Study Environmental Engineering: Master's, PhD & Online Degree Info

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Master's degrees and PhDs 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.
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Study Environmental Engineering: Degrees at a Glance

Master's degree programs in environmental engineering focus on a multidisciplinary approach to solving environmental problems. The research and teaching components of these graduate programs teach an essential understanding of chemical, physical, and biological processes that are fundamental to addressing environmental engineering problems.

Environmental engineering graduate programs allow students to choose areas of research specialization. Some of these areas of specialization include physical and chemical development for water quality control, aquatic and ecological chemistry, transportation and outcomes of chemical substances in the environment, evaluation of benign alternative chemicals and materials, green engineering and product proposals, and environmental nanotechnology.

Master's PhD
Who is this degree for? Individuals with exceptional science, math, and problem-solving skills who want to improve environmental safety Individuals with strong innovative and research skills who want to find ways to improve air quality, water quality, and other environmental factors
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) Environmental engineer ($83,000)* University professor in engineering ($97,000)*
Time to Completion approximately 1.5 to 2 years, full time approximately 3-5 years after the master's degree
Common Graduation Requirements - Laboratory experiments
- Master's thesis
- Research projects
- Independent research
- PhD qualifying and oral exams
- Article publication in journals
- Dissertation defense
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in engineering or related science field Master's degree in environmental engineering, civil engineering, or related field
Online Availability Yes Yes

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

Master's in Environmental Engineering

Environmental engineering master's degree programs are designed to provide students with the vital mathematical knowledge and environmental processing skills needed for solving real world problems. They provide traditional engineering components in their coursework, such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, and engineering blueprints. To address the wide range of issues facing the environment and to be sure students are broadly educated as well as technically trained, master's degree programs in environmental engineering might also include courses such as public health, biology, microbiology, ecology, geology, meteorology, economics, and political science.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A master's degree in environmental engineering can lead to a career in environmental engineering and can be considered a prerequisite for entry to environmental engineering PhD programs
  • Environmental engineers play pivotal roles in developing new and improved means to protect the environment
  • Employment of environmental engineers is projected to grow faster than the average for all occupations (22% increase expected from 2010-2020)*

Cons

  • In order to become a licensed engineer and offer your services to the public, you will need to pass exams issued by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES)
  • Competition is intense in the engineering field, and you might need to find creative ways to stand out in the job market
  • The environmental engineering field changes rapidly due to the impact that technology has on the field, thus, you may have to continuously find ways to remain knowledgeable in the field

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Common Coursework and Requirements

To be successful in a master's degree program in environmental engineering, you will need exceptional problem-solving, communication, physics, math, chemistry, and technology skills. Environmental engineering master's degree students also need an extensive background in the following subject areas: ecology, microbiology, chemistry, statistics, ground water, solid waste, environmental impact evaluation, and environmental regulations and modeling. Some courses that you will take to meet the environmental engineering degree standards cover topics like water treatment and microbiological processes, management issues in environmental engineering, sustainable building concepts, and air pollution control methods.

Online Degree Options

There are online master's degree programs in environmental engineering that will allow you to earn your degree on your own schedule. Some programs are 100% online and are delivered using the latest technology to provide dynamic, efficient, and interactive learning environments. Online degree programs provide students with interactive tools, such as links and e-mail, to support their individual learning styles.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

Environmental engineers are employed in a variety of vicinities such as engineering consulting firms, private and government laboratories, universities that conduct environmental research, and international agencies that transfer knowledge to developing countries. In order to get ahead with your master's degree, you should pinpoint which area you would like to specialize in and find ways to gain knowledge and experience in that particular industry area. For instance, you might consider interning at engineering consulting firms, working as a laboratory assistant at a university or studying abroad to become familiar with international agencies.

PhD in Environmental Engineering

Earning a PhD in environmental engineering gives graduates the opportunities to make substantial and unique contributions to procedures and knowledge in environmental engineering. Doctoral study provides a competitive and challenging course of study and offers special opportunities for learning, research, and application. Candidates for the PhD in environmental engineering degree must be graduates of accredited undergraduate and master's engineering programs or the equivalent. However, those with bachelor's degrees in non-engineering fields will also be considered, but these students will be required to take basic undergraduate engineering courses as specified by the engineering department.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Environmental engineering graduates strive for advancement of knowledge and achievement in research while pursuing an academic or industrial career
  • Environmental engineers play valuable roles in improving recycling, waste disposal, and water and air pollution control
  • Environmental engineers will remain in demand because of the requirements by the federal government to clean up contaminated sites

Cons

  • For some positions, you might be in competition against applicants with more training and less education since most companies require at least a bachelor's degree
  • If you want to teach on the university level, tenure track positions are highly competitive
  • Intense course of study with many qualifying exams, comprehensive exams, courses, research, and article publication requirements

Common Coursework and Requirements

In order to adequately prepare you for diverse roles in researching, solving environmental issues, and creating new environmental systems, an environmental engineering PhD program will require you to have exceptional analytical, problem-solving, communication, and research skills. You will be expected to understand treatment systems, develop approaches that lead to better water and air quality, formulate hypotheses, design procedures to test the hypotheses, and publish an original research project. Environmental engineering PhD students must be proficient in areas such as biochemistry and microbiology.

Online Degree Options

Some universities offer distance learning programs that allow engineering professionals to earn a PhD degree while remaining employed full time. These programs are designed to provide flexibility in terms of the delivery of course content. In some cases, courses are downloaded using streaming videos. Prerequisites and requirements for graduation are often identical to those required for students attending courses on-campus.

Stand Out with this Degree

As an environmental engineer, there will be many opportunities for you to stand out with your degree and make yourself a more marketable job candidate. For instance, joining organizations such as the American Water Works Association (AWWA) can provide you with valuable hands-on experience, collaborative opportunities, educational information, and job opportunities. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, environmental engineering is greatly impacted by changes in technology. Thus, you should consider enrolling in professional development opportunities to stay abreast of changes in the environmental engineering field.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • PhD in Business Admin - Management of Engineering and Technology
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Management of Engineering and Technology
      • PhD-TIM - Engineering Management
  • Birmingham, AL

    University of Alabama

  • New Haven, CT

    Yale University

  • Champaign, IL

    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

  • San Antonio, TX

    The University of Texas at San Antonio

  • El Paso, TX

    The University of Texas at El Paso

  • Syracuse, NY

    SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

  • Hoboken, NJ

    Stevens Institute of Technology

  • Houston, TX

    Rice University

  • San Antonio, TX

    The University of Texas

Featured Schools

Northcentral University

  • PhD in Business Admin - Management of Engineering and Technology
  • Doctor of Business Admin - Management of Engineering and Technology
  • PhD-TIM - Engineering Management

What is your highest level of education?

Yale University

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The University of Texas at San Antonio

The University of Texas at El Paso

SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry

Stevens Institute of Technology