What Can I Do with a Degree in Environmental Science?

Learn more about what you can do with a degree in environmental science. Find information on environmental science careers, job outlook, salary, and recommended schools. View popular schools that prepare students for careers in environmental science.


In our world, the needs of humans have typically taken precedence over the needs of nature. Unfortunately, this trend has resulted in the destruction of our natural environment and the need for environmental scientists. Individuals working in environmental science examine the impact of various man made changes on the natural environment. Through research and investigation, environmental scientists are able to better understand how humans impact the environment and what can be done reduce man’s impact on various plant and animal species. In recent years, the idea of sustainable development has become a cornerstone of environmental science. In this process scientists devise problem solutions that enable man to achieve short-term goals without compromising the environment over the long-term.

Individuals seeking employment in environmental science will find a plethora of opportunities to work both in the field and in the laboratory. Professionals that are interested in collecting data first hand can acquire positions that will enable them to observe environmental phenomenon. For instance, environmental scientists were instrumental in collecting field data following the massive oil spill that occurred in the Gulf in 2010. Professionals that work in a laboratory are able to simulate environmental conditions to evaluate what can happen to organisms as a result of environmental change.


Various careers exist for professionals interested in environmental science. While many environmental scientists are employed by the government and work for organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), others may choose to work in private industry. Environmental scientists employed with private companies may work as consultants to provide organizations with support in complying with environmental regulations. In general there are two types of consulting companies that hire environmental scientists: large engineering firms that provide a wide range of services for companies undertaking industrial or commercial projects that may have environmental implications and small niche firms that provide consulting services in specific areas of environmental science. Careers in environmental science are also based on areas of specialization. Environmental chemists evaluate the toxicity of chemicals on plant life while ecological modelers use computer simulations to evaluate the impact of specific activities on the environment. Professionals working in the field may also choose to specialize in policy development to help protect the environment.


Most environmental scientists must possess at least a Bachelors Degree in order to obtain employment in the field. In many instances, however, advanced degrees are needed for career development and promotion. Because of the high levels of education involved in environmental science occupations, salaries for professionals in this discipline are quite generous. Median annual wages for all environmental scientists were $59,750 in 2008. In addition, entry level candidates with a Bachelors Degree in environmental science, salaries averaged $39,160 in 2009. Professionals at the top of their careers commanded median annual salaries of $102,610 in 2008 while professionals at the lowest end of discipline earned median annual wages of $36,310. Most environmental scientists begin their profession in entry level jobs that require laboratory or field work. With experience in the discipline, professionals can be promoted to supervisory or management positions. Environmental scientists working in these areas will command higher salaries overall.

Job Outlook

Significant job growth for environmental scientists is projected through 2018. The profession is slated to grow at 28 percent. This rate is much faster than the average job growth rate of 12 percent projected for all other occupations. Increased awareness regarding man’s impact on the environment coupled with advances in technology that enable scientists to study these issues will fuel demand for environmental scientists in a wide range of public and private sector jobs. Awareness of environmental issues will also prompt increased demand for environmental professionals in other fields such as construction and engineering. Consultants in the field will be needed to provide data analysis of the environmental impact of new projects and technologies. In addition to increased demand in the field, environmental scientists will be needed to replace professionals retiring from the industry. Despite budget challenges facing the federal government, employment prospects in the public sector should increase as more emphasis is placed on environmental regulation.

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