Environmental Science Degree Guide

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Climate change and sustainability are two major issues that topics of hot debate in our nation. A degree in environmental science prepares students to address these problems.

Environmental Science is an interdisciplinary degree that combines knowledge from the fields of biology, physical science, chemistry, physics, geology, biotechnology, etc. Because many programs tend to focus on social sciences, students will understand beyond just the technical skills of the field and be able to understand the industry from a well-rounded angle.

Master’s in Environmental Science build on knowledge from the bachelor’s level and take on a more research-centered approach. Most programs can be completed within two to three years and require a thesis, but others are allowed to graduate by having enough hands-on experience within the field.

Many students will be able to take a variety of coursework related to the environment, as well as electives that may deal with the legality of environmental policies, management, etc.

What kind of Environmental Science degree should you get?

Most people who are pursuing an Environmental Science degree can choose to either get a Master of Science (MS) or Master of Arts (MA) degree. While both cover generally the same things, the MS takes on a more scientific approach while the MA is slightly more interdisciplinary.

Students should also be aware if the program they are interested in has concentrations available so that they can further specialize in an area they find interesting. In addition, some programs offer Master’s in Environmental Science Management, which is ideal for those who specifically wish to work on the corporate side of things.

Online Master’s in Environmental Science degrees are perfect for those who are already working professionals.

While some universities offer programs that are completely online, others follow a hybrid system and require students to take some classes on campus. Within the fully online classes, some are asynchronous while others are synchronous.

Asynchronous classes allow students to complete their classwork, lectures, and tests at any time within a certain deadline. In contrast, synchronous classes require students to log in at a specific time. Students should check the class times and find a program that fits within their schedule.

If you're interested in online programs, take a look at our Most Affordable Online Graduate Programs.

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Top 10 Most Affordable Master's in Environmental Science Degrees

#1 University of Illinois-Springfield Springfield, IL
#2 University of Houston-Clear Lake Houston, TX
#3 University of Maryland-University College Adelphi, MD
#4 University of Wisconsin - Whitewater Whitewater, WI
#5 Arizona State University Tempe, AZ
#6 Montana State University Billings, MT
#7 University of Arkansas Fayetteville, AR
#8 University of Wisconsin - Madison Madison, WI
#9 University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign Champaign, IL
#10 University of Saint Francis Fort Wayne, IN

How much money do people make with a degree in Environmental Science?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of environmental scientists and specialists can expect to experience a growth of 11 percent between 2012 and 2026. In 2016, the median pay for these careers was $68,910 or about $33.13 per hour.

Specifically, those who worked in the federal government in this field made had the highest median annual wage of $100,700, compared to management or consulting services, engineering firms, etc. whose salaries were in the $60k range.

Outpatient care centers, petroleum and coal products manufacturers, and oil and gas extractors are some of the highest-paying industries in the field that offer salaries that are six figures. In addition, the most popular cities for this career are Washington D.C., Denver, Houston, Seattle, and Boston.

What can you do with a degree in Environmental Science?

Due to the fact that Environmental Science is a generalist degree, graduates will have the opportunity to enter into a wide variety of careers not just in sustainability or science, but also in urban planning, education, and resource management.

Common everyday tasks of an environmental scientist include research, data collection, problem-solving, presentations, and policymaking. Typical employers include government agencies, private companies, technical consulting services, laboratories, etc.

The top five common careers for this major are Environmental Scientist, Environmental Engineer, Environmental Lawyer, Environmental Biologist, and Environmental Geologist. However, other careers that you might not immediately associate with Environmental Science are popular careers among graduates. For instance, air quality engineers, field supervisor, federal policy director, research economist, etc. are all related jobs that use skills that are taught in Environmental Science programs.

What are the requirements for a degree in Environmental Science?

Ideal candidates for a master’s in Environmental Science will have a bachelor’s in a related field from an accredited institution with a GPA of at least 3.00 on a 4.00 scale. Some programs will also want to see a completion of a 300-level or higher environmental lab with a grade of B or higher.

Most programs will also require applicants to send in their Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores. In contrast, management-focused programs would prefer it if students sent in their Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) scores, but some programs will accept the GRE.

In cases where the applicant has an unrelated bachelor’s degree or has not taken the GRE, they may be able to still enter into the program if they have significant work experience within the environmental field. Students may also be required to take a few extra classes in order to graduate if they fall into this category.

What are the most affordable online master’s in Environmental Science?

College Choice has compiled the 10 Most Affordable Online Master’s in Environmental Science degree programs. These rankings were based on the average net price you’ll for these programs, though we also considered regional accreditation, in order to make sure we were only showing you the best programs in the nation.

All data was collected from a variety of sources such as the National Center for Education Statistics’ IPEDS database, PayScale, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the U.S. News & World Report, and individual colleges’ websites.


See our rankings methodology page.

  1. University of Illinois-Springfield

    Springfield, IL




    Originally opened as Sangmon State University until 1995 when it became part of the University of Illinois system, the University of Illinois at Springfield has always valued higher education as a means to engage with different issues in the world. With about 5,000 students enrolled yearly, UIS offers both online and in-person bachelor’s and master’s degrees, as well as one doctoral program. The U.S. News & World Report lists UIS among the top 15 public regional universities in the Midwest.

    Program Features

    UIS’s online MS in Environmental Science or MA in Environmental Studies teach students the value of environmental systems and their social and economic impact.

    • MA Concentrations: Sustainable Development and Policy, Environmental Planning and Management, Environmental Humanities
    • Sample Courses: Environmental Justice in America, Global Change in Local Places, Foundations of Environmental Policy, Environmental Law, etc.
    • Thesis, project, or Capstone Closure options available to graduate


    An MS degree is desirable for those who wish to focus more on the scientific theories regarding environmental realities, while an MA degree is ideal for those who wish to integrate issues of social justice with environmental development.

  2. University of Houston-Clear Lake

    Houston, TX




    The University of Houston-Clear Lake is a beautiful 524-acre campus that had its first classes beginning in 1974. The College of Science and Engineering, which houses its online Environmental Science programs, was created to meet the educational needs of NASA workers. Today the college works will top research institutes to provide exceptional opportunities for its students. UHCL is also a top 50 Best Value School for Regional Universities West by the U.S. News & World Report.

    Program Features

    UHCL’s online MS in Environmental Management provides the basics of understanding environmental decisions through a business and legal framework.

    • As much as 80% of coursework can be taken online
    • Minimum 36-hour credit program
    • Sample Courses: Pollution Control Technology, Survey of Business Principles, Leading Technology, International Management, etc.


    Because this is a hybrid degree, working professionals still have the option of taking classes on their own time while still maintain that face-to-face connection with peers and faculty. Non-online courses only meet once a week from 7 to 10PM typically.

  3. University of Maryland-University College

    Adelphi, MD




    The University of Maryland-University College is dedicated to educating busy professionals primarily through an online learning environment. Established in 1947, UMUC has the mission of improving the lives of adult learners by not only providing high-quality, affordable education, but also reaching out to military and veterans. UMUC has also repeatedly been recognized for its amazing online, affordable programs, having been ranked the fourth best affordable online college by Best Value Schools in 2014.

    Program Features

    UMUC’s online MS in Environmental Management combines the disciplines of business, technology, and science to prepare graduates to become leaders in environmental change.

    • 36-credit online or hybrid program available
    • Sample Courses: Environmental Risk Assessment, Land Use Management, Environmental Auditing, etc.
    • Over $6 million awarded yearly by the university for financial aid


    This program is specifically focused on career readiness and real-world skills. Possible careers upon graduation include sustainability management, environmental policy analyst, etc.

  4. University of Wisconsin - Whitewater

    Whitewater, WI




    The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater is a four-year residential college located on a beautiful 400-acre southeastern Wisconsin campus. Founded in 1868, the school has over 12,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Its thriving campus allows students to join its various campus organizations and sports teams. For the year of 2018, the U.S. News & World Report ranks UW-Whitewater as the 10th top public school in the nation.

    Program Features

    UW-Whitewater’s online MS in Environmental Safety and Health intertwines business practices with environmental studies.

    • Classes in sequential 8-week sessions
    • Estimated completion time: 2 years
    • 30-credit program
    • Sample Courses: Environmental Safety & Health Law, Advanced Topics in Industrial Hygiene, System Safety Analysis, etc.


    All professors of this program, in addition to holding a related doctoral degree, hold at least one professional certification such as Registered Health Specialist/Sanitarian or Professional Engineer (PE).

  5. Arizona State University

    Tempe, AZ




    Arizona State University, originally founded as the Territorial Normal School, was the state’s first higher education institution. As a large public research university, ASU continues to be recognized as the most innovative university in the nation according to the U.S. News & World Report. ASU was also mentioned in the Princeton Review for having the best return on tuition.

    Program Features

    ASU’s online MS in Environmental and Resource Management is ideal for working professionals who wish to gain a strong scientific understanding of the industry.

    • Estimated completion time: 2 years
    • Focus Areas: Environmental Management and International Environmental Management & Sustainable Development
    • 4+1 accelerated degree option available


    Students will pursue classes in a variety of areas such as environmental health, sustainable development, industrial hygiene, air pollution, etc. There is also a Water Management Concentration option.

  6. Montana State University

    Billings, MT




    Montana State University is the state’s largest university, located in the city of Bozeman, known for its many outdoor recreational activities. As a top research university, MSU is among the top three percent of universities in the nation for research expenditure, exceeding $100 million annually. MSU’s enrollment is currently over 16,000 both at the undergraduate and graduate level.

    Program Features

    MSU’s online MS in Land Resources and Environmental Sciences is an interdisciplinary program that teaches students the various sides of the industry, as well as opportunities to learn about management.

    • 30-credit program
    • Estimated completion time: 2 years
    • Sample Courses: Integrated Pest Management, Water Quality, Chemical Ecology, Holistic Thought and Management, etc.


    In order to graduate, students are required to write a professional paper that can cover a wide variety of topics. Some past topics include biodiversity modeling, land reclamation, crop diversification, etc.

  7. University of Arkansas

    Fayetteville, AR




    The University of Arkansas was founded in 1871 and lived through the rough times of the Civil War, serving as a place that allowed political and military rivals to come together. Today the university is a public, doctoral research university located on a beautiful campus in Fayetteville. Its diverse student body of over 27,000 come from all 50 states and 120 countries around the world. U of A is currently ranked fifth in Kiplinger’s “25 Best College Values Under $30,000 a Year.”

    Program Features

    U of A’s online MS in Human Environmental Sciences focuses on understanding the basics of life through a scientific approach.

    • 33 credit-hour program
    • Estimated completion time: 2 years
    • Concentrations: Apparel Merchandising and Product Development, Human Development and Family Sciences, and General Human Environmental Sciences


    This program is accredited by the American Association of Family and Consumer Sciences. Graduates will be prepared to enter into a variety of careers upon graduation.

  8. University of Wisconsin - Madison

    Madison, WI




    The University of Wisconsin-Madison is a large public research university that was founded in 1848 with an annual research expenditure of over $1.2 billion. It was founded under the principle that they should aim to improve the lives of people beyond just the classroom. UW not only had the sixth highest research expenditure among universities in 2016, but also is ranked 11 among Kiplinger’s 2017 Best College Value list among public universities.

    Program Features

    UW’s online MS in Sustainable Management focuses on sustainability and environmental issues. This professionally-focused program is great for those who wish to hold a high management or leadership program within the field.

    • 34-credit program
    • Sample Courses: Economics of Sustainability, Leading Sustainable Organizations, Supply Chain Management, Corporate Social Responsibility, etc.
    • Scholarships specifically for Sustainable Management available


    According to the McKinsey Global Institute, 43 percent of executives stated that they plan on aligning their overall business goals with sustainable ideas. Some future fields include building design, recycling, waste elimination, etc.

  9. University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign

    Champaign, IL




    The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is the 14th ranked public university in the country. Founded in 1867, the university was established after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Morrill Act in 1862. Today the university has 15 colleges and over 45,000 undergraduate and graduate students enrolled. UIUC’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences provides students with innovative research and hands-on experience opportunities for them to gain understanding of the field beforehand.

    Program Features

    UIUC’s online MS in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences is a rigorous program that exposes students to the everyday challenges of the sustainability industry.

    • 32-credit program; thesis and non-thesis options available
    • Sample Courses: Forest Biology, Nature and American Culture, Soil and Water Conservation, Principles of Applied Ecology, etc.
    • Synchronous class settings with live lectures, group discussion, quizzes, etc.


    Financial aid and departmental scholarships are available. In addition, students are able to register for courses before they apply for admission into the college, allowing them to test out the program first before financially committing.

  10. University of Saint Francis

    Fort Wayne, IN




    The University of Saint Francis is a Catholic, Franciscan-sponsored liberal arts school located in Fort Wayne, Indiana. With over 125 years of history, USF strongly rooted faith traditions intertwines with its academic excellence in its goal of pursuing service, peace, justice, and respect for all. USF is currently ranked as the 40th school in the nation for the “Best Bang for Your Buck” according to the Washington Monthly. It also ranks 5th for earning potential among all Indiana schools.

    Program Features

    USF’s online Master of Environmental Health (MEH) degree program addresses the major issues in the field of environmental change. Students will learn how to assess risk, problem solve, and increase in technological competence.

    • Estimated completion time: 12 months full-time, 24 months part-time
    • 8-week courses
    • Sample Topics: epidemiology, toxicology, pollution, emergency response, etc.


    The MEH program is located in the Keith Busse School of Business and Entrepreneurial Leadership. As a result, students will not only learn the technical side of the field, but also the managerial side.

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