Would you like to help solve important environmental issues? Earn one of the best PhDs in environmental science to make a difference.
Environmental scientists protect the planet and human health using their knowledge of the natural sciences. They may focus on climate change, waste management, land use, water, or wildlife. Whatever area of expertise you choose, you’ll find solutions to the critical issues facing our planet.
With a PhD in environmental science, you’ll open the door to a wide range of careers. You may work at a university, in a government position, or for a corporation. You can also work for a nongovernmental agency or become an entrepreneur. You’ll spend time in an office, laboratory, and/or out in the field gathering data and making observations.
If you’re passionate about the environment and want to make a difference, earning a PhD in environmental science is a great way to do it. In this guide, we’ll introduce you to seven excellent programs that can help you achieve your goals.
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What kind of PhD in environmental science should you get?
When pursuing a PhD, you should choose a program that’s strong in your preferred area of research. Some programs are tailored to specific interests and goals, while others will allow you to customize your plan of study. Read up on the program’s specialties and the expertise of program faculty.
You can earn a PhD in environmental science on campus or online. Some students enjoy learning in person, but online courses offer you the flexibility to work around your schedule. You can take online classes any time, anywhere. If you’re interested in earning an online degree, check out our list of the Best Online Colleges.
How much money do people make with a PhD in environmental science?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, environmental scientists earn a median salary of $71,130. However, your exact earnings will depend on the career path you choose, as well as your experience level. Having a Ph.D. in the field will also translate to higher earnings.
A few options include:
- Zoologist/wildlife biologist: $63,420
- Conservation scientist/forester: $61,340
- Professor: $78,470
- Environmental engineer: $87,620
- Geoscientist: $89,850
- Chief sustainability officer: $100,000
In addition, employment of environmental scientists is projected to grow by 11% over the next decade. This is faster than the average growth rate, which is only 8%. Increasing demands placed on the environment by population growth and growing public interest in environmental conservation are expected to spur this demand.
What can you do with a PhD in environmental science?
With a PhD in environmental science, you can work in academia, research, government, nongovernmental agencies, corporate, or entrepreneurial positions. You can focus on water issues, climate change, ecosystems, waste management, rural and urban land use, and much more.
You may work in an office, a laboratory, or a research university. You may work with major industries to reduce waste, or you may advise and influence policymakers. In addition to conducting your own research, you might help teach the next generation of environmental scientists. Whatever you do, you’ll be part of solving the pressing environmental challenges facing our planet.
What are the requirements for a PhD in environmental science?
In most PhD programs you can earn your master’s degree as you work toward PhD requirements. Others may expect you to already have a master’s degree when you apply. You’ll need to submit transcripts, test scores, and sometimes letters of recommendation, a resume, and a personal statement or writing sample.
Most of these programs take five to seven years to complete, including the master’s degree. You’ll take core coursework related to research, environmental issues, and various theories and methods. After establishing this foundation, you will declare a specialty and work with an advisor or committee to create your program of study. You’ll be required to write and defend a dissertation.
Additional requirements may include passing a comprehensive exam, undergoing annual performance reviews, gaining hands-on experience, and presenting your research at conferences and/or submitting it to scholarly journals for publication.
What are the best PhDs in environmental science?
To help you conserve your time and energy, we’ve put together a list of the seven best PhD.s in environmental science. These programs will give you the tools and knowledge you need to address key environmental issues. To create this list, we looked at tuition costs, school reputation, the overall return on investment, and accreditation.
All College Choice data comes from reliable sources like:
- Bureau of Labor Statistics
- U.S. News and World Report
- Princeton Review
- Official college and university websites and course catalogs
If you’re serious about addressing environmental issues, any one of these programs will give you the tools you need to start saving the planet.
Colorado State University
Greenwood Village, CO
Colorado State University in Fort Collins is a student-centered public research university focused on providing extensive opportunities, options, and resources. It’s located about an hour from Denver, at the base of the Rocky Mountains. The university’s 27,000+ students have access to some of the nation’s best mountains and outdoor recreation. They also have access to more than 250 academic programs. One option is a Ph.D. in Ecosystem Sustainability.
CSU’s Doctor of Philosophy in Ecosystem Sustainability aims to develop leaders, researchers, and decision-makers in sustainability science. Students examine the interactions within and between natural and human systems to gain an understanding of ecosystem function and change. They complete core coursework in biophysical and ecosystem science and applications to environmental issues. Research and a dissertation are also required. Courses include:
- Principles of Ecosystem Sustainability
- Current Topics in Climate Change
- Foundations for Carbon/Greenhouse Gas Management
- Foundations of Ecology
- Environmental Politics in the U.S.
Students work with some of the world’s top ecosystems and sustainability scientists to explore solutions to issues related to food supplies and water resources, climate change, energy, and environmental justice. Program graduates work in academia, government agencies, non-governmental agencies, and corporate and entrepreneurial settings.
A private Ivy League research university in Ithaca, New York, Cornell University is ranked No. 16 in the nation by U.S. News and World Report. It was founded in 1865 to provide students with a comprehensive and exceptional education. Cornell enrolls 23,600 students and emphasizes public engagement, diversity, and sustainability. The school encourages innovative thinking that sparks change on a global scale. Cornell offers a Ph.D. in Biological and Environmental Engineering.
Cornell’s Doctor of Philosophy in Biological and Environmental Engineering focuses on scholarly research. The department utilizes basic biological and environmental science to uncover solutions to issues involving public health, air, water, energy, and food. There is no fixed curriculum. Students design a program of study suited to their interests and goals. Degree requirements include:
- Coursework approved by a special committee of the student’s choosing
- Annual student progress reviews
- Comprehensive exam for admission to candidacy
- Exam based on the research in the student’s dissertation
All Ph.D. students receive full financial support, including health insurance, tuition, and a stipend. This support may come in the form of a research or teaching assistantship. Students have the opportunity to collaborate on interdisciplinary research across the university. The Ph.D. takes seven years to complete.
Located in Columbus, Ohio State University is the top-ranked university in the state. It’s also ranked among the Top 20 public universities nationally by U.S. News and World Report. OSU offers both high-quality academic programs and wide-ranging entertainment. Whether you’re interested in sports, art, history, or food, OSU has something for you. OSU’s 67,000 spirited students choose from more than 200 academic programs, such as a Ph.D. in Environmental Science.
In Ohio State’s Doctor of Philosophy in Environmental Science program, students start by completing core courses in the biological, physical, and social sciences. They then choose to specialize in General Study, Agroecosystems, Water Issues, or Climate Change. The program provides students with an understanding of the science behind key ecological problems, as well as the tools to contribute to the research and teaching that will help solve them. Research areas include:
- Air Quality
- Climate Change
- Forest Ecology
- Rural and Urban Land Use
Students are required to pass a candidacy examination as well as write and defend a dissertation. This interdisciplinary program provides students with opportunities for mentorship and research training from more than 100 faculty members across eight different colleges. Students also have access to OSU’s globally recognized research centers. The program generally takes four to six years.
Founded in 1891, Stanford University is now a renowned private research university in Stanford, California. It’s consistently ranked among the Top 10 universities nationwide by U.S. News and World Report. Stanford is best known for limitless opportunities, world-class faculty, innovation, and discovery. The university serves 16,424 students and provides over 90 graduate fields of study, including a Ph.D. in Environment and Resources.
Stanford’s Doctor of Philosophy in Environment and Resources equips students with the knowledge and tools to address society’s greatest environmental and resource challenges. Students take courses that introduce the theories, analytical tools, and methods needed for interdisciplinary research. They then develop expertise in two fields of inquiry, which will eventually be the basis for their dissertation. Core courses include:
- Introduction to Resource, Energy, and Environmental Economics
- Environmental Research Design Seminar
- Designing Environmental Research
- Research Approaches for Environmental Problem-Solving
- Earth Science Seminar
In addition to their fields of inquiry, students must develop a breadth of knowledge in topic areas such as natural science, engineering and technology, culture and institutions, and economics and policy analysis. Students engage in research and participate in a range of workshops, conferences, entrepreneurial ventures, policy-making proceedings, and other activities.
University of California-Berkeley
Ranked the best public school in the nation by U.S. News and World Report, the University of California-Berkeley is the flagship university of the University of California system. It’s commonly known as UC Berkeley and was founded in Berkeley, California in 1868. Despite serving a student population of 40,000, UC Berkeley boasts an 18:1 student-to-faculty ratio. It offers more than 350 programs, including a Ph.D. in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management.
The goal of Berkeley’s Doctor of Philosophy in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management is to provide in-depth knowledge and hands-on experience in cross-disciplinary problem-solving and communication. Students will finish three courses as well as additional classes in research skills, experiential breadth, and a chosen area of specialization. Examples of specializations include:
- Mediterranean grassland ecosystems
- American environmental history and policy
- Arthropod population and community ecology
- Ecosystem function
- Microbial community ecology
There are three emphases within the department: organisms and environment, society and the environment, and ecosystem sciences. The area of specialization is a narrower focus within these disciplines. Students work with a research mentor to select courses, conduct research projects that meet their goals and interests and personalize their training.
Located in Iowa City, the University of Iowa is the state’s oldest and second largest university. The public university was founded in 1847 and currently serves nearly 33,000 students. U.S. News and World Report ranked the University of Iowa at No. 38 in the nation and among the top 200 universities worldwide. UI students choose from more than 200 academic programs at every level, including a Ph.D. in Geoscience.
UI’s Department of Earth and Environmental Science offers a Doctor of Philosophy in Geoscience. The program trains students to become independent teachers and/or researchers with expertise in a specialty area of geoscience. Students attend seminars, complete coursework and research, defend a dissertation, and take a comprehensive exam. You’ll take courses like:
- Geoscience Seminar Series
- Paleontology Seminar
- Geoscience Research
- Interdisciplinary Environmental Seminar
Before defending their dissertation, students are also required to submit a paper on the results of their graduate research to an approved journal or publication outlet. In addition, they are required to complete a one-hour public presentation related to their dissertation. The Ph.D. program requires a minimum of 72 credit hours.
University of Maryland Eastern Shore
Princess Anne, MD
The University of Maryland Eastern Shore is a public historically black college located on 745 acres in Princess Anne, Maryland. UMES provides students with a holistic learning environment committed to multicultural diversity, intellectual and social growth, and academic success. The university has a wide range of student organizations and events and is a short drive from Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. UMES enrolls about 4,000 students. The school offers a Ph.D. in Marine Estuarine Environmental Sciences.
Students in the Marine Estuarine Environmental Sciences program are trained to apply scientific knowledge, integrate ideas, and conduct research to solve vital environmental problems. Solutions to environmental issues are interdisciplinary, and so is this comprehensive degree program. Students complete foundation and professional development courses, develop an individualized plan of study, and participate in issue study groups. Additional requirements include:
- Annual committee report
- Minimum of 36 credits
- Research proposal
- Comprehensive examination
- Dissertation and dissertation defense
The curriculum, split into 24 credits of coursework and 12 credits of dissertation research, is designed around four foundational areas: Environment and Society, Earth and Ocean Sciences, Ecological Systems, and Environmental Molecular Science and Technology. Students benefit from the full breadth of environmental science programs at partner campuses in the University System of Maryland, from molecular ecology to the social sciences.