Best Online Forestry Bachelor's Degree Programs

Oct 20, 2021

Online Forestry Degree Overview

Online forestry degrees and related disciplines are offered at the associate, bachelor, master, doctoral, and certificate level, providing unique and flexible learning opportunities for students interested in natural resources, conservation, and wildlife studies. Forestry curriculums tend to vary from school to school, offering students a blend of education and on-the-job training to prepare them for a career in forest services; for example, foresters, conservationists, forest technicians, and wildland firefighters.

Online degree programs are typically available in a fully digital format or a hybrid learning curriculum of both online and in-person courses. For students who don't wish to register in an online forestry degree program, some trade schools offer an online forestry conservation and wildlife career diploma instead. These are typically self-paced courses that can be completed in about six months or less and are an affordable alternative to a college degree. Below we'll cover each forestry degree level in more detail.

Online Associate Degrees in Forestry

Online associate degrees in forestry and related programs, such as environmental science and urban forest management, aim to provide foundational knowledge and essential skills for an entry-level career in the field. Associate-level curriculums typically include 60 credits of general coursework in mathematics, science, and college-level composition, in addition to elective courses in environmental and forestry-related subjects.

Most online associate forestry degrees are an Associate of Science (A.S.) or Associate of Applied Science (A.A.S.). Many graduates of online associate degree programs use their degree as a stepping stone towards a bachelor-level program in a related field.

Online Bachelor's Degrees in Forestry

Online bachelor's degrees in forestry aim to deliver foundational knowledge of forest management and natural resource conservation, in addition to how these practices impact wildlife, water and soil properties, outdoor leisure activities, and societies. Most four-year degree programs include 120 credits of core requirements and elective courses pertaining to forestry or environmental science.

Depending on the program, graduates may receive a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Forest Resource Management, a B.S. in Natural Resources, or a degree in a similar environmental subject area. Many individuals find employment as park rangers, horticulturists, forest technicians, or conservationists.

Online Master's Degrees in Forestry

Although a master's degree isn't a requirement to find work in forestry services, students may seek a more in-depth education that delves into topics related to forestry, conservation, and natural resources, allowing them to apply their knowledge of science, policy, and stewardship to develop solutions to complex environmental issues. Many online graduate degree programs last about two years and require between 30 and 36 credits of general coursework and electives. To meet graduation requirements, students typically need to complete a thesis/dissertation or capstone project.

Students enrolled in a master's degree program have the options like a Master of Science in Natural Resources (M.S.N.R.), a Master of Natural Resource Stewardship (M.N.R.S.), or a Master of Professional Science (M.S.P.) in Wildlife Conservation and Management; although there are other disciplines to choose from. Obtaining a master's degree may open doors to management and research positions at nonprofit organizations and governmental agencies, as well as higher education teaching opportunities.

Online Doctoral Degrees in Forestry

A doctoral degree is the highest level of study students can acquire to further their field expertise. While there are very few doctoral programs offered entirely online in forestry or related environmental subjects, some programs do offer a combination of digital and in-person coursework. Students who wish to challenge themselves with a rigorous doctorate curriculum in forestry topics may receive degrees, such as Doctor of Environmental and Natural Resource Policy (Ph.D.), Ph.D. of Environmental Studies, or Ph.D. of Forestry.

Students who are interested in environmental law will need to obtain a Juris Doctor (J.D.) in Environmental Law and pass a state bar exam. Some programs offer a combined J.D. and Ph.D. in Environmental Policy.

While program lengths vary, many forestry-related doctorates require 45 to 60 credits of core requirements, program concentration courses, and a thesis/dissertation and defense. Some doctoral programs include teaching apprenticeships, research opportunities, experiential training.

Online Certificates in Forestry

There are several online forestry and environmental science certificates available at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Certificates are ideal for students who wish to gain professional development, learn new industry skills, seek career advancement, or pursue a new career entirely.

Forestry-related certificates may include grasslands management, natural resource policies, fisheries, geospatial analysis, forest health and resilience, and environmental communication; although there are many topics to choose from. Students may also decide to enhance their environmental policy expertise with a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) certificate.

Certificate programs could last a matter of weeks to six months or even a year; they typically include 15 to 18 credits of subject-specific coursework.

Enrolling Online for Forestry Degree Programs

Each college has its own admission requirements for first-year students or those transferring from another institution. Most colleges and universities have online applications that the student can fill out and submit through the school's website. First-year students typically need to submit high school transcripts, SAT or ACT test scores, and perhaps a personal statement or recommendations.

Transfer students from other colleges and universities typically follow a similar application process. Minimum completion of 30 to 60 credits is common for students to be admitted into a forestry or environmental degree program; however, the number of credits varies. It's recommended that students read through their school's website and reach out to an academic advisor who can assist them with the application process, from ensuring they meet all the requirements to registering and choosing their courses.

Forestry Specializations/Concentrations

There are many specializations and concentrations to choose from when enrolling in an online bachelor's forestry degree program. Some programs offer similar forestry or natural resources degrees with various tracks, while other programs may culminate in a degree in a specific forestry-related discipline, such as fire ecology, forest sciences, environmental management and policy, or conservation biology.

Natural Resource Conservation

This concentration usually focuses on how humans can better utilize and protect limited resources, including the ways in which economic, governmental, and societal factors impact natural resource expenditure and depletion. Students should be able to apply forest management practices and environmental policy and law to resolve natural resource challenges, in addition to understanding how stakeholder alliances and adaptive management planning is exercised to conserve resources.

Conservation Biology

This concentration allows students to explore the relationship between habitats and the species that exist within them. Emphasis is placed on various societal, political, and natural threats facing biodiversity and several ecosystems. Students should be able to apply what they learn in the development of management strategies that conserve flora and fauna.

Fire Ecology

This concentration is ideal for students who wish to pursue a career as a forest firefighter. Students who concentrate on fire ecology may undergo a combination of coursework and hands-on training that imparts an awareness of fire's purpose and imposition in natural resource management in wildland habitats, as well as actionable approaches to solving complicated natural resource problems.

Curriculum/Coursework for a Forestry Degree

Forestry curriculums tend to be wide-ranging, providing students with the opportunity to study broad subjects that advance their expertise across many forestry and natural resources concentrations and specializations. Courses in forestry-related programs typically promote analytical and critical thinking, an aptitude for scientific research methods, decision-making skills, and problem-solving skills.

The first half of an online bachelor's degree program is usually dedicated to general requirements in mathematics, science, and composition; while the second half offers students the chance to focus on core courses in forestry or natural resources.

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

  • Biology (and lab)
  • Introduction to Forest Management
  • Fire Ecology and Management
  • Environmental Policy and Law
  • Watershed Management
  • Introduction to Spatial Analysis

Forest Ecology

This course allows students to explore several natural resources topics, including flora and fauna classification, biodiversity, soil and nutrient distribution, and impacts of global change and anthropogenic behaviors on forest ecosystems. Students should begin to develop questions about forest ecology and scientific theories, in addition to finding answers through an investigation of key course concepts.

Watershed Management

This course is designed to give students a foundation in the hydrologic progressions of wildland ecosystems, including its riparian pools, streams, and watersheds. Students should gain a greater understanding of water quality and erosion in forested areas, as well as common management practices.

Fire Ecology and Management

This course typically uses case studies and scientific literature to provide students with a background in fire science, historical instances of wildland fires, climate change impacts on wildfires, and the different policy and management practices used to mitigate these events.

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

The majority of bachelor-level forestry degree programs take about four years to complete if students are going full-time. Some forestry programs offer an accelerated program or even have a combined bachelor's and master's degree program in a related subject area.

Other factors that may determine the length of an online bachelor's forestry program are if there are additional program requirements, such as special training, internships, or seminars; in addition to the availability of summer courses.

Accreditation for Online Bachelor's in Forestry Degrees

Colleges, universities, and programs receive accreditation for meeting criteria set by independent accrediting bodies. This is determined by their ability to meet their students' learning needs through their curriculums and educational and professional resources. Accreditation is important if a student intends to apply for financial aid, tuition reimbursement through their workplace, or scholarships.

There are many forestry programs that have specialized accreditation through the Society of American Foresters (SAF). These programs must demonstrate a commitment to their students by providing a SAF-approved curriculum in forestry, conservation, and related subjects, in addition to instruction by environmental professionals with high-level industry expertise. The Association of Fire Ecology also gives certification to forestry curriculums with fire ecology tracks or degree programs dedicated entirely to fire ecology and management.

Online programs may be accredited by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC), recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). To find out whether a college or university is accredited, visit its website, or search the U.S. Department of Education's database of accredited colleges and universities.

Forestry Licensure & Certification

There are several forestry and environmental credentials individuals can obtain to demonstrate their continued expertise in their respective fields. The Society of American Foresters (SAF) offers a Certified Forester certification to professionals who have graduated from a SAF-accredited forestry program, have work experience in the field, and can pass an examination.

The Society for Range Management (SRM) offers a Certified Professional in Rangeland Management (CPRM) credential, as well. Individuals should have a bachelor's degree in rangeland management (or a related field); they are required to have five years of professional experience in the field and must pass an examination.

Special licensure and certification are also typically required for wildland firefighters, and students who wish to pursue a career in environmental law will need a doctoral degree and be able to pass a state bar exam.

Forestry Career Information

Foresters have a wide range of professional titles and responsibilities, and a degree in forestry or a related subject tends to open doors to employment opportunities in forest management, natural resource conservation, and environmental research and policymaking. Many forestry-related professionals work outdoors, devoting their careers to protecting natural habitats and biodiversity.

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:

  • Conservation Scientists and Foresters: $62,410
  • Forest Technicians: $45,500
  • Firefighters: $50,850
  • Soil and Plant Scientist: $63,200
  • Environmental Specialist: $71,360

How to Become a Forest Ranger

Graduates with degrees in forestry or related fields may decide to pursue a career as a forest ranger. Also known as park naturalists, these professionals' responsibilities include disseminating information regarding the historical, scientific, and political facets of the environment (for example, national parks, forests, and watersheds), developing educational programs and lectures about the parks, natural resource conservation, and management strategies; in addition to patrolling, emergency response, and research.

Forest rangers typically require a bachelor's degree and many begin their careers as forestry technicians. Essential skills needed to be a forest ranger include reading and writing comprehension, research methods, a high level of judgment and decision-making, and superior communication skills.

According to the BLS and O*NET OnLine, the projected job growth for forest rangers is 4 to 6 percent (2018-2028).

How to Become a Forestry Technician

Individuals employed as forestry technicians may work alongside conservation scientists in utilizing technological and environmental management strategies to enhance, mitigate, and conserve natural habitats and rangelands.

Forestry technician responsibilities typically include patrolling forests and parks, mapping forest routes, training other forest workers in horticulture and nursery tasks, fire response initiatives, and recreational activities; and developing community education programs. Other duties may include collecting soil and plant samples to determine forest health and issuing permits.

According to the BLS and O*NET OnLine, the projected job growth for forestry technicians is expected to increase by 2 to 3 percent (2018-2028).

Professional Organizations in Forestry

Professional organizations benefit individuals in the forestry and environmental field by providing networking opportunities, access to continuing education, certifications, and training; as well as employment, volunteer, and research assistance.

The Society of American Foresters (SAF) offers perks to its members, such as grants and scholarships for conservation initiatives, subscriptions to various natural resource newsletters, and discounts with affiliated partners. The Society for Rangelands Management (SRM) membership is also available to professionals who work to conserve and manage rangeland resources.

Other professional organizations related to forestry include the Association for Fire Ecology, the Wildlife Society, and the National Association of Environmental Professionals (NAEP). Each of these organizations serves as a resource for forestry and environmental professionals to collaborate and exchange information pertaining to forest science, conservation strategies, current scientific research, and environmental management practices.

Students can check with student services or program advisors to find out if their college or university has a student chapter with one of these professional organizations. Professional organizations can assist students in finding internships or post-graduation work opportunities.

Financial Aid and Scholarship Information for Forestry Degrees

Students who enroll in online distance learning forestry degree programs usually save money on room and board, transportation, and other campus-related expenses. Some colleges and universities charge a nominal technology fee, as well, providing access to digital books and resources that offset the cost of expensive printed textbooks.

Financial aid is also available for individuals who need help paying for their education. Students can fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine their eligibility for financial aid from the federal government. To qualify, students must show proof of U.S. citizenship or eligible non-citizenship and must be attending an accredited U.S. college or university.

Other options are available for financial assistance, such as employer tuition reimbursement programs and benefits for active military members and veterans. Scholarships, grants, and fellowships are also available and can be searched for online. There are even scholarships for students pursuing natural resource conservation and forestry, and some colleges provide scholarships to enrolled students at their institutions.

Students can learn more about financial aid, tuition, and financing options by visiting their college's website or speaking to someone in the financial aid office.

Forest Landowner Foundation Scholarship

The annual Forest Landowner Foundation Scholarship is available to sophomore, junior, or graduate students (with at least one year left of college) who are pursuing a natural resource degree in an accredited forestry program. Applicants should maintain a grade point average of 3.0, demonstrate leadership in their school and community, and highlight their intentions of working to improve private forest lands. Additionally, a current resume, a recommendation from a faculty member, and up to three additional references are required for consideration. Applications are due January 15, and winners will be awarded between $1,000 and $1,500.

Apprentice Ecologist Award

The annual Apprentice Ecologist Award is available to students between 13 and 21 years old and can be used towards tuition, books, and other fees at an accredited college or university. To apply, applicants must conduct a unique project related to environmental stewardship, document their project through photos, and write an essay describing their work and what their project means to them in 750 to 1,500 words. Submissions will be published on the Global Registry of Apprentice Scholarships and three winners will be awarded up to $1,750 based on their photos and essays.

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