Best Online Environmental Science Programs

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As modern science highlights the importance of climate change and issues like pollution and clean energy receive worldwide attention, the demand for trained environmental scientists has never been higher. Environmental science students explore the curious, often problematic interaction between humans and their natural surroundings. This broad discipline draws on many areas of study – sciences like biology, physics, and chemistry, as well as geography, sociology, business and economics. An online degree in environmental science can prepare you for a wide range of different careers in fields like conservation, urban planning, environmental law, natural resource management and education.

Below you’ll find our list of the nation’s best online degree programs for prospective environmental scientists. Each of these schools has demonstrated a commitment to providing well-rounded education and preparing students for the next step in their career, whether it’s entering the workforce immediately or continuing on to a master’s and/or doctoral degree. These programs were chosen on the merit of their academic strengths, positive learning outcomes, course offerings and online classroom experience. Our goal with this list is to provide a useful, comprehensive educational resource for anyone interested in becoming a professional environmental scientist.

2016 Online Education Trends Report: Learn how online programs are changing the face of higher education.

Rank School Name Ranking Score Relative Cost Graduation Rate Location Description

Oregon State University

 2/563.07%Corvallis, OR


Oregon State’s online environmental science degree program offers an interdisciplinary approach to managing and solving environmental problems. Students can specialize in a number of subfields, such as aquatic biology, conservation and sustainability, and environmental water sources. Popular courses include:

  • Natural Resources and Community Values
  • Climatology
  • Environmental geology

Oregon State’s Ecampus is accessible through the Canvas learning system. Most tests are available online, though you’ll occasionally have to take exams under a proctor’s supervision. Students have access to free online tutoring and learner support services through NetTutor, along with a dedicated Ecampus librarian and trained student services personnel catering specifically to distance learners.

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University of Maryland – University College

 2/58.33%Adelphi, MD


UMUC offers an online bachelor’s in environmental management, a program that prepares students to implement and oversee a range of environmental systems and plans. An interdisciplinary approach exposes students to subjects in pollution control, policies, regulation, environmental health and safety, and more. Students develop a variety of skills, learning how to identify and assess current energy resource needs and to propose sustainable solutions. The school also helps students sharpen their communication skills, preparing them to speak and write persuasively on environmental issues and principles.

Learning Experience Online (LEO) is UMUC’s newest online classroom. Students can view course materials at any time, beginning seven days before a class’s formal start date. LEO is also accessible on smartphones and tablets. The curriculum is designed by on-campus faculty in collaboration with employers, industry experts, and other academic researchers. Students have access to 24/7 technology services, as well as an online library, a writing center, career resources, and many other student support services.

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Malone University

 4/551.41%Canton, OH


Malone University offers an online degree in environmental business management. The program is grounded in Christian teachings, and the curriculum covers management best practices with an emphasis on social responsibility. Classes explore the connection between humans and environmental impact, and train students to incorporate ethics and integrity into business practices.

Online courses are taught asynchronously, though students are expected to complete assignments and exams according to a set schedule. As part of the business management major, all students are required to meet four major student learning assessments during the program. These include an entry and final exam, ethical case resolution, business critical thinking skills test, and a service learning reflection. Additionally, students must complete a capstone project to graduate.

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Northeastern University Global Network

 3/5N/ABoston, MA


The online environmental studies program at Northeastern is an interdisciplinary offering that prepares students to pursue a variety of careers in the field. Available entirely online, students develop technical, economic, and behavioral solutions to environmental issues. Coursework is rooted in the hard sciences and statistics, and students can choose either a policy or science specialization. Northeastern does not require students to submit an application fee or standardized test scores for admission. Distance learners can begin their degree at several points throughout the year.

Access to online courses is available through NU Online, powered by the Blackboard learning platform. Students have access to 24/7 technical support, as well as free classes through Lynda and eTutoring services on Smarthink. Northeastern is committed to international students’ learning and offers an international tutoring center through its Global Students Success center, which has been recognized by NAFSA.

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Because environmental science is such an interdisciplinary field, graduates leave school with an eclectic knowledge and skill set that will open the door to a host of employment opportunities. Some find jobs within the environmental sector, while others work on the periphery of environmental science community in fields like law, medicine and journalism. The following occupations are some of the most common career paths for graduates of online environmental science programs:

Environmental Engineers: Environmental engineers are essentially eco-friendly problem solvers who study ways to mitigate our negative impacts on the natural world and create scientific solutions to environmental problems. These professionals work in areas like conservation, water usage, recycling, waste disposal, public health and agriculture. Their employers are often municipalities, corporations or non-profit organizations.

Urban and Regional Planners: Urban planners shape cities and towns by managing the way land is used and developed. They are responsible for not only spearheading new projects, but also reinvigorating old or neglected communities. These professionals may work with municipal, state or federal governments, as well as organizations and interest groups in the private sector.

Environmental Science and Protection Technicians: These specialized technicians work to pinpoint the causes and effects of pollution, water contamination and other environmental issues that impact human health and development. They work with government agencies, non-profit organizations, interest groups and community leaders to implement eco-friendly measures and reduce mankind’s overall impact on natural resources.

Foresters: Tree and forest management plays a vital role in the big scheme of environmental science. Foresters study tree growth for both harvesting and conservation, manage arboreal resources and promote forest sustainability among the general public. They often work with both government officials and local stakeholders in order to monitor land use activities and ensure environmental regulations are followed.

The following table shows the median annual salaries for each of the four positions listed above, as well as projected growth rates for that career path over the next 10 years.

PositionMedian Annual SalaryProjected Growth Rate
Environmental Engineer$80,00015%
Urban and Regional Planner$46,1496%
Environmental Science and Protection Technician$42,1909%

These are just a handful of the careers environmental scientists can pursue. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, environmental science is one of the faster-growing sectors in today’s job market, and the demand is high for young professionals with the knowledge and skills needed to implement meaningful environmental measures. For these reasons, a high-quality online degree program serves as a practical starting point for students who wish to enter this exciting field.