Graduate Programs in Environmental Science

Environmental scientists study the Earth's natural resources with an eye on conservation. Learn more about the master's and doctoral (PhD) programs available for students interested in furthering their education in the field, as well as career info.

Essential Information

Graduate programs in environmental science cover a broad range of topics, from researching renewable energy resources to confronting water shortages in urban environments. Applicants need a firm grasp of the core science principles found in biology, chemistry and ecology as well as statistics to be considered for admission. Knowledge of the scientific method is also important since most courses achieve learning outcomes through field recordings and experimentation. Students take courses in their area of interest and engage in intensive hands-on research projects. An oral/written examination and dissertation is required for completion of a doctoral program.

Many programs offer concentrations that are often based on the institution's geographical location. They may also offer a concentration in environmental policy studies.

Master of Science in Environmental Science

Master's degree candidates may find themselves measuring toxicity in water levels, restoring an eroded landscape or exploring techniques to sustain agriculture for an entire community. In most programs, a senior project is required for graduation.

Courses are typically based on a college or university's environs. A college on the Gulf Coast, for example, might offer courses specializing in marine biology or estuary science while schools in rural or agricultural areas focus on crop science. Some of the most common courses are listed below:

  • Ecology
  • Geology
  • Research methods
  • Environmental law
  • Watershed management
  • Soil science

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Doctor of Philosophy in Environmental Science

A PhD in Environmental Science allows students to specialize in an area that interests them while broadening their overall knowledge of the field. Areas of specialization include soil or water conservation and renewable energy exploration. The PhD program is also research intensive, with projects such as waste management, wetlands ecology, biofuels or wind farm development. Degree candidates also study how conservation issues might be resolved through political channels.

Coursework is highly specialized and often spans multiple scientific disciplines. A course in limnology, for example, includes topics in chemistry, fresh water ecology and the biology of the organisms that live in lakes and ponds. Additional examples of interdisciplinary coursework include the following:

  • Natural resource law
  • Environmental toxicology
  • Environmental policy

Popular Career Options

The majority of environmental science graduates work for government agencies at the state or federal level. Graduates also find employment in the private sector, typically as consultants who assess the effects of engineering and construction projects on their surroundings. Other possible job titles include environmental scientist, conservationist, and ecologist.

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), environmental scientists and specialists earned a median annual wage of $67,460 in 2015. BLS projections also show that job opportunities are expected to grow 11% from 2014 through 2024 - faster than average for all occupations - due to the U.S. population's increasing demands on natural resources (

With a large focus on research, graduate programs in environmental science equip graduates with the knowledge and hands-on experience needed to succeed in a career in the field.

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