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Best Environmental Science Schools for Aspiring Eco-Warriors

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A growing awareness of climate change has led prospective college students to search for the best environmental science schools. With aspirations to save the planet and all its living creatures, these students have several career opportunities awaiting them after completing their degree programs. 

Here is an overview of the trajectory of environmental science majors, what to look for in a curriculum, and the top schools to consider in the United States.

Why Should You Study Environmental Science? 

In a world of solar panels, electric vehicles, and wind farms, environmental science remains one of the most popular and essential degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). In fact, student interest has gained significant traction since 2016, increasing by 24% in degree conferrals, with governments being the second-largest employer. 

The field itself has also grown exponentially. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the environmental field added 80,500 positions in 2022 and has a 6% employment progression over the next decade. A heightened concern over environmental hazards and the demand for solutions has driven much of this growth. 

Things to Consider When Choosing a School

A college education is more expensive than ever before, which is why you want to select the right school to prepare you for a career in the environmental sector. Key factors to consider include the following:

  • A broad spectrum of curriculum offerings and concentrations, such as marine biology, water ecology, and sustainable agriculture
  • Program reputation, accreditation, and faculty expertise
  • Location for hands-on learning experiences
  • Post-graduation career assistance
  • Campus culture 
  • Affordability and financial aid options

Ultimately, the prioritization of these factors differs from person to person. However, whatever program you choose for undergraduate studies should prepare you and help you meet the requirements for higher degree levels afterward. Although you can obtain some environmental science careers with a bachelor’s degree, many require a Master of Science or a doctoral degree.

6 Best Environmental Science Schools in the U.S.

Most U.S. colleges offer environmental programs and coursework. Yet, only a handful make the list of best environmental science schools. Here are six schools you should research to make an informed decision. 

1. University of California Berkeley

The University of California Berkeley offers a rigorous environmental science curriculum comprising topics from biology, chemistry, math, economics, and earth science. Students must also choose a concentration — biological, social, or physical science — which determines which courses they take after general education.

Before graduating, seniors culminate their studies with a year-long research project, submitting a thesis paper and applying the skills, knowledge, and tools they learned throughout the program.

As extracurricular, students may be interested in joining the Environmental Sciences Student Association — a place where everyone participates in book clubs, movie nights, games, career planning, and guest speaker events. 

2. Harvard University

Harvard University has two environmental degree programs for prospective students: Environmental Science and Public Policy and Environmental Science and Engineering. 

The first program takes a multi-disciplinary approach to resolving environmental problems through policymaking. In addition to standard science curricula, students will also enroll in economics and government courses. The latter addresses these issues and trains future graduates to consider environmental processes and feedback through scientific disciplines like ecology, geology, hydrology, and oceanography. 

Environmental engineers help develop energy-efficient solar technology and revamp water treatment systems, like recycling gray water for other purposes at residences. 

3. Florida Atlantic University

Located in beautiful Boca Raton, Florida Atlantic University (FAU) is one of the country’s best environmental science programs and marine labs. FAU’s curriculum primarily focuses on Florida’s ecology, addressing the state’s most pressing environmental issues. 

With close proximity to the Florida Everglades and Atlantic Coastlines, students receive hands-on research and field experience to solve real-world issues. This program is ideal for those interested in an accelerated Biology of Science degree or pursuing a master’s or doctoral degree. 

Among FAU’s highlights is its marine lab at Gumbo Limbo Environmental Complex, which welcomes 200,000 visitors annually and has been the research facility for over 200 peer-reviewed studies. 

4. American Public University System

In today’s digital landscape, students may be interested in attending an online university to pursue environmental science. American Public University System is one of the leading online schools for learning critical ecological management and conservation approaches. 

The bachelor’s degree examines the natural and social sciences as it applies to resource stewardship, pollution, fish and wildlife, energy, and ecological hazards. Faculty and staff also boast a breadth of career expertise from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Nature Conservancy.

This school is among the most cost-effective at $350 per credit or $250 for military members. Courses start every 8-16 weeks at the beginning of every month.

5. University of Washington Seattle

The University of Washington (UW) Seattle has two environmental bachelor’s degrees. The first is Environmental Science and Resource Management, in which students learn how humans can sustainably utilize natural resources for future generations. The other program is Bioresource Science and Engineering — an interdisciplinary study of chemical science, engineering and manufacturing. 

Students may also opt to continue their education at UW Seattle for graduate school to expand their environmental learning in forest management — a program accredited by the Society of American Foresters. 

6. University of Colorado Boulder

Is there a more beautiful backdrop for environmental learning than the University of Colorado Boulder? This school offers environmental studies degrees at the undergraduate, graduate, and professional master’s levels. It also has the Sustainability, Energy, and Environment Laboratory Building, where faculty, students, and researchers come together to brainstorm ecological solutions for real-world applications.

The University of Colorado Boulder has a high success rate among graduates with degrees in environmental studies. After surveying 670 program alums, 73% reported working in jobs related to their studies. 

Study Hard and Save the Planet

An environmental education sets you up for success in the field. At the current rate of ecological degradation and global warming, the world needs educated, solutions-oriented environmentalists to save the day. Do your research and select the best school for you. 

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About the author

Rachel Lark

Rachel serves as the Assistant Editor of Environment.co. A true foodie and activist at heart, she loves covering topics ranging from veganism to off grid living.