What is an Environmental Engineering Degree?

Students of environmental engineering learn how to apply principles of engineering, soil science, and chemistry to environmental protection and restoration. They examine issues like climate change, pollution, deforestation, the supply of energy resources, and population growth.

Coursework in environmental engineering gives future environmental engineers a choice of four areas of specialization:

  • Air quality – focuses on finding ways to improve air quality by studying pollutants like airborne particulate matter
  • Environmental systems engineering – focuses on environmentally sustainable design of water and energy systems and infrastructure
  • Water resources engineering – looks at water supplies, irrigation, waste disposal, and flood risk and avoidance
  • Waste management – made up of three sub-specializations: solid waste, waste water and soil conservation, and water management

Program Options

Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Engineering – Four Year Duration
Holders of a Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Engineering generally qualify for entry-level roles in the field. Here is a sample curriculum:

  • Introduction to Engineering
  • Chemistry for Engineering
  • Differential Calculus for Engineers
  • Introductory Physics for Engineers
  • Mechanics – focuses on Newton’s second law of motion, friction, impulse, momentum, work, and energy
  • Computation and Programming
  • Integral Calculus for Engineers
  • Environmental Engineering Laboratory – lab experiments to illustrate environmental engineering concepts and techniques
  • Water Pollution Control
  • Air Pollution Prevention and Control
  • Fluid Mechanics – the branch of physics concerned with the response of fluids to forces exerted upon them
  • Mining and the Environment
  • Transport Phenomena – any phenomena involving the movement of entities like mass, momentum, or energy through a fluid or solid
  • Soil Mechanics
  • Engineering Hydrology – focuses on the hydrologic processes of weather, precipitation, infiltration, evaporation, snowmelt, and runoff
  • Economics of Chemical and Biological Engineering
  • Geo-Environmental Engineering – engineering solutions relating to environmental impacts of contaminants within soils

Master’s Degree in Environmental Engineering – Two Year Duration
The Master’s Degree in Environmental Engineering is fast becoming a requirement to work in the field. Holders of this degree may be employed by engineering consulting firms, research labs, or government departments and agencies.

Students of environmental engineering master’s programs become proficient in conducting research and writing scholarly publications. Program components include assignments, examinations, research papers, and theses. Course selection is approved by a faculty advisor. Below are examples of possible courses:

  • Biofilm Process in Wastewater Treatment
  • Air Pollution Control
  • Hazardous and Radioactive Waste Management
  • Special Topics in Environmental Engineering
  • Directed Studies/Research
  • Indoor Air Quality
  • Contaminant Hydrology
  • Environmental Impact Assessment of Major Projects
  • Comprehensive Examination

Doctoral Degree in Environmental Engineering – Four Year Duration
Typically, doctoral graduates in this discipline have careers as university professors, researchers, or senior industry executives.

Environmental engineering degree requirements at this level include both core courses and original research, in preparation of a doctoral thesis. The coursework component covers topics like those listed above, in the environmental engineering master’s program section. Possible areas of research include:

  • Biofilms and biofilm technologies for water and wastewater treatment
  • Drinking water: membrane treatment and climate change adaptation technologies
  • Ecological engineering and agricultural waste management
  • Sustainable municipal waste management, groundwater, and remediation technologies
  • Water resources and management

Degrees Similar to Environmental Engineering

Architectural Engineering
Degree programs in architectural engineering combine architecture and engineering. Their goal is to produce engineers with technical skills in all aspects of building design and construction. Courses, therefore, cover subjects like architectural drawing and design, building construction, lighting and acoustics, energy systems, and fire safety.

Chemical Engineering
This degree field is focused on how the chemical, biochemical, and physical properties of substances can be changed to turn them into something else. Examples of this work are making plastic from oil, developing synthetic fibers for clothing, identifying ways to mass-produce drugs, and finding ways to solve environmental problems.

Civil Engineering
This degree field is focused on the processes of design and planning of civil infrastructure like roads, tunnels, bridges, dams, railroads, and airports. In their work, civil engineers are concerned with such things as how much weight a structure can support and the environmental issues presented by construction. The emphasis of civil engineering degree programs is math, statistics, engineering systems and mechanics, building codes, and statistical analysis.

Engineering Technology
Engineering technology programs teach the engineering skills required to assist engineers in their work. Common classes are computers for engineering technology, construction methodologies, structural systems, strength of materials, and technical drawing. Some of the subfields of engineering technology are civil engineering technology, construction engineering technology, aerospace engineering technology, and automotive engineering technology.

Nuclear Engineering
Students of nuclear engineering learn how energy released from nuclear reactions can be used in power plants, medical diagnostic equipment, and other industries. Nuclear engineering courses cover nuclear reactor theory, design, safety, and risks.

Urban Planning
Degree programs in urban planning teach the processes involved in designing communities, towns, and cities. Students learn how to make decisions about the need for and placement of infrastructure like roads, highways, tunnels, bridges, airports, railroads, dams, utilities, parks, and other urban projects. Coursework includes environmental planning, which considers environmental, social, political, and economic factors.

Skills You’ll Learn

  • Ability to work under pressure and meet deadlines
  • Advanced math and science skills
  • Attention to detail
  • Communication and teamwork
  • Data collection and analysis
  • Decision-making
  • Ethical awareness
  • IT skills
  • Laboratory skills
  • Organization
  • Problem-solving
  • Report writing

What Can You Do with an Environmental Engineering Degree?

Environmental engineering graduates find employment with:

  • Engineering and architectural services
  • Management, scientific, and technical consulting services
  • Utilities: water, sewage services, electricity, dams, natural gas
  • Government departments and agencies, such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
  • Mining companies
  • Manufacturing companies
  • Real estate/land development firms


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