An interdisciplinary field drawing from various social and physical sciences, environmental science focuses on understanding, improving, and protecting environmental systems. As ecodisasters escalate, environmental concern grows, and regulations tighten, demand for environmental science expertise also continues to grow. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects an above-average job growth rate of 8% for environmental scientists during 2019-2029.
PayScale data indicates that environmental science bachelor's program graduates make an annual salary of $59,723. However, graduates working as environmental scientists or in engineer positions often earn considerably higher salaries according to the BLS. Top-paying industries for environmental scientists include government, engineering, and management.
Online environmental science degrees usually take about four years to complete, including associate degree credits. Learners in accelerated online programs often finish more quickly by completing shorter intensive courses offered year-round. Eligible applicants hold a 3.0 minimum GPA and complete prerequisite science and math courses. Read further for more information on potential careers, salaries, and requirements for an environmental science degree online.
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Top Online Programs
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Top 10 Online Environmental Science Bachelor's Degree
|#1||Oregon State University Corvallis, OR|
|#2||Southern New Hampshire University Manchester, NH|
|#3||University of Maryland University College Adelphi, MD|
|#4||University of Florida - Online Gainesville, FL|
|#5||Prescott College Prescott, AZ|
Environmental science encompasses many fields, contexts, and careers. Graduates often become environmental scientists working in fields such as environmental restoration, industrial ecology, or climate change analysis. Often employed by the government, environmental scientists and specialists spend their days collecting and analyzing data and designing environmental solutions.
Studying environmental science often leads to lucrative environmental engineering or environmental health and safety manager (EHS) careers. Environmental engineers often assist companies in reducing pollution, improving public health, and adopting more sustainable environmental practices. EHS managers work toward similar ends by assessing risk, ensuring regulatory compliance, and safeguarding against economic hazards.
Entry-level positions such as environmental science and protection technician pay a median annual salary of about $46,000 annually. However, the environmental scientist, engineer, and manager positions mentioned above often pay $70,000-$90,000, according to BLS salary data.
The BLS indicates that candidates often need master's degrees for career advancement. By pursuing curriculum concentrations, advanced degrees, or certificate programs in niche fields with positive growth projections, environmental science enrollees increase their employability.
Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Environmental Science?
A bachelor's in environmental science meets minimum degree requirements for all the careers mentioned above, so bachelor's-holders with requisite professional experience qualify for most environmental science jobs. However, many positions require additional specialization in a specific field or role, so some candidates pursue a master's degree to qualify for promotion or career transition. Advanced degrees also enable professionals to earn a higher salary.
Master's degrees with relevant specializations help environmental science professionals obtain leadership positions such as EHS manager. Master's degrees that include management courses often prove useful for EHS managers. Aspiring environmental managers often pursue an MBA or an MS in environmental management.
Accreditation for a Degree in Environmental Science
To safeguard the value of your educational investment, choose accredited environmental science programs. To obtain accreditation, universities meet academic standards set and evaluated by accreditation agencies recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. The accreditation process assesses the quality of schools' academic resources, including curriculum rigor, library resources, and faculty credentials.
Institutions accredited by regional accrediting agencies often enjoy higher academic status than schools holding national accreditation. All students at accredited schools receive consideration for federal financial aid, but credits and degrees from nationally accredited schools often do not transfer to regionally accredited schools.
Good online environmental science degree programs usually also hold programmatic accreditation by the National Environmental Health Science and Protection Accreditation Council. The Department of Education's Database of Accredited Institutions and Programs helps prospective students identify schools' and programs' accreditation status.
A traditional, full-time bachelor's program takes about two years beyond a two-year associate degree. However, enrolling in an accelerated program shortens time-to-degree.
The BLS indicates that environmental scientists and specialists earned a median annual salary of $71,360 in 2019.
Usually working for nonprofit organizations, government agencies, or natural resource-related companies, environmental scientists research, analyze, and address environmental issues.
OSU's holistic admissions process evaluates applicants based on previous grades and coursework completed, class rank, application essay answers, and personal statements. Performance in math and science receives special notice. OSU considers test scores an optional, supplemental part of the application.
Online environmental science degree programs typically consist of 120 credits, with 60 credits of general education requirements and 60 credits of environmental science coursework. Enrollees complete foundational math and science courses, core environmental science courses, and specialization-related courses. Some programs also require an experiential learning capstone, which usually involves an internship, research project, or thesis.
Courses in an Environmental Science Program
Online environmental science degree programs build students' quantitative skills through foundational courses in math, chemistry, biology, and physics. Meanwhile, enrollees also complete various core environmental science courses related to human environment, environmental management, and environmental policy.
Most programs also require students to complete electives and/or specialization-related courses. Specialization courses vary by program, but often include aquatic biology, environmental agriculture, or environmental policy. Other possibilities include alternative energy, environmental science education, or applied ecology. Most programs offer field experience-based courses also. See below for descriptions of some common environmental science courses.
- Environmental Sustainability
- Tracing connections between environmental and social issues and improvement strategies, this course surveys how companies and economic policies shift to reflect new awareness, technologies, and environmental developments. Emphasizing efficient, sustainable business practices and policies, this course focuses on bringing human desires and communities into balance with natural ecosystems. This foundational course typically appears in environmental science, engineering, and management program core curricula.
- Providing an overview of the Earth's climate system and the factors threatening it, climatology proves essential for environmental science students. Enrollees learn about the radiation, energy balance, hydrologic cycling, and ocean and atmosphere circulation. This course covers global climate models and weather forecasting technologies. Climatology proves particularly important for students pursuing concentrations such as Earth systems, conservation, water resources, or environmental policy.
- Environmental Law
- Found in both law and environmental science programs, this course outlines important environmental protections, statutes, and laws. Major legal landmarks discussed include the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and various hazardous waste and cleanup laws. Other relevant regulations and laws pertain to nuclear materials and other environmental toxins such as pesticides. By focusing on laws, policies, and strategies for improving environmental, economic, and societal sustainability and wellbeing, environmental law courses prepare graduates to become informed and effective environmental advocates.
- Part of all environmental science programs, this foundational course explores the relationship between organisms and their environment. Enrollees gain a broad understanding of how ecologists study the natural world. Ecology courses also familiarize students with ecological science's fundamental principles, including biodiversity, natural selection, and sustainability. Discussing current ecological challenges, research, and possible solutions helps ecology students determine their interests, goals, and desired career contributions.
- Incorporating biological, chemical, and geological principles, this interdisciplinary course discusses ocean basins' origins, processes, and communities. Students learn about elemental cycles, including the carbon cycle and ocean circulation. This course also covers coastal geology, coastal development, and coral bleaching. Other topics include invasive species, climate change, and hydrothermal venting. This course supports environmental science students interested in water science, water resource management, and oceanography.
Certifications and Licensure for Environmental Science Majors
Some jobs require professional certifications or licenses verifying specialized skills and knowledge. Usually awarded by professional organizations or boards, certifications typically require candidates to demonstrate educational or experiential prerequisites and pass an examination. Some common environmental science professional certifications appear below.
Certified Environmental Scientist
The CES certification verifies its holder's grasp of basic principles in environmental science disciplines such as earth science, meteorology, chemistry, and environmental health. Certification candidates require an environmental science-related bachelor's degree (or 12 years of relevant work experience), three years of environmental science employment, and passing results on the CES examination. This certification typically serves environmental science technicians, research assistants, and scientists.
Board Certified Environmental Scientist
Administered by the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists, the BCES certification requires good character and professional standing, an environmental science-related degree, and full-time engagement in environmental science work. To qualify for examination, BCES applicants need at least eight years of progressive experience, including four years in a board-approved leadership role. Up to two advanced degrees count for 1.5 years of experience each.
Registered Environmental Manager
Serving experienced environmental professionals seeking project manager, manager, or director roles, this credential indicates skills and knowledge in environmental project and program management. Applicants need an environment-related bachelor's degree; five years of experience in environmental science, engineering, health, or management; and successful certification examination performance. Three years of work experience substitutes for one education year.
Professional Organizations for Environmental Science Students
The four environment-related professional organizations sampled below provide advocacy, community, and professional development. Online environmental science degree students and professionals benefit from joining these organizations, which often provide networking opportunities, certifications, and career resources. Some professional organizations offer discounted student memberships, chapters, and leadership opportunities.
Ecological Society of America
The nation's largest professional organization for ecologists, the ESA advocates for the profession and produces various publications. The ESA supports professional development and networking through continuing education, a member directory, and an annual conference. The ESA offers four levels of ecologist professional certification.
National Association for Environmental ManagementThis nonprofit organization supports corporations in sustainable environmental practice efforts. The NAEM shares webinars and blogs on relevant topics. The NAEM also connects environmental health, safety, and sustainability professionals through conferences, executive roundtables, and leadership opportunities.
Naitonal Association of Environmental ProfessionalsThis multidisciplinary professional association advocates for high ethical standards of practice and connects environmental professionals with educational and career resources. Committed to advancing environmental professions through networking and information sharing, the NEAP also provides professional training and certification programs, conferences, and a job board.
Association of Climate Change OfficersThis professional association works to improve organizational leadership regarding climate-related issues. Through networking events, leadership development, training, and credentialing programs, the ACCO helps climate-change professionals enhance their expertise and advance their careers. ACCO events and programs also facilitate solution-building collaborations among policymakers, climatologists, and practitioners.
Eligible college students, including environmental science students, can apply to scholarships offered by government organizations, professional organizations, schools and nonprofit or for-profit entities. Usually awarded based on combinations of merit, financial need, or group membership, scholarships do not require repayment. See below for a few scholarships available to environmental science students.
Who Can Apply: NGC's offers over 41 scholarships that go to legal U.S. residents majoring in environment- or plant-related subjects. Eligible applicants maintain 3.25 minimum GPAs in undergraduate or master's programs at accredited schools. Application materials include recommendation letters, transcripts, financial aid forms, and a list of activities.
Society for Mining, Metallurgy, and Exploration Environmental Division and Veolia Water Technologies Scholarship
Who Can Apply: This scholarship invites applications from SME student members enrolled in a bachelor's or graduate program focused on mining and the environment. Eligible candidates hold a 3.0 minimum GPA and have completed at least two years of undergraduate-level coursework. The recipient's school must hold ABET accreditation, an SME student chapter, or a four-year or graduate geological science degree program. Applicants submit a short essay discussing the role of water in mining.
Who Can Apply: Cosponsored by the Rocky Mountain National Park (RMNP) and the Rocky Mountain Conservancy, this fellowship financially supports current or graduating graduate students in spending 3-4 months research in the RMNP. Eligible candidates demonstrate advanced communication skills, research excellence, and/or natural or cultural resource training.
Who Can Apply: This financial award goes to enrollees in undergraduate or graduate programs related to geo-environmental science or engineering. Candidates have high potential, financial need, and a 3.4 minimum GPA.
Who Can Apply: This fellowship supports California or New England graduate students enrolled full time in environmental conservation, environmental law, environmental technology, or environmental science. The Switzer Environmental fellowship only accepts applications from U.S. citizens that demonstrate financial need and leadership ability.
Best Online Environmental Science Degrees 2020
- Accredited at the institutional level
- Private nonprofit or public school
- Minimum of 1 online master’s degree in subject area
- Cost & Financial Aid
- Number and variety of online program offerings
- Student-teacher ratios
- Graduation rates
- Placement and support services offered
- Academic/Career counseling services
- Employment services
- Loan default rates
Environmental science is a growing industry, and a degree in the field gives graduates a better foot in the door to the growing list of jobs and careers that are becoming available. Program options from two-year to bachelor's to graduate can get you started in the field and help you move along your career path, allowing you to help tackle the environmental problems of today — and tomorrow. We're helping with your research for the perfect school by looking at the degrees available, class sizes, student services and net price. Using these metrics, we've compiled our list of the Best Schools for Environmental Science in 2019.
4 Year Colleges
A large, public university in Corvallis, Oregon, OSU offers an online environmental science degree that prepares enrollees for careers in environmental policy, engineering, research, and conservation.
This program requires 180 quarter-credits that consists of 60 lower-division and 60 upper-division credits distributed as follows: 48 bachelor core credits, 51-53 science and math credits, 27-36 environmental science and humanities credits, and three credits each of writing intensive and experiential learning courses. Enrollees also complete 4-53 elective credits, depending on how many core electives meet major requirements.
Learners take courses such as oceanography, geographic information systems and theory, climatology, and fish and wildlife conservation. OSU's accredited environmental science online degree features specialization options in conservation, resources, and sustainability; Earth systems; applied ecology; and environmental policy and economics. Additional specialization options include aquatic biology, environmental agriculture, and environmental water resources.
OSU considers applications holistically and does not require standardized test scores. OSU admissions prefers students with a 3.0 minimum GPA, high class rank, and strong performance in science and math. Online students benefit from library services, online tutoring, career guidance, and success coaching.
Oregon State University is regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
SNHU, a private, nonprofit school in Manchester, New Hampshire, offers an accelerated online environmental science degree that emphasizes hands-on learning and real-world environmental challenges. This program builds skills in research and statistics, quantitative analysis, communications, and ecological principles and field methods.
This 121-credit program consists of 42 general education credits, 28 major-related credits, 39 elective credits, and 12 major-related elective or concentration credits. SNHU's online accredited environmental science degree offers a general track and two curriculum concentration options: data analytics in science and natural resources and conservation.
SHNU's generous transfer policy accepts up to 90 equivalent transfer credits. Online learners enjoy the flexibility of asynchronous participation, completing instructor-led labs through special kits received by mail. This accelerated program features six eight-week terms and maintains rolling admissions. Applicants do not submit SAT scores or application fees.
Southern New Hampshire University is regionally accredited by the New England Commission of Higher Education.
A global online campus based in Largo, Maryland, UMGC offers an online bachelor's in environmental management program committed to improving environmental sustainability and mitigating environmental problems such as pollution and waste.
This 120-credit environmental science online degree requires 41 general education credits, 46 minor and elective credits, and 33 major-related credits. Core courses cover environmental and human health, environmental regulations and policy, environmental technology, and geographic information systems. UMGC offers curriculum concentrations in sustainability and in toxicology and hazard control.
Enrollees may take all courses asynchronously online. Some courses offer a hybrid format attractive to local students. UMGC's accelerated courses run eight weeks each, allowing full-time enrollees to complete their degrees in less than four years. Students may transfer up to 90 equivalent credits from similarly accredited schools.
The University of Maryland Global Campus is regionally accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Located in Gainesville, Florida, UF's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences offers an environmental management in agriculture and natural resources bachelor's degree serving aspiring environmental scientists, natural resource managers, environmental or sustainability consultants, and conservation or restoration professionals. UF's interdisciplinary curriculum covers pest management, agricultural ecology, hydrology, and soil science. It prepares graduates for jobs with agricultural producers, environmental consulting companies, or government agencies.
Enrollees meet the 120-credit degree requirement by completing 6-17 credits per semester. Course offerings include environmental biogeochemistry, entomology, soil microbial ecology, and wetlands. Enrollees complete a research project, work experience, or honors thesis during the summer following semester six. Online students participate through Canvas and Zoom. Some courses may require synchronous meetings.
University of Florida is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.
Prescott College, a private, nonprofit college in Prescott, Arizona, offers a bachelor's in environmental studies focused on multidisciplinary understanding of Earth's systems and processes. Enrollees learn about natural history, ecology, ethics, and environmental policy implications. Applicants submit official transcripts, resumes, and recommendation letters.
The school's online environmental studies degree provides four curriculum emphases: marine studies, environmental education, conservation biology, and natural history and ecology. Graduates may work for companies or public agencies.
Degree-seekers study the natural history and ecology of the Southwest, ornithology, marine biology, and energy and the environment. Other interesting courses include wilderness and civilization, animal behavior and conservation, advanced global information systems, and topics in geomorphology. Students can spend a 12-week semester in the Grand Canyon, where they complete several special courses and participate in backpacking and field experiences.
Prescott College is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
2 Year Colleges
In August 1990, NorthWest Arkansas Community College opened to provide a quality education to 1,200 students. Since that time, the school has educated over 7,000 students who took for-credit courses, as well as 5,000 who completed non-credit courses. With the mission of empowering lives through an accessible, affordable education, NorthWest Arkansas Community College has programs designed to train students for rewarding careers—and the environmental science program is no exception. Students who complete an associate’s degree in environmental science prepare for jobs in the field by taking courses in sustainability fundamentals, microbiology, public speaking, environmental biology, basic chemistry, and environmental compliance.
Students who enroll in Pamlico Community College’s environmental science program can prepare for jobs in waste management, environmental testing, chemical and biological analysis, EPA compliance, and contaminated site assessment. The school offers associate’s degrees in environmental management technology and environmental science technology, which focus on the impact that sustainable management has on a community. Students in the environmental management technology program take courses in climate, fish and wildlife, and the economic uses of renewable energy. Students who enroll in the environmental science technology degree study planning, economics, pollution control, environmental law, and how human beings interact with nature.
Eastern Iowa Community College District’s environmental, health and safety associate’s degree prepares students to work in occupational health and safety technician careers, such as industry hygiene technician, safety specialist, hazardous materials technician, safety coordinator, and environmental specialist positions. Students in this program take coursework in subjects such as occupational safety, industrial processes, air and water quality and remediation, industrial hygiene, and hazardous materials. Eastern Iowa Community College District is a military-friendly school that allows students to enroll in convenient online classes. As a result, students can easily complete their degrees as they juggle classes with their military duties.
The environmental management degree from Southern Arkansas University Tech is designed for those who want to help the environment by pursuing managerial jobs in water, solid waste, and wastewater facilities. The degree program, which can be completed entirely online, offers courses in areas such as environmental safety, wastewater, solid waste management, industrial treatment technology, and environmental management. In addition, students are required to take general education courses to ensure they receive a well-rounded education. These courses include subjects such as composition, computer science, and public speaking, as well as classes in the biological, physical, and social sciences.
Students who want to earn an environmental science degree can build the foundation for their studies at SUNY Broome Community College. The school’s associate’s degree program provides an interdisciplinary education that students can use to go on to earn a bachelor’s degree, or if they choose, pursue an entry-level position in the field. Students in the program take courses in environmental science and policy and ecology, as well as calculus, algebra, and biology. In addition, to prepare for the rigors of bachelor’s degree programs and future jobs, student must take writing and speech classes designed to sharpen their communication skills.
Founded in 1925, San Antonio College is one of the largest single-campus community colleges in both Texas and the United States. Students who enroll in the school, which is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, can take advantage of knowledgeable faculty members, computer and library resources, and labs that provide hands-on experience. Those who chose the earth sciences associate’s degree program receive an education that can prepare them to work in both academic and non-academic environments. Students in this program focus their studies on geography and geology, among other subjects.
Ocean County College’s associate’s degree program in environmental science prepares students for careers in environmental education centers, testing labs, food manufacturers, ecotourism companies, and public relations firms. To that end, the program offers courses in ecology, marine biology, and oceanography, as well as mathematics, chemistry, and general biology. Students in the program may also complete a field practicum that provides off-campus, hands-on experience under the supervision of a professor in the department. In order to successfully complete their degree, students must also demonstrate computer literacy by taking earning information science credits or passing a test administered by the school.