Why an Environmental Biology Degree?
The field of Environmental Biology is very broad. It can encompass areas such as training dolphins for the military to studying the oldest life forms on earth in Australia. Most commonly it is associated with those working on environmental remediation and rehabilitation. Different schools will have different majors that fit into this category as well. Your major may be in environmental biology, marine science, zoology, ecology, etc. Most schools covered in this article have majors entitled Environmental Biology, but not all, due to the broad nature of the major.
Environmental Biology will vary depending on the location and expertise of the school and faculty. Certain schools have Land Grant or Sea Grant status which may allow them to have strong agriculture or aquaculture programs. Others are located near urban or arid regions and may have strong field work in these environments. Although you might not expect to be able to study marine biology inland, some schools have excellent exchange programs or field courses which do allow it.
Typical coursework should include basic biology classes; botany and zoology, biochemistry, ecology, perhaps microbiology and anatomy and physiology, but specialized classes will vary from there. Your major may have extra classes in animal behavior, in geology, chemistry, and conservation, just to name a few specialties.
Job Prospects with a Degree in Environmental Biology
Career options upon graduation are plentiful. Many Environmental Biology majors choose to work in some form of habitat restoration and rehabilitation. They work for their local environmental agencies, The National Park Service, US Forestry Service, Department of Commerce, the Environmental Protection Agency, and many others. Other Environmental Biology degrees that are more specialized may lend themselves to other types of environmental work, such as someone with a Zoology degree might work in animal rescue centers, and someone with a Botany degree may work in sustainable agriculture.
With this type of major it is important to look at where you think you want to be working after your schooling is complete. If you are from Idaho and want to move home and work successfully in your field upon graduation, marine biology is probably not the best degree choice. If you want to work with your local environment, it may be of great benefit to stay near home, and learn from those with a history in the area already. However, if your passion is in tropical plants, you may have to say goodbye to home and find somewhere with a highly recognized tropical botany program.
Common Divisions/Specialties within Environmental Biology
- Conservation Biology
- Habitat Restoration
- Marine Biology
- Sustainable Agriculture
- Wildlife Rehabilitation
Environmental Biology Degrees and Overviews
Bachelor's Degrees in Environmental Biology
Many schools now offer a major called “Environmental Biology”, while others have various Biology majors that would be applicable to the field (Botany, Ecology, Zoology, etc). In general, your core science courses will be basic biology with additional classes in Ecology, Conservation Biology, and whatever other specialty you may be majoring in. Some schools will offer a dual major in Biology and Environmental Science as a means of meeting the growing trend towards degrees in Environmental Biology. Courses in mathematics through calculus and statistics, geology, chemistry, and physics may also be required.
Most schools require a letter of intent, SAT scores, letters of recommendation, a small application fee, and high school transcripts.
Along with taking 30-60 credits within the Environmental Biology purview, students need to complete core undergraduate college courses as well. Most programs allow a student to graduate with a reasonable workload in 4 years, but some advanced or dual major B.S. degrees may take 5 years to complete.
There is a definite need for more and more teachers to have formal science training, so completing a B.S. degree in a broad reaching science, like Environmental Biology, then earning a Master's degree in Education, would be one path to teaching at the primary and secondary school levels. Environmental Biology majors may find work as field technicians, laboratory technicians, researchers for private or government laboratories, or as independent contractors, to name a few of the professions common to the field. They may work for local or federal government in a variety of roles.
University of Hawaii - Manoa
The University of Hawaii - Manoa has a few undergraduate programs in Environmental Biology. Perhaps the most obvious is from the Plant and Environmental Protection Sciences department. Another would be from the department of Molecular Biosystems and Bioengineering. UH Manoa also offers B.S. degrees in Zoology and Marine Biology. There are others that could be applicable as well, depending on your future career and schooling choices. Due to the fact that Hawaii is so distant from other US institutions, many of the degree offerings are suitable for students to go straight into the work force. Environmental Biology degrees such as those mentioned may be used to continue onto more specialized paths in graduate school or to look for entry careers with the National Park Service, Hawaii Fish and Wildlife, the Army Corps of Engineers, US Department of Commerce Coastal Zone Management, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, any of the branches of the military, state and local government and park programs, as teachers, and more.
Tulane University's program, in New Orleans, La, in Environmental Biology (ENVB) is for students looking to gain more knowledge in the core fields of human health, conservation and preservation, and public policy. It may be suitable for students intending to proceed to law school as well as graduate school or terminal students. Required classes include ecology, evolution, global change, genetics, and conservation.
Master's Degrees in Environmental Biology
Many Environmental Biology students choose to work for the government, whether locally, or at a regional or federal level. Having a Master's degree may be a requirement for advancement, or may speed upgrades in pay and responsibility.
Most schools require a letter of intent, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, a small application fee, and high school transcripts.
Master's Degrees in Environmental Biology are a combination of class work and practical work. Most will require either a thesis and defense or a series of published papers to meet graduation requirements. Many will allow students to have a major other than biology for their undergraduate degree, but may require completing certain core undergraduate courses before entry.
Many of the same employers that hire those with Bachelor's degrees also hire those with Master's degrees. However, having a Master's degree may open up advancement opportunities. Additionally they may work as lead horticulturists, or environmental consultants.
University of Pennsylvania
The University of Pennsylvania's College of Liberal and Professional Studies offers graduate degrees in Environmental Studies, with a concentration in Environmental Biology. Students have to have the equivalent of an undergraduate degree in Biology before being accepted into the program. Fieldwork opportunities are available locally and abroad.
Regis University's Regis College in Denver Colorado offers a Master's of Science degree in Environmental Biology that can be finished as quickly as 10 months, or at a slower pace, up to 3 years. Fieldwork is done primarily in the varied landscapes surrounding Denver, except for a January session in the tropics or coastal areas. Students must complete an externship or independent research project prior to graduation.
Ph.D. Degrees in Environmental Biology
PhDs may be for those who wish to enhance their realm of expertise or change their working concentration. Typically PhDs are the ones with the most independence and responsibility in Environmental Biology, researchers, authors, etc. They may have earned a Master's degree in another subject, and want to take a practical approach to applying it. At the level PhDs can take 4-6 years (without a Master's in the same subject), so they are not a degree pursued lightly. PhDs in science usually require coursework, a qualifying exam, research and dissertation, and a final thesis.
Most PhD programs require a Master's Degree before entrance. They may also require the usual items for an application; three letters of recommendation, small fee to apply, GREs, transcripts, and a well written letter of intent. Some may require a faculty member to agree to be your advisor before entrance as well.
As well as traditional classes, a thesis or dissertative work is generally required. Aligning yourself with a professor with common interests is very important, both for your enjoyment of school, as well as indicating what research you may do in the future. It is important to remember this is the first step in your career and what you spend an intense period of time becoming “an expert” in while in school, may very well be related to the rest of your career.
PhDs in Environmental Biology are known as experts in their field. They have the ability to be supervisors, or leaders in their firms. They may go on to teach in university settings, or gain promotions within their own agencies. They may be even more competitive as independent contractors.
University of Central Florida
The University of Central Florida College of Sciences offers a PhD degree in Conservation Biology through the Biology department. UCF works to develop highly successful professional scientists. A lot of attention is given to publishing in peer reviewed journals and conducting research. Students must have the consent of a faculty advisor before admittance. The school works to make students receive funding for their studies as long as they maintain certain standards.
University of Rhode Island
The University of Rhode Island offers a Ph.D. in Biological and Environmental Sciences (BES) that involves faculty from URI's College of the Environment and Life Sciences (CELS), including Fisheries, Animal and Veterinary Science, Biological Sciences, Cell and Molecular Biology, Geosciences, Natural Resources Science, Nutrition and Food Sciences, and Plant Sciences; as well as faculty from the Graduate School of Oceanography. Specializations are in various areas; Cell and Molecular Biology, Ecology and Ecosystem Sciences, Environmental and Earth Sciences, Integrative and Evolutionary Biology, and Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems.
Online Degrees in Environmental Biology
Columbia University - School of Continuing Education offers a Certificate of Professional Achievement in Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Biology. The program is designed to be completed in close to a year, as a part-time student, and is for students that did not have the full Environmental Biology requirements a job or further schooling might require. It is comprised of classes in Biology, Chemistry, Conservation Biology, Statistics, and Environmental Science.
American Military University
American Military University offers a number of degrees and certificates that fall into the Environmental Biology category. They offer a Bachelor of Science in either Environmental Science or Environmental Science with a Fish and Wildlife Management Concentration. They also offer undergraduate and graduate certificates in Fish and Wildlife Management.
Your Career after Graduation in Environmental Biology
Undergraduate degrees in Environmental Biology can lead to careers as local and federal environmental specialists through work with municipalities, the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Park Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and other agencies. Graduate degrees may be necessary to advance in these professions, gain recognition as consultants, or change specialties.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Environmental Scientists earn a median salary of approximately $63,570/yr, Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists approximately $57,710/yr, Microbiologists approximately $66,260/yr, and all other Biological Scientists approximately $72,720/yr. While there is some difference in the salaries listed, they are fairly close together and indicate a field with strong earning potential. Whatever your chosen profession is, you can be sure a degree in Environmental Biology will be well utilized.
School costs can vary by state and region, and residency. The University of Hawaii is nearly three times more expensive for out of state residents (>$15,000 compared to ~$5,000/yr for an undergraduate degree). Your school should have information about available scholarships, grants, and other sources of funding. Most PhD majors in the hard sciences try to procure funding for their studies. Be sure to look closely at the costs of your chosen school, as housing and cost of living may vary greatly from school to school.
Importance of Accreditation
You may choose to attend a school with a program in Environmental Biology and simply take advantage of the courses available or earn a minor or certificate if you do not have time to earn the full degree. The school's accreditation can be very powerful in procuring a job later, or in transferring to another school. Most graduate schools require undergraduate biology classes with laboratories to have been taken at an accredited college for acceptance into their programs.