Environmentalist School and College Program Information

Aspiring environmentalists or geoscientists might consider enrolling in either an undergraduate or graduate degree program. In these programs, students explore ways in which science can be used to address environmental problems.

Essential Information

Bachelor's degree programs, master's degree programs, and Ph.D. programs are all available in environmental science and the geosciences. A high school diploma or equivalent is required for all undergraduate programs, as well as related coursework in the specific sciences relating to the field of study. Master's degree programs require a bachelor's degree in a related field.

Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Science

Bachelor's degree programs in environmental science integrate disciplines such as biology and chemistry with the social sciences and humanities. Students explore the ways in which natural science can be used to address environmental problems. Previous high school coursework in biology, chemistry and physics is helpful.

The curriculum combines anthropology, biology, chemistry, engineering, geology, geography, mathematics, physics and sociology. Students may have the option to focus on environmental policy or environmental resources and methods. Courses might include:

  • Environmental problems
  • Environmental law
  • Mapping
  • Ecology
  • Hydrology

Bachelor's Degree in Geosciences

The geosciences include the study of astronomy, environmental science, geology, oceanography and meteorology. Since many careers in the geosciences require graduate study, bachelor's degree programs often focus on providing a solid basis for further graduate study, although graduates of a bachelor's degree program might be eligible for some entry-level careers in the field. High school coursework in areas such as physics, biology and chemistry is beneficial.

Students often participate in field work in addition to classroom study. Courses in chemistry, physics, math and biology are typically required. Geoscience courses might include:

  • Earth materials
  • History of the earth
  • Oceanography
  • Hydrogeology
  • Sedimentology and stratigraphy

Master's Degree in Environmental Science

Master's degree programs in environmental science provide further in-depth study and research opportunities. Programs might focus on both the science and the policy issues involved in environmental work. Some programs allow for focused study in an area such as sustainable natural resources, biogeochemistry or water resources. Many programs require a degree in a related area or sufficient coursework in areas such as the physical and natural sciences.

Students conduct research and are often required to develop a thesis and dissertation in addition to classroom study. Courses might include:

  • Environmental analysis
  • Soil science
  • Water chemistry
  • Soil, water and land use
  • Regional ecosystems

Master's Degree in Geosciences

Like graduate programs in environmental science, master's degree programs in geosciences focus heavily on research and provide opportunities for in-depth study. Students may focus on an area of study, such as hydrology, geology engineering, climate studies or planning. Some programs recommend an undergraduate degree in geology, engineering or architecture. Students might be required to complete additional prerequisites before starting on the degree curriculum.

Students are usually required to complete a thesis or dissertation. Field work experience is usually a component of the program. Topics of study might include:

  • Climate change
  • Computer modeling
  • Earth materials
  • Geosciences field methods
  • Data modeling

Popular Career Options

Environmental scientists used their specialized knowledge to address concerns related to our environment and natural resources. They may work for governmental agencies creating regulations, ensuring regulations are followed and monitoring for environmental related issues. Others work for private companies, ensuring that they remain in compliance with environmental regulations. Some environmental scientists work in policy development or advocacy. A small percentage worked in post-secondary education, holding research and academic positions.

Geoscientists work in a variety of disciplines, including geology, engineering, hydrology or hydrogeology and education. They are employed by governmental agencies dealing with geological surveys and conservation. Architectural and engineering firms employ geoscientists, as do oil and gas extraction companies. Other geoscientists work in academics and research at post-secondary institutions.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The BLS predicts faster-than-average job growth of 11% for environmental scientists and specialists during the period from 2014 to 2024. Growth, which may be strongest in private-sector consulting firms, is fueled by increasing stresses put on the environment, in addition to a growing awareness of environmental problems. The median salary of environmental scientists and specialists in 2015 was $67,460 annually.

Faster-than-average job growth of 10% is expected for geoscientists between 2014 and 2024, according to the BLS. Increasing needs for energy, responsible land and water management and environmental protections will contribute to this growth. The median salary for geoscientists in 2015 was $89,700 annually.

Continuing Education

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), while a bachelor's degree may be sufficient for environmental science jobs, many employers prefer candidates with a master's degree. Additionally, those who intend to pursue academic and research careers typically need a Ph.D. While there are no specific licensing, certification or continuing education requirements in this field, environmental scientists may wish to seek out opportunities to further their education and keep up with current trends and technologies. Professional organizations, such as the American Geological Institute (AGI), provide opportunities for continued learning.

Students with a bachelor's degree in geosciences might consider completing a teacher education program to become a science teacher. Because many positions require a graduate degree, students might also consider a master's degree program in geosciences, geology, hydrology or environmental science. A few states require geoscientists to obtain a license before offering services to the public. Licensing requirements vary by state, but may include a certain level of education, number of years of experience and passing a licensing exam. Continuing education might be required to obtain a license. Associations such as the AGI or the American Institute of Hydrology might provide opportunities for continued education.

Whether seeking a future in environmental science or the geosciences, there are many schooling and career options. Both undergraduate and graduate degrees are available and jobs are on the rise in both sectors.

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