Earning a Master's in Environmental Science Online

What You’ll Learn & What You Can Do After Graduation

Should I Pursue a Master's in Environmental Science Online?

Outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers who hold a bachelor's degree in environmental science or a related field -- such as biology, physics, chemistry, geology, or engineering -- should consider earning their online master's in environmental science. Graduates who hold an online environmental science master's degree qualify for higher-level jobs that typically come with greater pay. Graduates work as environmental consultants, conservation scientists, and geoscientists. They help protect the environment, ensure the quality of our drinking water, and facilitate sustainable resource extraction. Many careers involve fieldwork, providing ample opportunities for travel and outdoor research.

For students who want to pursue a career in environmental science without breaking the bank or relocating to a new city, an online environmental science master's degree program may serve as an ideal solution. Online programs provide the flexibility of remote education with the same quality of content and instruction as an on-campus environmental science degree. Asynchronous courses allow students to continue working or attend to family obligations as they study.

Employment Outlook for Master's in Environmental Science Graduates

Master's in Environmental Science Salary

In many industries, graduates who hold a master's in environmental science earn significantly more than the average U.S. worker, who earned a mean annual wage of $50,620 as of May 2017. Some federal employees earn double this amount. Environmental science graduates also enjoy regular pay increases throughout their career. On average, entry-level employees in the environmental sciences earn only slightly less than the national mean wage and surpass this average by the midcareer point. Late-career employees enjoy an average salary of more than $80,000.

The tables below further detail the average pay for environmental scientists working in various industries and at different levels of experience.

Salaries for Environmental Scientists and Specialists by Industry

Industry Annual Mean Wage
Federal Government, Excluding Post Service $101,400
Engineering Services $69,440
Local Government, Excluding Education and Hospitals $69,070
Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services $67,960
State Government, Excluding Education and Hospitals $63,660

Master's in Environmental Science Careers

Environmental scientists pursue diverse careers paths. Although these paths can differ drastically, most share a common concern for ecology, sustainability, and the health of plants, soil, water, and animals. While some jobs require an extensive amount of fieldwork -- taking soil samples, clearing forests, or monitoring water quality -- others take place mostly indoors, in offices or labs. While a bachelor's degree qualifies most employees for entry-level positions, those with a graduate degree compete for higher-level specialized positions that typically garner higher pay.

Environmental Scientist and Specialist

Annual Median Salary: $69,400

Environmental scientists and specialists identify, analyze, and create solutions for issues relating to the environment. They work to protect resources, increase human health, and preserve or restore critical plants, animals, and ecosystems. In addition to collecting data in the field, they may also work in labs and offices.

Hydrologist

Annual Median Salary: $79,990

Hydrologists study the behavior of water and how its movement affects the Earth and its water supplies. In addition to studying the quality of our water supply, they also help protect against pollution and erosion. They work with engineers and planners to design and implement projects relating to water. Many participate in fieldwork while also working in offices and labs.

Conservation Scientist and Forester

Annual Median Salary: $60,970

Conservation scientists oversee the use of forests and lands used for forestry purposes. They create conservation plans and help contractors sustainably harvest timber. Foresters typically work on-site. They may oversee conservation projects, fire suppression, and land-clearing efforts. They also help create plans for environmentally friendly forest use.

Geoscientist

Annual Median Salary: $89,850

Geoscientists study the Earth's processes, composition, and structures. To determine an area's natural resource value, they take soil and rock samples, aerial photographs, and record what they find during drillings. They may also create geologic maps. Many pursue specialized careers as petroleum geologists, seismologists, oceanographers, and paleontologists.

Environmental Consultant

Annual Median Salary: $53,767

Environmental consultants work alongside private corporations to assess the ecological impact of that corporation's activities, thereby protecting land, plants, animals, and humans from potentially dangerous products or byproducts. Dangers include hazardous materials such as paints, toxins, asbestos, and chemicals. Environmental consultants take samples, perform tests, analyze data, and produce reports of their findings.

What Can I Expect From an Online Master's in Environmental Science Program?

Every online environmental science degree offers a unique selection of courses. Some programs may focus more on certain areas of environmental science, such as conservation or environmental law and business. Although details may vary from school to school, the course descriptions listed below provide a general overview of what students can expect.

Curriculum for an Online Master's Degree in Environmental Science

Wildlife Conservation in the 21st Century

In this course, students learn about species currently under threat and the contemporary efforts in place to protect them. Students also learn how to manage, conserve, and restore endangered wildlife populations. The course may focus both on global and local issues relating to wildlife conservation. Students prepare for careers in wildlife management and conservation.

Sustainable Cities

Suited for students interested in environmental consulting or green city planning, this course explores how to increase sustainability in urban systems. Using real-word examples from government agencies, engineering firms, and model cities around the world, students explore contemporary problems involving the intersection of humans and their urban environment. Issues include transportation, waste management, green spaces, power, and water supply.

GIS for Natural Resource Planning

This course explores Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and its applications related to natural resource planning. Students learn to use GIS software to collect, analyze, and apply data toward decision-making in resource planning. Students prepare for scenarios in different contexts, like assessing private vs. public lands.

Drinking Water, Sanitation, and Health

Ideal for students interested in hydrology or green urban planning, this course introduces students to issues surrounding water supply and sanitation on a global scale. Students learn about the effects of water supply and sanitation on human health, exploring current dilemmas facing policymakers and scientists. Students examine solutions to problems such as agricultural runoff.

Global Land Use Change

Suited for students interested in conservation or environmental policy, this course explores the patterns and consequences of land use change, examining its driving factors and results. Students first focus on the history of past land use change to understand the forces at work today. The curriculum delves into the environmental effects of forest and grassland loss on biodiversity and climate while also examining potential economic, social, and political ramifications.

Certifications and Licenses a Master's in Environmental Science Prepares For

  • Board Certified Environmental Scientist: This certification recognizes quality and specialization within a particular field of environmental science. Candidates must hold a relevant degree and at least eight years of professional experience; a graduate degree counts as 1.5 years of this experience. Applicants take a written and oral exam and undergo a professional review.
  • Registered Environmental Health Specialist/ Registered Sanitarian: This credential, offered through the National Environmental Health Association, recognizes quality within the sanitation field. Candidates who hold a degree in environmental science can apply without submitting proof of relevant work experience. Applicants submit academic transcripts and take an exam. Recipients must complete 24 hours of CE credits every two years to keep the credential.

Professional Organizations and Resources

Environmental science students and recent graduates alike benefit greatly from professional organizations. Many professional organizations offer career support, job boards, and networking opportunities that can help recent graduates find employment. Early and midcareer scientists enjoy access to professional training, certification programs, and publications that help professionals stay up to date on current developments and research in their field. Many organizations also host workshops, seminars, and annual conferences, connecting members in person. Members also typically receive discounts on educational opportunities and career services.

  • Association of Environmental Studies and Sciences: AESS connects scientists, scholars, teachers, and students engaged in environmental studies and sciences. Members enjoy access to publications, discounts on conferences registration, and a databank of academic syllabi. Membership fees follow a sliding scale based on income. Students, however, join for free.

  • National Association of Environmental Professionals: In addition to professional networking, NAEP members enjoy access to regular newsletters, publications, report archives, a career center, and discounted conference registration. Members also receive discounts on educational resources like webinars, seminars, and workshops.

  • American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists: AAEES offers board certification programs to its members. The academy also delivers professional training opportunities, hosts an international award, and grants academic accreditation. In addition, the Young Professional Program specifically serves early-career members. College students join for free.

  • National Environmental Health Association: In addition to representation at the policymaking and legislative level, NEHA members enjoy access to journals, webinars, training materials, and continuing education opportunities. Members may also advertise through NEHA at a discounted rate.

  • Soil and Water Conservation Society: SWCS members enjoy discounts on annual conferences registration and CE opportunities. They also receive access to publications, scholarships, and awards and can connect in person at local and regional meetings.

  • Environmental Science & Engineering Magazine: Based in Canada, this magazine boasts subscribers around the world. The magazine's articles primarily cover topics relating to waste water and air pollution. Writers include expert engineers and scientists in the field.

  • The Nature Conservancy: With branches around the world, TNC protects lands and water through private and public support. TNC also publishes a regular magazine, advocates for conservation legislation, and hosts volunteer opportunities across the country and globe.

  • Environmental Science & Technology: Aimed toward a diverse audience of professional environmental scientists, this journal regularly publishes online and print articles covering recent trends, advancements, policies, and research in the field.

  • EnvironmentalScience.org: This website hosts a variety of resources for environmental students and recent grads. The site offers state-by-state job listings, an internship and scholarship guide, and career data.

  • National Science Foundation: In 1950, Congress created NSF to promote the sciences. Graduate students in the sciences can apply for a variety of funding and award opportunities. Students can also find out about relevant events, conferences, and research projects.