Solving Environmental Problems: Environmental Engineering

Earning a degree in environmental engineering prepares students for a career identifying, analyzing and solving environmental issues. With most entry level jobs within the industry requiring at least a bachelor’s degree, it isn’t uncommon for professionals to juggle their full time jobs while engaging in distance education in a bid to boost their earning potential.

Common career options available to environmental engineering graduates include air quality specialist, environmental analyst, water resource engineer and environmental engineer.

Traditionally, an environmental engineering curriculum incorporates core elements of science that includes biology, physics, chemistry, ecology, mechanical engineering and computer science.

For those with aspirations to move onto management roles, a master’s degree in environmental engineering is highly recommended after the bachelor’s degree has been completed.

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Environmental Engineering Degree Information

Many universities offer bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in environmental engineering. A degree in environmental engineering at any level incorporates many science and engineering disciplines, such as physics, biology, chemistry, earth sciences, math and basic and advanced engineering. Basically, environmental engineers use technology to solve complex problems in air, water and land use. The impact of human activity on the environment with further problems of developing technology and increasing populations create the need for an environmental engineer’s comprehensive problem solving skills using a multidisciplinary approach.

Environmental engineers find employment as urban planners, structural engineers, air quality specialists, waste management directors, environmental analysts and environmental consultants. They work for all levels of government, industry, consulting firms and research organizations. Opportunities for environmental engineers exist in every part of the U.S. and internationally as well.

People with a vivid interest in how the world works and a penchant for science and engineering challenges should consider a career as an environmental engineer. With the many problems facing the world’s populations and ecosystems, the need for environmental engineers can only increase to help solve these complex and challenging problems.

Environmental Engineering Curriculum

Environmental engineering degree programs offer courses such as thermodynamics, civil engineering, pollution control, computer systems, waste management, physics and water resources. Many degree programs also provide internships, so that students can obtain real life work experience. Other programs aid students in finding employment in their field for a semester or two. While students don’t receive academic credits for their work, they are compensated by the employer. This serves the same function as an internship. Solving real environmental problems while on the job or at an internship, students learn to put their scientific and engineering knowledge into practice.


Most employers needing environmental engineers require a bachelor’s degree for entry level positions. This degree program requires courses in math, chemistry, calculus-based physics, computer programming, biological science, technical writing, sustainable engineering, solid mechanics, bioengineering thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, environmental systems analysis, microbiology and environmental engineering design. With an extra emphasis on computer training and writing seminars, the student graduating with a environmental engineering bachelor’s degree is ready to go to work.


Those students who choose to further their studies apply for master’s or doctoral degree programs in applied science or environmental engineering. Upon graduating with a master’s degree, candidates are ready for mid-management and consulting work in environmental engineering. Courses such as civil engineering systems, hydraulics, hydrology, urban water systems, water supply and waste water systems and principles of solid waste engineering provide students with the skills and knowledge they need to solve today’s environmental issues and problems. Master’s degree programs generally take two years to complete.


Students accepted into an environmental engineering doctorate program face a program of researched-based advanced interdisciplinary work. Applying engineering principles to environmental problems focus on protecting human health and the health of the natural ecosystems. Students graduating with a doctoral degree in environmental and civil engineering often go into research, teaching or consulting.


Expect courses in the basic sciences and engineering principles. All degree programs will include courses in math, biology, chemistry, earth sciences and physics was well as basic engineering technology. Most programs will offer the following courses:

  • Waste management
  • Physics
  • Biogeochemistory
  • Waste water microbiology
  • Computer systems
  • Environmental safety
  • Air quality
  • Civil engineering
  • Water resources
  • Thermodynamics
  • Hydraulics
  • Environmental toxicology
  • Atmospheric pollution
  • Energy analysis
  • Environmental hydrology
  • Solid waste treatment design

Career Opportunities

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2010 there were 51,400 environmental engineers employed in the United States. Over the next 10 years, another 11,300 jobs will open for environmental engineers. Jobs for these engineers are increasing by 22 percent, much faster than average. Once a bachelor’s degree is earned from a university accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, and a few years’ work experience, the environmental engineer can apply for a state license, which will increase chances for employment.

Earning Potential

Environmental engineers earn good money. The BLS reports that the median salary for environmental engineers as $78,740 for those with a bachelor’s degree. Those engineers working for the federal government can earn a higher salary at $96,540 while state and local governments pay quite a bit less. Environmental engineers working in the oil and gas extraction industries can earn up to $133,740 a year. A wide variety of industries, governments and architectural and consulting firms hire environmental engineers


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Environmental Engineer FAQ

What types of jobs can I expect with an environmental engineering degree?

The nature of their employment determines an environmental engineer’s work. If an engineer is hired as an urban planner, then he will probably work in an office setting. Many work at specific outdoor sites such as waste treatment plants or at various environmental projects. Others work on building projects such as dams or waste water plants. Some environmental engineers work with lawyers and business people and present technical information at seminars. Others might be testifying in court. Whether the job is office-oriented or at a construction site will depend on the employer and the nature of the work.

How long does it take to earn an environmental engineering degree?

A bachelor’s degree will take four years. Some universities offer a combined bachelor’s/master’s degree which can be completed in five years. A master’s program in this demanding discipline generally takes two years. A master’s/doctorate program will take even longer, up to five years past the bachelor’s degree.

Where are the highest paying jobs for environmental engineers?

Regional and industry variations in salaries should be expected for this discipline. Environmental engineers working in gas and oil extraction in Texas, for example, earn far more money than those working in a small town’s waste water plant in Florida. The states paying the highest salaries for environmental engineers are Alaska, Texas and the District of Columbia. Large metropolitan areas pay higher wages than small, rural areas. Houston, Texas, for instance, is paying a yearly salary of $128,140, while a northern Florida non-metropolitan area pays $47,420.

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