Individuals with a passion for the environment and the desire to solve problems related to water pollution, climate change and other global issues can explore academic options in environmental science. Degree programs in this field can help students develop strong research and problem-solving skills for direct application in a multitude of environmental settings. This guide explores the various levels of degrees, types of available programs, potential careers, and tips for academic success in web-based courses to help prospective students determine the best educational pathway.
Environmental scientists search for practical solutions to problems that affect the environment. They are trained to use scientific methods to develop theories and proposals to address various environmental issues of worldwide concern such as overpopulation, natural resource pollution, and deforestation. In response to such challenges, employment opportunities in this field should expand faster than the average for all occupations nationwide, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Projected growth rates between 2012 and 2022 are 15 percent for environmental scientists and specialists, and 19 percent for environmental science technicians.
An environmental science degree can lead to a variety of careers: At the entry level, environmental protection techs perform inspections and investigations into the source of contaminants and pollutants. At higher levels, opportunities exist for environmental science specialists, research scientists, microbiologists, and experts in related disciplines such as oceanography. Graduates of environmental science programs could conduct experiments and gather field data, delve into complex research projects, or work with employers ranging from government agencies to private sector firms. On top of that, the field of environmental science is expanding as businesses pay more attention to avoiding health hazards, reducing waste production, and using sustainable materials.
Before selecting any online degree program, research is paramount. Prospective students must determine the level of education necessary to achieve personal and work-related goals. For those unable to commit to four years or more of study, an associate degree is the entry-level qualification for environmental science and protection technicians. A bachelor’s degree is usually the minimum educational requirement for environmental scientists, but a master’s degree could help professionals advance in their career. Online doctorates are common for those who want to teach or conduct high-level research in academia.
Students considering environmental science distance programs have to weigh multiple factors, including their existing time commitments, budget, and lifestyle. Online environmental science degrees offer increased flexibility for those who need to balance studies with family obligations or job responsibilities. Another aspect of making college plans concerns the availability of local internships, which may involve stricter schedules but offer valuable field experience.
In this interdisciplinary major, there is a focus on natural sciences and experimental inquiry. With the technology provided by certain distance learning programs, students may still able to perform lab work without going to a campus-based lab. Some online programs provide students with custom lab kits to perform experiments at home. Most programs afford access to an online platform, allowing students to participate in lectures and forum discussions, as well as take exams virtually. Some advanced degree programs require attendance via seminars or participation in hands-on projects or other activities coordinated on campus.
Associate degree programs typically require two years of full-time study, which includes courses for the major and general education subjects. This degree program covers the basic principles of environmental science and introduces students to related subjects including political, social, and ethical topics. Core courses for majors could include physical science, statistics, U.S. environmental history, and environmental literature. Elective options may include atmospheric sciences, evolution, biodiversity, and ecology.
Sample courses for an online associate degree in environmental science may include:
Specific degree requirements vary by school. For example, some online associate degree programs emphasize the academic groundwork for students planning on transferring to colleges or universities to earn a four-year degrees. Other two-year colleges focus on preparing graduates to enter the workforce in various roles, such as assisting scientists or researchers and performing basic tasks in a lab environment or out in the field. Additionally, an associate degree in this field can serve as a stepping stone for students who still are deciding on their long-term plans.
This degree program, which takes four years for most full-time students to complete, can prepare graduates to seek positions such as environmental research scientist, analyst, or environmental protection specialist. This interdisciplinary program is based on a solid foundation in the natural and physical sciences. Some schools accept a minimum number of transfer credits from accredited schools, particularly if the university has an agreement with the community college where the associate degree was earned.
The curriculum covers a variety of subjects, for example, biology, chemistry, physics, geology, and botany. Students discover how to solve complex problems and develop a framework of understanding that integrates the concepts and principles of this discipline with practical experience. Typical courses include chemistry, research methods, physics, applied statistics, environmental ethics, and electives focused on natural resources and conservation. Some online schools mail students a lab kit so that they can complete experiments and report their findings without having to be on campus.
Coursework for an online bachelor’s degree in environmental science may include:
Some colleges and universities encourage students to specialize in a certain area or topic based on their goals. For example, depending on the college, minors and concentrations may be available in geography, horticulture, resource economics, water science, and fisheries and wildlife. Other options may include business and entrepreneurship, applied ecology and resource management, and environmental sustainability. Specialization in this industry can open up more career opportunities and also serve as a foundation for advanced education.
An online MS in Environmental Science can typically be completed in two years and is designed to prepare students for management roles in the field. The online format makes it possible for students to continue working in their field while completing courses towards an advanced degree. Professionals who want to apply for a managerial role with their current employer or explore leadership opportunities in this field can consider enrolling in a master’s degree program. At this level, students learn how to critically analyze environmental problems, compare and implement short- and long-term solutions for environmental concerns, and develop expertise on a variety of environmental issues.
Graduate-level coursework for online environmental science degrees may include:
Some schools combine the online learning format with locally applied experience where the student works on a project with experts within their community. There also tends to be more of an emphasis on practical application of knowledge so that graduates are prepared for professional endeavors.
Here are some typical prerequisites for an online master’s degree program in environmental science:
Most master’s degree programs require a minimum of 30 credits and may also have a thesis requirement. Master’s candidates often work closely with a professor or mentor to compose a report based on extensive research, developing theories and conclusions about an environmental topic or issue.
For those who aspire to supervise a department, run their own company, teach at the post-secondary level, or simply advance their knowledge for research purposes, a logical option is to earn a PhD in environmental science. Program participants complete doctoral coursework and perform original research. Courses at this level may focus on emerging areas of environmental science, teaching, policy-making, or sociocultural analyses.
Doctoral coursework for online environmental science degrees could encompass:
Doctoral students may also have the chance to attend seminars led by experts and influential leaders in the field. Earning a PhD in environmental science can provide the opportunity to publish findings in renowned professional journals, such as Energy Policy, Culture and Agriculture, and the Journal of Applied Ecology. Doctoral candidates may also be eligible to join professional organizations, such as the National Association of Environmental Management and the Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences.
SNHU offers an online undergraduate degree program in environmental science for students interested in gaining a foundation for careers as an environmental scientist, analyst, protection specialist, research scientist or hazardous substance scientist. This program shows how to analyze environmental issues in depth and develop practical solutions using the scientific method and research methodology. This 121-credit program includes instructor-led online lab courses.
More information can be found about the online environmental science degree at SNHU.
The Master of Science in Land Resources and Environmental Sciences program from Montana State University is for students that want a deeper understanding of the principles and processes related to these subjects. Coursework is tailored to each student and may involve professional papers on topics including soil nutrient management, restoration ecology and microbial ecology of natural systems. Admission to this graduate program is based on a number of factors, including academic experience, professional experience in the field and a personal statement.
For further information, visit Montana State University.
An Associate of Science in Environmental Studies degree is available online, covering the basic principles of this discipline and introducing topics such as resource management and environmental history and literature. A multidisciplinary approach includes political, social and legal perspectives. This private nonprofit college offers 8-week sessions with its online programs to provide more flexibility.
More information is available about this program at Columbia College.
After earning an online environmental science degree, graduates can explore a variety of jobs in either the private sector or government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The University of North Carolina Wilmington reports that a degree in environmental science can provide a strong skill set in the following areas: solving problems with logical solutions, utilizing formulas, using specialized laboratory equipment, applying knowledge creatively, and organizing and reporting data. Many of these skills can translate to a variety of related fields.
Browse through 10 potential career paths for those with an environmental science degree:
Develops and implements data collection methods for research projects and investigations. These specialists formulate solutions to minimize the impact of certain activities on the environment and may work with state and local government agencies to implement policy change.
Analyzes the effects of the changing climate on the earth’s ecosystem. Some are involved with grant writing activities and may also participate in outreach efforts to educate leaders, policymakers and community members. Analysts have the chance to influence laws and regulations pertaining to global warming.
Studies the effects of environmental factors on human health and researches the risks and health threats present in the environment. Suited for scientists with strong research and investigation skills who want to educate the public about potential health risks.
Solves environmental problems by using the principles of engineering, biology, soil science and chemistry. These engineers may be involved in projects related to pollution control, recycling and waste disposal, and they work in office settings or onsite for construction projects.
Communicates with politicians and lobbyists in an effort to influence policy making. Environmental lobbyists work on fundraising activities and campaigns to draw attention to pressing political issues that affect the environment.
Raises awareness about environmental issues and promotes conservation efforts as an educator. Educators may be responsible for hosting lectures, participating in talks and debates, and organizing community events to publicize certain issues
Leads outdoor tours and educates visitors about nature, as well as participating in search operations for lost hikers. Park rangers contribute to the environment through hands-on work rather than lab research. Most are employed by the National Park Service, and jobs may be permanent or seasonal.
Conducts research, such as collecting samples for testing, and improves data collection methods. A good match for those who are comfortable working in a lab setting. Focus may be on the development of natural or organic products.
Serves clients in the public and private sector by providing advice and direction on a number of issues, such as water pollution, air quality and waste management. These experts often hold an advanced degree. They may also perform environmental audits to determine energy use and pollution levels at a certain site.
Studies live plants, animals and insects, performing a variety of experiments to determine how the environment has an impact on different species or habitats. Career involves in-depth analysis of the global ecosystem.
Whether you’re enrolling in an online associate degree or doctorate in environmental science, make sure you’re setting yourself up for success. If it’s your first time learning in an online environment and virtual classroom setting, you will need to employ time management skills and stay organized to ensure you meet all of your assignment deadlines and coursework requirements.
If there are any lab work requirements associated with your online environmental science program, make time in your schedule to perform the labs and produce appropriate reports. Keep in mind that some lab assignments are instructor-led, which means you must attend virtual lectures or demonstrations. Plot these into your calendar so you don’t miss the opportunity to work with your professor in the virtual setting. Even though you have the freedom to work at your own pace on assignments such as reading, you still need to exercise some self-discipline to accommodate class discussions, group projects, and lectures.
Online classes may involve more preparation than traditional courses, for example:
Additionally, here are some important things to know when researching online environmental science degrees:
Pursuing an advanced degree in this field may give you a chance to attend presentations and other events led by industry professionals — take full advantage of these opportunities to round out your educational experience. Other suggestions for success include joining professional organizations for networking purposes, such as the Air and Waste Management Association (AWMA), Association of Women in Environmental Professions (AWEP), National Association of Environmental Professionals (NAEP), Society of Wetland Scientists or the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB).
The growing interest in environmental responsibility has led to the quick growth of online environmental science programs. Many of these degrees equip students to be leading experts in the field, serving in roles such as researchers, microbiologists and consultants. Not all programs are created equally though; varied curricula and specialty areas provide different learning outcomes that students should familiarize themselves with before enrolling. The search tool below sifts through programs to identify online environmental science degrees suited to each student’s unique goals.
Online environmental science degree programs give students the flexibility they need to complete their degrees while attending to work or family responsibilities as well. Though most online programs provide the chance to fit an education into an already busy life, not all do it well. The below programs have proven themselves to be the very Best Online Environmental Science Degrees for 2015-2016. Learn more about our methodology, and read on to discover who made the list.
|RANK||COLLEGE||Score||Student-Teacher Ratio||Financial Aid||Cost||MORE INFO|
|1||North Carolina A & T State University||98.51||16:1||95%|
At North Carolina A&T State University, students can opt to earn their Bachelor of Science Degree in Environmental Health and Safety completely online. The program focuses on the anticipation, recognition, evaluation and control of occupational safety and health hazards. Coursework offers necessary information in safety, industrial hygiene, fire safety, manufacturing and construction safety. Previous graduates from the program have obtained jobs from ConAgra, the Department of Labor, Miller Brewing and Toyota as safety and health specialists, compliance specialists, risk managers, EPA specialists, transportation safety specialists and consumer safety specialists.
|2||University of Florida||96.83||21:1||96%|
The University of Florida provides numerous online degree programs to non-traditional students, including a Bachelor of Science degree in interdisciplinary studies in environmental management. The program prepares students for careers in various fields in the agricultural, environmental and natural science sectors, such as hydrology, soil science, pest management, sustainable food and fiber production, water resources, agricultural ecology, environmental policy and analysis, stewardship of natural resources and pollution management. Online classes are offered asynchronously, which allows students to access coursework at their own convenience as long as they turn in all assignments by the deadline.
The online Bachelor of Science Degree in Environmental Studies curriculum offered by Northeastern University includes interdisciplinary coursework in biology, statistics, geology, environmental studies and human respiratory problems. The online format is designed to make it easier for students to manage coursework while balancing non-traditional schedules. The program is designed to train students to research and develop economic, institutional, technical and behavioral solutions for various environmental issues, including urban development, air and water pollution and energy conservation. Program electives, including urban ecology, physical anthropology, disasters, health issues, wetlands and coastal ecology allow students to focus their studies in specific areas of interest.
At Everglades University, online students have the option to earn their bachelor of science degree with a concentration in environmental policy and management. The program is designed to allow non-traditional students to take online courses on their own time. All class schedules, assignments and lesson plans are fully online. The program provides instruction in management skills and environmental policy on topics including climate changes, the effect of industrialization on the environment and regulation and law. Emphasis is on global awareness, communication and environmental regulations and requirements. The program requires 123 credit hours for graduation. Upper division courses include U.S. environmental policy and management.
|5||University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign||95.79||20:1||65%|
The online Bachelor of Science in Earth, Society and Environmental Sustainability offered by the University of Illinois at Urbana is designed to prepare graduates to address growing concerns related to sustainability and the environment. Students are given the opportunity to specialize in several different areas, including sustainable business, sustainable societies and environmental informatics. The 120-credit hour program features coursework in the environment and human response, the earth's biosphere and ecology, visualizing the earth system and sustainability, policy and global change and the earth's physical systems, resources and hazards. Students are eligible for course credit for a senior thesis or internship experiences.
|6||Oregon State University||95.64||23:1||86%|
One of the numerous online programs offered at Oregon State University is a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Economics and Policy degree program, which focuses on the development of strong economic skills and their use in the analysis of environmental and natural resource stewardship. The program is designed to offer flexibility to online students so they may incorporate interests in the physical, biological or social sciences. Students may also supplement their degree program with any of the university's online minors. The 180-credit undergraduate program offers courses in renewable energy alternatives, forest resource economics, science and politics, rural development economics and policy agricultural law and international environmental politics and policy.
|7||University of Arizona||93.75||21:1||83%|
The online Bachelor of Science in Sustainable Built Environments offered by The University of Arizona is a solutions-based, interdisciplinary undergraduate degree. The 120-unit program aims to prepare students to be able to analyze existing and planned structures for energy efficiency. The program educates students in environmental design, planning and management challenges. Students will gain insight on the theories and techniques behind analyzing building efficiency and will study topics that include net-zero energy design, energy conservation, passive solar climate response and architectural history.
|8||Southern New Hampshire University||93.57||26:1||94%|
At New Hampshire University, online students have the option to pursue their degree in environmental science. The bachelor of science degree is designed to provide students with hands-on experience despite the online environment. The interdisciplinary degree offers numerous environmental courses covering topic such as global climate change, ecological principals and water-waste reduction. Students receive hands-on learning through coursework that includes instructor-led lab kits mailed to students. The program aims to give students a strong foundation in natural and physical sciences, while coursework includes analysis of the implications of overpopulation, climate change and other global issues. Graduates are equipped for a variety of careers, including work as environmental scientists, research scientists and environmental protection specialists.
|9||University of Maryland-University College||93.28||17:1||77%|
Students wishing to learn more about environmental economics, risk management and geographic information systems can choose to pursue a bachelor's degree in environmental management at the University of Maryland. Students will learn how to mitigate environmental management issues such as air pollution, water pollution, solid waste and hazardous waste. Through the online program, students receive instruction on how to plan, implement and control all facets of environmental management using professional models and techniques. The curriculum provides an interdisciplinary approach that explores environmental topics such as environmental management, pollution control, environmental regulation and environmental health and safety.
|10||The University of Findlay||93.15||14:1||100%|
Students who desire careers in environmental safety will appreciate the goals of The Bachelor of Science in Business Management degree plan from the University of Findlay with an emphasis on environmental safety and health incorporates core business courses alongside industry-specific curriculum for a comprehensive business management degree to prepare students for careers in the environmental safety and management industries. The program is designed to include the latest policies, standards and trends in the environmental safety and health fields Course curriculum is regularly revised and updated by faculty in consultation with federal agencies, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, state agencies as well as leaders in the manufacturing, automotive and petrochemical industries.