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Environmental Science Major Overview

Have a love for nature, or want to help save the environment? Well, if either of these descriptions fit you, you might want to consider majoring in environmental science. It’s a great opportunity to not only study the physical sciences, but also the behavioral sciences and subjects like zoology and geology. 

But those are just the basics. If you’d like to learn more about the major (and what you can do with a degree in it), keep on reading!

What is an Environmental Science major?

An environmental science major combines and studies a variety of complex topics, including (but not limited to) the physical sciences, earth sciences, and even the social sciences (law and economics). As a result, if you decide to major in environmental science, you’ll likely find yourself taking classes all across campus, in different departments and perhaps even different colleges (within the same university). 

Not only is the field considered interdisciplinary (in that it combines different fields and topics), but it is also generalist, providing students with a skill set that is useful in many situations (and in many different professions)! Ultimately, since environmental science requires students to try so many new things, those looking to major in it should be open-minded and excited to tackle new challenges. So, if that sounds like you, or you perhaps want to use your knowledge of many fields to help save the environment, this may be a great major for you! Before you make any decisions, though, learn about the typical coursework for the major.

Coursework to expect

As mentioned before, environmental science covers a huge variety of topics, compiling all types of  information to study how humans and animals impact the environment, each other, and themselves. That sounds like it could cover a wide variety of topics, right? That’s because it does!

So, if you decide to pursue an environmental science major, here are just some of the courses and topics you may cover:

  • Anthropology
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Conservation
  • Ecology
  • Economics
  • Forestry
  • Geoscience
  • Law
  • Mathematics
  • Sociology
  • Toxicology

Keep in mind that these are all courses that you may cover, not that you must. As with any major, all universities will have slightly different requirements for graduation. However, the list above should give you a good idea of the topics that environmental science entails. 

If you choose to pursue an environmental science major, you will likely start off very general, learning just a little about each topic. However, as you get further into your degree, you will likely start to specialize in a specific area based on your interests. It is quite common for majors to finish off their degree with field research or year-long projects focused on a specific part of their field. This specialization continues if students decide to pursue graduate school, with students becoming experts in their fields.

Opportunities after graduation

So, what can you do after you receive your degree? Great question!

Those with environmental science degrees are in high demand for a wide variety of jobs, from cartographers to firefighters for the Bureau of Land Management. For now, here’s just a few of the many jobs you can land with a degree in environmental science:

  • Environmental Scientist
  • Environmental Consultant
  • Sustainability Specialist
  • Policy Analyst
  • Fish and Wildlife Management
  • Geoscientist

If none of these professions seems to cater to your interests, don’t worry – this is not a complete list of relevant positions! Those with environmental science degrees work in a wide variety of jobs and places, including government agencies, manufacturing companies, conservatories, zoos, and more. Alternatively, if you’re thinking of pursuing another field after graduation, you can do that too!

Since this major encompasses a large variety of different fields, those who choose it pick up many valuable skills (from being able to conduct experiments, to write beautifully-written papers, and more) that can be used in a variety of different fields and workplaces. So, if you want to explore another field after graduation, you have the leeway to do so.

Also see: How to pick a major

Jobs you can get with an environmental science degree

How much can you make with a degree in the field? Well, as always, it depends on what exact job you have. Let’s look at a few different professions within environmental science and see how much they make (and what they do!).


Becoming a geoscientist may be a good career path for those interested in the physical aspects of Earth. These aspects could include its composition, form, and processes. Specifically, some of geoscientists’ duties include: doing field studies, analyzing photographs and rock samples, conducting lab tests, and writing scientific reports. While only a Bachelor’s degree is required to become a geoscientist, some enter the profession with a Master’s degree.

2020 Median Pay: $93,580 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 5% (faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Environmental Science and Protection Technicians

Environmental Science and Protection Technicians are responsible for investigating sources of pollution or contamination, looking for and removing safety or health hazards as needed. Besides this, some of their duties include setting up equipment to monitor pollution, collecting samples of substances for lab analysis, and preparing reports that summarize lab results. Many enter the profession with either an Associate’s degree, 2 years of postsecondary education, or a Bachelor’s degree.

2020 Median Pay: $46,850 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 8% (faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Environmental Science Postsecondary Teachers (Professors)

If you’re interested in both teaching and the environment, we highly recommend looking into becoming a professor or teacher. As an environmental science professor, in addition to teaching courses, you’ll also conduct research in a lab of your own. But becoming an environmental science professor requires the completion of graduate school for a PhD.

2020 Median Pay: $84,740 per year

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Conservation Scientists and Foresters

Last, but certainly not least, are conservation scientists and foresters! If you’re passionate about saving the environment, conservation, or anything along those lines, these may be great professions for you. As a conservation scientists, you will have a wide array of responsibilities. These include overseeing conservation activities, ensuring they comply with government regulations, and establishing plans to manage forest lands and resources. On the other hand, as a forester, you will be expected to monitor regrowth of forests, aid in forest fire suppression, prepare sites for new trees, and more. To become either a conservation scientist or forester, you will typically need a Bachelor’s degree in a related field.

2020 Median Pay: $64,010 per year for conservation scientists or $63,980 for foresters
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 5% (faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Also see: What is the average starting salary out of college?

Frequently asked questions about the environmental science major

What universities have the best environmental science programs?

Many universities offer environmental science as a major, but those who rank amongst the top for their programs include: Cal Tech, UC Berkeley, Stanford University, Princeton University, and the University of Cambridge. If you’re interested in learning more, this page includes a fuller list of the schools with the top programs. And remember: even if your school is not included on this list, that does not mean that your university’s program is bad (a list can only include so many schools)!

Related: How to choose a college

Are environmental science degrees in demand?

Yes! Environmental science degrees are in demand, with the projected job outlook of Environmental Scientists (and Specialists) expected to increase 8% between 2019 and 2029, far faster than the average for all careers. So, if you’re looking to pursue something environmental science-related, you’re in luck! And, if you’re thinking of looking elsewhere to find a career, the skills you’ve gained as a major (research, critical thinking, and more) will open the doors to many other possibilities.

Also read: Top 15 college majors for the future

How do I know if Environmental Science is right for me?

If you’re considering a major in environmental science, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you curious about how the environment works?
  • Do you value protecting the planet?
  • Are you passionate about the environment (and potentially, environmental causes)?
  • Do you enjoy the thought of studying many different fields to see how they intertwine?
  • Are you comfortable trying new things?

If you responded “yes” to some of these questions, this may be the perfect major for you! If you still need help deciding, however, we recommend discussing with an environmental science advisor or professor, as they may be able to answer any of your more specific questions about the major. 

And, if you’re looking for environmental science scholarships, check out: Top Environmental Science Scholarships in 2021. Now, good bye, and good luck!