Individuals considering a career in the field of environmental science must have a penchant for and an aptitude for a variety of sciences. At the undergraduate level, your coursework will include biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, geography, and geology. Your studies may also include botany, ecology, hydrology, and zoology. You may find, in addition, that the curriculum embraces the political and social implications associated with environmental issues. Depending on the school, there can be fieldwork involving the analysis of water and soil conditions, coastal erosion, wildfires, and climatic influences.
Scientifically-minded students can begin their ascension to a career in environmental science in high school. Here, you should take classes in as many sciences as your school offers. Your secondary school education in biology, chemistry, physics, and math will provide a foundation for the more advanced courses in college.
As a high school student, assuming you match the criteria of excelling in the sciences, being analytical, and are environmentally conscious, you wonder if this is a good career. “Good,” meaning one in which the job growth and opportunities do not leave you regretting the choice. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for the occupation of Environmental Scientists and Specialists is above average. Nationally, the BLS reports that 9,900 jobs will change over ten years from 2016 to 2026. This number represents an 11% increase from 89,500 jobs as of 2016. Another favorable piece of information, per the BLS, is the median pay of $69,400 per year with a bachelor’s degree.
The data for specific states reveals that there are several whose job growth is well beyond the national figure of 11%. Colorado and Washington project a 24% increase or the addition of 430 and 420 jobs annually. California expects its job market for environmental scientists to increase by 12% or 1,630 job openings annually from 2016 to 2026.
When considering a college program, you want to narrow the search to schools accredited by the National Environment Health Science & Protection Accreditation Council (EHAC). One of the criteria for accreditation is that the respective school must have courses in biology, chemistry, physics, and geology. Other qualifications include instruction in written and oral communication, technical writing, mathematics, and the social sciences. The EHAC offers a directory of schools in the U.S. Included on the list for each is the school’s current accredited term, and when the institution obtained this credential.
As the organization’s name implies, most of the programs refer to Environmental Health. However, the majority of the coursework mirrors that which you find in the typical environmental science curriculum. It isn’t imperative that you limit your search to schools on the EHAC list.
Although a bachelor’s degree will provide job placement, a graduate degree will further the employment prospects. At this level, there are areas of specialization where you can hone your skills. Keep in mind that you generally require a bachelor’s degree in a related discipline, for examples, biology, chemistry, environmental science, geology, or ecology.
Even with a graduate degree, your job offers may only be at the entry-level. However, they may be more plentiful. Another advantage is the ability to tailor the concentration to your career aspirations. If you see a career in the public sector, you could opt for a focus on public policy, regulations, law, and the political issues affecting environmental endeavors. In the arena of public policy, this is a Master of Science in Environmental Sciences and Policy.
Some schools have research-oriented programs that take you into the field. Examples of courses in this type of curriculum are ecology, ornithology (the study of birds), limnology (the study of aquatic life), herpetology (the study of reptiles), and restoration biology. One example is Tarleton University, which collaborates with the Texas Institute for Applied Environmental Research (TIAER).
How advantageous is a Ph.D.? There are factors to consider before making the monumental decision to begin a doctoral program. First, it may take you four to six years. Secondly, it can be expensive. Naturally, the cost varies by school. The University of North Carolina-Chapel Hills averages $24,837 for in-state residents. The cost doubles for out-of-state students. Online programs can be considerably less-depending on the specialty.
Most doctoral candidates are in research or academia at the university/college level. If either of these is not in your career plans, a master’s degree will suffice in most instances. The time and money spent on a Ph.D. program may be better used to gain experience. In today’s job market, the experience can offset a doctorate. There is the possibility that you earn a Ph.D. while researching while in the employ of a company or institution that may provide financial assistance.
The requirement is the minimum of a bachelor’s degree for a career in environmental science. Towards your final year, you can decide on a master’s program. By this time, you should speak to people working in this field. Their advice should furnish a glimpse into the potentialities, which will provide an answer as to how advanced a degree you need.