Natural Resource Management Degrees: PhD, Master's & Online Class Info

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What will you learn in a natural resource 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 Natural Resource Management: Degrees at a Glance

If you're interested in a 'green' career, consider earning a master's degree or PhD in natural resource management. Degree programs may have both technical and research tracks at the master's level, though PhD programs are designed to prepare candidates for academic research careers.

These programs are interdisciplinary, and you could focus on subjects ranging from environmental law and ecological restoration to sustainable forestry and forest fire prevention. You can learn to analyze and shape the business, economic and policy decisions that impact aspects of the natural world. Graduates may seek careers in government or academia, working as policy analysts or professors. You might also become an entrepreneur in the 'green' industries.

Average growth of 19% was forecast for environmental scientists and specialists in the 2010-2020 decade, while a slow increase of only 5% was expected for conservation scientists, per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Master's PhD
Who Is This Degree For? People looking to begin or enhance careers in green industries, environmental policy and natural resource planning Individuals interested in preserving and managing the environment who seek to work as researchers and professors
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Environmental scientist ($63,000)*
- Conservation scientist ($60,000)*
- Environmental consultant ($48,000)**
- Environmental project manager ($60,000)**
- Environmental policy analyst (salary unavailable)
Same occupations as master's degree-holders, plus:
- Environmental science professor ($75,000)*
Time to Completion 1-2 years full-time 4-5 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Approximately 8-12 courses
- Master's thesis or capstone project for most programs
- Master's exams
- About 25-30 courses
- PhD exams
- Dissertation proposal
- Dissertation and defense
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree in environment-related field Bachelor's degree in a subject related to the environment; may need a master's degree
Online Availability Yes None found at this time

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), ** (July 2012 figures).

Master's Degree in Natural Resource Management

Master's degree programs in natural resource management may be designed for individuals who want to start a new profession or those who'd like to enhance an existing career. Some schools have Master of Natural Resources degree programs, which are generally technically focused and require a capstone project. Other schools offer Master of Science programs in general natural resource management or a specific area, like aquatic resource management; these programs are more often tailored toward research and academic work and commonly mandate a thesis. Additionally, you may have concentration area options, like ecosystem restoration, geospatial modeling, policy and natural resource administration.

Pros and Cons


  • The interdisciplinary nature of the programs allows you to tailor the coursework to your specific educational and career needs.
  • You can usually choose between completing a final thesis or a capstone project; however, some programs are designed for established environmental management professionals and do not require either.
  • Can enter the field several years faster than someone pursuing a PhD.


  • Programs required you to be competent in wide-ranging knowledge areas, including life science principles, legal issues, critical thinking, quantitative analysis, technology and environmental ethics.
  • You may need the support of a particular faculty member to ensure admission.
  • Schools may not allow you to take a break from the program for more than one semester each year.

Common Courses and Requirements

Courses for master's degree programs in natural resource management draw on a number of disciplines, including life science, social science and technical subjects. You usually need to take core natural resource management courses, at least one research-based class, concentration-specific courses and a few electives. You're likely to learn about sustainable resource management and environmental policy analysis. A sampling of these course topics includes:

  • Urban and rural wildlife management
  • Environmental economics and finance
  • Environmental protection law
  • Policy, politics, media and the environment
  • Invasive plant biology
  • Silviculture
  • Sustainable community design

Online Degree Options

For working professionals interested in developing a deeper understanding of environmental policy and decision-making, promoting sustainability and adding a master's degree in natural resource management to their resume, online master's programs are available. These programs are generally professionally focused and emphasize coursework over research. You'll receive an interdisciplinary education taught by the same faculty who teach on-campus, and you'll have numerous career options upon graduating.

Getting Ahead With This Degree

If possible, choose a school located in the natural setting that you're interested in studying, whether that be forests, lakes or coastlines. The discipline is broad, so focus on a particular area and choose courses for their professional applicability. If schools have research opportunities or partnerships with local industries that offer internships, take advantage of these hands-on experiences to prepare for professional work.

PhD in Natural Resource Management

If you're interested in the academic and research side of natural resource management or looking to compete for higher-level policy and consulting positions, a doctorate may be an option to consider. Programs are multidisciplinary, including studies in biology, math and ecology, but you focus your program around your personal interests within natural resource management, whether that is sustainable mining, riparian environment protection or impacts of human recreation. As with PhD programs in general, comprehensive exams will need to be passed and dissertation research requirements will need to be met.

Pros and Cons


  • Schools may be affiliated with various research organizations, providing you with some foundation and support when carrying out your dissertation research.
  • The growth of concern for the environment in social awareness has created a surge in 'green' jobs, like environmental policy analyst and environmental consultant.
  • You can customize your coursework and research projects to fit your professional goals.
  • Research may involve fieldwork in natural environments as well as laboratory analysis indoors.


  • Instead of the bachelor's degree as the minimum prerequisite (like many doctoral-level programs), a master's degree may be necessary.
  • Programs involve a serious commitment of time and money.
  • There may be program completion time limits.

Courses and Requirements

PhD programs typically have a set of required courses, but you have a lot of freedom to choose electives that best fit your specialization area and interests. Research methods courses are bound to be part of your program. Some topics that may be taught in your doctoral classes include:

  • Biodiversity and agro-ecosystems
  • Environmental economics
  • Health and the environment
  • Management and environmental science
  • Environmental and resource policy
  • Green construction principles
  • Water policy and politics

In addition to coursework, you typically must have your dissertation proposal approved by your committee then pass comprehensive examinations that test your competency in your specialization area. Writing and successfully defending your dissertation are usually the final steps to earning your PhD.

Online Course Info

There were no online PhD programs or courses in natural resource management as of July 2012. Required in-person meetings with your doctoral committee, fieldwork and hands-on lab work with sophisticated technology make on-campus programs more ideal.

Stand Out With This Degree

Take the time to research programs and choose one with faculty members whose professional interests align with your interests and goals. Make sure your school is near the natural environment you'd like to study, and find out about relevant internships or research opportunities.

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