Environmental Science Degree Program Overviews

Students interested in environmental science can earn bachelor's degrees, master's degrees and Ph.D.'s in the field. These programs cover relevant topics within biology, chemistry, ecology and economics.

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Essential Information

Environmental science uses social and physical sciences to examine the natural world and the effects organisms have on it. A Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science, a Master of Science in Environmental Science and a Doctor of Philosophy in Environmental Science are three popular degrees students interested in the field can obtain.

Students learn about the impact humans have on the environment and the science behind environmental processes. Upper level programs go more in depth on social and ethical issues in the field. Some programs offer specializations in such topics as ecology, waste management, wildlife conservation, natural resources, geochemistry, climatology, hydrology and toxicology. All degree programs have a strong mixture of independent research and hands-on lab work.


Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science

In environmental science programs, a wide range of subjects like chemistry and biology are covered, alongside economics and resource management. Learning to determine and prevent the negative effects of pollution on soil, water and air is an important part of this bachelor's degree program. A final scientific thesis covering a detailed environmental topic is typically required from graduating seniors. The thesis is presented to professors and other students.

Applicants must submit proof of their high school graduation alongside a transcript of their classes. Some colleges require applicants to submit both their ACT and SAT scores, while other schools require only one or the other. Applicants possessing an Associate of Science in Environmental Studies typically can transfer their degree credits into the bachelor's program.

Coursework examines the impact humans have on the environment, together with the science behind natural events and resources. Classes often use tools and technology that undergraduates should expect to employ regularly in environmental science professions, such as simulation software used to model ecosystems. Some sample classes are:

  • Geochemistry
  • Environmental measurement and analysis
  • Scientific and scholarly writing
  • Environmental biology
  • Marine systems
  • Soil science

Master of Science in Environmental Science

The master's degree program builds on the scientific foundations acquired in the bachelor's degree program, and it also allows students to focus their studies on a particular issue or area of interest. Potential specializations for the master's degree include waste management, ecology, hydrology and toxicology. Students apply their skills and knowledge in labs and with fieldwork, often examining environmental problems like soil erosion. The ethical questions about human impact and natural resource consumption are further emphasized at the master's level.

Applicants must possess a bachelor's degree in a science-related subject, preferably environmental science. A GPA of 3.0 or higher is generally required, and applicants must submit any specific test scores required by the university. A personal statement detailing the scholar's future education and work plans may be needed for enrollment, along with two or more letters of reference. In some cases, a prospective student needs to attend a personal interview with the head of the science department or with admissions.

Coursework at the master's degree level is an interactive experience because classes tend to involve work in laboratories or out in the field. These courses are research-intensive and may include the following topics:

  • Ecology
  • Paleoclimatology
  • Geochemistry and the environment
  • Geohydrology
  • Modern issues in environmental science

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  • Environmental Sciences
  • Environmental Studies

Doctor of Philosophy in Environmental Science

Doctorate programs typically involve a great deal of customization between a student and a faculty advisor. Coursework is tailored to each learner, covering environmental science subjects and topics that the scholar wishes to research and write about. The scientific aspects are studied alongside the ethical and social issues affecting the field. Before graduation, a student must complete a comprehensive environmental science final exam. Specific research topics in environmental science include:

  • Air pollution
  • Deforestation
  • Waste management
  • Wildlife conservation
  • Global warming
  • Natural resource management

Applicants must submit proof of their completion of a master's degree program along with a transcript of courses taken. As with master's programs, application to Ph.D. programs may require a certain GPA and a formal letter of reference from an academic professor. Finally, a meeting between the applicant and a faculty advisor needs to occur so that the pair can create and speak about the educational path the learner's doctorate program should take.

Classes at this level can vary widely at each school and for each scholar. Doctorate programs typically consist of seminar courses and independent research on a student's environmental science interest. A learner must complete the following work in this degree program:

  • Research proposal
  • Dissertation
  • Oral examination
  • Research presentation
  • Written examination

Popular Career Options

Entry-level positions in this field typically require at minimum a bachelor's degree. Most jobs involve the care of wildlife and nature, including the proper management and protection of these vital natural resources. Potential careers at this level include:

  • Forester
  • Science technician
  • Environmental technical writer
  • Conservation scientist

Careers tend to be more technical at the master's level because workers need to identify whether environmental aspects are beneficial or harmful. After this identification, environmental science professionals can take preventive steps to address hazardous problems or harness helpful resources for human use. Here is a list of potential employment opportunities:

  • Environmental scientist
  • Ecologist
  • Environmental research technician
  • Hydrologist

Many graduates take on teaching positions at a university. Research positions are plentiful, either independently or on behalf of an environmental science organization. Some potential careers at this level are:

  • Biological scientist
  • Science professor
  • Biochemistry researcher
  • Zoology researcher

Continuing Education Information

A Doctor of Philosophy in Environmental Science program is available for graduates interested in becoming professors or scientific researchers. A scholar seeking a teaching position needs to obtain the necessary state licensures and credentials. In rare cases, licensure may be required for a specific vocational position if it involves providing the public with services related to environmental science.

Environmental science degree programs can be found at the bachelor's, master's, and doctoral levels. These programs cover various topics through an environmental perspective, with potential careers for graduates including hydrologist, biological scientist, forester, and researcher.

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