Environmental Science Majors Guide

What Does it Mean to Study 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.

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

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 may take a broader approach to the fundamentals. Both types of programs often focus on general science concepts, mathematics, computers and technology.

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.

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 a professor may allow her best students to serve as her summer research assistants. Participating in such an assistant role is an intelligent way to explore the work and efforts being made in the field of environmental science.

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

The opportunities for environmental science and environmental management graduates are abundant and varied. Listed below are just some of the career opportunities in the field of environmental science:

Environmental Scientist

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.

Environmental Science Manager

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.

Environmental Consultant

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.

Science Teacher

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 is expected to convey the concepts of the environment, conservation, pollution and related topics to students.

Environmental Science Certification, Licensure, and Associations

As of 2008, there are no national licenses or certificates required to work as an environmental scientist. However, potential students should note that even though there are no required licenses or certificates, it is still a good idea to be involved with 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.

Professional Organizations and Associations

Article Sources


“Environmental Scientists and Specialists,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/environmental-scientists-and-specialists#tab-6

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