Environmental studies explore the legislative, manmade, and scientific impacts on the natural world and its inhabitants. ES majors fill a number of professional roles. Forest and wildlife conservationists strive to apply their research to conserve the ecosystems and save endangered organisms. Sustainability consultants work with businesses and governments to influence environmentally sound practices and public policies. Environmental scientists gather important data on climate change, species population statistics, and natural resources to inform decision makers. Many ES degree holders working in the private commercial sector will help deploy green technology in order to reduce both the environmental impact and the operational costs of a business.
Since these applications vary so widely, environmental studies degrees come with dozens of specializations and job prospects. Students can invest their time in researching specific life forms, terrains, or public policies, as well as the subsequent impact these factors have on the environment. Ultimately, these diverse disciplines and professions have a common goal: to address and reduce major threats to the Earth’s natural environment.
Students exploring an environmental studies program must grasp the chemistry, biology, and geology behind different types of ecosystems and understand the ways in which human activities can interfere with these systems. Classes cover both the building blocks of different types of habitats, as well as the ways in which government policies can restrain and discourage industrial and commercial damage of those habitats.
Students gain opportunities to study our planet’s diverse life forms in lab classes, field trips, and expeditions. Those passionate about specific types of animals can take entire courses dedicated to a region’s marine life, insects, birds, mammals, and plant life. In addition to natural sciences, the environmental studies course load places an emphasis on policy making developments, such as wildlife protection acts, pollution regulations, nuclear energy laws, alternative energy use, and hunting restrictions.
Since environmental studies covers a wide breadth of organisms, environments, and policies, students can choose from dozens of specialties within their undergraduate and graduate level programs. Students who wish to dedicate their careers to certain areas of the environment can explore programs in oceanography, urban agriculture, forest management, land-air interactions, water resources, or desert ecosystems, to name just a few. Students can also specialize in certain types of animals, including fish, insects, plants, and avian life. Students interested in the politics of environmental science can specialize in environmental policy making, conservation, and sustainability.
Prospective ES students can enter programs from the associate level up to the doctoral levels. These degree types will determine how long students remain in college and the types of careers they will end up advancing into.
This degree generally takes about two years for students to complete. It provides a cursory look at current environmental issues, legislation, and ecological impact. Associate degree holders can explore some entry-level jobs with environmental protection agencies as technicians. However, associate degrees in environmental studies are typically used as a launching point for bachelor’s specializations. Since there is an emphasis on scientific research and policy making within the field, there are very few career options for people who only hold an associate’s.
This four-year undergrad provides students with a range of environmental science fundamentals and something of an opportunity to explore what specializing beyond the undergraduate could look like. As described earlier, scholars focus on specific types of organisms, environments, and legislative developments. Scientists with bachelor’s degrees in environmental studies can explore roles like hydrologist, environmental protection technician, forester, and agricultural researcher.
This graduate degree generally takes one to two years to complete. Students are expected to choose a field specialization at this level, and some may decide to pursue interdisciplinary options such as law school with an environmental policy emphasis or business administration with an emphasis on sustainable technology. This graduate degree will also help scientists advance into research careers or to explore options within organizational administrations.
Getting a doctorate in environmental studies allows students to immerse themselves in a research topic, with some students traveling to conduct research on their areas of focus. Doctoral scholars are usually expected to complete a dissertation and defend their research in front of a faculty panel. Doctoral graduates can pursue faculty positions at the college level and leadership positions within research facilities.
Students, faculty, and employees working within environmental studies fields can explore membership in dozens of professional and academic societies. Honors societies like Kappa Alpha Omicron provide access to networking and publication resources. Professional organizations like the American Water Works Association (AWWA) and the National Association of Environmental Professionals (NAEP) give current industry employees networking and continuing education opportunities.
Ideal Candidates for Environmental Studies
Environmental studies can be a very compelling major for nature enthusiasts, including those with a keen appreciation for agricultural work, hiking, gardening, wildlife, and exploration. People who pursue research-oriented specialties within the natural sciences must have the patience, awareness, and observational skills to collect data in natural environments or observe organism behaviors.
People who pursue legislative and public policy specializations need to have the confidence and conviction to stand up for causes they believe in. Those with strong social and communication skills can influence change on social and business operations levels. Research skills will be necessary within this focus, since public policy changes are often informed by case studies and environmental debates.
An environmental studies degree can be extremely valuable, since multiple disciplines require expertise in sustainability, wildlife conservation, and green technologies. The career options for graduates are diverse, with opportunities available within research labs, law firms, corporate offices, national parks, forests, and nature reserves.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that environmental scientists and specialists earn an average income of $63,570 a year. There seems to be a growing demand for researchers in this field, since the job outlook rate is 15% during the years before 2022. Technicians that work within environmental protection and conservation fields earn an average of $41,240 a year, with a faster than average job outlook growth rate of 19%. Geoscientists, those who research the Earth’s elements, can make an average of $90,890 a year with a high career outlook growth rate of 16% before the year 2022.