What is the Wage Potential with a Degree in Environmental Science?

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A March 2019, an online article in Bloomberg posted the Walt Disney Company had cut their CEO’s salary by 28%. No one relishes wage reduction; however, in this case, the resulting wage for the CEO is now only $35 million. A career in environmental science will not take you into this stratospheric income. Instead, you will have the satisfaction of doing something beneficial for the environment, with less stress, fewer hours, and working in a field, for which you have a passion.

Several factors affect wage potential in most professions. The level of your college degree, certifications, geographics, type of work, and business sector you work have a bearing on salary.

You may find employment with a bachelor’s degree. According to the U.S. Bureau of Statistics (BLS), the median wage for Environmental Scientists and Specialists is $69,400 per year or $33.37 per hour as of May 2017. The BLS expects the job growth to be 11% or the addition of 9,900 jobs through 2026. The percentage is encouraging for prospective scientists.

Geographically, the wage potential is higher in California, per the BLS. The annual mean wage in the state is $87,890. They also employ the highest number of environmental scientists with 12,820 (May 2017). This figure is more than double for the second place, Florida, which has 5,240. Third place is Texas that has 4,260 working in the profession, and it has a median wage almost equal to California at $87,070. Texas, depending on location, may have a lower cost of living than the west coast.

The District of Columbia and Alaska employ fewer, 1,400, and 620 respectively. However, their wages are superior to all other states. DC and Alaska have annual mean salaries of $115,560 and $90,160 respectively. The former concentrates environmental jobs in the Arlington-Alexandria-DC metropolitan areas. At these locales, the average income is $107,140. This wage is slightly below the highest paying city in California: Santa Rosa. Its median salary is $105,790 (BLS May 2017).

The geographical variance in wages does not reflect on the nature or importance of the work. The higher cost of living, particularly in rents and house prices affect your earnings. A lower income may go further where there is less expensive real estate.

College curricula for a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science focus on the natural sciences. These sciences include geology, physics, chemistry, and biology. The typical program incorporates these subjects. You can use your scientific knowledge to pursue a career as a Natural Sciences Manager. According to the BLS, an entry-level job in the profession requires a bachelor’s degree. You can magnify the chances of employment with a master’s degree.

The job description of a natural sciences manager entails directing scientific research and development. You could parlay your degree in environmental science or related scientific discipline, such as biology or microbiology into this profession. The wage potential is better than environmental scientists. According to the BLS, Natural Sciences Managers had a median pay of $118,970 with a bachelor’s degree (May 2017 data).

The BLS states that the majority of natural sciences managers work in Scientific Research and Development Services. Their data show that there are 16,440 professionals in the category above with an annual mean wage of $161,710. Other jobs are available in federal agencies, pharmaceutical companies, and state government, excluding schools. The highest salary potential exists in the Grantmaking and Giving Services industry at $208,720. Unfortunately, the group only has 170 employees per the BLS.


Professional certifications are not a substitute for a degree and experience. They are a means to enhance your credentials and possibly job prospects and salary.

The National Registry of Environmental Professionals (NREP) offers numerous certifications. The requirements differ by degree and years of experience. The entry-level certification is the Associate Environmental Professional. You can apply for it after one year in a bachelor’s program in an environmental field.

After three years of experience, you can sit for the Certified Environmental Scientist exam. There is an application fee ($100), an E-Book (study materials of $125), and an exam fee ($200). The exam of 100 questions covers chemistry, physics, zoology, earth science, biology, meteorology, and environmental health. A passing grade is 75%. To maintain your annual certification, you must take continuing education for recertification.

Another organization offering certification is the American Academy of Environmental Engineers & Scientists (AAEES). You can become a Board Certified Environmental Scientist (BCES) once you meet the minimum qualifications. You must work full-time in the field of environmental science and have a degree in this discipline or related science. The AAESCB will also determine if you possess a high standard of ethics as a professional scientist.

You do need at least eight years of work experience with a baccalaureate degree. Also, you must have a minimum of four years in a management or supervisory position. Individuals with a master’s or Ph.D. may subtract 1.5 years from the required experience.

The AAEES encourages college students to enroll in their free membership. Your membership may indirectly boost your wage potential by networking with other Academy members. You also receive a digital subscription to Environmental Engineer and Scientist.

Additional Resources

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