Environmental issues constitute some of the most pressing concerns in our modern political-industrial climate. How can we continue to live the life we enjoy while ensuring that its infrastructure doesn't take a fatal toll on our natural resources? Environmental science degree programs can help you tackle this question and others from an educated perspective.
Degrees in environmental science typically take a multidisciplinary approach to the natural sciences and include both laboratory and field work. If you've already earned a bachelor's degree and are thinking about switching fields, check with an advisor to see if the general education courses you've completed will transfer into your new program.
Online environmental science degrees are available as well, for students who want to continue their education but don't have the resources to commit to a traditional program. The scheduling of courses in online degrees for environmental science students tends to be more flexible than the in-person variety, and distance education may even come with lower tuition costs.
Best Colleges for Environmental Science Degree Programs
We wanted to sort out where the top schools for environmental science could be found, so we turned to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) for comprehensive data on more than 500 institutions. See the list to learn about the best colleges for environmental science degree programs, and click the methodology button to see how we calculated the rankings.
Considering the name of this Syracuse, New York, school, it should hardly be a surprise that it took the No. 1 spot on our list for the prominence of environmental science degrees among its overall student body. More than 22 percent of students graduating from SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in 2015 earned environmental science degrees, meaning you're likely to have plenty of friends on campus earning the same degree that you are.
The natural sciences foundation of the bachelor's plan here features some flexibility in how it can be completed, allowing students to choose from a list that includes biology, chemistry, forestry, engineering, ecology, environmental studies and geography. Subject matter specializations are also available, once you begin your upper-division work.
Just three other schools on our list charges their students lower tuition and fees on average than this Northern California institution, which also took the No. 3 spot for the percentage of its student body working toward environmental science degrees. Flexibility was important here too, particularly in terms of distance education — nearly one in four students took at least some of their courses online.
The bachelor's degree in environmental science and management at Humboldt State University aims to foster in its students a nuanced understanding of the interactions of human institutions with the physical world. Available areas of specialization include ecological restoration, energy and climate, geospatial science and environmental planning and policy.
The University of Vermont posted the third-highest graduation rate of all the schools that made our top ten and funded academic support expenses like advising and tutoring services with a higher dollar amount per student than all other schools on our list but two. It also ranked No. 2 for the proportion of environmental science students among its 2015 graduating class.
The Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in environmental science program at this Burlington school features nine areas of focus, including ecological design, water resources, conservation biology and environmental chemistry. When available, internships, undergraduate research projects, study abroad programs and other opportunities for hands-on field learning can enhance your academic work.
This prestigious Bay Area school is the largest institution to make our list and one of the most diverse in terms of environmental degree programs. University of California, Berkeley students can choose among B.S. degree programs in environmental sciences and environmental engineering science, a Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) program in environmental earth science and either a B.A. or B.S. in environmental economics and policy.
UC Berkeley came out on top of the metric that measures raw dollar investment in instructional expenses like classroom technology and course development. It also had the highest graduation rate of all the schools that made our top ten, reporting that more than 91 percent of students finished their degrees within the allotted time.
The lowest average tuition and fees cost of any school on our list can be found in Dillon, Montana, where students paid an annual average of just $4,853 in 2015. The school also features an open admissions policy, which ensures that all qualified applicants can be admitted regardless of past academic performance orstandardized test scores.
The University of Montana Western's B.S. in environmental science features available majors in geology, sustainable natural resource management and wetlands management. A unique block scheduling program is available for UMW students, also — if they choose, students may take one class at a time, three hours each day for periods of 18 days, rather than using the traditional multi-class model.
Our No. 6 school places a significant emphasis on environmental pursuits, dedicating an entire college — Huxley College of the Environment — to the study and understanding of natural systems. Students at Western Washington University run an award-winning environmental magazine called The Planet and volunteer for Learning Environment Action Discovery (LEAD), an initiative designed to increase biodiversity and restore native habitats.
The Department of Environmental Sciences at WWU is affiliated with three research institutes: the Institute of Environmental Toxicology, the Institute for Watershed Studies and the Shannon Point Marine Center. The college also hosts the Huxley College Speaker Series, which engages students with topics of contemporary environmental concern by bringing guest lecturers to campus.
The second Montana school to make our top ten is also one of the most affordable, taking the No. 2 spot in that category with an average tuition and fees cost of less than $6,400. It also had one of the most lenient admissions policies among schools on our list, reporting a 91 percent applicant success rate.
Prospective environmental scientists at the University of Montana enroll in an environmental studies program as first- or second-year students and declare their interest in environmental science once the general environmental studies requirements are complete. Other focus areas include environmental justice, traditional environmental knowledge, environmental writing and literature, environmental pre-law and sustainability studies.
Home to the No. 2 graduation rate among schools on our list, the Durham campus of the University of New Hampshire stood out from the pack in the on-campus flexibility portion of our analysis. Students have the option to take certain courses in the evenings or on weekends, as well as take advantage of extra-curricular elements like career counseling services and job placement assistance for alumni.
The B.S. in environmental sciences at UNH, offered as a joint effort between the Department of Natural Resources and the Department of the Environment and Earth Sciences, offers a list of degree emphases that includes ecosystems, soil and watershed management and hydrology. Students can also take advantage of a program called EcoQuest to study environmental issues in New Zealand.
Lake Superior State University tied for the No. 1 spot on the student-faculty ratio metric, maintaining a ratio of 15:1 in 2015. It also had one of the highest distance education enrollment figures among schools on our list, taking third place in that category with more than 22 percent of students participating in at least some online coursework.
Environmental science study at LSSU is approved by the American Chemical Society and focuses much of its energy on chemical analyses of environmental factors. What's more, its location on the St. Marys River in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, puts it within an hour's drive of three of the five Great Lakes, so hydrology students have a wealth of ecosystems on which to conduct research. The program also reports 100 percent job placement for graduates, particularly in the field of public health.
The second-largest school in our top ten rounds out the list, earning the No. 10 spot in part thanks to its affordable tuition and fees cost. Students of the American Public University System, a private, for-profit university, paid an average of $6,880 in basic enrollment expenses in 2015.
The program at APUS includes a range of major subject coursework to choose from, including classes on environmental economics, hazardous waste management, population ecology and wildlife management. Students seeking online environmental science degrees will find a fully online option available at APUS, which reported to the NCES that 100 percent of its students were enrolled in some form of distance education in 2015.
Environmental Science Degree Programs and Common Career Paths
Comprehensive training is important in natural science disciplines, and environmental science is no different. Most employers in the field require that candidates hold at least a bachelor's degree, although some entry-level assistant and technician positions may be open to those with associate-level education.
Career Outlook for Environmental Science Majors
The career market for environmental scientists changes year over year like it does for most occupations, and keeping on top of the hiring trends can help you navigate your post-college job search. Here's a quick rundown of some employment projections from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics.
PROJECTED JOB GROWTH(%)
|Environmental Engineering Technologists and Technicians||$54,740||18,010||8.6%|
|Environmental Scientists and Specialists, Including Health||$77,940||84,290||8.2%|
|Agricultural and Food Science Technicians||$44,440||21,870||6.1%|
|Natural Sciences Managers||$145,450||67,720||5.9%|
|Geoscientists, Except Hydrologists and Geographers||$108,350||29,200||5.7%|
|Forestry and Conservation Science Teachers, Postsecondary||$90,940||1,770||4.6%|
|Agricultural Sciences Teachers, Postsecondary||$89,320||9,470||4.3%|
|Forest and Conservation Technicians||$45,860||19,060||1.7%|
Financial Aid and Scholarships in Environmental Science
It can help quite a bit to look into national aid programs beyond the loans and grants furnished by the U.S. Department of Education. The Udall Undergraduate Scholarship, for example, awards up to $7,000 to select students focusing on environmental or Native American issues. Here's a short list of financial aid options for environmental science students.
Recipient must maintain acceptable academic standing and full-time status to retain fellowship.
To be included in these rankings, all schools must meet the following initial criteria for the specific subject being ranked.
- Offer an undergraduate degree (either associate or bachelor’s) in that subject.
- Have awarded at least one degree or certificate in that subject in the most recent year of IPEDS data available.
Based on those criteria, we ranked all 2-year and 4-year schools in IPEDS that reported data for all of the following points. Ratings are calculated on a 10-point scale, using the weights specified.
- In-state undergraduate tuition & fees, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Graduation rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Accessibility, based on admissions rate, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Institutional spending, based on two equally weighted factors, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Instructional and academic support expenses per full-time enrolled student
- Instructional and academic support spending as a percentage of all expenses
- Student-to-faculty ratio, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Flexibility, based on the following factors, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Percent of students enrolled fully or partly in distance education
- Whether the school offers programs that can be completed entirely in the evenings and on weekends
- Whether the school offers academic and career counseling
- Whether the school offers job placement services for students who complete their programs
- Whether the school offers any alternative tuition plans, such as a payment plan or guaranteed rate
- Size of program, based on how many of the degrees and certificates awarded in 2014-15 were in this particular subject, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015
- Related subjects, based on the number of similar topics for programs in relevant CIP codes that are offered at any level, National Center for Education Statistics, 2015