Environmental Science degrees are becoming increasingly popular as colleges and universities add them to their offerings. Although a Bachelor’s in Environmental Science is great for many applications, pursuing graduate school may open up more professional opportunities. When considering graduate school, thought should be given to choosing a Master’s program in your area of most interest, the time and money commitments, and career post-schooling should be considered.
The job market is projected to grow at an average rate of 11% according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) with a Bachelor’s degree. The median salary is $67,460 in 2015 per the BLS. Therefore, the job prospects and the salary are above average nationally. According to the U.S. Social Security Administration, the national average wage index in 2014 was $46,481.52. For many soon-to-be graduates with a Bachelor’s degree, these figures may convince you that enough time, money, and debt has been expended and incurred. You can always pursue an online Master’s program later at an accredited school, if that is your desire.
Another website, PayScale.com lists numerous occupations and they report the national average of an Environmental Scientist at $49,000. Those with experience are on average paid 32% more than the national average. Most of the job postings indicate a Bachelor’s degree is sufficient unless the position entails a research facility-this typically requires a master’s. Hence, regarding median income, there appears to be no difference between the two degrees.
At the Bachelor’s level, courses are taken in physics, biology, chemistry, mathematics, statistics, economics, and geography. The student will typically take electives within their specialization, focusing on a select topic within the environmental science sphere. Elective courses often become more theoretical, project-based, or applied in nature. It’s not uncommon for students to conduct research projects over the summer, or complete an honors thesis their senior year. Some schools offer a Bachelor of Science, others offer a Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Science. Florida State University is one example; the difference between the two degrees is in the level of advancement of math classes require.
At the Master’s level, the environmental science degrees take on a much more research-focused direction. Master of Science programs still require students to take full course-loads each semester, but one or two classes may be fulfilled with an “independent research seminar” in which the student devotes time towards their research project. Most significantly, the M.S. in environmental science requires the completion of a thesis, which is often a significant piece of original, independent research that is published by the student at the end of their program.
The total credits required for graduation with a Master’s degree varies considerably from school to school. For example, The Evergreen State College, in Olympia, Washington, offers a 72 credit Master of Environmental Studies (MES). This degree can be completed within two years for full-time on-campus students. One online consideration is University of Illinois Springfield that offers a Master of Science in Environmental Sciences in a fully online format. Their Master of Science and Master of Arts in Environmental Studies requires a minimum of 40 credit hours.
Obviously, a major difference will be the additional cost to extend your education. The University of Illinois, mentioned above, charges $362.25 per credit hour for their online graduate programs. This may add another $26,000 to your undergraduate college debt.
These are the primary differences (and not) when contemplating the next step in your education. If you’ve decided to postpone a graduate degree, it’s worth joining organizations, such as The National Association of Environmental Professionals. It is open to individuals who have earned an undergraduate or graduate degree and have at least three years work experience in the environmental field. The General Membership fee is $175/year which makes you eligible to vote and to hold office. Membership in professional organizations and experience may make more of a difference in the advancement of your career than a higher education.