Environmental science focuses on finding solutions to issues that affect the Earth and its human, plant, and animal inhabitants. Students interested in studying the environment can earn an environmental science degree at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral levels. Online learning is available for some programs.
A bachelor's degree is required for admittance into master's-level programs in environmental science. Prior coursework in chemistry, biology and physics may also be required. Additionally, some programs require either an undergraduate major or coursework in areas such as geology, ecology and earth science. For doctoral programs, students are required to have master's degrees, usually in related areas, such as natural sciences or engineering. Some programs require previous research or work-related experience.
Bachelor's Degree Programs in Environmental Science
Bachelor's degree programs in environmental science prepare students for entry-level work or graduate study. Students collect and analyze data and learn to identify environmental problems and come up with solutions.
A typical curriculum is interdisciplinary, including classes in chemistry, biology, mathematics and geology. Most programs provide opportunities for students to participate in internships. Course topics include:
- Environmental studies
- Environmental problems
- Field methods
- Environmental law
Master's Degree Programs in Environmental Science
Graduate programs, such as the Master of Science in Environmental Science, prepare students for careers as researchers, scientists or policy makers. These programs place an emphasis on research in areas such as atmospheric science, geoscience, ecology and hydrology, as well as the development of policies that affect these areas. Most programs allow students to choose either a thesis or a non-thesis option.
Programs typically cover research methods and tools for analysis in addition to the study of environmental science. Some programs allow students to select areas of concentration, such as natural resources or environmental education. Courses might include:
- Weather and climate
- Regional ecologies
- Resource management
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Doctor of Philosophy in Environmental Science
The focus of Ph.D. programs in environmental science is on research and the writing of a dissertation. Common areas of dissertation research include ecology, climate change, conservation biology or environmental chemistry. Programs prepare students for careers as professors or academic researchers. In addition to working on their dissertations, students complete coursework on topics such as:
- Environmental statistics
- Risk assessment
- Water, air and soil chemistry
- Environmental law and policy
- Environmental economics
Popular Career Options
Several environmental scientists were employed by government agencies at state and local levels, according to BLS data. Others worked for the federal government in agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency. Other employers include environmental consulting services and architecture and engineering firms. Job titles might include:
- Environmental scientist
- Environmental engineer
- Wildlife technician
- Forestry technician
Salary Information and Employment Outlook
Employment in the environmental science and specialist field is growing faster than average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The predicted growth rate for the period from 2014-2024 is 11%. Much of this growth is due to increased awareness of environmental problems. As of May 2015, median salaries for environmental scientists and specialists were $67,460 annually, according to the BLS (www.bls.gov).
Graduates of bachelor's degree programs in environmental science might consider continuing on to graduate study. Many employers prefer to hire candidates with a master's degree.
Professional organizations like the American Geological Institute provide educational conferences for environmental scientists. Scientists who attend can learn about new discoveries and theories.
Students exploring careers in environmental science can pursue undergraduate or graduate study in the field. Students are prepared to work in research, environmental statistics, land preservation, public policy, and other areas to improve the environment.