Environmental Engineering: Bachelor, Associate & Online Degree Info

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Associate's and bachelor's degrees in environmental engineering can lead to careers in the environmental engineering field. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your degree in environmental engineering.
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Studying Environmental Engineering: Associate's and Bachelor's Degrees at a Glance

Environmental engineers use the principles of engineering, earth science, life sciences and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems. Although a bachelor's degree is typically required for environmental engineers, associate's degree programs are available in environmental engineering technology that can serve as a stepping-stone to higher education. An Associate of Science or Associate of Applied Science degree program prepares you to work under the supervision of a licensed environmental engineer.

To become a licensed engineer, you'll need to graduate from a 4-year ABET-accredited engineering program and pass licensing examinations. Bachelor's degree programs are available in environmental engineering or civil engineering with an emphasis in environmental engineering. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of environmental engineers was projected to grow 22% from 2010 to 2020, which was faster than the average for all occupations.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Individuals who want to solve environmental problems or who want to prepare for a career in engineering Aspiring civil and environmental engineers
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) -Environmental engineering technician ($49,000)*
-Environmental engineer ($83,000)*
- Civil engineer ($83,000)*
- Water resources engineer (not available)
- Scientific and technical consultant (not available)*
Time to Completion 2 years full time 4 years full time
Common Graduation Requirements - Approximately 60 units of course work including general and major courses -About 128 credit hours in general and engineering courses
- Minimum GPA
Prerequisites High school diploma High school diploma
-4 years of high school math and English
-1 year of high school physics and chemistry
-Satisfactory scores on college entrance exams
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Associate's Degree in Environmental Engineering

An associate's degree in environmental engineering can be found as an Associate of Science in Environmental Engineering Technology or an Associate of Pre-Engineering in Environmental Engineering. Although associate degrees include many engineering topics covered in a 4-year degree, they do not qualify you to become an engineer. Enrolling in an associate's degree in environmental engineering program can help you strengthen your analytical, monitoring, investigative, design and testing skills needed for success in the environmental engineering field. Many accredited 4-year institutions accept transfer credits from accredited 2-year colleges.

If you earn an associate's degree in environmental engineering technology, you may qualify for an entry-level position, including working as an environmental engineering technician for a water plant, environmental improvement program or construction project.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Prepares you for a career as an environmental engineering technician, which has a faster-than-average job growth forecast of 24% for 2010-2020*
  • An associate's degree fulfills some of the course requirements for and can transfer to a bachelor's in environmental engineering program*
  • The federal government's requirement to clean up contaminated sites is expected to help maintain strong demand for the services of environmental engineering technicians*

Cons

  • Only four ABET-accredited associate's degree programs in environmental engineering technology are in the U.S.**
  • Environmental engineering technicians may be exposed to toxic substances*
  • Specific job opportunities available may fluctuate depending on the priorities of governmental policy and community needs*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **ABET.

Common Courses and Requirements

To be successful in an associate's degree program in environmental engineering or environmental engineering technology, you will need exceptional skills in problem solving, physics, math, chemistry, and technology. Course requirements may include thermodynamics, calculus, introduction to engineering design and electrical circuits. You may also take courses covering environmental laws and occupational hazards.

Online Degree Options

Some associate degree programs in environmental engineering are fully online, but these programs may not be accredited by ABET. If you plan on transferring to a 4-year program and earning a professional engineering license, you should ensure that your credits will transfer. Hybrid programs may require you to attend campus for orientation, some courses and testing. Requirements of accredited online programs parallel that of on-campus programs.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Continuing your education by earning a bachelor's degree in environmental engineering from an ABET-accredited institution is one way to get ahead. With an associate's degree, you'll already have a solid background in the subject matter.

You may also want to join an engineering society where you'll have the opportunity to meet students and professionals with like interests. As you advance in your education and career, you will need strong collaboration and communications skills. For instance, a large part of your job will involve collaborating with environmental scientists and governmental regulators.

Bachelor's Degree in Environmental Engineering

Depending on the college or university, you may earn a Bachelor of Science (BS) or Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) degree in environmental engineering. A bachelor's degree program will prepare you for entry-level environmental engineering jobs in environmental protection, water and air quality, pollution control systems, waste management, municipal water supply design, industrial wastewater treatment systems and environmental research.

Bachelor's degree programs in environmental engineering may also focus on molecular biology and chemistry as some environmental engineers study ways to minimize the effects of acid rain, global warming, automobile emissions and ozone depletion.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Employment of environmental engineers was projected to grow 22% from 2010 to 2020, faster than the average for all occupations*
  • Most states recognize licensure from other states, if the licensing state's requirements meet or exceed their own requirements
  • Environmental engineers will continue to be needed to help utilities and water treatment plants comply with any new federal or state environmental regulations*

Cons

  • You'll need a minimum of 4 years of work experience before you can take the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam required for licensure in most states**
  • In April 2012, only 59% of first time test takers passed the environmental engineering Principles and Practice of Engineering Exam**
  • Several states require continuing education for engineers to keep their licenses*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES).

Common Courses and Requirements

In a bachelor's degree in environmental engineering program you'll complete laboratory experiments, participate in field work, master molecular biology tools, learn about treatment systems and model approaches that lead to a more sustainable water environment and better air quality. Some courses that environmental engineering students are required to complete include hydraulics and hydrology, soil mechanics, matrix structural analysis and green building design.

Online Degree Options

Some schools offer video conferencing, online discussions and other Internet-based applications for students, but ABET doesn't accredit any fully online environmental engineering degree programs. If you want a background in environmental engineering but you don't want to become a professional engineer, fully online programs that are not accredited by ABET may meet your needs.

Stand Out with This Degree

Employers value practical experience, thus gaining hands-on experience in intern positions and cooperative education opportunities may help you stand out. You may also want to join an environmental or engineering organization to begin networking.

Most states require engineers to pass NCEES examinations in order to become licensed. You can take the first required engineering licensure exam, the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, while you are in your senior year of a bachelor's degree program. Completing this first hurdle to becoming a professional engineer may help you stand out among job candidates after graduation.

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