Heightened public awareness about environmental issues has spurred a demand for environmental scientists and specialists. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an 11% increase in employment for these professionals through 2026, a rate that is higher than the average for all occupations. State and local governments employ many of these professionals to develop and enforce policies that protect public health and safety. Environmental scientists, technicians, and consultants can also expect expanding career opportunities in a number of industries, helping businesses monitor compliance with regulations that protect air, water and soil quality.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an 11% increase in employment for these professionals through 2026, a rate that is higher than the average for all occupations.
Most jobs in this field require at least a bachelor’s degree in environmental science or a related natural science field. For students concerned about the serious threats to our communities and our world — from climate change and habitat loss to energy depletion and pollution — an environmental science degree provides the knowledge and skills to make a difference.
Should I Get a Bachelor's in Environmental Science?
Environmental science degrees attract students who want to understand environmental challenges at the local, national, and international levels. They provide students with the knowledge and skills to solve these problems, and help them to find ways to live more sustainably in the future.
An environmental science bachelor’s degree provides a strong foundation in the natural sciences, such as biology, chemistry, geology, and ecology; and some programs may offer courses in hydrology, botany, and zoology. The field of environmental science also embraces multidisciplinary approaches that use business or the social sciences to address issues like natural resource management, public policy, and environmental law. Prior to graduation, students can expect to complete an independent research or a capstone project that addresses a specific environmental issue. Many environmental science degrees require internships or community-based service that apply classroom lessons to real-world settings.
As career possibilities expand, a growing number of schools have introduced bachelor’s in environmental science programs that are available both online and on campus. Traditional brick-and mortar programs often attract students coming straight from high school; they benefit from the interaction with students and faculty, as well as the opportunities for collaborative research and co-curricular experiences.
Conversely, the flexibility and convenience of an online environmental science degree may appeal to working professionals seeking career advancement, and others who must handle family and job commitments while trying to finish school. Distance learning programs follow the same rigorous curricula as on-campus degrees, leading to the same career paths and opportunities for advanced graduate work.
What Can I Do With a Bachelor’s in Environmental Science?
Environmental scientists and specialists are committed to combating pollution, enforcing policy, and promoting sustainable practices. They require strong analytical and problem-solving skills to translate their scientific expertise into concrete actions that protect the environment and improve the quality of life.
An environmental science degree serves as a pathway to a broad range of rewarding careers. Many graduates find employment in government agencies in order to develop policies and control the spread of ecological degradation. An environmental science bachelor’s degree may also open up careers in management, consulting, and engineering services. Environmental scientists and specialists also may spend considerable time in the field, responding to public health risks, cleaning up polluted sites, and implementing plans to minimize community impact.
- Environmental Engineers
Using engineering principles, chemistry, biology, and soil science, these professionals develop solutions to a wide range of environmental problems. They use their expertise to develop recycling programs, improve waste disposal for industries, and minimize water or air pollution. They also consult with businesses to ensure compliance with regulations. Entry-level environmental engineering positions require a bachelor’s degree.
Median Annual Salary: $86,800
Projected Growth Rate: 8%
Hydrologists study the movement of water, and use their training to address concerns about water quality and availability. They may evaluate the feasibility of water-related projects, such as irrigation systems, waste treatment facilities, and hydroelectric power plants. Hydrologists usually enter the field after completion of a bachelor’s degree in an environmental science or a related field.
Median Annual Salary: $79,990
Projected Growth Rate: 10%
- Environmental Scientists and Specialists
These professionals work in government agencies and industries, analyzing environmental problems and developing solutions. They clean up polluted sites, reclaim contaminated land or water, and advise the public about health risks from environmental hazards. Most environmental scientists and specialists enter the field after earning a bachelor’s in environmental science or another science-related field.
Median Annual Salary: $69,400
Projected Growth Rate: 11%
- Conservation Scientists and Foresters
Government offices, private enterprises, and social advocacy organizations hire conservations scientists and foresters to monitor land use and supervise land quality of forests, rangelands, parks and other natural resources. They ensure compliance with government regulations and habitat protection. Most conservation scientists and foresters hold bachelor’s degrees in forestry, agricultural science, or environmental science.
Median Annual Salary: $60,970
Projected Growth Rate: 6%
- Environmental Science and Protection Technicians
These technicians investigate sources of pollution that affect public health and safety. They investigate hazardous conditions and verify compliance with environmental regulations. Many technicians work for state or local government, consulting firms, or testing laboratories. While technicians may enter the field with an associate degree, a bachelor’s degree in environmental science offers expanded employment opportunities.
Median Annual Salary: $45,490
Projected Growth Rate: 12%
How to Choose a Bachelor's in Environmental Science Program
Selecting the right bachelor’s degree in environmental science depends on a number of factors, including program length, quality, location, and cost. Whether you choose a campus-based program or an online environmental science degree, do your homework. Most bachelor’s degrees require four years of full-time study. Part-time attendance or distance learning may appeal to students with employment or family obligations who need flexible schedules. Graduation requirements, such as an internship or fieldwork, may increase the time needed to complete the degree. Many environmental science degrees also require laboratory work, research projects, or a capstone course.
Almost all schools that offer an environmental science bachelor’s degree have received national or regional accreditation; additionally, some programs have been awarded a programmatic accreditation in specialized areas (see below). Students should look for programs that align with their interests and career goals, and review any available specializations such as sustainability, wildlife management, or environmental policy.
The cost of an environmental science degree varies widely by type of program and school location. In general, public schools cost less than private institutions. Be sure you apply for Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to learn more about financial aid opportunities, work-study, and other on-campus and off-campus jobs. Students should also consider cost-of-living expenses (e.g., food and housing) in addition to what they must spend on tuition, books, and supplies.
Students commuting to campus must budget for transportation costs — including gas and vehicle maintenance — or bus, train, or airfares. Some online bachelor’s in environmental science programs may also charge supplemental technology fees, or require students to travel to on-campus residencies a few times a year to supplement their web-based coursework.
Programmatic Accreditation for Bachelor’s in Environmental Science Programs
A regionally or nationally accredited school has undergone an extensive evaluation by an independent agency to ensure its overall educational quality. Most colleges and universities that offer environmental science degrees have received regional accreditation. Meanwhile, schools with lower tuition, less restrictive admissions, and who offer predominantly vocational or distance-learning course options may hold national accreditation.
Some environmental science degree programs within a regionally accredited institution hold specialized, programmatic accreditations. The National Environmental Health Science and Protection Accreditation Council (EHAC) describes itself as the only programmatic accreditation agency specific to environmental science programs. Forestry science programs at the bachelor’s and master’s level may apply for specialized accreditation from the Society of American Foresters. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) administers programmatic accreditation in several areas related to environmental science, including engineering, technology, applied science, and computer science.
Graduates of programs that feature these kinds of specialized accreditations can benefit from faster career advancement, increased salaries, and improved chances for graduate school admission.
Bachelor's in Environmental Science Program Admissions
Each school that offers a bachelor’s degree in environmental science establishes its own admission requirements. Traditional programs place considerable weight on academic performance, looking at factors like a student’s GPA, and SAT or ACT scores. Because online programs often attract working professionals or those trying to earn a degree while juggling family commitments, their admissions policies may consider life experiences acquired since high school graduation, and give less emphasis to standardized tests and grades.
While most schools set application deadlines for February, online programs may offer rolling admissions throughout the year. Students who plan to attend a traditional brick-and-mortar college can begin applying as early as the summer after their junior year. As a general strategy, students should decide on a couple of “target schools” where they really want to attend, and are likely to gain admission. They should also select a few “safety schools” where they feel their chances for admission are high, and one or two “reach schools” that they would like to attend but may not be competitive enough to get into the acceptance pool.
- Minimum GPA: Most schools require a GPA of 3.0 out of a 4.0 scale, with some programs establishing a 3.5 minimum. Schools may sometimes consider applicants with lower grades or look for steady improvement from ninth grade through senior year.
- Application: Filling out college applications can be time-consuming, but the CommonApp makes this process more manageable. Students using CommonApp fill out one form to apply to any of their 750 member schools.
- Transcripts: Almost every college wants a stamped, official transcript of high school grades submitted with an application, which shows your GPA and courses taken each term. Some high schools charge a small fee for mailing these transcripts.
- Letters of Recommendation: Some colleges may require as many as three letters of recommendations. Ask your recommenders well before the application deadline, and choose teachers or advisors who know you well and will describe you in ways that make you stand out.
- Test Scores: Some schools consider SAT or ACT scores as one of many factors in their admission decision, along with grades, co-curricular activities, and recommendations. Most schools do not require a minimum cutoff test score.
- Application Fee: Students can expect to pay an average of $40 for each application. Some schools charge more, while others may not ask for any fees. Schools may waive application fees for students who document financial hardship.
What Else Can I Expect From a Bachelor's in Environmental Science Program?
Most environmental science degrees consist of courses in geology, chemistry, ecology, and other foundational subject areas; however, the curricula, specializations, and graduation requirements differ for each school and program. Graduation requirements may include capstone courses or research projects, and many programs feature fieldwork or internships for students to apply their academic training in real-world settings.
|Environmental Technology and Management||This concentration explores technologies and strategies for assessing, managing, and controlling environmental factors that may affect the quality of life. Coursework includes management systems, pollution control strategies, technological developments in contaminant treatment, mediation, and disposal, and mitigation plans for hazardous materials. Students learn how to conduct environmental assessments, oversee containment efforts, and develop and implement regulations.||Public health and safety administrators, environmental researcher, policy analyst|
|Fish and Wildlife Management||Students learn to monitor and protect fish and wildlife, and develop and implement conservation policy to address the erosion of the earth’s biodiversity. Coursework includes public land management, environmental policy, conservation biology, botany, and population ecology. Students also engage applied studies in areas such as botany, mammalogy, fishery biology, and ornithology.||Natural resource and habitat preservation specialist,
wildlife conservation officers, national park rangers, gamekeeper, pest control specialists
|Environmental Health and Public Policy||This concentration develops ways to protect communities from natural, human-caused, unintentional, or deliberate threats to the environment. Course requirements may include public health policy and environmental regulations, with electives from the fields of chemistry, microbiology, ecology, immunology, toxicology, and epidemiology. Students also learn about emergency response, oil spill prevention and containment, and hazardous waste operations.||Public health and safety administrators, disease control researchers, emergency response specialists, hazardous waste containment specialists|
|Geospatial Technologies and Environmental Engineering||Students in this concentration apply natural science and computer technologies to design systems that address a variety of environmental challenges that threaten public health. Coursework introduces environmental applications for remote sensing, geospatial analysis, geographic information systems, and mapping technologies. Courses typically highlight issues related to safe land use, contamination risks, water, and air and soil monitoring.||Environmental engineers, pollution control specialists, geographic information systems analysts, flood and fire containment specialists|
|Sustainability||Coursework covers energy and resource sustainability, habitat preservation, green infrastructure, and renewable technologies. Students learn to overcome social and economic barriers to the acceptance of sustainable products and services. Sustainability studies address a variety of challenges, from adopting renewable energy strategies and lessening dependence on fossil fuels to promoting more efficient land use and reducing waste.||Sustainability researcher and consultant, energy and sustainability engineer, sustainability advocate, educator|
Courses in a Bachelor’s in Environmental Science Program
As schools increasingly develop environmental science degrees, students benefit from expanding program and specialization choices that align with their career goals and interests. Each program offers a different approach, which can depend on the expertise of the faculty. While a common curriculum does not exist, most programs require foundational courses in the natural sciences along with choices for electives and concentrations.
- Environmental Geology
Students interested in careers as engineers, environmental scientists, and specialists benefit from this specialized geology course. The course analyzes the earth’s environment using a multidisciplinary approach, and focuses on the interconnections among atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, biosphere, and anthrosphere systems. Coursework includes methods of study, physical and chemical composition, and human-caused effects.
- Environmental Chemistry
Students gain an understanding of the interaction of the living portion of the environment with its nonliving components, and how human activities alter these interactions. Courses cover the basic principles of atmospheric, aquatic, and lithospheric chemistry, with applications for natural and polluted environments. This course provides a strong background for students planning to attend graduate school and for careers in chemistry or chemical engineering.
- Water and Wetlands Management
This course focuses on the impact of human consumption on aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, and the social, economic, and environmental implications of water management. A major theme explores the link between water and biodiversity and the services that ecosystems provide. This course benefits students interested in pursuing careers in environmental biology, sustainability management, public policy, or public health.
- Environment Policy and Politics
This seminar explores U.S. environmental policy and the behavior of interest groups, political parties, and policymakers in crafting policy. Students examine case studies that illustrate how political factors, economic interests, and social values may outweigh scientific reasoning in determining environmental policy outcomes. Students interested in careers in policy analysis, lobbying, or public service gain useful insights from this course.
- Climate Change
Designed for students with a generalized interest in environmental issues — and those considering advocacy or sustainability-related careers — this course provides an overview of the current scientific understanding of climate change. The course emphasizes the role humans have played in this change, historical evidence, current forecasting models, and international efforts to reduce climate change.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor’s in Environmental Science?
An environmental science degree may take four years to complete with full-time study, or more if attending part time. Most programs require about 40 courses, or approximately 120 credits. Students may reduce the length of time it takes to finish by transferring credits from other schools, or by completing high school AP courses that waive required or introductory courses.
Many factors affect the length of time needed to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in environmental science. Some students attend classes continuously over the course of eight semesters. Others have financial or personal reasons that limit them to part-time enrollment, or force them to take time off for a semester or two. The flexible schedules provided by online programs may appeal to working professionals and other students managing family obligations. Requirements vary widely from school to school, but some web-based programs offer accelerated degrees while others may be completed in 18 months to two years.
How Much Is a Bachelor’s in Environmental Science?
The cost for an undergraduate environmental science degree can be anywhere from $8,000 to more than $30,000 a year, and tuition rates have continued to rise since 2011. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that the average tuition for private nonprofit four-year institutions increased to $33,500 in 2016-17, a 15% spike from 2010-11. Tuition rates also grew at public four-year institutions in the same period to $8,800, a 12% increase.
Because each college determines its tuition pricing differently, students need to carefully consider the factors that impact their educational costs. For example, programs at public institutions may offer better value than private schools, but financial aid can also help offset the costs. Submit your FAFSA to find out if you qualify for any scholarships or grants and weigh the pros and cons of taking out a student loan.
Attending a school in your home state may make more financial sense than enrolling out-of-state. When looking at schools located away from your home, make sure to budget for transportation expenses, lodging, and food, as well as for tuition, books, and supplies. Investigate the cost of living for the communities around campus, as well. If you have to find a job, find out if your intended school offers work-study opportunities and check out the availability of off-campus employment.
Certifications and Licenses a Bachelor’s in Environmental Science Prepares For
- Board Certified Environmental Scientist (BCES)
The American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists (AAESCB) offers this credential to environmental scientists. Applicants must have at least a bachelor’s degree in environmental sciences recognized by the AAESCB and hold a full-time professional position. The certification process requires specialty-specific written and oral examinations and peer review.
- Certified Environmental Scientist (CES)
The National Registry of Environmental Professionals administers several professional certifications in environmental and safety specializations. The Certified Environmental Scientist designation establishes the applicant’s expertise in environmental science subject areas, including physics, chemistry, biology, meteorology, and environmental health. Applicants must have completed a bachelor’s degree in an environmental science-related field and three years of work experience.
- Certified Environmental Professional (CEP)
The CEP designation, administered by the Board of Certified Environmental Professionals, recognizes high standards of conduct and professional skills in environmental assessment, documentation, operations, planning, sustainability; and research and education. Applicants must undergo a substantial background review, pass a written exam, and submit a minimum of four letters of recommendation from colleagues who hold the CEP or a similar professional designation.
- Professional Ecologist
The Ecology Society of America administers several levels of certifications. Graduates with a bachelor’s degree just beginning their careers may apply for the Ecologist in Training category. The Associate Ecologist category applies to bachelor’s degree holders with at least one year of postgraduate professional experience. Ecologist and Senior Ecologist certifications require graduate degrees and several years of experience.
- Certified Hazardous Materials Manager (CHMM)
Environmental professionals working in the hazmat industry may apply for this certification through the Institute of Hazardous Materials Management. This certification requires a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university, two letters of reference, and minimum of four years of experience in hazardous materials management or a related field. All applicants must successfully pass a three-hour exam.
Resources for Environmental Science Students
GSA provides a wide range of earth-science related resources. It offers access to Geofacets, a web-based database of georeferenced geological maps. The organization’s GeoTeacher site provides educational resources for educators and students at all grade levels.
This daily publication presents breaking news on energy and environmental issues, major legislation, court cases, and technological developments. Professionals rely on Greenwire to stay current on environmental-related controversies, ranging from climate change and energy policy to public lands management.
Maintained by the National Education Association, this collection of resources includes study guides, lesson plans and teaching strategies designed primarily for K-12 educators teaching in all areas of environmental science, biodiversity, and sustainability.
This online platform, hosted the North American Association for Environmental Education, provides a searchable database for educators, students, and other environmental practitioners. Research is available in environmental literacy, conservation, social justice, health, and human development.
This nonprofit focuses on the environmental impact of government policies, corporate practices, and investment decisions. It presents research and opportunities for advocacy on a broad range of issues, including fracking, ocean dumping, and climate change.
Professional Organizations in Environmental Science
Professional associations offer many memberships benefits to students pursuing a bachelor’s degree in environmental science. Student members may take advantage of networking events, attend conferences and workshops, and connect with other students and established professionals in environmental science-related fields. Membership also provides access to job listings and information on certification and exam preparation. Most organizations offer free or reduced membership to full-time students.
NAEP promotes and advances environmental professionals of all specializations. It sponsors an annual conference, offers a career center with job listings and publishes newsletters and research. Full-time students receive a discounted membership rate.
AAEES provides workshops and seminars and administrates accreditation for university environmental engineering and science programs. It also administers board certifications for environmental engineers and environmental science professionals. Full-time students receive free membership.
This nonprofit organization promotes public awareness of the importance of ecological science, and lobbies to ensure the appropriate use of ecological science in environmental decision-making. The Society offers a discounted membership rate to students.
AESS advances the study of environmental science-related fields, and provides professional development and maintains a syllabus databank for educators. It also offers career assistance through its academic career/mentor support portal, and a reduced membership for full-time students.
SCB membership comprises 4,000 professionals from across the world interested in the study of biological diversity. It offers reduced memberships to high school, undergraduate, and graduate students. Membership allows access to career resources and job listings.