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Our natural resources have been in the news a lot recently, and for good reason. From fossil fuel drilling and transport to global warming to public wilderness ownership to carbon emissions, our use and abuse of the natural environment are hot topics.
If these things are important to you and you happen to have a knack for science, you’re in luck! A career as an environmental scientist, the professionals tasked with diagnosing and remedying environmental problems, could be a good fit if you’re willing to put forth the effort to complete an online master’s degree in environmental science.
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Explore our featured online programs and find the right match for you today.
What kind of online master’s in environmental science degree should you get?
Graduate programs in environmental science can be terminal master’s programs or doctoral programs. Programs will also feature varying emphases, for instance, in marine biology, forestry, geology, or chemistry.
Most programs require extensive field world and empirical research and involve extensive competency in data and data analytics. A strong background in the hard sciences will be beneficial and in some cases required. For more information on online education, see our Best Online Colleges and Universities ranking.
How much money do people make with an online master’s in environmental science degree?
Compensation will vary according to what exactly you intend to do with your degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual salary from an environmental scientist was $63,570, and the role is projected to grow between now and 2022.
The environment faces a growing number of threats, and that will require an increasing number of professionals trained to address the problems.
What can you do with an online master’s degree in environmental science?
Environmental science is not limited to the role of environmental scientist, however. That is certainly an option, but graduates can also pursue careers and geologists, chemists, natural resource managers, game wardens, wildlife and fisheries experts, and more.
Each program on our list offers different areas of specialization, so be sure to research each one to discern which ones match your interests.
What are the requirements for an online master’s in environmental science degree?
Ordinarily students applying to graduate programs in environmental science will need to hold a bachelor of science degree in one of the hard sciences or in environmental or a related science.
Beyond these general requirements, some schools will have minimum GPA requirements as well as advanced coursework prerequisites. Some programs will allow conditional admission for students from other disciplines, so be sure to check with the school.
What are the best online master’s in environmental science degrees?
We’ve compiled a list of the best online master’s in environmental science degrees with you and your needs in mind. Here’s how we did it.
First, we located the best programs in the country by taking an objective look at the best schools in the country as measured by reputation and return on investment. Then we looked at the bottom line—how much does it cost? We combined these factors to reach our College Choice Score, which determined where each school fits into the big scheme of things.
Our data for this ranking was drawn from a variety of public sources, such as U.S. News & World Report, the National Center for Education Statistics, PayScale.com, and the U.S. Census. The end result is a list of schools that not only represent the best education you can get and a good return on investment but also one that will fit your budget.
See our rankings methodology page.
The Duke Environmental Leadership Master of Environmental Management (DEL-MEM) program offers working professionals the opportunity to continue their education, advance their careers, and become leaders in their organizations. The innovative, flexible format of this online program lets participants maintain their careers and personal lives while earning a master’s degree over the course two years (four semesters).
Examples of coursework in the program includes classes such as
- Business Strategy for Environmental Sustainability
- California Water Crises: A Case Study Approach
- The Science of Climate Change
- Community-Based Environmental Management
- Community-Based Environmental Management in Mexico
- Survey of Environmental Leadership
- Energy, Environment, & the Law
Duke’s program prides itself on a number of features, including a relevant curriculum, case studies, a multidisciplinary approach, experienced and diverse participants, a top-notch faculty, a flexible and innovative format, and leadership development.
The Masters of Science in Environmental Science and Policy is a springboard to leadership for environmental professionals. The program gives students a powerful understanding of where the sciences overlap and inform policy while providing insight into how policy is implemented and affects environmental outcomes. The focus is on studying the environmental effects of current use on the creation, updating, regulating, communicating and enforcing of environmental policy.
The program at JHU features several areas of concentration:
- Environmental Monitoring and Analysis
- Ecological Management
- Environmental Management
- Environmental Planning
- Sustainability Science
- Energy and Climate
The core curriculum provides a strong foundation of fundamental environmental science and policy required to work at the forefront of the field. A broad range of electives provides flexibility to allow students to tailor their academic experience to suit personal needs and interests. It is also a suitable program for career changers or those new to the environmental workforce.
University of Illinois-Springfield
UIS offers an online Master of Science in Environmental Sciences designed to help students gain strong scientific understanding of ways to study, evaluate, and interpret environmental realities and their impacts, as well as to manage and mitigate environmental problems. The department recommends that students interested in the Environmental Sciences degree have prior knowledge of chemistry, algebra, statistics, and biology.
Relevant coursework in the program includes classes such as
- The Public and Environmental Planning
- Natural Resources: Policy and Administration
- Environmental Policy and Analysis
- Sustainable Development
- Environmental Issues and the Media
- Research Methods in Environmental Studies
- Environmental Social Sciences and Humanities
Stated outcomes of the program include the ability to develop a basic literacy in the natural and social sciences and the humanities as they contribute to an understanding of environmental issues; critically analyze environmental problems; identify, research, and evaluate environmental problems; and compare, contrast, implement, and manage short- and long-term solutions to environmental problems.
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Also part of the University of Illinois system, the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign offers an online graduate program in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences. It enables students to continue their education in disciplines related to natural resources and environmental sciences through part-time study at locations away from the University of Illinois Campus at Urbana/Champaign.
Examples of courses in the program include
- Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences
- Agricultural Education
- Crop Sciences
- Plant Pathology
- Civil and Environmental Engineering
UIUC’s program addresses some of the most pressing environmental issues of the day, and the courses are taught by experts in the field. Students have the opportunity to network and build community even though the program is offered online. Students are able to gather virtually at set times for lectures, class discussions, quizzes, exams, and other activities similar to what you would experience on a college campus.
University of Arkansas
Arkansas features an online Master of Science in Human Environmental Sciences designed to offer students diverse options in a diverse field. The program will prepare them for advanced careers in a variety of settings.
Three areas of concentration are available to online students:
- Apparel Merchandising and Product Development, which provides advanced studies in quality assurance, product development, retail buying, merchandising, and brand management.
- Human Development and Family Sciences, which offers a focus in gerontology through the GP*IDEA consortia, with a multidisciplinary curriculum on the aging processes from middle age through later life.
- General Human Environmental Sciences, which provides an advanced interdisciplinary education for diverse careers, including international programs and community service occupations.
Arkansas’s program is accredited by the Commission on Institutions of Higher Education of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools as well as the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences.
University of Wisconsin - Madison
Wisconsin offers an online Master of Science in Sustainable Management designed to help students lead the way to a more sustainable future. Designed for working adults with real-world experience, the online UW Master of Science in Sustainable Management will strengthen and expand your knowledge of sustainability and environmental issues, preparing you for high-level leadership positions at your current organization or at top companies around the world.
Wisconsin’s program covers a variety of important topics, such as
- The relationship of natural, social, and economic environments
- Waste management
- Law and ethics of sustainability
- Sustainable design of products and communities
- Corporate social responsibility
- Leadership in sustainable organizations
- Supply chain management.
The program requires twelve courses and is available entirely online. All courses are developed and taught by distinguished faculty from each of the five partnering campuses—UW-Green Bay, UW-Oshkosh, UW-Parkside, UW-Stout, and UW Superior—bringing you diverse expertise from some of the top experts in the state.
Webster University offers an online Master of Science in environmental management designed to provide students with the tools and techniques to navigate the business aspects of environmental management. Students learn to assess and convey the business, ethical, and legal information to those who make or are affected by the decisions that shape our natural resources and environment.
Students will be exposed to a wide variety of coursework in the program, including
- Environmental Science
- Operations and Project Management
- Environmental Law
- Environmental Regulations and Compliance Auditing
- Environmental Accounting
- Management of Land and Water Resources
- Waste Management and Pollution Control
- Environmental Risk Management and Strategies
Upon completion of the program, students will be able to apply key terminology, facts, concepts, principles, historical perspectives and theories concerning environmental management and global sustainability toward solving environmental challenges; align sustainability initiatives with organization mission and core values; manage environmental-related risk from an organization’s operation; and much more.
Auburn University, AL
Auburn University offers a specialized online master’s program in the environmental sciences in its Master of Science, Master of Agriculture and Master of Turfgrass Management degrees in three different fields of study. It is an excellent option for professionals who have already developed their specific interests and are looking to advance their career.
Coursework in Auburn’s program includes
- Analyses of Plant, Soil, and Animal Data
- Bioenergy and the Environment
- Advanced Crop Science
- Forage Production and Utilization
- Plant Genetics and Crop Improvement
- Chemistry and Use of Herbicides
- Advanced Turfgrass Management
- Introductory Mycology
- Plant Nematology
One of Auburn’s leading programs is its distance education graduate degree in Agronomy and Soils, a 30 credit hour program that closely follows its residential program. Our graduate degrees are based on a customized curriculum that you develop with your major professor. Courses in this program include classes in soil science, crop science, weed science, entomology, and plant pathology.
The University of Findlay’s Master of Science in Environmental, Safety and Health Management is offered online, on-campus, or through a convenient blend of both. Findlay’s graduate-level classes prepare students for leadership positions in the environmental industry as well as advanced knowledge of science, engineering, environmental policy and business concepts.
Findlay’s curriculum emphasizes five key areas:
- Business knowledge
- Analytical skills
- Managerial skills
- Technical knowledge
- Integrative skills
Among Findlay’s students is a recent recipient of The Association of Environmental Health Academic Programs (AEHAP)’s Student of the Month, one of just nine in the country. Findlay’s program is one of just nine graduate degrees in the United States accredited by the Environmental Health Science and Protection Accreditation Council (EHAC).
University of Saint Francis
Saint Francis offers an online Master of Environmental Health program designed for individuals who wish to develop a stronger, broader foundation of knowledge in the field, or in the private or public sector. This program will appeal to students who are passionate about caring for the environment and want to better grasp how improved environmental health can benefit all of humanity.
MEH program addresses the major environmental needs of public and occupational health, hygiene, and safety in such areas as
- emergency response
- Homeland security
Saint Francis’s program also includes an introduction to techniques in risk assessment, exposure and communication, GPS/GIS, environmental sampling, and remediation. Courses are led by experience professionals in the field. Full-time students can complete their program in as little as 12 months, while part-time students can complete the program in two years.
Those who know online higher education will not be surprised that Arizona State, a leader in the industry, features a well-respected program in the environmental sciences. ASU offers an online Master of Science in Environmental Resource Management that can be completed with a thesis, an applied project, or coursework only with a comprehensive written exam at the end of the program.
ASU’s program boasts an extensive selection of courses, such as
- Soils and Groundwater Contamination
- Water/Wastewater Treatment Technologies
- Hazardous Waste Management
- Environmental Health
- Environmental Chemistry
- International Environmental Law and Policy
- International Environmental Management
- Sustainable Development
- Tribal Environmental and Natural Resources Management
Students in the M.S. in ERM degree can concentrate their studies in two focus areas: (1) Environmental management and (2) International environmental management and sustainable development. As of fall 2017, students can also concentrate in Water Management. Students often come to the program with a background in the sciences.
University of Houston-Clear Lake
University of Houston Clear Lake’s Master of Science in Environmental Science program is one of the most respected in the nation, with hundreds of its alumni holding leadership positions. The curriculum was developed with input from industry, government, consulting, and nonprofit organizations. Any undergraduate major can apply, though students from the sciences or engineering will be particularly well suited.
This academic-oriented program features the following five areas of concentration:
- Environmental Biology
- Environmental Geology
- Environmental Chemistry
- Industrial Hygiene
Students will also receive a thorough introduction to the business and legal frameworks in which environmental decisions are made, as well as compliance, sustainability, and risk minimization. This program will encourage students to preserve natural resources and biodiversity for sustainable development, and the control of biological, chemical and physical agents in the environment (air, water, soil and groundwater) to prevent adverse effects on humans and other living organisms.
Prescott College’s online master’s degree in environmental studies and sustainability will provide students with the opportunity to study the environment and the role of humans within it. Students will be able to work closely with a mentor in their area of interest. Unlike 100% online degrees, this online program is a limited-residency format that combines online classes, mentored studies, and in-person opportunities to connect with faculty and other students.
Prescott’s unique, holistic program offers equally unique courses, such as
- The Spiritual Components of Adventure and Environmental Education
- People and Nature: An Exploration of our Relationships with the Natural World
- Climate Justice and Climate Consequences
- Engaging in Place: An Active Introduction to Civic Ecology
- Worldviews and Sustainability
- Ecogender for the 21st Century
Prescott’s program emphasizes flexibility and the interests of each individual student. Students have the flexibility to study precisely what inspires them. Potential paths within environmental studies & sustainability include: conservation science, environmental education, social ecology, film studies, and sustainability science.
Montana State offers a specializes program in its online Master of Science in Land Resources and Environmental Sciences. It is designed to provide outstanding graduate training opportunities across a substantial breadth of disciplinary interests. Programs are specifically adapted to each graduate student and often address processes at multiple scales through well-integrated, multi-disciplinary efforts.
The extensive course options in Montana State’s program include
- Environmental Biophysics
- Chemical Ecology
- Ecology of Invasive Plants in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
- Landscape and Ecosystem Ecology
- Remote Sensing Applications in Environmental Science
- Ecology of Invasive Plants
- Toxicology: The Basic Science of Poisons
- Herbicide Physiology
Advanced coursework is determined by the interests of each individual student. Important topics in the program include watershed hydrology, integrated management of invasive plant species, soil nutrient management, land reclamation, restoration ecology, fluvial systems ecology and restoration, riparian ecology, microbial ecology of natural systems, chemical fate and transport, water quality, crop diversification, precision agriculture, environmental risk assessment, remote sensing and GIS applications, and climate variability.
Colorado State University Global
Graduates of Colorado State University Online’s Master of Natural Resource Stewardship is designed for professionals seeking the necessary skills and knowledge to advance in the field of natural resources. The program provides a broad education, with the opportunity to further specialize in one of three areas: Ecological Restoration, Forest Sciences, and Rangeland Ecology and Management.
Graduates of Colorado State’s program have become leaders in some of the country’s most influential organizations, including
- Forest Service
- Bureau of Land Management
- National Park Service
- Other state and federal agencies
Graduates of the program will be equipped as leaders with an understanding of the interconnectedness of natural resource management systems and how that lends itself to solving real-world problems. Coursework explores issues such as natural environmental processes and how they interact with human systems; degraded landscape restoration principles; and natural resource management systems and how various subsystems affect one another.
Green Mountain College’s distance Master of Science in Environmental Studies program is the only one of its kind in the nation, designed to help working professionals develop expertise in environmental issues and put that learning to work in their own communities. The program is fully accredited by the New England Association of Schools & Colleges (NEASC) and is one of the only of its kind in the nation.
Unlike other graduate programs, the GMC master’s degree combines the best of online learning with intensive locally applied experience, which it refers to as a “bioregional” approach to distance education. Students can concentrate in one of three areas:
- conservation biology
- writing and communication
Graduates of the program will become experts in their home regions and are encouraged to treat their home ecosystems as laboratories. The program also places a heavy emphasis on practical application and leadership skills. The program requires 36 credit hours.
University of Denver offers an online master’s program with a concentration in Environmental Policy. As the name suggests, students will gain insight to the legal and philosophical foundations of the environmental movement, the evolution of renewable and sustainable energy efforts, and how to analyze public policy both domestically and internationally.
Coursework in this specialized program include classes such as the following:
- Environmental Foundations and Principles
- Introduction to Ecology
- Environmental Project Management
- Global Environmental Law & Policy
- Sustainability: Policy & Practice
- Environmental Policy Analysis
- Environmental Values & Ethics
Students in Denver’s program will develop skills that will help them develop environmental policies that impact society. They will be well equipped to address the major environmental challenges of our time and learn how to conduct credible policy analysis, make sustainable decisions, and deliver visionary ideas for future success.
University of Maryland Global
University of Maryland-University College is no stranger to online higher education rankings, and its online Master of Science program in Environmental Management is no exception. Students will be prepared with the business management skills, industry-standard technology, and environmental science needed to assume high-level management responsibilities for environmental programs in a wide range of organizations.
Students will develop a wide range of competencies in the program including the ability to
- Analyze and communicate health, safety, and environmental risks
- Manage, plan, and conduct comprehensive environmental compliance, managerial, and liability audits
- Develop planning documents for watershed management and air quality programs
- Lead projects involving hazardous and municipal solid waste, pollution prevention techniques, and waste minimization
- Understand U.S. environmental and energy law and policy, including its development, implementation, and enforcement
The graduate program in environmental management will give students expert decision-making skills and practical experience in this widely applicable area of expertise. The curriculum for the program was designed with employers and industry experts. Students will gain real-world experience through interactions with actual organizations and use case studies to enhance their learning.
Virginia Tech’s online Master of Natural Resources program is designed for maximum flexibility. It is a 30-credit hour program that prepares students for careers in environmental sustainability. The program instills the conceptual and critical thinking skills necessary for lifelong learning and career development, and graduates are prepared to succeed on a truly global stage as natural resource, environmental, and sustainability professionals.
Examples of coursework in Virginia Tech’s program include
- Global Issues in Natural Resources
- Conservation Ecology
- International Environmental Law & Policy
- Landscape Systems & Strategies
One of the defining features of VT’s program is the International Field Experience (IFE) requirement, an interdisciplinary team project focused on strategies to advance sustainable development in rapidly urbanizing regions around the world. It is designed as a team-based, applied, interdisciplinary-experiential learning opportunity that includes ten days of fieldwork in one of six global locations: China, Croatia, India, Indonesia, Morocco, and South Africa.