What Can I Learn in an Online Master's in Environmental Science Program?
A master's in environmental science online allows students to focus their studies and provides extensive training in research, data, and analysis. It also opens doors to professional paths identifying and formulating policies and remedial action plans to combat problems like increased carbon emissions, rising sea levels, natural disasters, and resource depletion. Because environmental science degree programs involve fieldwork, field trips, and lab work, students should expect a hybrid of online classes and in-person experiential learning.
What Common Courses Are Offered in a Master's in Environmental Science Program?
Environmental science course content varies depending on the school, program, master's degree type, and concentration area. The list below contains five examples of common courses offered by environmental science master's programs, giving you a general idea of what to expect from a master's in environmental science. These courses cover topics ranging from computer modeling and data analysis to environmental monitoring and policy.
- Economics of Sustainability
Students gain an understanding of the role of the economy within the ecosystem. The course explores the interplay between sustainability and international trade policies and theories, along with the history of economic systems. Other topics may include causes of market failures, consumerism and consumption, emerging markets, growth versus development, localization and globalization, and the world's food economy.
- Environmental Risk Assessment
This overview of risk assessment concepts uses case studies to introduce the National Academy of Sciences' four-part hazard assessment, dose-response assessment, exposure assessment, and risk characterization. Students learn the basics of measurement and modeling methods, along with the legal requirements in risk assessment and how characterizations of substances under various conditions differ from each other.
- Leading Technology
In this course, students learn about the strategies and requirements needed to lead scientific and commercial projects. Topics include selecting, developing, and managing biomedical, engineering, science, and technical professionals through applicable enterprise management principles, change leadership, high-level project management, and organizational behavior.
- Foundations of Environmental Policy
An introduction to U.S. environmental policy, this course covers the development of early policies to present-day policy directions, including variations in approaches from different administrations. Students examine the goals, methods, achievements, and challenges of environmental policymaking from both domestic and international perspectives.
- Restoration Ecology
This course traces the philosophical foundation and historical development of ecological restoration. It also explores the employment of multicultural ecological principles from applied, natural, and social sciences. Students typically examine real case studies and participate in field trips and laboratory activities to apply concepts learned in class.
What Exams or Projects Should I Expect?
Environmental science master's programs typically require a capstone, thesis, or final project. Some programs allow students to graduate if they log enough fieldwork hours instead. A thesis or final project comprises a student's original research, demonstrating their skills in critical thinking, design, and data analysis. Students work with advisors to produce papers of publishable quality in peer-reviewed, academic, or professional journals.
A capstone often entails applying skills and knowledge gained in the program to a specific environmental problem under the direction of a faculty member.
What Specializations Are Available in a Master's in Environmental Science Program?
Specializations vary significantly by program and degree, such as environmental science, environmental management, environmental safety and health, resource management, and sustainability. The list below offers three examples of specialty areas.
This specialization prepares students to understand, analyze, apply, and evaluate environmental policies. Learners also prepare and implement environmental management plans for transportation, land use, and natural resources.
Students explore theories of sustainable development and policy to understand its history. They also assess current policies, comprehend concepts of sustainability, and examine the relationship between environmental policy and sustainable development.
As global water resources decline, specialists must understand watershed processes and legal frameworks to formulate solutions. Topics in this specialization include water law and policy, groundwater contamination, toxicology, and wastewater treatment technologies.
What Can I Do with a Master's in Environmental Science Degree?
Master's in environmental science graduates can pursue careers as regulators, analysts, specialists, restoration planners, and ecologists. Consulting firms and state government agencies employ nearly half of environmental scientists, followed by local government, engineering firms, and the federal government.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects the following five positions to grow by 8% from 2018 through 2028.
These professionals analyze and develop solutions to environmental problems, such as contaminated land areas and water resources or risks to the environment from construction projects and manufacturing plants.
Climate Change Analysts
As the planet warms, these analysts study the effects of the changing climate on various ecosystems, such as tundra and rainforests. In addition to research, they may also conduct educational outreach and write grants to support their work.
Environmental Health and Safety Specialists
This job focuses on human health and the environment. Typical duties include investigating potential environmental health risks, ensuring that companies comply with regulations, and educating the public about hazardous conditions, such as soil and water contamination.
Environmental Restoration Planners
This position handles the clean-up of contaminated sites, such as nuclear facilities, brownfields, and polluted waterways. They assess damage and formulate remediation plans with associated costs.
Working with businesses and industries to reduce or eliminate their adverse impacts on the environment, industrial ecologists advise on employing more efficient measures in the company's operations and provide cost/benefit analyses of various strategies.
How Much Can I Make with a Career in Environmental Science?
A wide range of occupations fall under the umbrella of environmental science, and opportunities in all categories should increase in the coming years. The positions below can't guarantee set wages, but the following information provides information regarding salary potential and projected job growth for each profession related to a master's in environmental science.
|Career||Median Annual Salary||Job Growth (2016-2026)|
|Climate Change Analyst||$71,130||10%-14%|
|Environmental Health and Safety Specialist||$46,170||10%-14%|
|Environmental Restoration Planners||$71,130||10%-14%|
Online Master's in Environmental Science Program Accreditation
Top environmental health and protection master's programs receive accreditation from the National Environmental Health Science & Protection Accreditation Council, whose criteria include a strong academic natural science curriculum and hands-on fieldwork opportunities for students.
Otherwise, no accrediting organizations exist specifically for environmental science programs. Because environmental science master's programs tend to anchor in research, students should look for schools with regional accreditation from agencies approved by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Regionally accredited schools undergo rigorous review to validate their academic quality.
How to Pay for a Master's in Environmental Science Degree
Funding sources for master's in environmental science degrees typically include loans, scholarships, and fellowships. Other ways to pay for your degree include working while studying online and campus research assistantship positions or tuition waivers. While online students qualify for financial aid, other funding sources may require some individual research.
Techniques for Financing a Master's in Environmental Science
- Online Study
Master's in environmental science online programs typically charge lower tuition rates than traditional on-campus programs. Students in these programs can also keep their jobs while earning their degrees.
- Research Assistantships
While more common in doctoral programs, some master's programs in environmental science may offer research assistantships and/or may waive tuition costs. Prospective students should check with their schools of interest to see if those options exist.
- Federal Loans
Online environmental science master's students can apply for direct unsubsidized loans of up to $20,500 per year from the federal government. To apply, complete the FAFSA online.
Scholarships for Master's in Environmental Science Students
- Eckenfelder Scholarship
Who Can Apply: This scholarship helps full-time graduate students in environmental science pay for their education. Applicants must submit a resume, a 250-word essay, recommendations, and an official transcript evidencing a 3.0 GPA.
Amount: $5,000See Scholarship
- The Garden Club of America Fellowship in Ecological Restoration
Who Can Apply: This fellowship supports graduate students at accredited institutions who study and conduct research in restoration conservation and ecology. Applicants submit research proposals and budgets, along with a resume, a cover letter, and recommendations.
Amount: $8,000See Scholarship
- National Environmental Health Association and American Academy of Sanitarians Scholarship
Who Can Apply: This scholarship assists graduate students in environmental health sciences at accredited colleges and universities with their tuition and fees. Applicants submit online applications, transcripts, and recommendations, one of which must come from a NEHA member.
Amount: $2,500See Scholarship
- The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship Program
Who Can Apply: Full-time master's students in resource management of coastal or ocean areas who maintain a 3.3 GPA can apply for up to two years of funding. Recipients must submit annual reports on their academic activities.
Amount: Up to $42,000See Scholarship
- National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Program
Who Can Apply: This program supports students early in their graduate education who conduct research in science, math, technology, or education. Prospective students must submit their applications online and include statements on their research plans and career goals.
Amount: $46,000See Scholarship
Professional Organizations and Resources
Current and aspiring environmental science students can find additional information and support through professional organizations, which offer networking opportunities, career development resources, and useful information on current topics in the field.
- Environmental professionals and students benefit from industry publications, continuing education webinars, conferences and other networking events, volunteer opportunities, and a career center. Students can join at a discounted rate.
- This nonprofit provides board certification, training workshops and seminars, and research publications. Student members can join for free, and the academy sponsors a university lecture series and chapters.
- An association of faculty and students, AESS seeks to support environmental scholars and scientists with research information, networking and idea sharing, model curricula and professional standards, career development and mentoring, and professional advice.
- This community of ecologists, researchers, educators, and policy makers advocates for its members and offers online access to publications, an annual meeting, certification, networking, and publishing grants. Students receive a discounted rate.
- This organization seeks to develop high-level standards of proficiency and ethics within the environmental profession. It offers an annual conference, member events, webinars, workshops, professional certification, and online research materials.
- NEHA supports its members through advocacy, a "day in the life" of an environmental health professional blog, training and networking events, credentialing, and discounted student memberships.
- Taking a science-based, multidisciplinary approach to finding solutions to environmental problems, this organization offers professional and student memberships. Benefits include online publications, annual meetings, resume posting, mentoring, and networking.
- Students can join SER at a discounted "emerging professionals" rate and gain access to training tools, networking opportunities, job and internship listings, and current research on climate change, desertification, and land and water degradation.
- Working for healthy land and clean water, member benefits include newsbriefs and publications, conferences and networking events, committee service opportunities, and advocacy. It offers a discounted student rate.
- This nonprofit educational and technical organization posts water quality and sustainable development news. It also hosts an annual water quality conference and a stormwater symposium, and it provides certification and offers continuing education resources.