Is an environmental science degree worth it? Many people now realize the complex relationship the planet and all its varied and interconnected systems have with the living creatures that call it home. For those who wonder if a degree in environmental science is worth it, the answer seems clearer now than it has ever been. The world seeks more people with an understanding of environmental science. The best environmental science programs prepare you for those careers.
A bachelor’s in environmental science provides students with a general, interdisciplinary degree that encompasses a multitude of disciplines. College majors that relate to environmental science will deal primarily with the study of the environment through the lens of natural sciences. The best environmental science schools help students learn how to develop solutions to environmental problems, and how to use the degree to navigate further into the branches of environmental science.
Methodology: Ranking the Best Environmental Science Schools
The editors at Bachelor’s Degree Center want students to find the best schools for environmental science, so we feature only accredited colleges and universities with a sound reputation on the job market. From there, we rank environmental science majors colleges according to tuition cost, student satisfaction, and graduate salary using data from IPEDS and Niche.
1. Stanford University
Stanford University offers four of the best environmental science degrees at bachelor’s level in geological sciences, energy resources engineering, earth systems, geophysics. Stanford University offers degree candidates an opportunity to explore their field of study in the field, through research projects and data science skills. Featured classes for these degrees include busting energy myths, the global warming paradox, known your planet, frontiers of geophysical research, and intro earth systems, and the worst journey in the world, among others.
Stanford University was chartered as a junior college in the 1890s. The campus in California covers more than 8,000 acres and serves more than 12,400 students. Stanford is recognized to be among the finest higher learning institutions in the world.
What We Like: Seven schools of Stanford University combine to offer hundreds of programs.
Degree: 4 majors
2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Environmental Solutions Initiative offers six of the best environmental science degrees at the baccalaureate level. These environmental science degree programs include environmental mechanics, environmental chemical environmental engineering, environmental policy planning, environmental systems, environmental energy in aeronautics, and environmental and toxicological studies. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology also operates the New Engineering Education Transformation program in the area of renewable energy machines or advanced materials machines. These programs from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology allow students to prepare for meaningful environmental science careers.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) operates as a land-grant, private school established in the 1860s. In addition, MIT is a space and sea-grant institution of higher education with more than 11,350 students attending classes online and on the Cambridge campus.
What We Like: The Massachusetts Institute of Technology consistently ranks among the leading universities in many categories.
Degree: Environmental concentrations
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
3. Duke University
Duke University’s Nicolas School of the Environment offers three of North Carolina’s best environmental science degrees in marine science & conservation, environmental sciences, and policy or earth & climate sciences. Many of Duke University’s bachelor’s degree in environmental sciences offers small class sizes, and field-oriented courses, with access to the world-famous marine lab run by Duke University in Beaufort. These programs are offered as an AB (a Bachelor of Arts) or a BS – a Bachelor of Science degree.
Duke University was established by the Quakers/Methodists as Brown School in the 1830s. The university’s campus includes more than 8,500 acres plus additional facilities that serve a student enrollment that exceeds 15,550 postgraduate and undergraduate students annually.
What We Like: Duke University employs nearly 40,000 individuals, making it the state’s second-largest of all private employers.
Degree: 3 majors
4. University of Washington
The University of Washington’s College of the Environment offers two of the west coast’s best environmental science degrees with its Environmental Science and Resource Management (ESRM) or Bioresource Science and Engineering (BSE). Students may select minors in ecological restoration, restoration ecology, wildlife conservation, and ESRM, to name a few. The University of Washington’s best environmental science degrees require the completion of a ten-credit capstone, senior thesis, or a restoration ecology projected. Sample research areas include biofuel and bioenergy options from wood, fiber composites, and bioconversion of biomass to fuels and chemicals, among others.
The University of Washington (Washington) was chartered in the 1860s, making it one of the oldest higher learning institutions in the nation. In addition, UW is a sea and space-grant school with a student enrollment that exceeds 47,150 postgraduate and undergraduate students.
What We Like: The University of Washington collaborates with many tech companies nearby, including Boeing and Amazon.
Degree: Environmental Science and Resource Management (ESRM) or Bioresource Science and Engineering (BSE)
5. University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Department of Environment, Ecology and Energy offers a Bachelor of Science degree program in Environment Science that requires degree candidates to complete 120 to 121 semester credits. Featured coursework from UNC’s best environmental science degrees includes the introduction to environmental science problem solving, environment and society, environmental systems modeling, descriptive chemistry, ecology and evolution, estuarine & coastal marine science, and water in our world, plus an environmental science capstone project or honor’s project to name a few.
The University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) is the flagship campus of the NC’s state university system that was established more than 230 years ago, in 1789. The school’s college-town campus covers more than 700 acres and is home to more than 30,050 students annually.
What We Like: UNC is comprised of thirteen schools/colleges offering about 6 dozen academic programs and concentrations.
Degree: Environmental Science BS
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
6. University of Pennsylvania
The University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Earth & Environmental Science offers two of Philadelphia’s best environmental science degrees with its Environmental Studies or Earth Science bachelor’s degrees. The University of Pennsylvania’s undergraduate degree in environmental science offers four academic concentrations as follows -concentrations, history & regional environmental studies, environmental policy & application, sustainability & environmental management, and global environmental system. The University of Pennsylvania’s undergraduate degree in earth science offers a geology, paleobiology, and environmental science concentration.
The University of Pennsylvania is a private school that was established in the 1750s as an academy. The University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) is one of the Ivy League schools and colonial colleges, with a student enrollment that exceeds 22,350 students each year.
What We Like: The University of Pennsylvania maintains a variety of academic facilities and campuses.
Degree: Earth Science or Environmental Studies
7. University of California, Los Angeles
The University of California, Los Angeles’s (UCLA) Institute of the Environment and Sustainability offers a Bachelor of Science degree program in Environmental Science that offers seven concentrations. These best environmental science degrees offer a concentration in earth/environmental, geology, environmental systems & society, conservation biology, environmental health, and atmospheric/oceanic sciences. This undergraduate program in environmental sciences includes a one-of-kind senior practicum. Classes include climate change, physical oceanography, biological oceanography, and introduction to atmospheric chemistry and air pollution, among others.
The Los Angeles campus @ the University of California is a public higher learning institution that was founded as a southern branch of the state’s flagship school. UCLA is a land-grant and space-grant school that serves nearly 46,000 students each year.
What We Like: UCLA holds the distinction of being considered one of the several public ivy league schools in the United States.
Degree: Environmental Science BS
University of California, Los Angeles
8. Columbia University
Columbia University’s Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences offers one of the best environmental science degrees with its major degree program in environmental science in the greater New York area. This undergraduate degree in environmental sciences from Columbia University allows students to customize a path of study that supports the student’s environmental science interests. The core curriculum for this bachelor’s degree from Columbia includes climate systems, life systems, solid earth systems, geochemistry for a habitable planet, and the earth’s oceans and atmosphere, to name a few.
Founded in the 1750s as King’s College, Columbia University is now recognized among the Ivy League universities in operation in the United States. Columbia University’s current name was changed in 1784, about a decade after the American Revolution.
What We Like: Columbia University is also a space-grant school with approximately 33,350 students on its urban campus and online.
Degree: Environmental Sciences
9. University of Virginia
The University of Virginia’s Department of Environmental Sciences offers two of Virginia’s best environmental science degrees with its Bachelor of Science degree program or Bachelor of Arts degree program in Environmental Sciences. Interested students may select a specialization in conservation. There are differences among the two environmental degrees offered by UVA, although the BS degree has a more technical basis than its Bachelor of Arts counterpart. Sample classes include elements of ecology, practical concepts in environmental sciences, and ethics, protocols, and practice of international research, among others.
The University of Virginia was established more than 2 centuries ago in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson. The University of Virginia’s student enrollment as a sea and space-grant school exceeds 25,000 postgraduate and undergraduate students.
What We Like: The University of Virginia’s campus covers more than 1,000 acres and is protected as a UNESCO site.
Degree: BA or BS in Environmental Sciences
10. University of Michigan – Ann Arbor
The University of Michigan offers a bachelor’s degree in earth and environmental science that is ranked among Michigan’s best environmental science degrees. The core classes for UM’s undergraduate degree in environmental science include geobiology, earth’s surface & sediments, earth materials, geochemistry of the solid earth and earth surface processes, and soils, to name a few. In addition, degree candidates must complete a field experience at Camp Davis, located in Wyoming, where students can apply theoretical knowledge in real-world situations.
The University of Michigan (Michigan) is the state’s flagship research school that was founded in Detroit in 1817. The university moved to its current location about two decades later and now serves more than 45,850 students each year.
What We Like: The University of Michigan owns more than 20,000 acres, including the school’s arboretum.
Degree: Earth and Environmental Science
11. University of California, Berkeley
The University of California, Berkeley College of Natural Resources offers an undergraduate degree in Environmental Sciences that is among California’s best environmental science degrees. Students enrolled in the University of California @ Berkeley are offered three academic emphases in the biological science concentration, the social science concentration, and the physical science concentration. Featured classes for UC Berkeley’s environmental science degree program include rigorous coursework from the fields of math, chemistry, physics, economics, biology, and environmental science, among others. Research and environmental modeling round out the coursework for this bachelor’s degree in environmental science.
The University of California (Cal) is a land-grant institution of higher education that was founded in the 1860s. UC Berkeley’s campus covers more than 175 acres and serves approximately 42,250 students.
What We Like: The alumni of UC Berkeley includes Nobel laureates, Turing Award winners, Academy Award winners, and Pulitzer Prize winners, plus influential government officials and politicians.
Degree: Environmental Sciences
University of California, Berkeley
12. Dartmouth College
Dartmouth College offers one of New Hampshire’s best environmental science degrees with its baccalaureate degree in environmental studies (ENVS). Classes for this Dartmouth College environmental science degree program includes conservation of biodiversity, environment, and society, the practice of science policy & diplomacy, global environmental science, ecological economics, the political ecology, environment & society – a step towards sustainability, plus a culminating capstone project or analysis in environmental science, among others. The conservation concentration offers classes in social-ecological systems, agroecology, and the Green New Deal.
Dartmouth College was founded more than 2.5 centuries ago, in 1769. Dartmouth College is known for its campus traditions and is considered among the nation’s colonial colleges with a student enrollment that exceeds 6,500 students online and on the college’s college-town campus in Hanover.
What We Like: Dartmouth College is recognized as an Ivy League school.
Degree: Environmental Studies
13. Texas A&M University
Texas A&M University’s College of Geosciences offers a Bachelor of Science degree program in Environmental Studies that ranks among the most innovative & best environmental science degrees in the Lone Star State. This 120-semester unit program from TAMU includes classes in environmental geosciences, environmental justice, issues in environmental quality, sustainable communities, environmental health planning and policy, environmental impact assessment, and environmental regulatory compliance in geoscience, plus an internship, among others. The upper coursework consists of five themes – urban environment, global environment, GIST, occupational health/safety, and regulation and compliance.
Texas A&M University (A&M) was founded in the 1870s as a land-grant school and now operates as the state’s flagship campus of the A&M system, with a student enrollment that exceeds 69,550 students each year.
What We Like: Texas A&M University is also a senior military school that is also a space-grant and sea-grant institution of higher learning.
Degree: Environmental Studies BS
14. North Carolina State University
North Carolina State University’s College of Natural Resources offers a Bachelor of Science degree program in Environmental Sciences that is among the best environmental science degrees in North Carolina. North Carolina State University’s baccalaureate degree in environmental science requires a minimum of 120 semester units. Core requirements for North Carolina State University degree in environmental science include the analysis of environmental issues, exploring the environment, climate change, and sustainability, energy and environment, and applications of environmental sciences, among others, for a total of 120 bachelor’s credit units.
Established under the Morrill Land Act in the 1880s as an A&M college, North Carolina State University is now the state’s flagship campus, as well as a space and sea-grant school that serves more than 36,550 students each year.
What We Like: Historically, North Carolina State University excels in the programs in engineering, life sciences, and statistics, among others.
Degree: Environmental Sciences BS
North Carolina State University
15. University of Florida
The University of Florida College of Natural Resources and Environment offers two of Florida’s most innovative and best environmental science degrees with its Bachelor of Science degree program or Bachelor of Arts degree program in Environmental Science; both require 120 semester units to complete. Featured coursework for UF’s bachelor’s degree in environmental science, environmental ethics and politics, agricultural ecology, ethics and ecology, natural resource policy & economics, hydrogeology, oceans & global climate change, and introduction to oceanography, among others.
The University of Florida is the Sunshine State’s flagship institution of higher education that was founded in the 1850s as the state’s land-grant school. UF is also a sea and space-grant school and one of the senior member schools of the state’s university system.
What We Like: The University of Florida ranks among the nation’s top public higher learning institutions.
Degree: BA or BS in Environmental Science
16. University of Texas at Austin
The University of Texas at Austin offers two of Texas’s best environmental science degrees, offering a Bachelor of Science degree program or Bachelor of Arts degree program in Environmental Science. The Bachelor of Science degree requires candidates to finish a minimum of 126 academic semester units, whereas the Bachelor of Arts degree program requires 120 semester units. Featured classes include differential calculus, engineering physics, marine ecology, spatial data, and analysis, plus an environmental science field or research experience, to name a few.
The University of Texas at Austin is the Lone Star State’s flagship campus that was founded in the 1880s. UT’s Austin campus is home to seven museums and a variety of auxiliary research facilities.
What We Like: The UT athletes play as the Longhorns and have when a variety of championships in football, baseball, swimming, and diving, among others.
Degree: Environmental Science BS
17. Washington & Lee University
Washington & Lee University offers a BA in Environmental Studies that offers students five academic tracks in environmental studies. Washington & Lee University’s best environmental science degrees concentrations include water resources, conservation biology, climate change, environmental economics, and environmental humanities, among others. Featured core classes include society and natural resources, environmental humanities, environmental service learning, and conservation genetics, to name a few. Certain paths of study offer degree candidates opportunities to study abroad and several international locations.
Washington & Lee University (W&L) was founded in the 1740s as Augusta Academy but awarded its first baccalaureate degree about four decades later. The student enrollment of Washington & Lee University exceeds 2,100 students studying online and on the school’s Lexington campus.
What We Like: Washington & Lee University is consistently listed among the top liberal arts schools and a best-value higher learning institution.
Degree: Environmental Studies BA
18. University of Wisconsin
The University of Wisconsin offers two of the Midwest’s most innovative and best environmental science degrees with its Bachelor of Science degree program or Bachelor of Arts degree program in Environmental Science. The total credit requirements for the University of Wisconsin’s environmental science baccalaureate degree program are 120. The University of Wisconsin requires 30 credit units to be completed in residence @ Madison.
The University of Wisconsin (UWM) is Wisconsin’s flagship research institution of higher education that was founded under the Morrill Act in the 1848s. In addition, the University of Wisconsin is a space-grant school that operates an arboretum of 1,200 acres near the school’s main campus.
What We Like: There are twenty colleges/schools that serve WUM’s student enrollment – more than 45,000 postgraduate and undergraduate students.
Degree: BA or BS in Environmental Sciences
19. William & Mary
William & Mary offers one of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s most innovative degrees in Environmental Science and Policy – with a policy track or a science track. The William & Mary’s best environmental science degrees a field or practicum experiences which can be completed by studying abroad, completing a research project, or internship, among others. This Bachelor of Arts degree program in Environmental Science and Policy (ENSP) is for social scientists. The BS track is for those more interested in the natural sciences of environmental studies.
The William & Mary was established by British Royalty in the 1690s and is considered the 2ndoldest in the nation. William & Mary now serves approximately 8,750 students.
What We Like: The William & Mary’s alumni include several presidents, members of congress, and supreme court justices, among others.
Degree: Environmental Science and Policy
20. University of California, Santa Barbara
The University of California, Santa Barbara, offers two of California’s best environmental science degrees with its Bachelor of Science degree program or Bachelor of Arts degree program in Environmental Science and Policy (ENSP). The science track from UC Santa Barbara has a natural science requirement, whereas the BA track requires one additional social science requirement. Coursework for these bachelor’s degrees includes ecosystems and society, energy, water and climate – and environmental approach, to name a few.
The University of California (UCSB) began as a school offering home economics training and later evolved to a state teacher’s training college. UCSB joined the UC system in 1944, about five decades after its inception. This land-grant campus in Santa Barbara is home to more than 26,250 students.
What We Like: The University of California’s Santa Barbara campus is organized into five schools/colleges and also manages ten national research centers.
Degree: BA or BS in Environmental Studies
University of California, Santa Barbara
21. Vanderbilt University
Vanderbilt University’s Dept of Earth & Environmental Sciences offers one of Nashville’s best environmental science degrees with its bachelor’s degree in Earth and Environmental Science. This bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt University includes three optional academic concentrations – earth science, solid earth, and the environmental focus. Vanderbilt University’s undergraduate degree in environmental science requires these core classes – earth materials, earth system dynamics, and earth systems through time, among others. During the final year, degree candidates must complete a one-hour capstone program.
Vanderbilt University (VU) is a private school that was established in the 1870s as Central University and is recognized as a founding campus of the Southeastern Conference. Vanderbilt University is a space-grant school with a student enrollment of more than 13,450 students each year.
What We Like: Vanderbilt University’s current name honors the shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt – one of the school’s primary benefactors.
Degree: Earth and Environmental Science
22. Rice University
Rice University Department of Environment Sciences offers a Bachelor of Science degree program or Bachelor of Arts degree program in Environmental Science that is ranked among Houston’s best environmental science degrees. The BA degree in environmental science offers concentrations in ecology and evolutionary biology, and earth science. The BS degree program offers a concentration in earth science or ecology/evolutionary biology. Sample classes for this bachelor’s degree program include global biogeochemical cycles, organic geochemistry, quantitative hydrogeology, and earth and planetary surface and structural dynamics, among others.
Established as a private institute in 1912, Rice University now operates as a comprehensive research school with an impressive 1 to 6 ratio of faculty to students. More than 7,100 students attend classes offered online and on the school’s campus in Houston.
What We Like: The school’s name honors it’s the endowment that was established by William Marsh Rice, a successful businessman who was from Massachusetts.
Degree: BA or BS in Environmental Sciences
23. Boston College
Boston College offers two of New England’s best environmental science degrees with its Bachelor of Science in geological sciences or its Bachelor of Science in environmental geoscience. These environmental science degree programs from Boston College require classes that include ecosystems, water resources, quantitative methods in environmental systems, geochemistry, and climate change, to name a few. Each academic track in environmental sciences has similar but differing graduation requirements. Boston College’s Dept of Earth & Environmental Sciences encourages degree candidates with an interest in studying abroad should check out the many opportunities from a foreign study advisor.
Established in the Jesuit tradition in the 1860s, Boston College is considered a university but maintains the college in honor of its original liberal arts mission. BC’s main suburban campus covers more than 300 acres and serves more than 14,350 students each year.
What We Like: Boston College is comprised of eight colleges/schools.
Degree: Environmental Sciences – 2 concentrations
24. University of California, Davis
The University of California, Davis offers a BS in Environmental Science and Management (ESM) that prepares students for graduate study or a rewarding career as an atmospheric scientist, GIS analyst, ecologist, or environmental impact specialist, to name a few. In addition to an internship, UC Davis England’s best environmental science degrees require the completion of classes that include the principles of hydrologic science, water quality at risk, global environmental interactions, environmental monitoring, and trees and forests, to name a few.
The Davis campus @ the University of California was chartered in 1905 as an agricultural, land-grant school under the Morrill Act. This campus of the UC is recognized to be the northernmost campus with a student enrollment that exceeds 40,000 undergraduate and postgraduate students.
What We Like: UC Davis is also a space-grant school with facilities located in unincorporated Yolo and Solano counties in California.
Degree: Environmental Science and Management BS
University of California, Davis
25. Johns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins University offers a BS in Environmental Studies, or BA in Environmental Science ranked among the nation’s most innovative & England’s best environmental science degrees. The core curriculum for both the BA and BS environmental science degree includes freshwater systems, environmental ethics, introduction to global environmental change, environmental policymaking and policy analysis, plus a capstone experience, among others.
Johns Hopkins University (Hopkins) is recognized as one of the world’s finest higher learning institutions. Founded in the 1870s as the country’s first research school, Johns Hopkins University leads all schools with its amount of research expenditures.
What We Like: More than 26,000 postgraduate and undergraduate students attend classes online and on Johns Hopkins University’s campuses in Maryland, Washington, and internationally in China and Italy.
Degree: Environmental Studies BA or Environmental Science BS
Why Should I Get a Bachelor’s in Environmental Science?
Is an environmental studies degree worth it? The best environmental science undergraduate programs give you a way into a fast-growing field. Many people confuse environmental science with environmental studies. Note that environmental studies are part of the social sciences, so it has more to do with environmental issues that directly involve human beings.
When asking is an environmental science degree worth it, environmental studies degree programs may also show up. These are related but different academic fields, although they contain a lot of crossovers. In some cases, they even address the same issues, but from different perspectives.
Is a degree in environmental science worth it in the real world? Right now, environmental issues are of the utmost importance around the world. An environmental science degree can start someone off on several career paths. The interdisciplinary nature of the degree means it lends itself well to just about anything related to the environment, which can represent basically anything.
Environmental scientists with a master’s degree can expect their career to go farther still.
How Do I Choose an Environmental Science Program?
The best colleges for environmental science degrees will have environmental science accreditation, a good reputation, and a curriculum that focuses on the relevant sciences that encompass modern environmental knowledge. Colleges with good environmental science programs have grown more prominent in the last decade.
Good environmental science schools will also have paths toward specialization, which is a necessity in this field. Environmental science falls under the category of natural sciences and can include physical sciences, biological sciences, combinations of the two, and information sciences as well. There is a lot there, which is why specialization becomes so important.
Environmental science accreditation can come from any of several professional groups. Some accrediting bodies, such as the EHAC, ensure the environmental science program meets modern standards for education in this field. Accreditation from ABET and affiliates also represents an accrediting body to look out for when choosing the best environmental studies programs undergraduate schools have to offer.
For those with an eye toward working in the public sector, accreditation from the EHAC is a requirement in some cases. Accreditation can also help students meet the necessary criteria to gain certain credentials they wouldn’t otherwise have the ability to obtain without first working in the field.
While professional accreditation credentials can help narrow a potential student’s choice, they should also look for other signs that the school or program offers them good value. Prospective students should also look at the curriculum, the services offered, and even the program’s reported statistics. The best environmental science degree programs will offer a student everything they need to pursue their career goals in the environmental science path of their choice.
What is the Difference Between Environmental Science and Environmental Studies?
A major point of confusion that can come up for people seeking an environmental science degree is the difference between environmental studies vs environmental science. So, what is the difference between environmental science and environmental studies? These two things have many similarities and crossovers, but they have different core focuses and curriculums.
Environmental science vs environmental studies. What is the difference between environmental studies and environmental science? One way to think about the differences is to consider that environmental science has more to do with the environment at large, while environmental studies have more to do with human implications when it comes to the environment, such as forestry.
When discussing environmental science vs environmental studies, it can help to look at a specific issue. When a large environmental issue occurs, such as an invasive species taking over a habitat, environmental science vs studies can come into play.
The environmental science major would look at what dangers that invasive species present to the new environment and its inhabitants, including humans, if any. They will look at the potential future impact the invasive species might have on the environment. The environmental studies major will look at how the invasive species impact the economy, whether new policies or regulations need to come into play, and how to educate people on the issue.
You don’t need to go to New Haven to Yale University, or to Harvard University, to find the best universities. Schools like the University of Minnesota Twin Cities or the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are public universities as good as the Ivy League.
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