Earning a master's degree in environmental management can help graduates take leadership roles in protecting the planet for current and future generations. As population growth continues to put pressure on the environment and as public concern about threats to the environment increases, environmental management professionals can expect to see more opportunities to turn their passion for conservation into rewarding careers.
This guide can help prospective students find the best environmental management master's degree online programs. It provides an introduction to what students can expect from the curriculum, advice on how to choose a quality program, and information about career opportunities for individuals who graduate with a degree in environmental management. The guide concludes with a selection of resources for funding environmental management master's degree online programs.
Students who decide to pursue an environmental management master's degree online gain broad knowledge and in-depth understanding of the complex ways that science, policy, and management interact with each other. They also learn how to apply an understanding of social and natural systems to environmental problems. Additionally, learners develop concrete management, communication, teamwork, and critical thinking skills. Many environmental management master's degree online programs require students to select a specialization — such as climate change science, environmental policy, or water resource science — in order to gain an in-depth understanding of a specific area of environmental management.
Typical programs take two years for students to complete and require about 12 courses, or 48 credits. Students who pursue their environmental management degree online typically take the same curriculum, complete the same types of internships and field experiences, and receive the same student services as learners who earn their master's on campus.
The courses included in master's in environmental management programs can vary depending on the school. Some programs emphasize knowledge in the natural sciences, while others focus on policy. Still others primarily focus on issues like management and business or the law. See the sample curriculum below to get a general idea of commonly available courses.
This course explores how public policy and law can impact the way that individuals, businesses, governments, and societies approach stewardship of the environment. Students focus on contemporary and innovative strategies for making organizational practices more sustainable using environmental management systems and lifecycle analysis.
Students learn about risk assessment, management, and perception in the context of environmental management. Learners explore environmental, health, and safety risks such as global warming, overexploitation of natural resources, terrorism, and environmental contamination. Students learn to use a variety of policy tools, including economic incentives, risk communication, insurance, private-public partnerships, and regulation.
Learners explore economic perspectives on a variety of energy-related issues, including the impact of scarcity and competition on energy prices, deregulation on fossil fuel and energy markets, energy efficiency, and cap-and-trade systems. Students also learn how to encourage policy and technological changes to stimulate the growth of renewable energy.
This course focuses on teaching students the fundamentals of population ecology, individual ecology, ecosystem ecology, and community ecology. Students explore issues like resource management, conservation, and the ecological effects of habitat fragmentation and pollution. They also learn the theories and techniques of environmental management.
Students examine major federal environmental laws and how governments deal with environmental health concerns. Topics explored include applying the law, developing policy, and implementing environmental protections. Learners also look at ways that agencies implement environmental laws, government agency responsibilities, and the role of the courts.
Many online master's in environmental management programs require students to complete a final capstone or research project. Oftentimes, these projects require collaboration with other learners. Students can almost always complete these types of final projects remotely, working with project team members online. Some schools arrange for students to help solve an environmental management problem for an existing business or government agency. This type of final project typically requires students to create and deliver a presentation and write a final report with recommendations addressing the environmental management issue. Most environmental management programs do not include thesis projects or comprehensive exams.
Prospective students should consider a variety of factors when choosing a quality online master's in environmental management program. Keep in mind that the right program for one person does not necessarily make it the best choice for someone else. Think about any specific criteria that matters particularly to you as an individual, such as the availability of specialization topics or the school's geographic location.
Some general things to look for to make sure you choose a high-quality program include ensuring that the school holds accreditation. Students can see if the schools they are considering hold accreditation by searching the database of accredited postsecondary institutions and programs maintained by the U.S. Department of Education. Master's in environmental management programs do not hold separate programmatic accreditation. Other indicators of high-quality, trustworthy programs include a high graduation rate, varied courses available on a consistent basis, and qualified faculty members.
Earning an environmental management master's degree online opens the door to a variety of possible career paths. Your prior professional experience, academic background, and area of specialization impact your ability to qualify for the careers described below. Environmental management graduates often pursue careers as environmental scientists and specialists, natural sciences managers, conservation scientists and foresters, environmental science and protection technicians, and zoologists and wildlife biologists. However, a degree in environmental management does not guarantee eligibility for the following careers. Some positions may require extra licensure or certification in addition to a master's degree in environmental management.
Environmental scientists and specialists help protect human health and the environment. They use their understanding of the natural sciences to help reduce waste, mitigate pollution, and make policy recommendations to government agencies. Environmental scientists who work for government agencies make sure that environmental regulations are met. They usually specialize in a particular area, such as climate change, environmental health, industrial ecology, environmental restoration planning, or environmental chemistry. Earning a master's degree can improve a candidate's potential for salary increases and management roles.
Natural sciences managers supervise other scientists, including biologists, chemists, and physicists. They coordinate research and development, including production, quality control, and testing. Some natural science managers participate directly in scientific research, while those working in large organizations may focus primarily on administrative tasks, such as creating budgets; hiring, managing, and evaluating staff; and monitoring project progress. Most natural sciences managers begin work as scientists and then move into management roles once they hold experience. Earning a master's can speed up the process of moving into this management role.
Conservation scientists and foresters manage the quality of parks, forests, rangelands, and other types of natural resources. Job duties vary depending on what type of conservation or forestry work their position requires. Some common job duties include overseeing conservation activities to make sure they meet government regulations, creating plans for managing forest lands, and determining how to extract natural resources while minimizing damage to ecosystems. These professionals usually need at least a bachelor's degree, but earning a master's can increase salary potential and the ability to qualify for positions with greater responsibility.
Environmental science and protection technicians monitor the health of the environment and determine sources of contamination and pollution. They usually work for testing laboratories, consulting firms, and state and local governments. They inspect businesses and public places to make ensure they do not contain any environmental hazards; collect water, air, and soil samples; ensure compliance with environmental regulations; and prepare reports. Earning a master's can help individuals in this career qualify for more senior positions and earn higher salaries.
Zoologists and wildlife biologists study the way that wildlife interacts with ecosystems. These professionals also examine the impact of human behavior on natural habitats and wildlife. In some positions, they spend a significant amount of time gathering biological data in the field. They conduct studies, write research reports, monitor wildlife programs, and give presentations. The position requires a bachelor's degree at minimum, but a master's can help graduates earn higher salaries and qualify for more advanced positions.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018
As human population continues to present threats to the environment, natural resources, and wildlife, jobs addressing these concerns will likely continue to grow. As shown above, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that over the next ten years, job opportunities will grow by 11% for environmental scientists and specialists, 10% for natural science managers, 12% for environmental science and protection technicians, 8% for zoologists and wildlife biologists, and 6% for conservation scientists and foresters.
Current students and recent graduates can benefit in numerous ways by joining professional organizations for environmental management. Membership in professional environmental management organizations presents a great way to keep up with new developments and current trends in the field. Membership demonstrates your commitment to your career to prospective employers. Organizations also provide opportunities for professional networking, access to job boards and career services, and discounts on annual conferences and publications.
NAEP develops ethics and proficiency standards for the environmental professions. Members gain access to networking opportunities, discounted fees for NAEP events, journal subscriptions, a career center, and the chance to apply for leadership positions on committees and the board of directors.
The largest network for individuals making environmental, sustainability, and health and safety decisions, NAEM helps companies take better care of the environment. NAEM resources include publications, a newsletter, a job board, and a webinar library.
AAEES provides leadership for the environmental engineering and environmental science professions with the mission of protecting the environment and public health. The organization coordinates board certification for individuals who qualify.
EMA coordinates interactions between environmental management industry professionals and governments in order to find environmental solutions. EMA runs a mentorship program, maintains business listings, and hosts a career board.
PEMA promotes growth in the environmental industry. Members receive networking opportunities and discounted rates for PEMA events. PEMA also lists all members in its annual membership directory.
Most students earning a master's in environmental management cannot afford to pay for the degree outright. Instead, learners use a variety of sources to help fund their education, including federal financial aid in the form of student loans, grants, and work-study programs. Other sources of funding for master's in environmental management students include scholarships from professional organizations, departmental or programmatic scholarships, and assistantships and fellowships for graduate research and teaching.
The federal government operates a variety of programs to help make college more affordable for graduate students. Federal financial aid sources include student loans, grants, work-study programs, and loan forgiveness programs. Master's degree students should make sure to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, which the government uses to determine the amount of financial aid it will offer.
Professional environmental management organizations often offer scholarships to master's students. NAEP maintains the Jim Roberts Scholarship Fund for students enrolled in any environmental program at an accredited university. Students can earn the $1,000 scholarship by writing an essay and submitting letters of recommendation.
Most graduate programs in environmental management offer assistantships to the best master's students. The University of Minnesota, for example, offers a limited number of competitive research and teaching assistantships. The school also extends fellowships and grants to master's in natural resources science and management students.
Many master's in environmental management programs offer programmatic scholarships on a competitive basis. Incoming students often qualify for more scholarships than returning students. Oklahoma State University's environmental science master's program with an environmental management concentration offers several scholarship opportunities through its graduate studies office.