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Environmental Science

Program Description

Just the Facts

Environmental Science. A program that focuses on the application of biological, chemical, and physical principles to the study of the physical environment and the solution of environmental problems, including subjects such as abating or controlling environmental pollution and degradation; the interaction between human society and the natural environment; and natural resources management. Includes instruction in biology, chemistry, physics, geosciences, climatology, statistics, and mathematical modeling.

This program is available in these options:

  • Certificate / Diploma
  • Associate degree
  • Bachelor's degree
  • Graduate Certificate
  • Master's degree
  • Doctoral degree

High School Courses

See the high school courses recommended for programs in this career cluster:

See the high school courses recommended for programs in this pathway:

Additional Information

Environmental science students develop techniques to understand, analyze and solve the problems in our environment. Because there are so many environmental issues to consider these days, the programs cover a lot of ground. Students take geology, geography, biology, chemistry -- or even law, politics, management and communications.

"There is often a difference between environmental studies programs and environmental science programs," explains Frederick Scatena. He is a professor of earth and environmental science at the University of Pennsylvania. "Environmental studies typically has a stronger policy focus, while environmental science has a stronger science focus."

The wide variety of topics that fall under environmental science means that programs are all a little different from one school to another.

Overall, community colleges offer two-year science technician programs; universities offer four-year bachelor of science degree and post-graduate master's degree programs. Some two-year programs allow you to transfer to a four-year bachelor's degree program.

Since there are so many different options available, students should do careful research before choosing the direction of their post-secondary studies. They should consider what kind of environmental career interests them and select the appropriate educational path.

"Students should look for programs that offer appropriate breadth and depth in the specialization they wish to pursue," says Jacey Scott. She is the environment, earth, and resources student advisor at a university.

If you want to become an environmental science technician, for instance, a two-year associate's degree may be right for you. Look for programs offering scientific principles and theory combined with practical experience in a lab.

A bachelor's degree can lead to entry-level jobs as an environmental scientist. You can work for the government, in consulting, on engineering projects, doing environmental planning, or conducting energy or pollution audits.

A bachelor's degree will prepare you for lower-level jobs like environmental science technician, too, but you probably won't be able to apply all your education on the job.

"Ultimately, [students will] need a master's degree to get a good, permanent position," says Scatena. He adds that many undergrads get an entry-level job, work for a few years and then return to graduate school.

Teaching at the college level and working in research requires a PhD. Keep in mind that if you plan to pursue graduate studies, you will need to get a bachelor's degree first.

Scott mentions that many programs offer co-operative education options that allow students to gain practical experience. Participating in these programs can later help grads find jobs.

To prepare students who want to pursue their interest in the natural world and conservation issues, some high schools offer environmental science courses. General science classes are also useful.

Scatena recommends getting research experience at a lab. Working in a summer camp or doing community work like a stream clean-up also offers good experience. "See how it's applied in the community to see how you'll like it," he advises.

"Participating in student groups, local Envirothon groups, volunteering with nonprofit or community-based environmental organizations is a great way for students to get experience in the field," says Scott.

Textbooks will be an extra expense. You may be asked to pay lab fees. Some programs have a field component, in which case you'll need to pay travel expenses.


Occupational Outlook Handbook
For more information related to Environmental Science Degrees, see: Environmental Scientists and Specialists

For more information related to this career, see:Urban and Regional Planners

Environmental Protection Agency
Check out the careers section

NIEHS Kids Pages
Games, jokes, activities and more from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

National Environmental Health Association
Find scholarship and job opportunities in the student section


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