2021 Best Online PhD in Environmental Science Programs

If you love science and want to be a senior environmental researcher, teach environmental studies at a university, or pursue environmental public policy research, you may be interested in getting a PhD in Environmental Science.

PhD in Environmental Science

A doctorate can also help you qualify for a job at the EPA, National Park Service, or US Geological Survey.

Many PhD graduates work in a lab or office, but some environmental scientists might also spend lots of time in nature. They can conduct fieldwork, take measurements or samples, or help with engineering planning and oversight.

Online PhD in Environmental Science Programs

PhD in Environmental Science Programs

Online PhD programs in environmental science offer you advanced study in core topics as well as opportunities to pursue a concentration aligned with your interests and goals. The field can open doors to various roles, depending on your interests and aptitudes.

Quantitative data management and analysis, resource conservation, environmental engineering, public policy research, agricultural research, alternative energy research, teaching, and consulting are just some of the areas you can choose from.

A doctoral program will typically include both technical learning and opportunities to conduct real-life fieldwork and complete authentic research projects and papers. Common careers in this field and related fields include environmental scientist, natural sciences manager, conservation scientist, and hydrologist.

Environmental Science Careers & Salaries

Environmental Science Careers & Salaries

Not everyone who pursues a Ph.D. in Environmental Sciences will fit the same mold. Checking out different online environmental sciences and environmental studies graduate programs can help you see just how diverse the career paths can be.

Environmental scientists might work alongside civil engineers to provide geoscience or materials analysis expertise. They can also help develop and complete technical environmental impact reports.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a doctorate can help connect you to a range of well-paid and meaningful career paths.

Careers Annual Median Salaries
Natural Sciences Managers $129,100
Environmental Scientists and Specialists, Federal Government $102,910
Geoscientists $92,040
Postsecondary Environmental Science Teachers $82,430
Hydrologists $81,270
Environmental Scientists and Specialists, Engineering Services $73,410
Environmental Scientists and Specialists, Consulting Services $70,590
Environmental Scientists and Specialists, Local Government $68,190
Environmental Scientists and Specialists, State Government $65,180
Conservation Scientists and Foresters $62,410

Environmental scientists, researchers, and policy experts also have roles to play in resource management and conservation efforts and in climate science and climate monitoring. They can also work to protect and manage forests or other open spaces.

With a PhD you might want to pursue a university teaching position. You may also be interested in working with a professional consulting firm, consulting on engineering design challenges, or leading public interest advocacy initiatives.

Some professionals in the field work at federal agencies, such as the EPA, the US Geological Survey, the National Park Service, and the Department of Forestry.

Environmental Science Doctoral Curriculum

Environmental Science Doctoral

Many environmental science doctoral programs cover core topics—such as research methodology and design courses—and designate course clusters aligned to specific career-related concentrations.

  • Environmental Science Management: You’ll learn about core methods and current perspectives in the field of applied environmental science, including land-use, resource protection, and resource management.
  • Environmental Science Policy: This course is an overview of public policy development practices and challenges in areas such as ecology, climate change, pollution, soil conservation, and watershed protection.
  • Environmental Engineering: This is a comprehensive course on different topics in environmental science, such as soil science and hydrology, as they relate to engineering planning, design, and regulatory compliance.
  • Biosystems Modeling: You’ll learn about the methods and tools environmental scientists use to evaluate biosystems and model trends or impacts involving diverse and complex variables.
  • Climate Modeling: This course looks at current climate trends, including risk forecasting and data systems, data interpretation methods, and methods for modeling a variety of climate variables and effects.
  • Pollution Assessment: You’ll learn how to identify, measure, report, and track various forms of pollutants with diverse sources, and you’ll assess and model contaminants and their potential environmental impacts.
  • Environmental Soil Chemistry: This course provides advanced understanding of soil conditions and dynamics with a focus on analyzing soil profiles and various research applications.
  • Forest Hydrology: This course helps you understand water cycles and flood and drought dynamics, assess toxicity levels in water sources, and manage freshwater ecosystems.
  • Data and Policy: This course is an in-depth study of environmental science data collection and data interpretation methods and controls in the context of policy formation and public policy reporting.
  • Field Methods in Ecology: You’ll learn practical methods and participate in hands-on eco-system research, including the study of reliable methods for sampling, analysis, data collection, and data reporting.

Courses will vary by school and program. Most doctoral programs in environmental science, though, require a dissertation or other substantive capstone component.

Admissions Requirements

PhD in Environmental Science Admissions

Admissions requirements vary by school and program. Some programs may accept students who have completed a bachelors degree while others will require you to have a masters. The following are common admissions criteria:

  • Bachelors or masters in environmental science or related field
  • Satisfactory GPA (usually 3.0 or 3.5)
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Relevant professional experience (if required)
  • GRE or GMAT scores (if required)

When applying to a doctoral program, it can be helpful to provide evidence of the kind of future work or research you aspire to as well as how it relates to your doctoral studies and research interests.

Accreditation

PhD in Environmental Science Accreditation

When exploring environmental science PhD programs, it’s benficial to make sure the school and program are fully accredited.

Regional accreditation testifies that a school meets acceptable standards for academic quality. The coursework in an accredited program teaches knowledge and skills that are on par with professional standards in your field.

Regional accreditation can also be a requirement for receiving some forms of financial aid. It can also help ensure that your degree will be honored by other schools and prospective employers. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) provides more information on accreditation.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

PhD in Environmental Science Financial Aid

Getting a PhD in Environmental Sciences will typically require several semesters of advanced coursework. So, even if you work part-time as you learn, you may be one of many students who needs financial assistance in order to stay enrolled and stay focused on learning.

You might qualify for state or federal financial aid, need-based or merit-based scholarships, work study programs, or even employer-based tuition assistance. You can also apply for student loans to help you cover any financial gaps. Loan terms can vary, so it’s strategic to look over any student aid package or loan offering carefully.

If you’re anticipating applying for need-based assistance, you can start by filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

What Are the 5 Major Fields of Environmental Science?

Major Fields of Environmental Science

Environmental scientists work in a variety of fields and roles. Simply checking out the different course concentrations offered by online environmental science degree programs can help you identify the most popular fields today.

The 5 major fields of environmental science are:

  • Social sciences
  • Geosciences
  • Environmental chemistry
  • Ecology
  • Atmospheric sciences

Your past work experiences and your future goals and aspirations can help you pick the best PhD program option with the right course concentrations.

Is Environmental Science a Useless Degree?

doctoral degree in environmental science

A doctoral degree in environmental science can help you develop your expertise in this interesting field. Environmental scientists can help private firms or government agencies with environmental impact studies or with civil engineering or conservation projects.

Professionals in the field can also use their expertise to work for federal agencies, such as the EPA, the US Geological Survey, or the US Forest Service. The need to respond to threats such as pollution, dwindling natural resources, or global warming could also drive new job growth in this field.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts that jobs for both natural sciences managers and geoscientists will have 5% growth. Environmental scientists are projected to have 8% job growth.

What Can You Do with a PhD in Environmental Science?

doctorate in environmental science

There are many options you can pursue with a doctorate in environmental science, depending on your goals and individual interests.

Some graduates are interested in doing lots of outdoor fieldwork related to ecology, climate, or agriculture. This could also include laboratory science, with data-crunching, data analysis, and data modeling.

Some environmental scientists devote themselves to initiatives focused on environmental sustainability. This can include protecting natural resources, improving open spaces, or combatting pollution or climate change.

If you’re interested in leadership or advocacy work, you might be interested in working as a researcher or public policy expert. A PhD can also help qualify you to teach university courses on environmental studies, environmental science, and environmental policy.

In private industry or private consulting roles, environmental scientists may work alongside civil engineers and civil engineering architects. They may also work on developing environmental impact statements.

Is a PhD in Environmental Science Worth It?

PhD in Environmental Science degree

Yes, a PhD in Environmental Science is worth it for many students. Some graduates go on to work for a cause they’re passionate about. This can include protecting open spaces or ecosystems, leading public interest research, or using science to combat pollution or climate change.

In fact, jobs for geoscientists and conservation scientists are anticipated to grow 5% over the next ten years (Bureau of Labor Scientists). Meanwhile, environmental scientists and specialists are expected to experience 8% job growth, faster than the average for all occupations.

Getting a doctoral degree in environmental science can also be worthwhile if you’re interested in doing original research or field work. For example, there are doctoral programs that emphasize fieldwork, research design and methodology, quantitative analysis, and database management .

Earning a terminal degree like a PhD can also open up opportunities for well-paying consulting jobs, roles with the federal government, or teaching positions at a college or university.

Universities Offering Online PhD in Environmental Science Degree Programs

Methodology: The following school list is in alphabetical order. To be included, a college or university must be regionally accredited and offer degree programs online or in a hybrid format.

Antioch University

Antioch University campus

Antioch University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Mississippi State University

Mississippi State University campus

Mississippi State University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

University of Missouri

University of Missouri campus

The University of Missouri is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

University of North Dakota

University of North Dakota campus

The University of North Dakota is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

Villanova University

Villanova University campus

Villanova University is accredited by The Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Getting Your PhD in Environmental Science Online

PhD in Environmental Science Online

If you have a passion for environmental science, then you may be interested in further developing your expertise through an online environmental sciences doctorate program. You may also get to build strong professional networks along the way.

Online environmental science programs offer a variety of study options and course concentrations, so you can find the right match for your preferred school experiences and career pathways.

You can start this next step in your educational journey today by exploring online PhD programs from accredited universities.

Keith Nickolaus
WRITTEN BY
Keith Nickolaus
Keith has a Ph.D. and a M.A. in Comparative Literature from the University of California - Berkeley and a B.A. in Literature from the University of California - Santa Cruz. A retired educator, Keith lives in Berkeley and researches and writes about trends in education leadership, innovation, and policy.