If you have a passion for the environment, any accredited degree program in the field of environmental engineering could help you get a good job. Your career prospects depend on which degree level you complete. An associate’s degree can prepare you for a good job as an environmental engineering technician, while you will need a bachelor’s degree to become an engineer or an advanced degree for certain roles with more extensive responsibilities.
Associate’s Degrees in Environmental Engineering Technology
If you’re not committed to becoming a full-fledged engineer, then choosing an associate’s degree in environmental engineering technology could be the right choice for you. Environmental engineering technicians work alongside environmental engineers, assisting them with implementing plans to preserve and clean up the environment. An environmental engineer might collect samples of air, soil and water to test for quality and for pollution. He or she might work with the equipment used to cleaning polluted resources and coordinate the safe disposal of potentially hazardous waste materials.
Nearly one quarter of the 17,000 environmental engineering technicians working in America worked for scientific and technical consulting services, while almost as many work in engineering services, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Other environmental engineering technicians find work in government entities, waste management services and manufacturing. Environmental engineering technicians earn a median annual wage of $50,230, but those working in manufacturing and the government can earn considerably more ($58,420 and $57,310, respectively).
An associate’s degree program in environmental engineering technology takes two years of full-time study. Students typically take courses in chemistry, biology, math, environmental assessment and hazardous waste management, the BLS reported. Both vocational-technical schools and community colleges offer these degree programs, which are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).
Environmental engineering technology is a rapidly growing field, with the BLS predicting a faster than average 13 percent increase in job opportunities over just a decade
The Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Engineering
To be qualified as an engineer, you need a bachelor’s degree. Accredited bachelor’s degree programs in environmental engineering include coursework in earth science, biology, chemistry, calculus-based physics, differential equations, probability and statistics and fluid mechanics. A bachelor’s degree program in environmental engineering typically takes four years to complete, though it can take longer if students choose to gain hands-on work experience through a cooperative engineering program, or co-op.
Once you earn a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering, you will have the skills you need to conduct laboratory research on environmental specimens and develop sustainable systems used to help the environment. New environmental engineers begin working in entry-level positions, for which the median starting salary is $59,133, and work their way up to more challenging projects and job responsibilities, the BLS reported. With a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering, you could get a good job and have a successful engineering career without ever going back to school.
As environmental engineers gain more experience and more extensive job duties, they also improve their earning potential. The median salary among all environmental engineers is $86,800.
Environmental Engineering Master’s Degrees and Beyond
If you can do so much with a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering, you might wonder if graduate school is even worthwhile. When do you need a graduate degree in environmental engineering? Though four-year degrees are the minimum education requirement needed to start working as an environmental engineer, a master’s degree has historically been the most significant source of education for environmental engineers, the BLS reported.
There are several reasons an environmental engineer might choose to go to graduate school. The job outlook is more favorable for candidates with a master’s degree, particularly among large and competitive firms, according to the BLS. Some roles, including university instructor and academic or advanced researcher, require graduate or doctoral degrees. Advancing your education may also help you secure a promotion to a management position. Engineering degrees at both the master’s and doctoral levels are available in professional and research-based tracks. You might choose a professional graduate degree if you simply want to expand your technical skills or lead an engineering team, while interests in academia and advanced research might warrant the pursuit of a Ph.D.
Because the goals and curricula of master’s and doctoral programs, as well as professional and research programs, are so different, students should think carefully about choosing a graduate school program.