Study Ecosystem Interactions: Environmental Science Degree

Environmental science is the study of how the environment interacts biologically, chemically and physically. This interdisciplinary examination of ecosystems covers topics such as biodiversity, groundwater contamination, conservation, climate change, soil contamination, waste management, air pollution, water quality and sustainable management. Earning a degree in environmental science can lead to a profitable career studying, researching and developing new theories about the environment.

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Environmental Studies Degree Information

The need for a scientific team to investigate environmental systems coupled with environmental laws requiring protocols has led to a growing public awareness of the need to address environmental issues, hence the expansion of the major. The interdisciplinary nature of environmental sciences means that many fields are studied within one broad and comprehensive subject.

One of the appealing aspects of environmental studies is how diverse the curriculum is, making it a perfect match for someone interested in the sciences but who does not want to focus as intensely in any one field of science. Many students pursue a degree in environmental studies concurrently with a degree in management, public policy, political science, economics, social sciences or landscape architecture.

Keep in mind that environmental sciences and ecology are separate fields of study, even if the two disciplines overlap. Ecology focuses on analyzing interrelated sets of populations or a population and its relationship to its environment, such as with endangered species, habitat integrity, the impact of land development and the effect of populations by contaminants.
Given the research-based applications of environmental studies, this degree is best earned at an established brick-and-mortar university instead of with an online degree.

Bachelor Of Arts

The Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies comprises several areas of environmental concentration. At the undergraduate level, environmental studies teach students to understand the nature of environmental issues in both the scientific and social sciences, analyze problems and solve them with basic and applied research.

Many degree programs integrate teaching and research with public service in the community. Some schools offer leadership programs that focus on collaborative environmental research and service projects with nonprofit organizations and government agencies, like the program at the University of Oregon and at Brown University.

Bachelor Of Science

A Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science requires a stronger emphasis on sciences, particularly by focusing on biology, chemistry, physics or earth sciences, rather than social sciences or humanities courses. This includes the completion of a higher level of courses in mathematics, statistics, ecology and physical geology.

Master Of Arts

A graduate degree in environmental studies prepares students to work for disciplinary and interdisciplinary environments in the government, public interest groups and businesses while teaching students about the emerging environmental issues and strengthen the skills to manage them. These programs require a masterís thesis that incorporates more specific fields of study, such as marine science and policy, environmental health or forest ecology.

Some degree programs, like at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, offer different degrees related to the studentís area of focus. For example, a Master of Environmental Management prepares students for careers in environmental policy, stewardship, education and analysis, while the Master of Environmental Science is designed for those interested in scientific research and practice.


Coursework for environmental studies includes basics in mathematics, including statistics and calculus, along with humanities courses, ecology courses, physical geology courses and classes in environmental policy, history, economic, law and policy.

Atmospheric sciences study the Earthís outer layer of gases with an emphasis on greenhouse gaes, atmospheric dispersion modeling, light pollution and meteorology. Environmental assessment appraises environmental protection and sustainable development by collecting field data, while environmental microbiology studies the composition and physiology of microbial communities. Environmental chemistry involves studying chemical alterations in the environment, such as soil and water contamination.

Other courses depend on a studentís specific focus, but some of those courses could include international environmental policy, property rights and environmental policy, ecosystem analysis, conservation biology, environmental chemistry, physical hydrology, oceanography, geophysics and environmental sociology. There are still a slew of other classes available depending on the studentís concentration, such as courses in anthropology, chemistry, engineering, geology, biology, sociology, urban studies and political science.

Career Opportunities

Environmental scientists supervise the impact of human actions on various ecosystems and develop ways to restore the environment. They also help planners construct buildings and develop utilities and transportation corridors that protect water resources and effectively use land without waste, teams of professionals often work together on environmental research as required by the U.S. National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Since the field of environmental science is complex, challenging and changing every day as new disciplines are added and others are excluded, having this degree means a lot of flexibility when it comes to job hunting. Careers in environmental science include positions in environmental planning, green investment planning, corporate management, environmental education and wildlife biology at all levels of government as well as in national and regional organizations. However, these are just a handful of options because it really depends on the studentís interests.

Potential Earnings

The job market for environmental science majors is increasing, especially in the private sector as public policy demands and new regulations force corporations and consulting firms to comply with environmental laws. Employment for environmental scientists is expected to grow by 25 percent within the next ten years, making it one of the fastest growing jobs available. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that the average salary is $61,100.

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Environmental Science Degree FAQs

What Are the Educational Requirements for a Career in Environmental Science?

Jobs in environmental science will require a bachelor's in environmental science. A Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science has a stronger emphasis on sciences such as biology, chemistry, physics and earth science, while the B.A. in Environmental Studies focuses more on the nature of environmental issues and the social problems involved.

Many job opportunities in the field of environmental science require a master's degree. If you choose to enroll in a graduate degree program for environmental science, you will be writing a thesis that incorporates other fields of study, like environmental health.

Who Is an Ideal Candidate for Online Environmental Science Classes?

Ideally, environmental science candidates will have an interest in the environment and earth sciences. Students will study the basics of other sciences like chemistry and physics, as well as social sciences, which means students should hone their research, analyzing and writing skills.

What Are Some Career Choices in Environmental Science?

Environmental science is an interdisciplinary degree, which means graduates have an array of job choices to choose from, including becoming a hydrologist, environmental planning, green investment planning, environmental ecologist, ecological modeler, environmental chemist, conservation scientist, forester, atmospheric scientist or geoscientist. An environmental scientist observes the impact of human actions on ecosystems and comes up with new ways to restore the environment. Many of these jobs are with government agencies, while others are with private firms and nonprofit organizations.

What Is the Job Outlook for Environmental Science?

Given the recent increase in environmental science majors, the job market for environmental sciences is steadily improving. Public policy and new regulations are forcing corporations to seek consulting firms to help them adapt their products to new environmental laws.

Why Would Someone Take Online Environmental Science Classes?

Students do not always have the time to be a traditional student with a campus schedule. Instead, taking online classes can help you earn your degree without forcing you to rearrange your schedule around school. Online degree programs accommodate working adults, which means you have more flexibility when it comes to choosing classes. An online degree program in environmental science can be a starting point that allows you to earn some credits before transferring to another school's program or the way to earn a four-year degree entirely. Many respected colleges and universities now offer online counterparts to their regular degree programs.

Environmental Science Student Guide

Environmental science is the study of biological, chemical and physical parts of the environment interacting together. It gives a quantitative and interdisciplinary approach to examining ecosystems and covers issues such as conservation, biodiversity, soil contamination, groundwater contamination, climate change, the quality of water, waste management, sustainable development and resources, air pollution, noise pollution and the destructive use of natural resources. Studies involve research, creative problem solving, activism and responsible citizenship.

Environmental Studies Research

Like other scientific disciplines, environmental studies requires a good deal of research, whether from articles and journals or during experiments. BioOne, Geo Index and the Web of Science are both great resources for researching scientific publications such as academic journals. The school library should have these, along with other databases, to help with the research as well as links to organizations, conference papers and dissertations for citation.

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