Guide to College Majors in Environmental Science

Nature is trying very hard to make us succeed, but nature does not depend on us. We are not the only experiment.
--R. Buckminster Fuller

What Is Environmental Science?

As climate change becomes an inescapable global reality, the field of environmental science is more important than ever before. Environmental scientists and environmental management specialists must find ways to maintain a livable environment in the face of increasing human development and carbon emissions across the globe.

Environmental scientists study the effects of humans, industry, production, and other sources of pollution on nature and the environment. Many of these professionals also do advocacy work, trying to curb as much environmental damage to nature, wildlife, and people as possible. They constantly attempt to come up with an approach to living, creating, and producing that is new, conservation-friendly, and appealing to the public.

An important goal of environmental science professionals is to find new ways to conserve and to improve the ways humans use energy and natural resources. For example, environmental scientists were the first to encourage recycling, solar power, and the development of hybrid cars. Through their work, environmental scientists convey hope and commitment to a public that is increasingly conscious of the interdependent relationship between man and nature. So, in this respect, the efforts of environmental science professionals are certainly not just scientific. In fact, the field of environmental science is also an influential force in politics and law.

Environmental scientists and environmental management specialists must be innovative in their approach to their work, constantly seeking new ways to increase their knowledge and expertise. College degrees are increasingly required in the field. Online degree programs often present appealing options to first-time students as well as existing environmental scientists seeking to boost their credentials.

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Preparing For an Environmental Science Degree Program

The most important way to prepare for an environmental science degree program is to make the most of science, math, and computer courses offered by your high school. Potential environmental science and environmental management students should take every chemistry, geology, biology, physics, and geophysics course available. Not only will such courses provide you with a solid scientific background, but they will also prepare you for the rigorous requirements of intense degree programs.

In addition, consider your personal interests. The happiest and most successful employees are those who truly care about their work. This is certainly true in the field of environmental science. Many students are drawn to this field of science because they genuinely want to maintain and improve the environment.

Choosing the right school is incredibly important. Research all of the environmental science schools you are interested in attending. This research should be as detailed and thorough as possible. Speak with admissions counselors at each school, and explore financial aid and career service programs. If possible, contact a current student and ask her about her experience. While this may seem like a lot of effort, it is definitely worth it when you find the ideal degree program for your interests and desires.

Another way to prepare is to interview a current environmental scientist. Prepare a list of questions that will answer everything you want to know about your potential career. If possible, follow the environmental scientist around for a day and observe what a typical day in this field might be like. Not only can this experience affirm your decision to pursue a career in environmental science, but it can also provide insight into the day-to-day life of an environmental scientist.

Career Education in Environmental Science

Environmental science majors develop an in-depth knowledge of science and its current and potential environmental applications. This is a broad field of study, so students have many choices and may tailor their studies to a particular specialization. You might be a newcomer to the field, developing an initial set of general science skills before pursuing a more intense degree program. Or maybe you're an environmental engineer or scientist hoping to boost your career with advanced study. Whatever your interests or goals happen to be, an undergraduate or advanced degree is an educational resource that offers a variety of opportunity and options.

Online Degree Programs in Environmental Science

More accredited colleges and universities offer degree programs online than ever before, and this trend is expected to grow as advanced technology becomes more readily available. Not only are online college degree programs becoming more common, but they also sustain a solid reputation as an efficient way to pursue a degree while continuing to work. In an online environmental science degree program, students participate in online tutorials, web demonstrations, and simulated labs. Required field- or lab work may be arranged locally, or brief residencies might be required.

Certificate Programs in Environmental Science

Environmental science certificate programs are a worthwhile way for current academics, researchers, and professionals to gain a more focused knowledge of environmental science. Online environmental science certificates are primarily designed for current scientists who have already obtained a certain level of education. For the most part, such programs encourage students to build skill sets in a specific facet of environmental science such as management, forestry, or environmental law.

Environmental management is a desirable position reserved for upper-level scientists with advanced education and training. Online management training is particularly useful to any current scientist hoping to advance in this direction. In addition, greater expertise in a specific segment of environmental science could certainly lead to better job opportunities and advancement. It is important to note that certificate programs vary from school to school, so discuss particular degree programs with school admissions counselors.

Bachelor's Degree Programs in Environmental Science

Earning a Bachelor of Science is the first step for most students in this field. BS degrees in environmental science and environmental management are the most common.

Some schools focus on a specific segment of environmental science or management, such as fire science, EPA regulations, waste management or environmental technology. Others are more general in nature, and provide students with a solid grasp of all of the fundamentals. Both types of programs will also focus on general science concepts, mathematics, computers, and technology. B.S. programs are thorough, intense, and rigorous.

In addition to developing scientific knowledge, bachelor's degree students must also build writing, communication and critical thinking skills. In order for their ideas to be implemented, scientists must be able to effectively explain them to managers, policymakers and other non-scientists. This is especially important for environmental experts who work in law, politics or policy.

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Serving as a Research Assistant: Gain Experience and Unlock Opportunities

An excellent way for environmental science students to get hands-on experience and set the pace for their careers is to participate in research assistant programs. College and university professors often work on individual projects during the summer months, and there is a good chance that a professor will allow her best students to serve as her summer research assistants. Participating in such an assistantship is an intelligent way to explore the work and efforts being made in the field of environmental science. The best research assistants are demonstrably bright and dedicated, and any student interested in such opportunities should make sure he obtains top-notch grades.

What Can You Do With a College Degree in Environmental Science?

The opportunities for environmental science and environmental management graduates are abundant and varied. The reality of climate change has put environmental experts in high demand across industries. Listed below are just some of the career opportunities in the field of environmental science:

  • An environmental scientist studies and researches sources of pollution that negatively impact humans, animals, and the environment. Primarily, these scientists study air, water, and soil and develop ways to improve the quality of each of these elements. Environmental scientists design and manage waste disposal procedures, monitor and preserve supplies of water, and ensure that government regulations are being followed. It is also common for environmental scientists to specialize in a particular area, such as ecology, conservation, environmental biology, environmental chemistry, or fisheries science.
  • Commonly, an environmental science manager oversees the work of a team of environmental scientists and takes on more responsibility, ensuring that governmental regulations are strictly enforced. In order to qualify for this type of position, an environmental scientist generally must earn an advanced degree. An environmental science manager must have a thorough understanding of environmental laws and regulations as well as research experience.
  • Major corporations rely on environmental consultants to offer guidance in conserving the energy expended in the production process, to monitor the elimination of waste and byproducts, and to make sure that a company's actions are in accordance with government regulations.
  • A geoscientist studies the composition, physical characteristics, and structure of the earth. Scientists in this field are interested in the geologic past and present and often use sophisticated instruments to analyze the composition of earth and water samples. Geoscientists are concerned with how pollution changes the physical composition and structure of the earth. Scientists in this field work hand-in-hand with environmental scientists.
  • An oceanographer studies the chemical and physical properties of the earth's oceans and how they impact coastal regions, climates, and weather. The health and stability of the ocean in inextricably linked to the health and stability of the rest of the environment. As such, many of the issues of concern to environmental scientists are also studied and analyzed by scientists specialized in studying the earth's oceans.
  • A science teacher has the unique opportunity to educate and engage society's youngest generation of citizens. Whether a high school teacher or a college professor, an environmental scientist who pursues a career in education primarily introduces the concepts of the environment, conservation, pollution, and related technology to students. A science teacher who has first pursued a degree in environmental science will be especially knowledgeable and able to provide a thorough and rigorous academic experience for his students.

Job Growth Outlook

Without question, the work of environmental scientists and environmental management professionals will only grow in value. The demand for stricter governmental environmental policies and regulations of company procedures will continue to open doors for scientists working in this field. Thus, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that the number of jobs for environmental scientists will grow by a staggering 25% in the next decade.

The expected increase in job opportunities for environmental scientists is due not only to the increasingly drastic problems of climate change, but also by increased awareness among citizens around the world. Now that the average person is more knowledgeable of environmental concerns, there is an increasing demand for environmental scientists to supervise the quality of the environment and to guide public efforts to conserve, recycle, and to live less environmentally harmful lives.

Certification, Licensure, and Associations

Currently, there are no national licenses or certificates required to work as an environmental scientist. However, students may discover that individual states or locations offer opportunities to earn an optional certificate that recognizes a scientist as certified within the state. Additionally, specific areas of environmental science might offer opportunities for earning certification to professionals who are experts in a certain aspect of the field.

Potential students should note that even though there are no required licenses or certificates, it is always a good idea to become involved with available professional associations and organizations. Networking with fellow environmental scientists is a great way to enjoy a sense of professional camaraderie and communal commitment to this field of science. More importantly, joining a professional environmental organization also provides with opportunities to network, discuss new innovations, and update skills and knowledge.

Professional Organizations and Associations

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