Why an Environmental Health Degree?
A program in Environmental Health focuses on human health arising from living and environmental conditions, whether manmade or natural surroundings. Finding a balance between nature and the needs of mankind often leads to “solutions” which may then call for environmental protection, or worse, environmental remediation. Humankind generally does the best it can with current technology and accepted design principles. Environmental Health looks at both social and the biogeophysical surroundings people have and works to keep people safe. Students should study both densely and under-populated areas and the nuances of Environmental Health associated with both.
Due to the activity of international organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO), Environmental Health is often simply considered disease prevention. However, there are far more intricacies involved when majoring in the field. Air quality, water quality, general living conditions, and food quality all fall under the category of Environmental Health. You may choose to specialize in a service area that falls under the umbrella of environmental health, such as sanitation services, restaurant inspections, or toxicity testing. You may instead choose to specialize and switch degrees, such as pursuing a career in medicine.
Typical coursework should include basic science courses in biology and chemistry, and perhaps earth science. Environmental classes should cover basics of ecology, toxicology, disease control, ethics, hydrologic systems and air quality. Many programs require an internship, even at the undergraduate level. International internship programs may be available. Because of the strong overlap with the medical profession, many students taking these classes may be pursuing degrees as practitioners as well, or may be coming back after working in the field to advance or change their careers.
Job Prospects with a Degree in Environmental Health
Career options upon graduation are highly diverse. You could go into city or municipality health laboratories, social work, sanitation services, or strive to work internationally through the Peace Corp or World Health Organization. You may work for the Center for Disease Control, which, even though it is a US Government agency, has scientists and other workers based worldwide. You may also work for the United States Environmental Protection Agency in some aspect. Perhaps you may decide to earn another degree in Environmental Planning or Environmental Medicine afterwards, if one of these fields appeals to you more than the Environmental Health major.
As with other majors, your level of responsibility and independence may be highly dependent on the degree you earn as well as the type of company you choose as your employer. There are a number of certificate programs that apply to the field of Environmental Health, which could earn you steady incomes in specific areas. These certificate programs are often designed for students already pursuing a health degree or environmental degree that would like an extra area of specialization.
Common Divisions / Specialties within Environmental Health
- Disease Control
- Food and Restaurant Quality Control and Inspections
- Public Utilities
- Sanitation Services
Environmental Health Degrees and Overviews
Bachelor's Degrees in Environmental Health
Oftentimes a Bachelor's of Science (BS) degree is given in Environmental Health, or Environmental and Occupational Health. BS degrees have rigorous science requirements; including classes in biology, chemistry, statistics, etc. An internship may be required as well.
Most schools require a letter of intent, SAT scores, letters of recommendation, a small application fee, and high school transcripts.
Students are generally expected to take over 120 undergraduate credits to complete their degree in Environmental Health, with some programs requiring minimums even higher. Classes will be diverse throughout the sciences, as well as cover some key issues such as environmental ethics, and global threats.
There are a number of entry level positions available for a graduate with a BS in Environmental Health. Air and water quality technicians, food industry inspectors, and many levels of local and federal government positions are available.
Boise State University
Boise State University offers a Bachelor's degree in Environmental and Occupational Health. Goals of the program include providing a high quality education for practice and leadership in the field, and offering a program which is stimulating and involved in research and well suited to serve the community. Courses cover topics such as water supply issues, toxicity, air quality and noise pollution, and hazardous waste management. Students are encouraged to participate in internships. This degree is accredited by the National Environmental Health Science and Accreditation Council.
Texas Southern University
Texas Southern University offers a Bachelor's of Science in Environmental Health. Students take many traditional science courses such as biology and chemistry through Organic Chemistry, as well as specialized classes in waste management, environmental toxicology, and environmental ethics. Students are prepared to be ready to enter the workforce in some aspect of Environmental Health upon graduation. This degree is accredited by the National Environmental Health Science and Accreditation Council.
Masters Degrees in Environmental Health
Many Environmental Health students would like to perform research work in the field, and need more advanced degrees to be able to do so. A Master's Degree may be required before admittance to a PhD program.
Most schools require a letter of intent, GRE scores, letters of recommendation, a small application fee, and college transcripts. Basic science classes completed at the undergraduate level may have minimum acceptable GPAs or need to be retaken.
Generally Master's Degrees in Environmental Health are a combination of class work and practical work. Programs will differ in their requirements. Some may allow thesis and non-thesis paths as well. Though some schools allow specialization in water quality, or air quality issues, others may just offer general studies. Your main professor may also be a source of inspiration for choosing a specific concentration.
Master's level workers are often senior managers at local government levels or laboratory or field research managers. They are generally not in charge of the research to be conducted, but may be in charge of compiling the data and reporting the results of dozens of workers.
Mississippi Valley State University
Mississippi Valley State University offers a Master's of Science in Environmental Health. They have both thesis and non-thesis offerings, with the thesis requiring original research work, and the non-thesis requiring an extensive internship. Both avenues to pursue degrees have common core courses and written and oral comprehensive exams.
Old Dominion University
Old Dominion University works to offer a Master's of Public Health with a specialization in Global Environmental Health. All students have advisors and may be full-time or part-time students. Classes are offered at night as well as online to accommodate returning students that may be working full-time already. Core courses are in Public Health Administration, Environmental Risk Assessment, and Biostatistics, to name a few. Electives include classes in Environmental Emergencies and Disasters, Global Environmental Health, and Advanced GIS, as well as many others.
PhD in Environmental Health
PhDs are for those who strive to be the senior scientists investigating health issues or managing public health facilities. They may already have some graduate education, or may be fresh from receiving their undergraduate degree and know they wish to be leaders in their chosen field.
Some 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.
If a student already has a Master's degree before entering the program, a PhD student will have about half the required number of credits to take, but must still sit for exams and take approximately 30some credits. The student will generally be conducting original research or involved in intensive training exercises. Usually seminars with current professionals will be offered as part of the curricula. Core courses will cover probably historical health issues, toxicology, environmental health laws and regulations, statistics, and exposure assessment.
PhDs in Environmental Health have the ability to be senior scientists in academic settings as well as at disease control centers and health regulatory agencies.
Boston University offers a PhD in Environmental Health. The department offers four established majors; toxicology, exposure and risk assessment, environmental epidemiology, and urban and community environmental health. The program specializes in investigating exposure-related health outcomes at the community level.
East Tenneessee State University
East Tennessee State University's College of Public Health offers a PhD in Environmental Health Sciences. The program is designed to prepare students to design and conduct quality research in environmental health, develop effective environmental health policies, investigate problematic environmental issues, provide leadership and technical assistance regarding environmental health concerns to communities, and to serve as faculty and instructors of environmental health, as well as many other specialties. Admission is selective, and students are encouraged to have already completed a Master's of Public Health before applying.
Your Career after Graduation in Environmental Health
The school you select, as well as the degree you earn, can help shape the future of your career in Environmental Health. Some schools are known for being leaders in research, others for their training programs in certain careers. Learning what you can about the program and the work of other graduates will go a long way in shaping your own career.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Health and Safety Specialists earned nearly $72,530/year in 2012. The job outlook is only a 7% growth rate, which is about the national average. Environmental scientists and specialists earned approximately $73,230, Quality Control Inspectors earned approximately $40,640, and Medical Scientists earned close to $91,510. Most of these are growing at much faster rates.
Environmental Health is a multi-faceted degree, especially at the lower levels. As you gain degrees, you gain expertise, and are likely to be sought after in your field. You may end up in a closely related field to those mentioned above, one not covered specifically. You may be working on the cure for the latest epidemic or serving as your community's emergency response coordinator.
2020 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures and job growth projections for Occupational Health and Safety Specialists and Technicians, Environmental Scientists and Specialists, Quality Control Inspectors, and Medical Scientists reflect national data not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed September 2021.
School costs can vary by state and region, and residency. For example, estimated costs at Boise State (tuition and expenses) are approximately $21,000/yr for a resident and $34,000/yr for someone from out-of-state. Scholarships may be available for all degree programs, and research assistantships are often available in upper level programs. In general, Bachelor's will take 4-5 years, Master's will take 2-3, and PhDs will take 2-3. Be sure to look closely at the costs of your chosen school. It may be worth establishing residency before enrolling in order to lower your costs.
Online Degrees in Environmental Health
The best solution for some students may be to pursue additional education from their own homes through online education. Be aware that some states have specific requirements for completing online education. It will be of benefit to familiarize yourself with the degree program to make sure it meets your own requirements for improved knowledge and possibly job advancement.
Online schools generally have the same requirements as other schools; a small application fee, transcripts, GREs, a letter of intent, and sometimes certain GPAs. The certificate programs covered below require completion of a Bachelor's Degree already.
Course work depends on whether you are completing a certificate or entire degree program. Some schools may require classes be taken in person when available. An overview of Environmental Health course is almost always required, and other classes may vary by school or specific degree.
Online School Spotlight
Johns Hopkins University
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health offers certificates in both Global Health and Environmental and Occupational Health. Certificates require at least 18 credits and some may be pursued online, depending on your residency. These certificates are intended for those already working in the field, or those with a Bachelor's already that would like to receive specialized training or experience.
University of Vermont
The University of Vermont also offers a certificate of Graduate Study in Environmental Health. It is composed of 18 credits and can be completed in one year. It is recommended for students pursuing their graduate degrees in other health professions.
Importance of Accreditation
Pursing schooling from an accredited college is important for recognition of programs, transferability, and overall educational recognition. There are various accrediting authorities across the United States, separated by region, which are widely recognized as responsible accreditation agencies. More information about them can be found here, from the Council of Higher Education Accreditation. In addition to accredited colleges, degrees in Environmental Health may be accredited by the National Environmental Health Science and Protection Accreditation Council (EHAC). Graduation from one of these programs is required to be employed in a special program by the US Public Health Service. Certain states recognize graduates of these programs as having achieved a required educational standard as well.