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.
What Can I Do With an Online Degree in Environmental Science?
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.
FAQ on Online Environmental Science Bachelor's Degree
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.
What Are the Requirements for a Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Science
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Scholarships for Environmental Science Students
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
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.