Water Resources Graduate Programs

Jun 08, 2018

Water resources graduate programs focus on the complex relationship of water and natural ecosystems and on human interactions with water. Learn about the varied careers these degrees can lead to and prerequisites for program admission.

A graduate degree in water resources prepares students for a variety of careers that deal with water in many contexts: scientific, economic, and social. Graduates may go on to become hydrologists, engineers, city planners, or policy makers. Because the field of water resources is so complex and broad, water resource graduate programs tend to be interdisciplinary and allow students to choose a track and courses most suited to their career goals.

Water Resources Graduate Degree: Careers and Salaries

Job Title Median Salary (2017)* Job Growth (2016-2026)*
Hydrologist $79,990 10%
Urban/Regional Planner $71,490 13%
Environmental Engineer $86,800 8%
Political Scientist: Policy Analyst $115,110 (political scientist) 3% (political scientist)
Water Lawyer $119,250 (lawyer) 8% (lawyer)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Water Resources Graduate Degree: Career Paths


Hydrologists study the interactions of water with the surface of the Earth. They look at the stages of the water cycle and the relationships between water and the plants and animals, including humans, that need this resource. Hydrologists may monitor water availability in an aquifer, study the impact of a hydroelectric dam on the surrounding ecosystem, or look at how different types of pollution impact the water supply. Hydrologists often work closely with other scientists and public officials to ensure the availability of fresh, clean water for all populations that rely on it. Though some entry-level hydrology positions only require a bachelor's degree, a graduate degree can open doors to higher-level research positions.

Urban/Regional Planner

Urban and regional planners develop land use plans for cities and other geographic areas. They work to balance environmental and economic concerns, such as ensuring that water resources of a city are sufficient to keep up with population growth, and that new development does not have costly ecological consequences. Planners with a degree in water resources will collect and use a variety of data on water quality and availability, meet with community stakeholders to address issues and concerns, and create both short- and long-term plans for development. Urban/regional planning jobs typically require a minimum of a master's degree.

Environmental Engineer

Environmental engineers combine knowledge of engineering and science to address problems in the environment. An environmental engineer specializing in water resources may manage municipal drinking water supplies or focus on wastewater treatment. Environmental engineers may study issues of water availability related to climate change and pollution control. Entry-level environmental engineering positions require a minimum of a bachelor's degree, but a graduate degree can provide more job opportunities. Practical, hands-on experience through internships is also useful to prepare for a career as an environmental engineer.

Political Scientist: Policy Analyst

A political scientist specializing in policy analysis gathers and uses data to evaluate current and proposed policy, and then advises others - politicians, lobbying organizations, nonprofits, or government agencies - on the specific policy. For a policy analyst with a specialization in water resources, policies may include water supply management, municipal and industrial wastewater treatment regulations, or pollution control. Policy analysts may conduct and analyze public surveys to see how people view a certain policy, may collaborate with environmental scientists to determine the environmental impact of a proposed project, and may write reports or press releases to share their findings. A policy analyst with a degree in water resources would use his or her knowledge of water conservation to inform public policy on water issues. A minimum of a master's degree is typical for individuals entering this field.

Water Lawyer

A graduate degree in water resources along with a law degree can lead to a career in water law. Water lawyers specialize in legal issues surrounding water policy, management, and ownership. Some water lawyers are employed by companies and government agencies to oversee compliance with water regulations. Other water lawyers represent clients in disputes over water rights. Having a graduate degree in water resources helps provide a solid background in the social and policy aspects of water management; additionally, water lawyers must obtain a Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree and pass a bar examination in the state in which they will work.

Water Resources Program Prerequisites

Many colleges and universities offer water resources or water management graduate degrees, both at the master's and PhD levels. These programs have some common entrance requirements and prerequisite courses. Planning ahead during undergraduate coursework can help prepare prospective students to be competitive in the graduate school admission process.

Though exact requirements and prerequisites vary from school to school, most water resources graduate programs require the following:

  • Bachelor's degree: ideally in a natural science or social science field related to the student's ultimate career goals
  • GPA: 3.0 is typically expected for graduate school admission
  • GRE: minimum scores vary
  • Prerequisite coursework: calculus, statistics, and natural sciences (ecology, botany) and/or physical sciences (chemistry, physics); social sciences courses are also helpful for students looking to focus on water management and policy

A graduate degree in water resources can lead to a variety of career paths dealing with the scientific as well as social aspects of water management. Students interested in this type of graduate degree should have a strong background in the natural, physical, and social sciences related to the field of water resources in order to be competitive in the graduate school admission process.

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