The field of environmental science seeks to limit the negative effects of humans on the natural world. Drawing from a wide range of disciplines, environmental scientists help policymakers understand and regulate anthropogenic impacts. Combining geography, chemistry, biology, and economics, environmental professionals mitigate the most deleterious effects of human development and inspire others to preserve and protect our most important natural resources.

Online master’s degree programs in environmental science prepare graduates for careers in research labs, environmental firms, and non-governmental organizations. The typical master’s degree in environmental science program takes two years to complete. Most programs require course work in geography, geology, ecology, and economics. Many programs require either a final project or completion of a master’s thesis. The best programs place students in internships prior to graduation.

Why a Master’s Degree in Environmental Science?

According to a 2012 report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), people with master’s degrees earn nearly 20% more than their neighbors with bachelor’s degrees; in fact, although the unemployment rate for bachelor’s degree holders in 2012 was 4.5%, for those with master’s degrees, it was merely 3.5%. In a recent study by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, it was found that the more education a person had, the more he earned; over a lifetimes, a person with a master’s degree will earn at least 15% more than those who stopped their education with a bachelor degree.

Getting Into an Environmental Science Master’s Degree Program

Master’s degree programs in environmental science have varying prerequisites; however, most share the following basic requirements:

  • Graduation from an accredited undergraduate program
  • Sufficient grade point average (GPA) – typically at least 3.0
  • Sufficient Graduate Record Examination (GRE) score
  • Prior course work in biology, chemistry, ecology, and/or political science is frequently recommended

Inside an Environmental Science Master’s Degree Program

Environmental science master’s online degree programs are usually rigorous. Core courses in environmental science, sampling and analysis, policy-making, and law are nearly universally required. Depending on the program and the student’s chosen specialty, classes in biology, chemistry, geographic information systems (GIS), land use, waste management, and public administration may also be required. Most programs typically require at least one class each in both wildlife and plant ecology.

Graduate students in environmental sciences should expect to become proficient with research. Typically, both quantitative and qualitative methods will be covered. Many programs get students out of the classroom with instruction on field research and sampling. Students should expect to demonstrate mastery of at least one research method either in a final project or master’s thesis, depending on the program.

What’s Next for Environmental Science Master’s Degree Holders?

Graduates with degrees in environmental science have a variety of employment options. Those who work as environmental scientists earn median annual salaries of $61,700. Ecologists and wildlife biologists expect similar wages, as do foresters and conservationists. Those who find work as policy analysts can expect even greater earnings; according to the BLS, their median salary is $107,420.

Many graduates of environmental science master degree programs choose to continue their education. According to the Georgetown University study, people with doctoral degrees earn $400,000 more over their lifetimes than their colleagues with master’s degrees. With the Ph.D. in hand, these graduates can take positions of even greater responsibility in government and industry. In addition, with the advanced degree, they are better able to publish their unique research in scholarly journals and teach at colleges and universities; according to the BLS, post secondary educators can expect their field to grow by 17% through 2020, and to earn a median salary of $62,050.