Best Online Environmental Science Bachelor's Degrees

Oct 20, 2021

Online Environmental Science Degree Overview

Online environmental science degree programs offer flexible distance learning curriculums for students interested in an interdisciplinary study of the natural and physical sciences, in addition to gaining the skills needed to solve the complex environmental challenges our world is facing. Although many colleges and universities offer degree programs in a fully digital format, some programs offer a hybrid curriculum of online and in-person coursework, particularly for science classes with lab components.

Environmental science programs are designed to provide students with a mastery of several competencies, such as scientific research writing, quantitative and qualitative analysis, analytical thinking, and an awareness of several ecological concepts and principles. Graduates of environmental science degree programs often find employment in government agencies, environmental assessment and consulting firms, research facilities, academia, law, public health, and nonprofit organizations; however, there are many other career avenues for students to pursue in the field.

Online Associate Degrees in Environmental Science

An online associate degree program in environmental science tends to explore wide-ranging environmental issues as they relate to the economy, policy, law, management, and social perspectives. Associate curriculums typically require 60 credits of general requirement courses, such as college-level composition, mathematics, and science in addition to environmental-focused elective courses; for example, introductory-level ecology, environmental policy, and environmental ethics.

Associate-level environmental science degrees are usually an Associate of Science (AS), although some programs culminate in an Associate of Arts (AS) or Associate of Applied Science (AAS). Graduates of associate environmental science degree programs often decide to continue their education in a bachelor-level degree program or seek entry-level employment.

Online Bachelor's Degrees in Environmental Science

An online bachelor's degree in environmental science is designed to provide an in-depth study of human interactions with the natural world. Students might study anthropogenic impacts on the environment and the technological, procedural, and policy-based solutions used to solve major environmental issues. Bachelor-level environmental science degrees typically require students to complete 120 credits of general education courses, environmental science-focused coursework and electives.

Graduates of four-year environmental science programs often obtain a Bachelor of Science (BS) in Environmental Science or Environmental Management and may decide to pursue a career as an environmental specialist, environmental consultant, park ranger, or water quality scientist, among many other professions and fields (we will discuss a few options below).

Online Master's Degrees in Environmental Science

Online master's degrees in environmental science aim to offer an even deeper investigation into the human-to-nature relationship through an advanced curriculum that allows students to gain experiential training on top of more specialized coursework. Most graduate-level environmental science programs take about two years to complete and require approximately 30 to 36 credits of core requirements and electives, as well as a thesis/dissertation or capstone project that demonstrates key learning outcomes.

There are many concentration options for students pursuing a graduate degree in environmental science, such as fish and wildlife management, environmental policy and management, sustainability, or natural resources. Graduate degrees in environmental science are typically more specialized, so you might see degree titles like Master of Science (MS) in Environmental Assessment, an MS in Environmental Policy and Management or a Master of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology.

Online Doctoral Degrees in Environmental Science

An online doctorate in environmental science is the highest level of academic scholarship a student may achieve in furthering their field expertise. Students who pursue a doctorate degree in environmental science should be able to apply advanced research methods and demonstrate their ability to solve environmental challenges relating to sustainability, climatology, natural resources, conservation biology, and policy and management.

Admission to a doctoral degree program in environmental science typically requires a master's degree (sometimes in an environmental science field), and some schools also require a minimum grade point average of 3.0. While program lengths tend to vary at each school, environmental science doctoral programs usually offer a curriculum of 45 to 60 credits. Coursework may include several core requirements, courses in a program concentration, and a dissertation and defense. Many doctoral environmental science programs also work closely with senior faculty members and partake in a research project, fellowship, or teaching assistantships.

Students who intend to pursue a career in environmental law must enroll in a doctoral program to do so and pass a bar exam for the state where they plan to practice.

Graduates of environmental science doctoral degree programs usually receive a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.). A doctorate typically opens doors to employment in government agencies, research, environmental consulting, and teaching in higher education.

Online Certificates in Environmental Science

Online certificates in environmental science are ideal for students who want to gain foundational knowledge in key environmental concepts, learn or improve their professional skill sets, seek entry-level employment, or gain career advancement in the field.

There are many certificate program options for students to choose from and curriculums tend to be highly specialized in an environmental subject area, such as sustainability, fish and wildlife, or energy resources. As an example, in a fish and wildlife certificate program, students are likely to take courses pertaining to public lands management, environmental policy, and ecology.

Programs lengths vary at each school; however, the majority of certificate programs require 15 to 18 credits, which can usually be completed in six months or a year. Some programs are shorter, however, and can be completed in less time.

Students who wish to learn about various environmental topics without registering and enrolling in a college certificate program have the option to sign up for free online environmental science courses and training. However, these types of courses usually don't offer college credit.

Difference Between Environmental Science & Environmental Studies Degree Programs

Students seeking an education in the natural sciences may come across programs for environmental science and environmental studies. Although both of these curriculums share some common courses, concepts, and learning objectives, the disciplines do differ in their delivery of study and content.

Environmental science degrees tend to provide curriculums more focused on mathematics and the hard sciences, such as biology, chemistry, and lab components. Students typically integrate this rigorous scientific background with a concentration in an environmental discipline that applies scientific research methods and quantitative analysis to solve environmental problems. Environmental science degrees culminate in a Bachelor of Science (BS) and often lead to careers in environmental occupational health, risk assessment, and other more technical professions in the field.

On the other hand, a degree program in environmental studies is typically more interdisciplinary and draws parallels between environmental problems and the social science disciplines; for example, policy-making, law, organizational leadership, economy, history, and anthropocentric behaviors and perspectives. Usually, environmental studies degree programs end with a Bachelor of Arts (BA), although some programs offer a BS degree. Many students with an education in environmental studies go on to obtain a higher-level degree in specializations related to conservation, environmental communications, or environmental policy and law.

Environmental Science Specializations/Concentrations

Online environmental science bachelor's degree programs tend to include several specializations and concentrations that students can choose from. Depending on the program and the environmental discipline students are interested in learning about, program concentrations may include the following subject areas:


This concentration looks at various sustainability principles of natural and energy resources, as well as implications on future land use and development. Course topics may include solutions-based discussions and instruction about smart growth and sustainable design, renewable energies, the advancement of ecological technologies; and the social, political, and economic impediments that hinder anthropogenic-environmental changes.

Environmental Policy

This concentration combines environmental science studies with a focus on policy-making as it relates to the environmental field. Typically, environmental policy concentrations apply advanced research methods, critical thinking, and reading skills in order to better understand the different branches of government, how environmental policies and regulations are created and implemented, and ways to utilize environmental management practices to develop solutions to ecological problems.

Environmental Technology and Management

This concentration focuses on hazard mitigation strategies in applying environmental technologies to contain, treat, remediate, and dispose of contaminants in the natural world. Curriculums may include discussions about various regulations and policies pertaining to air and water pollution, toxicology and risk assessment, and emergency disaster preparedness. Students who specialize in environmental technology and management might gain expertise in computing, evaluating, and reporting on hazardous environmental health risks.

Curriculum/Coursework for an Environmental Science Degree

Students in environmental science programs have the opportunity to study a broad spectrum of environmental topics, expanding their expertise across numerous concentrations and specializations that provide them with the scientific research, writing, analytical and theoretical thinking, and problem-solving skills needed to be successful in the field.

Online bachelor-level curriculums usually dedicate the first half of the program to general coursework in mathematics and life and physical sciences, with the second half allowing students to concentrate on an environmental specialization or even fulfill elective credits in more interdisciplinary environmental studies.

The following course titles are examples of core requirements and electives offered in online bachelor's environmental science degree programs:

  • Biology
  • Environmental Policy and Law
  • Environmental Ethics
  • Global Environmental Management
  • Toxicology
  • Applied Statistics

Environmental Ethics

This course is designed to consider environmental issues from a moral and philosophical perspective while addressing society's obligation to ecological stewardship and the ethical motivations that drive environmental policies and regulations. Typical course concepts may include the intrinsic versus the extrinsic value of nature, an examination of animal rights, and non-Western perspectives on the environment.

Global Environmental Management

This course aims to inform students about different environmental management strategies and policies on a global scale. Through reading and analyzing case studies of several anthropogenic and natural implications on the environment, students should gain foundational knowledge of how governmental and nongovernmental stakeholders work together to address global social, economic, and political issues as they pertain to the environment. Topics may cover pollution and sanitation, conservation, development, and sustainability measures.

Environmental Policy and Law

This course is typically offered in environmental policy concentrations and is designed to provide students with the research and analytical thinking skills needed to examine and interpret environmental policies, regulations, and laws as a basis for environmental management strategies. Students typically learn about the different branches of government and how these branches apply the rule of law to protect the environment and comply with health and safety measures.

How Long Does it Take to Get an Online Bachelor's in Environmental Science?

Online bachelor's environmental science degrees typically take about four years to complete, but program lengths may vary depending on whether a student maintains a full-time or part-time enrollment status.

Other factors that determine program lengths include whether an online bachelor's degree is offered as an accelerated curriculum, whether a student must fulfill special program requirements, such as fieldwork, seminars, or internships; as well as if students have the option to enroll in summer courses.

Accreditation for Online Bachelor's in Environmental Science Degrees

Accreditation is given to colleges, universities, and programs that have achieved a high standard of academic excellence in meeting its students' learning needs. Federal financial aid, employer tuition reimbursement programs, and many scholarship opportunities require that students attend an accredited school.

Some environmental science programs have specialized accreditation. For example, the Society of American Foresters (SAF) accredits conservation and fish and wildlife programs that are committed to providing students with specialized quality instruction from environmental professionals who can offer students real-world industry insights and expertise.

Additionally, the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) which is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), gives accreditation to schools with online distance learning programs that meet its criteria.

Students can learn more about a college or university's accreditation by visiting their school's website or searching the U.S. Department of Education's database of accredited colleges and universities.

Environmental Science Licensure & Certification

Environmental professionals may choose to pursue licensure and certification to demonstrate their expertise in the field. Environmental specialists have the option to obtain a Certified Hazardous Materials Manager (CHMM) credential, which should be renewed every five years to ensure professionals stay abreast of industry developments.

Conservationists and foresters may also obtain a Certified Forester certification through the Society of American Foresters (SAF). To qualify, candidates must hold a bachelor's degree from a SAF-accredited or related forestry program, have working experience in the field, and must be able to pass an examination.

Students who wish to pursue a career in environmental law will need a doctorate degree and be able to pass a state bar exam before practicing law.

Environmental Science Career Information

There are many career paths available for graduates of environmental science degrees who wish to leverage their industry expertise and experiential learning to make a difference in the natural world. Bachelor-level environmental science degrees are designed to equip students with essential competencies for research opportunities, risk assessment, and conservation; although, there are many other professional avenues individuals can take.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in 2019, individuals who worked in environmental science careers had a median salary in the following professions:

  • Environmental Scientists and Specialists: $71,360
  • Conservation Scientists and Foresters: $62,410
  • Environmental Engineers: $88,860
  • Environmental Lawyer: $122,960 (median salary for all lawyers, 2019)
  • Environmental Consultants: $46,540

How to Become an Environmental Specialist

Graduates with environmental science degrees may choose to utilize their natural sciences expertise as environmental specialists. Environmental specialists research and investigate environmental concerns, conduct studies and sampling, and develop strategies to manage or remediate various affected sites or issues. Many environmental specialists work with governments, businesses, and other organizations in an effort to protect and develop solutions for environmental and public health interests.

Environmental specialists are adept in research methods, data collection and analysis, and reporting findings. They are usually skilled in problem-solving, public speaking, and technical writing, as well. Environmental specialists may specialize in particular subject areas, for example, climate change studies, restoration ecology, or health and safety, amongst others.

According to the BLS, the expected job growth for environmental specialists is 8 percent (2019-2029).

How to Become an Environmental Consultant

Environmental consultants utilize strong environmental technology, toxicology, and regulatory expertise to investigate and assess pollution and contamination levels at various establishments. Environmental consultants are typically employed at government agencies and private consulting firms, often conducting their work in offices and laboratories, as well as visiting and monitoring work sites. Duties may also include utilizing ecological technologies, such as remote sensors, to determine pollution levels and ensuring compliance with environmental regulations.

According to the BLS, job growth for environmental consultants is expected to increase by 8 percent (2019-2029).

Professional Organizations in Environmental Science

Graduates with degrees in environmental science have the option to join professional organizations that allow them to network with other industry professionals, provide access to continuing education, and assist them in finding employment and volunteer opportunities.

The National Association of Environmental Professionals (NAEP) is a professional organization that serves as a resource for environmental planning and management strategies, the latest research, and information collaboration amongst professionals in government, higher education, private businesses, and throughout the environmental field. The NAEP has different membership packages to choose from depending on an individual's education and years of work experience.

Conservationists, foresters, and other environmental professionals with a more interdisciplinary background may want to join the Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences (AESS) or the Wildlife Society. The AESS provides membership to anyone with an education in the environmental field who is eager to collaborate and find solutions to today's environmental problems from a more liberal arts perspective. The Wildlife Society offers membership to environmentalists that specialize in wildlife conservation, such as biological diversity, invasive species, and climate change impacts on different species.

Many professional organizations provide student chapter memberships for individuals who are still enrolled in an environmental program at a college or university. Professional organizations can be beneficial to students who are preparing to enter the environmental field upon graduation.

Financial Aid and Scholarship Information for Environmental Science Degrees

Online environmental science degree programs tend to be cost-effective alternatives to in-person instruction. Many students who pursue online degrees typically save money on other campus-related expenses, such as room and board or transportation. Some colleges include a technology fee in their tuition which usually offsets the costs of expensive print materials, such as textbooks.

Students who require financial assistance to pay for their education may fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see if they qualify for federal financial aid. Some of the eligibility requirements include demonstrating a financial need, showing proof of U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen status, and being enrolled in an accredited college or university.

Other students may opt to apply for scholarships, grants, and fellowships online, some of which may be focused in environmental science or conservation; enroll in a tuition reimbursement program through their employer, seek work-study opportunities, or inquire if they are eligible for active military or veteran financial assistance.

For more information on financial assistance, tuition, and financing, visit your college or university's financial aid office.

Steve Duckett Local Conservation Scholarship

The annual Steve Duckett Local Conservation Scholarship is available to students who are committed to nature conservation and community-based environmental stewardship. Applicants must be enrolled in an accredited college, university, or post-graduate program and majoring in environmental science or a related subject. Additionally, applicants should submit a current resume that demonstrates their community stewardship achievements, an official transcript as evidence of a grade point average of 3.0, and a 500-word personal statement that highlights their commitment to conservation efforts. One winner will be awarded $1,000.

Ted Rollins Eco Scholarship

The Ted Rollins Eco Scholarship is offered twice a year to students attending an accredited college or university for a degree in sustainability, marketing, or business. Applicants should write a personal statement that highlights their experiences, goals, and interests as they relate to sustainability efforts and developments in environmental entrepreneurism. Finalists will be awarded $1,000 that can be used towards textbooks, supplies, tuition, or room and board expenses.

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