Last Updated on August 28, 2023
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Environmental Studies Degree: What to expect?
Between his undefined but all-encompassing superpowers and his ruggedly good looks (that mullet, those abs!), Capitan Planet made saving the world look cool. Unfortunately for everyone, there’s no real Capitan Planet, which means stopping the destruction of the earth is up to us (or, as Capitan Planet would say, “The power is yours!”).
If you hope to help the planet through education, policy creation, and conservation work, consider an environmental studies degree. An environmental studies education combines science classes, like geology or water resources, with humanities classes. You’ll take subjects like the history of geography and international environmental policy. When you complete an environmental studies major, you’ll not only understand things like how pollution affects the climate, but you’ll also have the strong communication and reasoning skills necessary to pass this understanding on to lawmakers and the public.
Those with this degree do conservation work in the Alaskan wilderness, write new laws to protect endangered animals or national parks, or work with businesses to help create so-called “green jobs,” which improve the environment while letting people earn a living.
You can get either a bachelor’s or master’s degree in this field, and the area you choose should be based on your future career plans and job hopes. Like any undergraduate degree, this one takes four years to complete. If you hope to go for a master’s, you can expect to tack on an extra two years of studying.
When you finish your schooling and start looking for job opportunities, you should be in pretty good shape with this major. Environmental issues are at the forefront of many people’s minds, and right now, the environment is getting a lot of press and political attention. This works well for you (and the environment) because it means jobs are open for people who can understand the more technical side of environmental problems, and who can pass this understanding on to the layperson.
Careers related to environmental studies are incredibly diverse and it can be a challenge to focus in on one or a few areas. Once enrolled in the Environmental Studies Program you will get a better idea of what careers are available. Our seminar class for beginning students, ENVN 2010 Environmental Problems and Solutions, is designed to begin introducing you to the people at UNO and in the surrounding community who work in this field. A required internship helps students to further explore career options that are open to them.
There are several good resources to help you start exploring possible careers within environmental studies. EnvironmentalScience.org has a good career page providing the big picture about careers in fields related to environmental studies.
A degree in Environmental Studies from UNO can also help prepare you for careers in the emerging field of Sustainability. Sustainabilitydegrees.com offers a good overview of careers in this field.
The American Institute of Biological Sciences has a good overview of careers for students interested in Environmental Studies with a concentration in Life Sciences.
The My Next Move site provides lists of careers related to the sciences in general and includes jobs that might be of interest to majors in Environmental Studies. For some fields, careers are divided between entry level jobs (technicians) and jobs requiring additional training and experience (specialists). Careers in the environmental field include:
|Environmental Science & Protection Technician|
|Environmental Scientists & Specialists|
|Environmental Engineering Technicians|
You can also use a degree in Environmental Studies from UNO to help prepare you for careers in related fields including:
We are hearing more about “Green Careers” that integrate sustainability with other more traditional careers. Here at UNO we offer minors in Sustainability and in Environmental Studies that can be paired with other majors. The Guide to Green Careers provides a good overview of the growing area of interest.
The My Next Move site is a good place to start exploring jobs that are changing to incorporate more aspects of environmental sustainability. For example, as more businesses start to look for ways to become more environmentally sustainable, the demand for people trained in both business and environmental fields (Sustainability Specialists) is expected to grow.
A good starting point for deciding if Environmental Studies is an appropriate major for the career you are interested in is to compare the training you will receive as a UNO Environmental Studies Major with the education requirements for entry level jobs in your field of interest. In most cases the courses you take matter more than the name of you major. A good resource for determining what courses you need for a given job are the “Qualification Standards” published by the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. While these standards apply specifically to jobs with the Federal Government, requirements for other employers will usually be similar to what are listed here.
Jobs in the environmental field cover a broad range of activities so you may need additional courses or experience to qualify for the job you want. Start the process early and develop a plan for meeting the qualifications of the career you want.
Examples of some jobs you might be interested in include:
|Environmental Health Technician|
|Biological Science Technician|
|General Natural Resources Management and Biological Sciences|
Notice that most of these careers list examples of multiple majors but the emphasis is on the range of courses and credits required. Some of these careers would require additional coursework beyond what is required for the Environmental Studies major.
Because environmental studies covers such a broad range of careers there is no single answer to that question. The employment market will vary depending on where you are interested in living and on the specifics of each job. Some careers are very competitive and may require relocating, extensive experience, or graduate degree.
One place to start are the occupation profiles at the Americanjobcenter website, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor. These profiles provide information about salaries and the number of job openings, both for the country as a whole and for individual states.
Want to save the world? If you’re an environmental studies or environmental science (ES) major, you’re preparing yourself for a range of careers that can do just that.https://e782b240eca61d8493e75f9c921d03f9.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
ES majors ground their idealism in scientific rigor. As a student in this field, you’ll need the ability to understand and apply complex concepts in biology, chemistry, geology, and physics. You’ll also learn to apply quantitative and qualitative analytical skills to solving problems and interpreting research data. Your creativity will help you design research models to study environmental issues.
Ultimately, your career path will depend on the unique configuration of skills, interests, and values you bring to the table, but it will help if you are passionate about topics like sustainability, conservation, ecology, climate change, and alternative energy sources. It could lead you to a role as a chief sustainability officer on a leadership team.
Top Jobs for Environmental Studies Majors
Organizations of all kinds need to prepare environmental impact studies when they are planning to develop virgin land or use currently developed land for an alternative purpose. As an environmental consultant, you’ll use analytical tools to assess how development projects might impact the water, soil, air or wildlife in the area. When problematic impacts are identified, you will suggest ways to ameliorate the potential effects. In other cases, organizations might bring you in to address existing problems—like pollution—and to recommend solutions.
You’ll tap the writing and presentation skills honed while you earned your degree to compose technical reports and deliver recommendations to clients.
Salary: According to PayScale, environmental consultants earn an average annual salary of $55,966.1
ES majors gain a broad-based perspective on environmental issues which can serve you well as an environmental educator. You’ll learn about the environment surrounding your geographic area of practice and rely on your training to collect and interpret information and to conduct fieldwork.
It’s important to convey a sense of excitement in your interactions with visitors or students, and public speaking skills polished on campus will help you provide dynamic presentations.https://e782b240eca61d8493e75f9c921d03f9.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
Salary: Glassdoor reports that environmental educators earn an average annual salary of $50,900.2
Public Relations Specialist
Environmental organizations need to influence public perceptions to gain political and financial support for their initiatives. As a public relations specialist or communications staff member, you’ll use the knowledge acquired as an ES major when generating press releases about programs and activities at your employer’s or client’s organizations. You’ll use your writing skills to develop content for the websites of environmental entities and to help compose text for fundraising brochures and letters.
Salary: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, public relations specialists earn a median annual salary of $61,150.3
If you choose to go to law school after earning your ES degree, your scientific knowledge will be an asset when working with clients on environmentally related cases. You’ll interview expert witnesses like environmental engineers, biologists, chemists, and other environmental scientists as you prepare and litigate cases. You’ll need to interpret scientific material and evaluate the validity/reliability of those findings.
As an attorney, your writing skills will help you compose legal briefs and other documents. You may help draft the language for environmental regulations if you work for a governmental entity.
Salary: ZipRecruiter reports that environmental attorneys earn an average annual salary of $74,569.4
When technical solutions are required to resolve problems with environmental contamination or pollution, environmental engineers often are called upon to propose and implement those systems. In this role, you’ll draw upon knowledge of environmental science when designing environmental technology and tap the quantitative skills developed as an ES major when calculating the physical dimensions of systems.
You’ll be expected to write proposals for projects and present recommendations to clients that show you’ve researched and defended a position collaborated with other professionals, devised solutions and presented them in a clear, concise way.
Salary: Per PayScale, environmental engineers earn an average annual salary of $65,464.5
Organizations of all kinds are seeking greener ways of carrying out their functions. As a sustainability specialist, you’ll assess the environmental practices and impact of an organization and recommend and implement strategies to conserve resources and limit environmental damage.
Knowledge of scientific methodology is essential to carrying out sophisticated assessments of the impact of current operations on the environment and determining what conservation benefits are derived when alternate processes are implemented.
You’ll use your writing, presentation, and interpersonal skills developed as an ES major to write proposals and urge colleagues to adopt alternative practices.
Salary: Glassdoor reports that sustainability specialists earn an average annual salary of $50,900.6
To effectively target prospective donors for contributions to environmental causes, fundraisers must have a solid understanding of their organizations’ goals and operations. As an ES major, you are well positioned to gain this knowledge and convey the benefits of supporting environmental initiatives.
In this role, you’ll rely on solid communication skills to compose letters and make pitches to prospective contributors. You must also be organized to orchestrate fundraising events and plan campaigns.
Salary: According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, fundraisers earn a median annual salary of $57,970.7
Generating realistic proposals for environmental policy requires an in-depth knowledge of scientific concepts. As an ES major, you should possess the aptitude for learning new scientific information as well as a solid foundation in biology, chemistry, and physics.
Your research skills will help to uncover information related to public policy recommendations, and your analytical and statistical skills will help to interpret and process that information. The technical writing skills you cultivated as an ES major will be needed to compose scientifically oriented policy documents.