years in length.
  • Requires a bachelor's degree in any field, completed undergrad courses in calculus, statistics, and chemistry.
  • Available on-campus and online.

Associate's Degree Programs

An associate's degree program can prepare students to work as environmental science and protection technicians, as well as lay a foundation for a bachelor's program in environmental studies. Students will cover topics in policy, law, management and more. Since environmental studies is such a broad field of study, the coursework may range from environmental literature to environmental history to environmental politics. In addition to general education courses, students in these programs may take courses that include:

  • Biology
  • Environmental sampling
  • Earth science
  • Chemistry
  • Geography
  • Technical writing
  • Macroeconomics
  • Urban pollution

Bachelor's Degree Programs

A bachelor's degree program prepares students to work as environmental scientists and specialists. Students gain a foundation in physical sciences and mathematics, including calculus, physics, chemistry, geology, biology and ecology. Some bachelor's programs allow for specializations, such as natural resources or conservation. Most bachelor's programs, even those offered online, include some kind of hands-on experience through labs. Programs at the bachelor's level also sometimes have internships. Other coursework students might complete include:

  • Environmental policy
  • Conservation biology
  • Biostatistics
  • Economics
  • Soil and water analysis
  • Forest ecosystems
  • Plant physiology
  • Toxicology
  • Hydrogeology

Master's Degree Programs

Master's degree programs in environmental studies are available as standalone programs and combined programs with degrees in business administration or governmental administration. Students usually choose a specialization and take advanced courses in that specialty, as well as completing a thesis. Graduate students can also expect to write professional papers on their particular focus area. Specializations or coursework could be geared toward topics in riparian ecology, watershed hydrology, restoration ecology and more. Courses taken at the master's level often include:

  • Environmental law and policy
  • Research methods
  • Chemistry
  • Biology
  • Hydrogeology
  • Environmental business

Career Information

Environmentalism has become a prominent issue in business these days, with several large businesses trying to adopt 'green' or environmentally friendly practices. In addition, large environmental lobby groups like the Sierra Club retain political clout. These organizations and businesses will, of course, be in need of trained environmentalists, as will all of the governmental agencies set up to determine and enforce environmental policy. Other environmental studies graduates pursue academic careers in the areas of research or teaching.

Salary Information

Salaries will, of course, vary widely by industry, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in May 2015 that environmental science and protection technicians earned a median wage of $43,030. Environmental scientists and specialists made a higher median wage of $67,460.

Economic Outlook

According to the BLS, demand for environmental scientists and specialists is expected to grow by 11% through 2024, which is faster than average. Much of this growth is expected to occur in the private sector, as industries either are required to conform to public policy or wish to improve internal protocol dictating environmental impact. Environmental science and protection technicians can expect to have 9% job growth through 2024. The more education and experience you have in the area of environmental studies, the better equipped you will be to find a job protecting nature and its resources.

Environmental studies degree programs are available at the associate's, bachelor's and master's degree levels for interested students, and these programs are often available online for those needing a flexible schedule. Graduates of these programs can work many different careers in the field, including environmental science and protection technicians or environmental scientists and specialists.


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