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Top Programs for Online Environmental Science Degrees

Individuals with a passion for the environment and the desire to solve problems related to water pollution, climate change and other global issues can explore academic options in environmental science. Degree programs in this field can help students develop strong research and problem-solving skills for direct application in a multitude of environmental settings. This guide explores the various levels of degrees, types of available programs, potential careers, and tips for academic success in web-based courses to help prospective students determine the best educational pathway.

Best Online Environmental Science Programs 2018-2019

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Online environmental science degree programs give students the flexibility they need to complete their degrees while attending to work or family responsibilities as well. Though most online programs provide the chance to fit an education into an already busy life, not all do it well. The below programs have proven themselves to be the very Best Online Environmental Science Degrees for 2018.

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Rank School Name Location Tuition Financial Aid Acceptance Rate Graduation Rate # of Online Programs Credit for Experience Placement Services Counseling Services University Information
Southern Arkansas University Tech Camden, Arkansas$3,24044%43% 1 Yes Yes Yes School website

Potential Career Paths

Environmental scientists search for practical solutions to problems that affect the environment. They are trained to use scientific methods to develop theories and proposals to address various environmental issues of worldwide concern such as overpopulation, natural resource pollution, and deforestation. In response to such challenges, employment opportunities in this field should expand faster than the average for all occupations nationwide, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Projected growth rates between 2012 and 2022 are 15 percent for environmental scientists and specialists, and 19 percent for environmental science technicians.

An environmental science degree can lead to a variety of careers: At the entry level, environmental protection techs perform inspections and investigations into the source of contaminants and pollutants. At higher levels, opportunities exist for environmental science specialists, research scientists, microbiologists, and experts in related disciplines such as oceanography. Graduates of environmental science programs could conduct experiments and gather field data, delve into complex research projects, or work with employers ranging from government agencies to private sector firms. On top of that, the field of environmental science is expanding as businesses pay more attention to avoiding health hazards, reducing waste production, and using sustainable materials.

Understanding Online Environmental Science Degrees

Before selecting any online degree program, research is paramount. Prospective students must determine the level of education necessary to achieve personal and work-related goals. For those unable to commit to four years or more of study, an associate degree is the entry-level qualification for environmental science and protection technicians. A bachelor’s degree is usually the minimum educational requirement for environmental scientists, but a master’s degree could help professionals advance in their career. Online doctorates are common for those who want to teach or conduct high-level research in academia.

Students considering environmental science distance programs have to weigh multiple factors, including their existing time commitments, budget, and lifestyle. Online environmental science degrees offer increased flexibility for those who need to balance studies with family obligations or job responsibilities. Another aspect of making college plans concerns the availability of local internships, which may involve stricter schedules but offer valuable field experience.

In this interdisciplinary major, there is a focus on natural sciences and experimental inquiry. With the technology provided by certain distance learning programs, students may still able to perform lab work without going to a campus-based lab. Some online programs provide students with custom lab kits to perform experiments at home. Most programs afford access to an online platform, allowing students to participate in lectures and forum discussions, as well as take exams virtually. Some advanced degree programs require attendance via seminars or participation in hands-on projects or other activities coordinated on campus.

Associate Degree Options

Associate degree programs typically require two years of full-time study, which includes courses for the major and general education subjects. This degree program covers the basic principles of environmental science and introduces students to related subjects including political, social, and ethical topics. Core courses for majors could include physical science, statistics, U.S. environmental history, and environmental literature. Elective options may include atmospheric sciences, evolution, biodiversity, and ecology.

Sample courses for an online associate degree in environmental science may include:

  • Physical Science Survey
  • Resource Management
  • Environmental Disasters
  • Evolution
  • Environmental Politics and Ethics
  • Introduction to Atmospheric Sciences
  • Biodiversity

Specific degree requirements vary by school. For example, some online associate degree programs emphasize the academic groundwork for students planning on transferring to colleges or universities to earn a four-year degrees. Other two-year colleges focus on preparing graduates to enter the workforce in various roles, such as assisting scientists or researchers and performing basic tasks in a lab environment or out in the field. Additionally, an associate degree in this field can serve as a stepping stone for students who still are deciding on their long-term plans.

Online Bachelor’s Degrees

This degree program, which takes four years for most full-time students to complete, can prepare graduates to seek positions such as environmental research scientist, analyst, or environmental protection specialist. This interdisciplinary program is based on a solid foundation in the natural and physical sciences. Some schools accept a minimum number of transfer credits from accredited schools, particularly if the university has an agreement with the community college where the associate degree was earned.

The curriculum covers a variety of subjects, for example, biology, chemistry, physics, geology, and botany. Students discover how to solve complex problems and develop a framework of understanding that integrates the concepts and principles of this discipline with practical experience. Typical courses include chemistry, research methods, physics, applied statistics, environmental ethics, and electives focused on natural resources and conservation. Some online schools mail students a lab kit so that they can complete experiments and report their findings without having to be on campus.

Coursework for an online bachelor’s degree in environmental science may include:

  • Conservation Biology
  • Concepts and Applications of Information Technology
  • Introduction to Professional Writing
  • Plant Physiology
  • Global Change
  • Watershed Hydrology
  • Water and Wastewater Treatment Technology

Some colleges and universities encourage students to specialize in a certain area or topic based on their goals. For example, depending on the college, minors and concentrations may be available in geography, horticulture, resource economics, water science, and fisheries and wildlife. Other options may include business and entrepreneurship, applied ecology and resource management, and environmental sustainability. Specialization in this industry can open up more career opportunities and also serve as a foundation for advanced education.

Southern New Hampshire University
  • Enrollment: 20,509
  • Tuition: $28,050
  • College Type: Private
  • State: New Hampshire
  • Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science
University of South Florida
  • Enrollment: 4,940
  • Tuition: $5,716
  • College Type: Public
  • State: Florida
  • Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science & Policy
Oregon State University
  • Enrollment: 985
  • Tuition: NR
  • College Type: Public
  • State: Oregon
  • Bachelor of Science in Environmental Sciences

Online Master’s Degrees in Environmental Science

An online MS in Environmental Science can typically be completed in two years and is designed to prepare students for management roles in the field. The online format makes it possible for students to continue working in their field while completing courses towards an advanced degree. Professionals who want to apply for a managerial role with their current employer or explore leadership opportunities in this field can consider enrolling in a master’s degree program. At this level, students learn how to critically analyze environmental problems, compare and implement short- and long-term solutions for environmental concerns, and develop expertise on a variety of environmental issues.

Graduate-level coursework for online environmental science degrees may include:

  • Environmental Science Research Methods
  • Hydrology of Groundwater or Surface Water
  • Conservation Biology
  • Toxicology and Environmental Health
  • Ecotoxicology
  • Human Factors Engineering
  • Research Topics in Geology

Some schools combine the online learning format with locally applied experience where the student works on a project with experts within their community. There also tends to be more of an emphasis on practical application of knowledge so that graduates are prepared for professional endeavors.

Here are some typical prerequisites for an online master’s degree program in environmental science:

  • Bachelor’s degree in a related field
  • GRE score requirement
  • Minimum TOEFL score for foreign students
  • Undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or better

Most master’s degree programs require a minimum of 30 credits and may also have a thesis requirement. Master’s candidates often work closely with a professor or mentor to compose a report based on extensive research, developing theories and conclusions about an environmental topic or issue.

University of Florida
  • Enrollment: 20,747
  • Tuition: $12,642
  • College Type: Public
  • State: Florida
  • Master of Science in Soil And Water Science - Environmental Science
  • Master of Science in Environmental Engineering Sciences - Water Wastewater and Stormwater Engineering
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
  • Enrollment: 8,353
  • Tuition: $13,023
  • College Type: Public
  • State: Virginia
  • Master of Environmental Sciences And Engineering
Auburn University
  • Enrollment: 5,615
  • Tuition: $9,858
  • College Type: Public
  • State: Alabama
  • Master of Soil Water And Environmental Sciences (Swes)
Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
  • Enrollment: 3,605
  • Tuition: $8,010
  • College Type: Public
  • State: Texas
  • Professional Science Master's in Environmental Sustainability And Natural Resources Management
University of Idaho
  • Enrollment: 3,149
  • Tuition: $7,586
  • College Type: Public
  • State: Idaho
  • Master of Science in Environmental Science
University of Illinois at Springfield
  • Enrollment: 2,592
  • Tuition: $7,432
  • College Type: Public
  • State: Illinois
  • Master of Arts in Environmental Studies
Montana State University
  • Enrollment: 2,576
  • Tuition: $6,076
  • College Type: Public
  • State: Montana
  • Master of Science in Land Resources And Environmental Sciences
University of South Florida
  • Enrollment: 749
  • Tuition: $10,226
  • College Type: Public
  • State: Florida
  • Master of Science in Environmental Science And Policy
  • Master of Arts in Environmental Science And Policy

Online Doctorates in Environmental Science

For those who aspire to supervise a department, run their own company, teach at the post-secondary level, or simply advance their knowledge for research purposes, a logical option is to earn a PhD in environmental science. Program participants complete doctoral coursework and perform original research. Courses at this level may focus on emerging areas of environmental science, teaching, policy-making, or sociocultural analyses.

Doctoral coursework for online environmental science degrees could encompass:

  • School Law and Leadership
  • Environmental Theory
  • Sociocultural Education
  • Advanced Research Methods
  • Environmental and Natural Resource Issues and Ethics

Doctoral students may also have the chance to attend seminars led by experts and influential leaders in the field. Earning a PhD in environmental science can provide the opportunity to publish findings in renowned professional journals, such as Energy Policy, Culture and Agriculture, and the Journal of Applied Ecology. Doctoral candidates may also be eligible to join professional organizations, such as the National Association of Environmental Management and the Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences.

Spotlights: Colleges Offering Online Environmental Science Degrees

Southern New Hampshire University

SNHU offers an online undergraduate degree program in environmental science for students interested in gaining a foundation for careers as an environmental scientist, analyst, protection specialist, research scientist or hazardous substance scientist. This program shows how to analyze environmental issues in depth and develop practical solutions using the scientific method and research methodology. This 121-credit program includes instructor-led online lab courses.

More information can be found about the online environmental science degree at SNHU.


Montana State University

The Master of Science in Land Resources and Environmental Sciences program from Montana State University is for students that want a deeper understanding of the principles and processes related to these subjects. Coursework is tailored to each student and may involve professional papers on topics including soil nutrient management, restoration ecology and microbial ecology of natural systems. Admission to this graduate program is based on a number of factors, including academic experience, professional experience in the field and a personal statement.

For further information, visit Montana State University.


Columbia College

An Associate of Science in Environmental Studies degree is available online, covering the basic principles of this discipline and introducing topics such as resource management and environmental history and literature. A multidisciplinary approach includes political, social and legal perspectives. This private nonprofit college offers 8-week sessions with its online programs to provide more flexibility.

More information is available about this program at Columbia College.

10 Jobs for Environmental Science Grads

After earning an online environmental science degree, graduates can explore a variety of jobs in either the private sector or government agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The University of North Carolina Wilmington reports that a degree in environmental science can provide a strong skill set in the following areas: solving problems with logical solutions, utilizing formulas, using specialized laboratory equipment, applying knowledge creatively, and organizing and reporting data. Many of these skills can translate to a variety of related fields.

Browse through 10 potential career paths for those with an environmental science degree:

  • Environmental Scientist

    Develops and implements data collection methods for research projects and investigations. These specialists formulate solutions to minimize the impact of certain activities on the environment and may work with state and local government agencies to implement policy change.
  • Climate Change Analyst

    Analyzes the effects of the changing climate on the earth’s ecosystem. Some are involved with grant writing activities and may also participate in outreach efforts to educate leaders, policymakers and community members. Analysts have the chance to influence laws and regulations pertaining to global warming.
  • Environmental Health Specialist

    Studies the effects of environmental factors on human health and researches the risks and health threats present in the environment. Suited for scientists with strong research and investigation skills who want to educate the public about potential health risks.
  • Environmental Engineer

    Solves environmental problems by using the principles of engineering, biology, soil science and chemistry. These engineers may be involved in projects related to pollution control, recycling and waste disposal, and they work in office settings or onsite for construction projects.
  • Environmental Lobbyist

    Communicates with politicians and lobbyists in an effort to influence policy making. Environmental lobbyists work on fundraising activities and campaigns to draw attention to pressing political issues that affect the environment.
  • Environmental Educator

    Raises awareness about environmental issues and promotes conservation efforts as an educator. Educators may be responsible for hosting lectures, participating in talks and debates, and organizing community events to publicize certain issues
  • Park Ranger

    Leads outdoor tours and educates visitors about nature, as well as participating in search operations for lost hikers. Park rangers contribute to the environment through hands-on work rather than lab research. Most are employed by the National Park Service, and jobs may be permanent or seasonal.
  • Environmental Chemist

    Conducts research, such as collecting samples for testing, and improves data collection methods. A good match for those who are comfortable working in a lab setting. Focus may be on the development of natural or organic products.
  • Environmental Consultant

    Serves clients in the public and private sector by providing advice and direction on a number of issues, such as water pollution, air quality and waste management. These experts often hold an advanced degree. They may also perform environmental audits to determine energy use and pollution levels at a certain site.
  • Field Research Specialist

    Studies live plants, animals and insects, performing a variety of experiments to determine how the environment has an impact on different species or habitats. Career involves in-depth analysis of the global ecosystem.

Tips for Success

Whether you’re enrolling in an online associate degree or doctorate in environmental science, make sure you’re setting yourself up for success. If it’s your first time learning in an online environment and virtual classroom setting, you will need to employ time management skills and stay organized to ensure you meet all of your assignment deadlines and coursework requirements.

If there are any lab work requirements associated with your online environmental science program, make time in your schedule to perform the labs and produce appropriate reports. Keep in mind that some lab assignments are instructor-led, which means you must attend virtual lectures or demonstrations. Plot these into your calendar so you don’t miss the opportunity to work with your professor in the virtual setting. Even though you have the freedom to work at your own pace on assignments such as reading, you still need to exercise some self-discipline to accommodate class discussions, group projects, and lectures.

Online classes may involve more preparation than traditional courses, for example:

  • Set up a study space with a reliable Internet connection so you can connect and communicate with professors and classmates
  • Get organized before the course begins by downloading and reviewing the syllabus and obtaining all materials required
  • Educate yourself about how the virtual classroom and discussion forums work so you can fully participate in the online experience
  • Make note of all lab work projects and assignments that you need to execute on your own
  • Plot a calendar with exam dates and deadlines for assignments and projects
  • Research whether there are set times when you have to log on to the course management system or conferences, and plan your schedule accordingly
  • Join online study groups and stay active in discussion groups set up by the instructor, sharing ideas with peers
  • Review recommended videos, lectures, and podcasts to ensure you are taking advantage of all accessible resources

Additionally, here are some important things to know when researching online environmental science degrees:

  • Look for schools that are regionally or nationally accredited by a well-recognized accrediting institution listed on the U.S. Department of Education’s website
  • Determine whether the school provides the same diploma or degree of completion as campus-based programs for distance learning
  • Find out if you can choose a concentration and/or design self-study courses: consider the options that complement your ideal career path

Pursuing an advanced degree in this field may give you a chance to attend presentations and other events led by industry professionals — take full advantage of these opportunities to round out your educational experience. Other suggestions for success include joining professional organizations for networking purposes, such as the Air and Waste Management Association (AWMA), Association of Women in Environmental Professions (AWEP), National Association of Environmental Professionals (NAEP), Society of Wetland Scientists or the Society for Conservation Biology (SCB).