The interdisciplinary field of environmental science focuses on the evolving relationship between living organisms and the environment. Environmental science students will study the social, economic, political, and biological effects of people on local and global environments, and coursework will touch on a wide range of topics from business, engineering, and public policy to sustainability and natural resources. We’ve ranked the best online bachelor's and master's programs in environmental science, based on the schools' tuition rates and alumni salaries provided by PayScale. Interested students will find information about careers and program accreditation here as well.
2020 Best Online Colleges Offering Master's in Environmental Science Degrees
With low tuition rates and high average alumni salaries, the following 23 schools offer the best online master's in environmental science programs. A degree from California State University-Fresno has an impressive return on investment, with an annual tuition of $13,963 and alumni reporting a mid-career salary of $128,892. Second-ranked University of Idaho offers a M.S. in Environmental Science for $9,876 per year. Graduates of the school's environmental science program earn a median salary of $125,060.
Alumni salaries were provided by PayScale. View our methodology for more details or learn more about OnlineU.
California State University Fresno's online Master of Science in Water Resource Management requires students to complete the program courses in sequential order over a five-semester schedule. Students in the program will explore political and policy issues related to water, as well as the economics associated with the resource. Graduates should have a solid understanding of how water is delivered to the environment, how it is stored and used, and effective management techniques. In addition to eight classes, the 30-credit degree requires a 150-hour internship and a culminating project course.
#2 University of Idaho
Annual Tuition: $9,876
Median Salary: $125,060
Locations: Moscow (ID)
The University of Idaho offers an online Master of Science in Environmental Science for students seeking to further their understanding of the discipline and pursue work in the field. Students structure their curriculum to focus on the area they are most interested in, choosing either biological science, physical science, or social science. This 30-credit-hour program includes coursework in ecology, biodiversity, climate change, geographical information systems, and environmental policy, law, and regulations. Graduates can continue their education with a Ph.D. or pursue a career as an environmental officer, climatologist, or community college professor. The U of I also offers an online Master of Natural Resources with concentrations in integrated natural resources and fire ecology and management.
#3 University of Houston-Clear Lake
Annual Tuition: $25,877
Median Salary: $130,956
Locations: Houston (TX)
Accreditation: SACS COC
The online Master of Science in Environmental Science offered at the University of Houston-Clear Lake aims to equip students with the knowledge and skills needed to protect people and wildlife from environmental harm. Students can choose between three specializations to better achieve their academic and career goals: environmental biology, environmental geology, and environmental chemistry. The 36-credit-hour program can be completed in as little as 16 months. Graduates of the program have gone on to careers in the industry with companies such as Amazon, BP, and Honda.
#4 Oregon State University
Annual Tuition: $12,880
Median Salary: $121,445
Locations: Corvallis (OR)
The online Master of Science in Environmental Sciences program offered by Oregon State University provides students the opportunity to further their education and improve their career outlook in the discipline. This 45-credit-hour program encourages students to advance the field through research and discovery, all while improving their understanding of ecology, geology, biology, and conservation. Coursework includes Environmental Perspectives and Methods and Environmental Analysis. Graduates of the program are prepared to further their studies with a Ph.D. or to teach at the secondary or college level. OSU also offers online master's degrees in resource sciences, natural resources, and fisheries and wildlife administration.
#5 Texas A&M University-College Station
Annual Tuition: $16,526
Median Salary: $120,800
Locations: College Station (TX)
Accreditation: SACS COC
The online Master of Natural Resource Development program offered at Texas A&M University College Station is designed for students currently working in the natural resource industry who wish to further their education and advance their career opportunities. Students choose to concentrate their studies in either ecosystem science and management (ESSM) or wildlife and fisheries sciences (WFSC). The ESSM curriculum includes coursework in ecosystem science and management, while the WFSC concentration focuses on biology, ecology, and conservation. The degree program requires completion of 36 credit hours and submission of a professional paper on a natural resources management topic.
#6 University of Florida
Annual Tuition: $8,475
Median Salary: $115,384
Locations: Gainesville (FL)
Accreditation: SACS COC
Graduate students seeking an online environmental science degree have several options through the University of Florida: a 30-credit Master of Engineering in Environmental Engineering Sciences, a 30-credit Master of Science in Environmental Engineering Sciences, a 30-credit Master of Science in Forest Resources and Conservation, and a 52-credit Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP). Online classes through UF Online match the on-campus versions, and graduates receive the same degree. Materials are taught through the Canvas learning management software, and a variety of other online learning tools are also available. The MS in forest resources and conservation has three concentrations: Ecological Restoration, Geomatics, and Natural Resource Policy and Administration. This is a non-thesis master’s degree. The MURP degree has a concentration in Sustainability and includes a master’s final project. Both engineering degrees are offered through the Engineering School of Sustainable Infrastructure and Environment. The MS degree requires a final exam, but otherwise, the two engineering programs are identical. UF Online students have access to career services, academic advising, a 24/7 IT help desk, and resources from UF libraries, including live chat with librarians. Graduate admissions for these online programs consist of a form (with fee), official transcripts, and GRE scores. Students must have completed a bachelor’s degree to apply.
#7 Texas Tech University
Annual Tuition: $5,295
Median Salary: $113,771
Locations: Lubbock (TX)
Accreditation: SACS COC
Texas Tech University's eLearning and Academic Partnerships programs have degree options for individuals seeking an online environmental science degree. All online graduates from Texas Tech are taught by the same faculty and receive the same diplomas as on-campus students. Online graduates are welcomed to walk in the Texas Tech graduation ceremony. Those considering an online environmental science degree may apply for the Professional Science Master’s (PSM) in Environmental Sustainability and Natural Resource Management. There are two concentrations available: Ecology and Environmental Sustainability and Natural Resource Management. The ecology track is facilitated through the College of Arts and Sciences, while the natural resources track runs through the College of Agricultural Science and Natural Resources. Students take courses from both departments but how many courses from each college varies. PSM students are required to complete 30-34 credit hours. Students will compile a professional portfolio upon graduating. A 12- to 16-week capstone course or internship component is also a requirement. Texas Tech has been recognized for its online disability services and accommodations for military students. Students may access the Texas Tech University Library, including the library website designed specifically for e-learners. Students are also able to work with a personal librarian to assist their research. Students in the online environmental science degree receive 24/7 technology support. Applicants must submit an online application (with fee), official transcripts, and a statement of interest. Students may enroll for either the spring or the fall semester.
#8 Colorado State University-Fort Collins
Annual Tuition: $7,050
Median Salary: $113,234
Locations: Fort Collins (CO)
Colorado State University’s Fort Collins campus has two online graduate degrees for prospective environmental science professionals: the Master of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology (MFWCB) and the Master of Natural Resource Stewardship (MNRS). The MNRS program has three degree specializations: Ecological Restoration, Forest Sciences, and Rangeland Ecology. CSU’s online courses use the Canvas learning management system. Through this platform, online learners have access to real-time and pre-recorded classes. The MNRS and MFWCB are 30-credit programs and do not require a thesis. Both are designed for professionals. Students will learn the current issues and skills required to advance in natural resources management. CSU has several long-standing relationships with ecological agencies for possible networking and career opportunities, including the Nature Conservancy and the U.S. National Park Service. Online students can benefit from the adult learner and veteran services, academic advising, a career center, resources from the Morgan Library, and an IT help desk. Applicants can submit materials for the fall or spring semester. Candidates must have a bachelor’s degree in a similar field (with a minimum 3.0 GPA) and full-time experience. A resume, official transcripts, three letters of recommendation, and a statement of purpose are also required.
#9 Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Annual Tuition: $13,500
Median Salary: $113,576
Locations: Blacksburg (VA)
Accreditation: SACS COC
The Master of Natural Resources from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University is designed for working professionals seeking an online graduate degree program in environmental science. Online degrees from Virginia Tech provide flexibility and use synchronous and asynchronous tools through the Canvas learning management software. Learning tools include audio and web conferencing, instant messaging discussion boards, and social media. The Master of Natural Resources is a 30-credit program that combines online class materials with international field experience. This experience is a 10-day, face-to-face global studies program that fills the role of a capstone project. Classes are categorized into core courses and electives. Subjects include general sustainability, governance and management, business and economy, climate and energy systems, water and marine systems, biodiversity and ecosystems, and cities and urban systems. Online learners have access to the Virginia Tech library system, academic advisors, and 24/7 IT assistance. Interested applicants must have a completed undergraduate degree and must fill out the Virginia Tech application form with the fee, a resume, official transcripts, a personal statement, and two letters of reference. Applications are accepted for fall, spring, and summer terms.
#10 North Carolina State University
Annual Tuition: $19,425
Median Salary: $115,423
Locations: Raleigh (NC)
Accreditation: SACS COC
North Carolina State University strives to provide flexibility and real-world experience through its online degree programs. The College of Natural Resources has a fully online Master of Environmental Assessment, which focuses on bridging the gap between scientific research and actual regulation and policy. The full degree requires students to complete 30 credit hours to graduate, with one or two classes taken each semester. Online classwork requires weekly real-time meetings delivered in the evenings. Then, students complete assignments and engage in discussion boards on their own time. The program can be completed part-time or full-time. Before graduating, students must complete a capstone project. Most online classes at NC State employ a mix of synchronous and asynchronous tools, using the Moodle online management system and Zoom video conferencing software. There may be some on-campus requirements for a specific project or exam if deemed necessary by individual professors, but the coursework is predominantly online. Online learners have access to the NC State’s Career Development Center, an IT help desk, resources from NC State’s libraries, and veteran student services. Admission to the program requires a completed bachelor’s degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. Additionally, candidates should submit a completed application, official transcripts, a current resume, a personal statement, and three letters of recommendation.
#11 University of Illinois Urbana - Champaign
Annual Tuition: $11,200
Median Salary: $110,304
Locations: Champaign (IL)
The University of Illinois Urbana – Champaign offers a Master of Science in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences degree. This program can be completed entirely online, but there are optional hybrid classes that incorporate field trips and laboratory experience. The degree takes 32 credit hours to complete and requires a capstone research project or internship experience. This degree is available through the College of Agriculture, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences. Most classes are delivered asynchronously with readings, forums, quizzes, final papers, projects, and exams. For online programs, the university uses Blackboard learning management software through a system called Illinois Compass. Along with traditional services such as academic advising and career services, online learners have access to the institution's Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning (CITL), which assists students with any online education questions and directs them to additional student resources. Interested candidates must have a minimum GPA of 3.0 from a completed bachelor’s degree. Within their undergraduate education, students should have taken coursework in fundamental sciences and some classes in the field of environmental science. GRE scores are not required. The admissions process includes a completed form (with fee), a statement of purpose, a current resume, and three letters of recommendation. Applications are accepted for fall, spring, and summer terms. Students may enroll as non-degree seeking and sample some courses before officially applying.
#12 University of Connecticut
Annual Tuition: $12,375
Median Salary: $103,278
Locations: Storrs (CT)
The University of Connecticut (UConn) offers an online Master of Energy and Environmental Management degree created with working professionals in mind. This 30-credit program emphasizes real-world application of sustainability concepts. Classes cover topics like environmental law and geographic information systems. The full program consists of 27 credits of major courses and electives plus a three-credit internship or practicum experience. Online classes are taught by UConn’s faculty and meet guidelines from Quality Matters, an organization that monitors quality standards for online learning. Course materials are available 24/7, and students can participate and complete assignments on their own schedules. UConn uses the Blackboard learning management software as the platform for HuskyCT, the online course platform. Online learners have 24/7 technical support, disability accommodations, and online resources from the UConn library system. Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree (a GPA of at least 3.0 is preferred) and submit a personal statement, a resume, three letters of recommendation, and official transcripts. Once compiled, students send materials with a completed application and fee.
#13 University of Illinois at Springfield
Annual Tuition: $8,145
Median Salary: $98,360
Locations: Springfield (IL)
The online Master of Science in Environmental Studies from the University of Illinois at Springfield has three concentrations by which students can customize their degrees: General Environmental Science, Environmental Planning and Management, and Sustainable Development and Policy. This is an interdisciplinary program with coursework in conservation, public policy, and ecology. Students accepted into the program will partner with an academic advisor to build their course plan, which incorporates required core classes, concentration requirements, electives, and a culminating experience. This final component could be a master’s thesis, a project, or a capstone closure course (not available for the General Environmental Studies concentration). The full degree is 40 credit hours. Online programs are managed by an online program coordinator who serves as an expert and assistant for all student questions. Students enrolled in online programs have access to a student orientation for online learning, resources from the Brookens Library, and the Career Development Center. Classes are facilitated with Blackboard learning management software, which employs audio and visual aids and virtual classroom space for real-time lectures. Interested candidates should submit a completed application form, an academic essay, two letters of recommendation, and proof of completed environmental science prerequisites. Students must have earned a bachelor’s degree with at least a 3.0 GPA.
#14 University of Denver
Annual Tuition: $22,816
Median Salary: $103,250
Locations: Denver (CO)
Online classes through the University of Denver are available entirely online, and all assignments and study can be completed asynchronously with no campus-based requirements. Online learners can test out the program by taking a course before they officially apply. Once enrolled, students have access to resources, including veteran services, an academic advisor, and personalized career services. The online Master of Science in Environmental Policy and Management at the University of Denver has seven concentration options: Energy and Sustainability, Environmental Analytics and Reporting, Environmental Management, Environmental Policy, Environmental Health and Safety, Natural Resource Management, and Supply Chain Management. Classes run in 10-week terms and can be completed in 18 months. To earn this degree, students must complete 48 credit hours, combining core, concentration, and elective credits. Students may choose part-time or full-time study. Master’s candidates must have a completed bachelor’s degree with at least a 2.5 GPA. Students can enroll in the summer, fall, winter, or spring term. To apply, candidates must submit a completed form (with fee), official transcripts, two letters of recommendation, a personal statement, and a current resume.
#15 University of Maryland Global Campus
Annual Tuition: $11,862
Median Salary: $98,492
Locations: Adelphi (MD)
The University of Maryland Global Campus online learning platform offers a fully online Master of Science in Environmental Management that uses case studies and discussions with industry experts to teach real-world problem solving. Students learn how to conduct environmental audits, assess environmental threats, employ important tools (such as geographic information systems), and develop team-building skills. The curriculum includes core courses (27 credits) and a capstone study in environmental management (three credits). Students in the MS in environmental management program can join the Environmental Management Club for networking and service-learning opportunities. Students can use free e-materials, including electronic textbooks and UMGC library resources, and they have 24/7 access to class assignments. Classes are asynchronous. Most classes have bi-weekly assignments, and students are responsible for meeting due dates. Students and faculty engage in online discussions and virtual networking opportunities. Applicants must complete the online application form, include the fee, and provide transcripts. Master’s candidates must have a completed bachelor’s degree. Students can enroll in classes for fall, winter, spring, or summer terms.
#16 Johns Hopkins University
Annual Tuition: $55,530
Median Salary: $115,654
Locations: Baltimore (MD)
Prospective master’s students seeking an online environmental science degree have two options at Johns Hopkins University: a Master of Science in Energy Policy and Climate or a Master of Science in Environmental Science and Policy. The MS in energy policy in climate has four tracks: Energy, Climate, Policy, or Modeling. The MS in environmental science and policy is hosted by the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. Five concentrations are available in this program: Conservation Biology; International Environmental Policy; Sustainability; Climate and Energy; and Remediation, Compliance, and Assessment. The MS in environmental science and policy is appropriate for students without a strong background in science who seek coursework on environmental policies. Both programs are part-time. The full curriculum for each degree is 10 classes with one capstone requirement. At least one class must be taken on campus. Students can enroll in fall, spring, or summer. Online courses use Blackboard learning management software and Zoom video conferencing. Students can access disability accommodations, 24/7 technology support, and resources from the Johns Hopkins library system. Interested applicants must have a completed bachelor’s degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA. In addition to the online application, admissions requirements include a statement of purpose, two letters of recommendation, a resume, and official transcripts.
#17 Utah State University
Annual Tuition: $8,281
Median Salary: $90,908
Locations: Logan (UT)
Utah State University hosts an online Master of Natural Resources through the S.J. & Jessie E. Quinney College of Natural Resources. To graduate, students must complete 33 credit hours and a capstone experience. The curriculum relies on five core requirements: quantitative methods, ecological foundations, human dimensions, spatial information management, and policy and administration. USU online students have access to a sequence of student success webinars, an online orientation, tools from the academic success center, career services, and disability accommodations. The IT service desk is available 24/7 and includes a live chat feature. Online courses are asynchronous, but students should log on every week and participate in online discussions. There are no specific meeting times. Interested applicants must have a completed bachelor’s degree (with a minimum 3.0 GPA), preferably in a natural resources-related field, and three years of applicable work experience. Admissions requirements include three letters of recommendation, a statement of purpose, and GRE scores.
#18 Southern Methodist University
Annual Tuition: $20,250
Median Salary: $94,023
Locations: Dallas (TX)
Accreditation: SACS COC
Southern Methodist University has a Master of Arts in Sustainability and Development with two concentration options: Sustainable Global Development and Design and Sustainable Management. Students will complete a three-credit capstone course, which may be a research project or site-based practicum. The program is hosted by the Bobby B. Lyle School of Engineering. Class topics include environmental regulations, public health, and epidemiology. The full program requires students to complete 30 credit hours. Classes are recorded live, though students do not have to watch them at a specific time. However, students are encouraged to view these pre-recorded lectures within 48 hours in order to keep up with the materials. SMU uses Canvas learning management software. Classes run in standard terms in spring, summer, and fall semesters, and students may enroll at the start of whichever semester they prefer. Online students have access to a distance education IT help desk, academic advising, disability services, and resources from the SMU library system. Students applying to the master’s in environmental science must have completed a bachelor’s degree with at least a 3.0 GPA, and they must complete an application form (with fee), send official transcripts, and submit three letters of recommendation.
#19 University of South Florida Online
Annual Tuition: $11,586
Median Salary: $89,758
Locations: Tampa (FL)
Accreditation: SACS COC
The Master of Arts in Global Sustainability from the University of South Florida’s main campus is highly customizable with its nine concentrations: Climate Change and Sustainability, Entrepreneurship, Food Sustainability and Security, Sustainability Policy, Sustainable Business, Sustainable Energy, Sustainable Tourism, Sustainable Transportation, and Water Sustainability. The College of Global Sustainability hosts this program, and most of the concentrations are available online. All students must complete a capstone research project and a total of 30 credits to graduate. Through Canvas learning management tools, online learning requires engagement via discussion boards, email, and significant reading on one’s own time. USF’s distance learning options include some synchronous work as well. Students in online programs at USF have access to library resources, including e-journals and research databases. Additionally, academic advising, tutoring services, and a live IT service desk are available. Students can enroll in the spring, summer, or fall term. Prospective students must have a bachelor’s degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA, and they should submit a completed online application form (with fee), a letter of interest, a resume, and official transcripts.
#20 The University of West Florida
Annual Tuition: $13,853
Median Salary: $89,500
Locations: Pensacola (FL)
Accreditation: SACS COC
The University of West Florida has hundreds of online courses offered through its graduate school. Aspiring professionals in the environmental science field have the chance to apply for the online Master of Science in Environmental Science. This is a non-thesis program with seven concentrations: Coastal Science; Geographic Information Science; Soil Science; Dendrochronology; Meteorology/Climatology; Human-Environment Interactions; and Environmental Planning, Policy, and Politics. The full environmental science degree requires 30 credit hours and includes an internship component. Courses run for 16-week terms. Students typically graduate in 24-30 months. UWF’s online learners use Canvas learning management software as the backbone of their online course delivery, which includes the use of a mobile phone app. Students have access to technical support via the Canvas hotline. Classes in the MS in environmental science program are synchronous, but courses are scheduled in the afternoons and evenings so that working students can retain flexible schedules. The graduate school at UWF has deadlines for fall, spring, and summer terms. Applicants must submit the application form, official transcripts from a completed bachelor’s degree (with a minimum 3.0 GPA), a statement of purpose, three letters of recommendation, and GRE scores.
#21 Webster University
Annual Tuition: $15,600
Median Salary: $86,777
Locations: St. Louis (MO)
Webster University has campuses across the U.S., so many students in its online graduate programs are able to take a course in a physical classroom if they choose to. Webster graduate students interested in environmental science can choose from two degrees: a Master of Science in Environmental Management alone, or a dual degree with a Master of Business Administration in Environmental Management. The 36-credit MS in environmental management is offered through the College of Arts and Sciences. Students may select a concentration in Environmental Sustainability, which requires a total of 39 credits. The dual MBA/MS option requires students to complete 54-57 credits and incorporates classes from the School of Business and Technology. Online classes are delivered asynchronously. Online students receive several support services, including individualized academic advising, career services, and assistance in developing a professional portfolio. Online learners also receive orientation materials and technological support. Courses are taught through a learning portal called WorldClassRoom, which is managed by Canvas learning management software. Admissions decisions run on a rolling basis. Students must have earned a bachelor’s degree with a 2.5 GPA minimum. Applicants must also provide official transcripts.
#22 Duke University
Annual Tuition: $34,135
Median Salary: $92,798
Locations: Durham (NC)
Accreditation: SACS COC
Duke University is home to the Duke Environmental Leadership Master of Environmental Management program (DEL-MEM). Designed for working professions with some experience in the industry, the curriculum uses real-life case studies to teach policy analysis and develop leadership skills. Participants engage in place-based sessions – in face-to-face programs on-campus or in Washington, D.C. The program integrates content from the Nicholas School of the Environment and Marine Lab. Students spend the majority of their time in synchronous learning modules online, typically held in the evenings. Students also complete weekly readings and additional assignments on their own time. In addition to the four core courses and elective options, a final project is required. The full program is 30 credit hours. Online learners in Duke’s environmental management program receive monthly mentorship calls from the program’s leadership advisor. They also engage in independent study specific to their professional interests and advancement. Students have access to career services, including one-on-one consultations. Master’s students also have access to extensive library resources, like consultations with subject-specific librarians and e-materials. Applicants must fill out the application form (with fee), provide bachelor’s degree transcripts, and attach GRE scores, a resume, a statement of purpose, a personal essay, and letters of recommendation. Applicants must have previous experience working with natural or social sciences.
#23 Troy University
Annual Tuition: $8,892
Median Salary: $76,140
Locations: Troy (AL)
Accreditation: SACS COC
Troy University’s online programs (eTroy) are designed to maintain the academic rigor and support that students receive on campus. The Master of Science in Environmental and Biological Science is offered entirely online. Classes run in nine-week terms. The full degree requires 36 credit hours, but online students do not have a thesis option. eTroy students do have a concentration available in Environmental Policy. Course subjects include ethics, public health, and research methodology. Online classes are asynchronous and use forums, messaging, and video-conferencing when appropriate. All course materials are housed through the Canvas learning management system. Students have access to a range of resources, including academic support from the John W. Schmidt Center for Student Success. Here, students can use academic advising, career services, disability accommodations (for deaf and blind students), and writing and research help. Along with online databases and e-materials, Troy University libraries provide students with the ability to have live chats with librarians. Interested applicants to the online graduate programs at Troy University must submit official transcripts, GRE scores, and letters of recommendation. Candidates should have a completed bachelor’s degree with a minimum 2.5 GPA.
What can you do with a master's in environmental science degree?
Careers in environmental science focus on protecting the earth's resources by identifying things that are harming it and working to reverse environmental degradation. In order to help realize these goals, environmental scientists work in both public agencies and private firms in a variety of specializations. Some work for the government, testing and analyzing environmental resources and suggesting policy items and regulations. Others work as consultants, helping businesses comply with government regulations and develop sound environmental practices. Academic environmental scientists may work on more theoretical research and may apply a variety of disciplines to the study of the environment, such as math and chemistry.
Job opportunities for students of environmental science are growing both in the public and private sectors. Additionally, many NGOs (nongovernmental organizations) rely on the research and work of students of environmental science to publish reports, lobby governments, and help ensure their practices meet state and federal guidelines. Even energy companies hire many environmental science graduates to analyze aspects of their businesses. In the public sector, many environmental science majors go into teaching.
Graduates of an environmental science master's program may pursue opportunities as environmental scientists, planners, consultants, managers, geospatial scientists, wildlife biologists, restoration specialists, city planners, and more, depending on their education and experience.
Meet Environmental Studies Professional Peter deFur
Peter deFur has been a professor of environmental studies for 30 years. For the past 20 years, he has been a part-time professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. In addition to his work in academia, Peter has worked for a national environmental organization as a senior scientist, evaluating federal policy and regulation. He holds a PhD in biology from the University of Calgary and has completed two different fellowships.
Throughout his career Peter has participated in a variety of leadership development programs, including a year-long stint at the Natural Resources Leadership Institute. Peter currently serves on the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council. To learn more about the best online master's in environmental science programs, check out our 2020 rankings. Otherwise, continue reading for advice from online student Peter deFur!
What do you find most and least interesting about environmental studies?
As a classically educated biologist, the most interesting aspect of environmental studies is how living systems manage to survive and even thrive in new and changing conditions. But I find that I am learning so much about so many different topics, that I can honestly say that each day is a learning experience.
I sometimes grow frustrated that I cannot deal with more progress in teaching or in my consulting work. One example is the local issue of the Chesapeake Bay. The governments around the Chesapeake Bay, where I live, signed the first Chesapeake Bay Agreement in 1985, nearly 30 years ago and the largest problem remains. The difficulty in solving the problem is not lack of knowledge on how we can solve the problem, but the difficulty in generating the will to solve the problems.
Are there subfields of environmental studies that students might not be aware of?
That is hard to say, because any subject area students can think of has an environmental field -- all the sciences (geology, hydrology, biology, chemistry, psychology, anthropology), engineering, economics, sociology, art, literature, and education.
What careers do students commonly pursue with a degree in environmental studies?
For the longest time, environmental studies graduates went into some area of science, management, or law with a company, university, or government. But that pattern has changed incredibly in the past 10 years or so, and I see the job opportunities continuing to expand. I see jobs and careers in the environmental field that did not exist 10 years ago. Perhaps the field that is expanding the most is restoration of streams, rivers, fields, and forests.
Is a graduate degree preferable for a career in environmental studies, or can someone enter the field with a bachelor's degree?
Some people find that an undergraduate degree suits their job and career interests, and in others, a graduate degree is necessary, so it depends. The sciences are more likely to expect a graduate degree, especially if there is research in the job.
Do you think environmental studies is a subject that can be studied online, or is a traditional class environment ideal?
I have taught several online courses, and if done properly, online courses work fine. I think the important aspect of environmental studies courses is a strong emphasis on practical aspects, not just theory.
Online Master's in Environmental Science Overview
An online master’s degree in environmental science can help prepare graduates for advanced environmental scientist positions that require understanding, analyzing, and managing the world’s climates and ecosystems. Knowledge of the environment and its effects are important to local, state, and federal agencies, engineering and environmental consulting firms, independent research laboratories, educational institutions, nonprofit organizations, and many other employers.
Online master's in environmental science degrees are available in a range of subjects and specializations. Some degree programs provide an interdisciplinary curriculum, an approach that is well-suited to students who have not yet decided on a specific career path. However, other programs offer a concentration that focuses on a defined area within the field of environmental science, which is ideal for those students who want to tailor their education to their personal interests and career goals. Concentrations available in online environmental science master's programs include:
For those students who are interested in pursuing research opportunities during their master's in environmental science program, there are a number of institutions that are particularly focused on research. Universities have hosted some of the most innovative research projects for environmental science in the last couple of decades, and students who attend one of these schools may have the opportunity to get involved in such projects. These schools often provide funding opportunities for research projects, and may also have the latest technology and some of the top professors in the field. Research projects can also be beneficial for networking and ongoing professional partnership opportunities.
The Importance of an Accredited Online Master's in Environmental Science Degree
Accreditation is an important criteria in selecting an online master’s program. Accreditation means that the college or university degree program has received a comprehensive evaluation by an authoritative, independent agency and been proven to meet high academic standards. Legitimate accrediting agencies are recognized by the US Department of Education and will be found in the USDE database.
Many graduate schools, licensing boards, and even future employers will require degrees that have been issued by an accredited program. Accreditation may also be required for certain scholarships or financial aid. Students should visit the US Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation for a list of accredited schools before selecting a degree program.
What are the best areas of specialization in environmental science?
Environmental science is an exciting and interdisciplinary field that students can take in a number of directions. Graduates of an online master’s program in environmental science can focus on scientific inquiry or apply their knowledge to areas within business or law. Here are just a few potential areas of specialization:
Environmental Analyst: As an increasing number of business organizations become aware of the need for greater corporate social responsibility, they are beginning to hire environmental analysts to help them make better use of resources and to meet environmental regulations. Environmental analysts also work with governmental agencies, studying and evaluating the human impact on the planet’s air, water, soil, and food supplies with the objective of preserving and keeping them safe. For this reason, it is beneficial for environmental analysts to earn certification in environmental risk management, as well as a master’s degree in environmental science.
Environmental Law: Like all lawyers, an attorney specializing in environmental law must have a Juris Doctorate degree, which takes three years to earn. Combining a law degree with an environmental science master's degree will lead to a whole new array of opportunities. Students will have a unique mastery of environmental law that will enable them to work in top positions and make effective, positive changes.
Environmental Science: The number of environmental science jobs increases each year. Many such scientists have PhDs, but earning a master's degree in environmental science is often the first step. Successful environmental scientists are problem solvers. They are charged with finding appropriate, sustainable solutions to large-scale environmental concerns, such as pollution and renewable energy sources, and they may spend many years working on one particular issue. Patience and the ability to work well with large groups is of the utmost importance for environmental scientists.
Do I need a certification for advancement in the field of environmental science?
Although certification is not required to advance in this field, students who’ve earned bachelor’s or master’s degrees in environmental science may want to consider strengthening their professional credentials by seeking certification in one of these areas of specialization:
Certified Environmental Scientist (CES): The National Registry of Environmental Professionals (NREP) provides certification to professionals who have an understanding of the basic principles of environmental science, including chemistry, physics, biology, zoology, earth science, meteorology, and environmental health. This requires an exam, a related bachelor’s degree, and three years of acceptable work experience.
Certified Environmental Auditor (CEA): Available through the National Registry of Environmental Professionals (NREP), this specialty program certifies professionals conducting environmental compliance and risk audits of on-going procedures, operating facilities, and related equipment. This certification requires an environmentally related bachelor’s degree, four years of work experience, and an exam.
Registered Environmental Professional (REP): Designed to set the standard for environmental and safety certification, the National Registry of Environmental Professionals (NREP) provides certification to professionals who have a graduate level degree in a related field as well as work experience. There is no exam required.
Frequently Asked Questions about Environmental Science Master's Degrees
How do I get into an online master's in environmental science program?
Though admission criteria for an online master's in environmental science degree will vary by school, many programs require GRE/GMAT scores, prerequisite courses, and a bachelor's degree from an accredited institution. Students requiring financial assistance should know that the Environmental Protection Agency lists a number of scholarship and fellowship opportunities for environmental science students; additional federally-sponsored opportunities can be found here.
How long do environmental science master’s programs take to complete?
Most online environmental science master’s programs will take between 16 and 30 months to complete. The curriculum for an online master's in environmental science degree typically includes a required number of core and elective courses and a culminating project. Core courses are often foundational environmental science classes, and elective courses are related to the concentration or the student's area of interest. The culminating project is often a thesis, but many environmental science master's programs offer a non-thesis option, typically some kind of capstone project.
How much can you make with a master's in environmental science?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2019 environmental scientists and specialists earned an average annual salary of $71,360, with the top 10 percent of highest paid environmental scientists earning more than $124,760. However, salaries for environmental science professionals vary greatly by sector and experience. The highest paying industry for environmental scientists and specialists is the federal government. The average annual salary in this sector was $102,910 in 2019. The BLS states that a master's degree might be necessary for career advancement, which often translates to salary potential.
With an increased focus on issues related to climate change and hydraulic fracturing (fracking), employment of environmental scientists and specialists is expected to experience above-average growth of 8% over the next eight years. The projected industry growth and availability of jobs across a range of disciplines can make the field of environmental science a good choice for people with the right combination of education and experience.
Do I need a degree to work in environmental science?
Entry-level environmental science positions in government and some private firms typically require an undergraduate degree in environmental science, earth science, or a related area. Master's degrees are required by some consulting firms and are often necessary for advancing to higher positions. Environmental scientists at colleges and universities will usually need a doctoral degree in an environmental science area. Mastering the technology used in environmental science and earning the available professional certifications can also help an aspiring environmental scientist land a job.
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