What is an Environmental Studies Degree?

Environmental studies examines the interrelationships between industry, people, and the environment. Its emphasis is broad, encompassing the economic, political, social, cultural, and moral aspects related to the environment and sustainability.

Students of the discipline learn to make environmental connections across faculties of arts, science, and business. They seek solutions to environmental issues in fields like history, geography, economics, political science, resource management and restoration, public policy, and environmental law. In a way, they take a more philosophical approach to environmental problems, asking and attempting to answer questions about how we are to live with and in nature.

Program Options

Bachelor’s Degree in Environmental Studies – Four Year Duration
At the bachelor’s level, students of environmental studies gain an interdisciplinary background which enables them to think critically about, analyze, and understand contemporary environmental issues. They consider issues from multiple perspectives, including environmental science, the social sciences, and humanities.

Here is a snapshot of the kinds of courses which comprise an environmental studies bachelor’s curriculum:

• Introduction to Biology: Genetics, Evolution, and Ecology – introduction to the biological sciences; topics include the principles of genetics, evolutionary theory, ecology, and conservation biology
• Understanding Environmental Issues – exploration through case studies of the interdisciplinary nature of today’s environmental issues; examination of what different disciplines offer to our understanding of these issues and our attempt to solve them
• Introduction to Statistics – overview of the principal concepts in statistics: types of analytics, probability, central tendency, variability, relationship between variables, probability distribution, hypothesis testing and statistical significance, and regression
• Introduction to Biology: Cell and Animal Biology – introduction to the biological sciences focused on the structure and function of animal cells and organs
• Introduction to Macroeconomics – introduction to the fundamentals of macroeconomics: economic growth, price stability, full employment; analysis of measures of national income, national output, unemployment and inflation rates, and business cycle fluctuations
• Introduction to Microeconomics – introduction to the fundamentals of microeconomics: prices and production in single markets in advanced capitalist economies; the interaction between different markets; the decisions of individuals and organizations to allocate resources of production, exchange, and consumption
• Introduction to International Relations – introduction to the fundamental concepts of international relations: national power, foreign policy, conflict, political economy, international trade, and international organizations
• Natural Disasters, Catastrophes, and the Environment – examination of the science behind natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, and volcanoes; the impacts of climate change, killer smog, and nuclear accidents on natural disasters; society’s preparedness for and response to these problems
• Issues in Journalism – foundations and functions of the press, techniques of gathering and writing news, journalism in different cultural contexts, hands-on experience in drafting and editing journalistic reviews, letters to the editor, pitches to the editor, and interviews
• Development Economics – examination of development issues such as population growth, stagnant agriculture, environmental degradation, illiteracy, gender disparities, and rapid urbanization to understand how these dynamics reinforce poverty and deprivation; critics and proponents of international development assistance and intervention
• Human Rights in History – discussion of the idea of universal, inalienable rights as one of the most influential concepts in modern history; the consequences of human rights influenced politics

Master’s Degree in Environmental Studies – Two Year Duration
Master’s graduates in environmental studies are ready to address complex environmental issues using a highly interdisciplinary approach. The curriculum at this level prepares them for roles involving the analysis, development, conservation, and management of environmental resources. Career options span business, government, planning, consulting, teaching, and research.

Sample specializations offered at the master’s level:

• Environmental Policy – emphasizes the ecological, economic, political, and social factors which affect environmental policy and governance; possible research areas include environmental justice, energy studies, science and environmental decision making, and human dimensions of natural resource management
• Geography – focuses on the science of place and space and links the social and natural sciences, studying the relationships between human activity and natural systems
• Urban Planning – focuses on processes of urban planning and decision making with a combination of sustainable design, law, and policy
• Energy Policy – emphasizes coursework in energy transition from fossil-based to zero-carbon, stakeholder engagement, advanced energy policy, and environmental politics / policy

Degrees Similar to Environmental Studies

Economics asks wide questions about world economies, how governments should respond to financial crises, how stock prices and exchange rates are set, and how to help people living in poverty. The degree field is focused on how to use the concepts and theories of economics to study and solve real-world problems.

Energy and Environmental Policy
The focus of degree programs in energy and environmental policy is sustainable energy and water development, environmental protection, climate change policy, and green economics.

Environmental Design
Degree programs in environmental design are focused on the interrelated variables that impact our natural environment and the built structures that we add to it. The curriculum explores the four elements that drive environmental design. The first is architecture – buildings and other structures. The second is landscape – parks, gardens, courtyards, public squares, and recreational spaces. The third is interiors – spaces inside buildings. The fourth is environmental graphics – signage and information boards, exhibitions, public installations and interactive experiences, and identity and placemaking (creating a sense of place).

Environmental Science
Environmental science applies biological, chemical, geological, and mathematical principles to the study of the environment and environmental problems caused by humans. It focuses on solving problems like degradation and pollution of the environment and on preserving and managing natural resources.

Natural Resource Management
Natural resource management is about finding ways to sustain the Earth’s resources in the face of the growing human population. Majors in this discipline are typically passionate about clean water, clean energy, and clean environments. They study in the classroom, in the computer lab, and in the field and learn how to apply scientific and ecological knowledge, as well as economic and social awareness to find solutions to preserving our natural world.

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

In addition to a broad understanding of the earth and sustainability, students of environmental studies gain a body of transferable skills in the areas of communication, data gathering, organization, management, and teamwork:

• Ability to explain complex ideas
• Ability to identify, research, and act on issues
• Ability to interpret and analyze information presented by others
• Ability to learn and apply new information
• Ability to make sound decisions while considering different sides of an argument
• Ability to organize, understand, and analyze new sources of information
• Ability to present thoughts clearly and concisely in oral and written presentations
• Capacity to think logically, critically, and creatively
• Cross-cultural awareness
• Debating, persuading, and mediating
• Decision making and leadership
• Laboratory skills
• Multitasking and prioritizing
• Understanding of moral and ethical accountability in professional practice

What Can You Do with an Environmental Studies Degree?

Below is a list of some of the most common fields in which environmental studies graduates use their broad range of skills. Some roles may require additional education.

• Climate change adaptation
• Corporate sustainability
• Economic development planning
• Ecotourism
• Environmental assessment
• Environmental conservation
• Environmental education – advocating for societal change through educational programs with non-profit organizations or social enterprises
• Environmental fundraising
• Environmental health
• Environmental journalism
• Environmental law
• Environmental management – in construction, manufacturing, procurement, logistics
• Environmental public relations
• Public policy / environmental policy analysis
• Sustainability planning
• Urban or rural sustainability

Sample industries / types of employers include:

• Agricultural companies
• Civil engineering firms
• Educational institutions
• Environmental consulting firms
• Environmental protection agencies
• Geographic consulting firms
• Geological surveyors
• Government
• Heritage / historic sites
• International development agencies
• Mining / resource companies
• Parks / recreation departments
• Pollution control companies
• Real estate / construction companies
• Resource management organizations
• Science publications and media
• Transportation companies
• Travel / tourism industry
• Urban / regional planning firms
• Waste disposal companies


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