Environmental Management Degrees: Master, PhD & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in an environmental management degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of master's and PhD degrees and potential careers.
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Studying Environmental Management: Degrees at a Glance

Graduates of environmental management master's degree programs typically work for consulting firms, corporations or government agencies. A master's degree in this field is not a requirement for most entry-level environmental science positions, but it may be necessary for career advancement in some cases. Generally, managers in natural science fields like environmental science rise to their positions after gaining substantial professional experience. A PhD in environmental management is usually not required unless you'd like to become a university faculty member.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that from 2010 to 2020, the number of jobs for environmental scientists and specialists would grow by 19%, which is average. However, individuals hoping for promotions to management positions may face stiff competition, since the projected job growth rate for all natural science managers is just 8%.

Master's Doctorate
Who is this degree for? Individuals who want to become environmental scientists or managers, as well as those who currently work in this field and want to improve their advancement prospects Those who want to teach environmental science at the university level
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) The following positions may be available to bachelor's degree holders:
- Environmental scientist or specialist ($62,000)*
- Environmental compliance specialist ($65,000 with 2-4 years' experience, $79,000 with 4+ years' experience)**
- Natural science manager ($115,000 - substantial experience is usually required for these positions)*
- Environmental program/project specialist or manager (salary unavailable)
Same jobs that are available to master's degree holders, along with the following:
- Postsecondary environmental science teacher ($75,000)*
Time to Completion Usually 2-3 years full-time (accelerated programs may be completed in about 1 year, and part-time programs may take up to 5 years)3-6 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Project or thesis with oral presentation
- Written examination
- Qualifying exam
- Dissertation
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree
- Coursework in chemistry and biology (some programs require a major in a related field)
- Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores
Usually same requirements as master's degree programs
Online Availability Yes None available at this time

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011) and **Salary.com (May 2012).

Master of Environmental Management

While earning your master's degree in environmental management, you'll study how natural systems work and how to manage them in accordance with business and legal requirements. Master's degrees in environmental science and management typically require 30-36 credit hours of coursework, and they may be offered as a Master of Science in Environmental Management (MS) degree or a Master of Environmental Management (MEM) degree. MS degree programs usually require a thesis, while MEM degree programs are more likely to involve a final project.

Pros and Cons


  • Since a master's degree is required for some management positions in environmental science, having one could improve your prospects for career advancement
  • Master's degree holders often have the opportunity to gain practical experience by completing an internship or research project during their coursework
  • You'll be able to take courses that are more advanced and specialized than those that are typically available to undergraduate students


  • Some positions in environmental management are open to bachelor's degree holders, so a master's degree may be unnecessary
  • You won't qualify for high-level university teaching and research positions with this degree
  • Since many environmental management degree programs require full-time attendance, you may need to delay starting your career or put your career on hold while earning your degree

Courses and Requirements

In an environmental management master's degree program, you'll take courses that will focus on the management of specific ecosystems, like marine, forest or wetland environments. In addition, you'll take courses in areas like these:

  • Environmental ethics, law and policy
  • Quantitative data analysis and field methods
  • Environmental planning, conservation and management

In addition to your coursework, you'll be required to produce a thesis or research project before you graduate. Some master's degree programs in environmental management also require written examinations and oral presentations.

Online Degree Options

Several schools offer master's degree programs in environmental management online. Some can be completed entirely online, while others are blended programs that don't offer all courses via distance learning. Before enrolling, be sure to confirm that the courses you'd like to take, especially electives, are available online. These programs are usually designed for working professionals, so they may offer evening classes and allow you to enroll part-time.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

According to the BLS, environmental management students can stand out by taking advantage of opportunities offered through coursework or internships to study geographic information systems (GIS), as well as statistical data analysis and computer modeling techniques. Based on Salary.com job postings generated in May 2012, the ability to use MS Office Suite and possession of OSHA HAZWOPER certification are also valued by employers. HAZWOPER certification is usually obtained by taking a 40-hour course and passing an exam. It prepares you to work with hazardous substances and to deal with emergency situations, such as spills or leaks.

PhD in Environmental Management

With a PhD in environmental management, you'll be prepared to work your way up to higher-level environmental science research and management positions, or pursue a career as a university professor. Through coursework and dissertation research, you'll become an expert on a specialized area of environmental science while gaining the necessary skills to carry out statistical and field research. You'll also take core courses that will ensure you have a broad base of general environmental science knowledge.

Pros and Cons


  • You'll be qualified to teach and conduct environmental science research as a university professor
  • Some PhD programs offer financial support for students
  • You may have the chance to influence future environmental policy through your research


  • If you choose to work as a professor, you may earn less than some master's degree holders who work as environmental scientists or managers
  • A PhD is unnecessary for most practical positions in the environmental science field
  • Earning a PhD in this field may take 5 years or more; since most programs require you to attend school full-time, you'll be forgoing the potential income you could otherwise earn

Courses and Requirements

PhD programs in environmental science usually include core courses such as research methods and environmental management, as well as law and policy. Some programs also require a certain number of courses in ecological and earth systems, like stream and river ecology, atmospheric physics and aquatic plants. In addition to core courses, you'll take electives in the area in which you plan to pursue your dissertation research. These may consist of additional environmental science courses or appropriate classes from other departments, such as chemistry or anthropology. After you've completed your coursework, you'll need to pass a comprehensive exam and undertake an extensive original research project (dissertation) in order to obtain your degree.

Online Degree Options

There are currently no PhD degrees in environmental management that are available completely online. All programs require coursework to be completed on campus. In addition, students who work as teaching assistants in order to receive financial support will generally need to be present on campus to fulfill their duties.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

The BLS suggests that working as a graduate teaching assistant may help you earn valuable experience that can be helpful if you plan to work as a professor. In addition, it's a good idea to attend professional conferences to expand your network of contacts, and to get your research published in an academic journal. You might also consider co-authoring an article with a professor in order to improve your publication record.

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