Why an Environmental Psychology Degree?
As the scope of the Environmental Sciences continues to grow, we can expect to see it blend with other fields - some expected, others not quite so expected. One of the most curious interdisciplinary fields is Environmental Psychology. It concerns the interaction between the environment (natural and built) and public perception of those spaces. It has existed since the early 1970s at the birth of the modern environmental movement. The first postgraduate course was established at The University of Surrey in England and since then, it has become an important part of how we understand the environment, influenced by post-modernism. Environmental Psychology can apply to landscapes, buildings and urban development, and concerns a number of issues including:
- How people perceive environmental problems
- How people feel about the general “feel” of a location - the attractiveness and attitudes they inspire
- How people react to environments or environmental conditions
- What effect or effects environments have on well being of people - health and outlook
- How environments as a place influence our personal or group identities (civic pride)
- The perception and effect on human psychology of important environmental concepts such as sustainability, pollution risk, air and water quality, and others
Because it is largely about psychology, it is just as focused on value and perception as it is on handling and solving environmental problems for the betterment of an area, or for the people who live there. Therefore, it is a theoretical discipline influenced heavily by philosophy, and concerns the study of environments in the past, and how they in turn affected the perception and psychology of people.
People who choose to study Environmental Psychology are usually those who wish to examine both science and philosophy, and especially those who prefer to study lots of theory, and read and write papers that debate concepts rather than data. Practical work for graduates in this area can include environmental planning and design with a focus on human experiences rather than function of what is being designed, so there are options for both practical and theoretical routes.
Learn about a career as an environmental psychologist.
Environmental Psychology Degree Programs
Bachelor's Degrees in Environmental Psychology
Environmental Psychology is very much a niche area; this means that there are few options for studying the discipline at undergraduate level. Tailored programs are rare at the Bachelors level, so students wishing to study should take an associated environmental degree such as sustainability or policy and planning, and take on psychology as an elective or minor subject. This will maximize your opportunity to get onto a graduate program later and put you in good stead for your career.
The preferred option for colleges and universities offering you a place on a graduate program is that you study a psychology undergraduate degree as your major. You should then focus on architecture and the environment for your minors and electives and focus your coursework in an area conducive to creating a good foundation in Environmental Psychology. If you opt for a major in an environmental discipline instead, then ensure you choose psychology and philosophy based short courses.
Environmental Psychology can also concern itself with interior building design, so a further option would be to take a relevant architecture or interior design degree, and then take a psychology minor and focus your project work on Environmental Psychology. People who study EnvPsycho and end up in associated career approach the discipline from many backgrounds - these are just some of them.
There are many more options here to prime you for a career in Environmental Psychology. If you wish to study a graduate degree, then it is important that you get this mix right between electives and minors in conjunction with your major; choose carefully.
New York University
NYU is one of the oldest universities in the country, ranked in the top ten psychology departments nationwide. NYU offers modern and flexible psychology programs that examines modern sub-disciplines, including environment, in their social psychology program (psychology as a social science). For a degree that is more directly associated with the environment, this will be amongst the better options.
Washington State University
Offering a comprehensive psychology program, WSU, the college offers several BA module options including Community Psychology. You may take either environment or psychology as a major or a minor, allowing you to piece together your own program before you consider graduate study. The environmental modules permit you to examine land use planning, just one element of environmental psychology.
For those who do not wish to go on to graduate study or whose grades mean they would not be permitted to do so, there are presently a few options to convert your existing relevant degree for a new career. Graduate Certificate programs are a happy medium and usually only take a year to convert your degree. Common in Europe, they are increasingly popular in the US for those wishing to change careers from one degree-based career to another.
Master's Degrees in Environmental Psychology
Master's programs give Bachelor's graduates the opportunity to continue to focus their professional interest on one specific area. Applicants to any Master's program should have an undergraduate degree in a relevant discipline - in this case psychology, environmental policy & planning, or in architecture and design. Environmental Psychology is subject heavy in theory and philosophy, but will contain elements of practical work; therefore, applicants can expect that coursework will be largely theoretical. Classroom based study will demonstrate how to interpret and understand the effect of a landscape on human psychology, how to promote positive attitudes, or how to alter something to improve perception.
Practical work may be part of a Master's degree program and it will generally focus on environmental design - particularly where the student chooses to focus on building or landscape design, urban planning or otherwise incorporating human experience as an element of development. This is increasingly an important area as urban developers, environmental restorers and other fieldwork professionals seek to understand human experience and incorporate it into the planning process.
With a Master's Degree, you should not have too much difficulty getting work at present in this growing niche area - you could be designing ecotowns, ecobuildings, promoting green spaces, redesigning buildings to be more environmentally friendly, or designing tourist attractions to promote a more attractive environment for visitors. Your area of focus during your studies should focus on your intended career choice - so attempt to choose early which job you would like to do. We offer a list of possible career paths at the end of this article.
Colorado State University
CSU offers a number of MA/MS graduate programs covering the following disciplines: Applied Social, Cognitive, Counseling, Industrial/Organizational, and Cognitive Neuroscience. These programs look at the psychology of environment in a more involved way than most other courses, making the university one of the most diverse and focused options for students wishing to enter into this field.
University of Michigan
UM is one of the institutions leading the way in developing courses relevant to environmental psychology. With graduate programs in Natural Resource and Environment, there is coursework on environmental and ecological psychology. From December 2016, they expect to offer a module on The Psychology of Environmental Stewardship, which focuses on the necessity of promoting sustainable living and the psychology of changing behavior and attitudes.
PhD in Environmental Psychology
It is unlikely you will need a PhD in Environmental Psychology unless you intend to enter into a career in academia or teaching. That said, it is a very popular Doctorate field and there are seemingly many more options at this level to study Environmental Psychology than there are lower down the chain - this is probably because of the philosophical and research heavy nature of study being more suited to the PhD.
The discipline is still growing and only one Ivy League establishment presently offers it as an option (Cornell, but it calls the course Human Behavior & Design). However, outside of the elite universities you will find many options for you to study for your Doctorate.
Choose carefully based on location and the faculty; you will certainly have the option to further develop your focus and find your own area of interest with options to take into account such niches as cosmology, experiential education, experimental psychology and other theoretical disciplines in post-modern thought.
Cornell has a develop set of programs for the aspiring environmental psychologist, offering graduates many options in both psychology and in environmental studies. The most relevant program is the PhD in Human Behavior & Design, focusing heavily on how environmental conditions affect human thought and action. They encourage student who have an interest in blurring the lines between interdisciplinary boundaries.
The multidisciplinary approach of Environmental Psychology means that degree programs can vary between education establishments and even in how you choose to make up your course. You will be expected to do a significant amount of personal research and all courses will contain an element of design, theory and planning - both practical and theoretical work.
Dissertations and theses will be core to graduate studies, much more so than at undergraduate level. If you prefer that a large research project be part of your studies, look at the various offerings available and choose one where a dissertation is either optional or mandatory.
What students will find is that coursework and other academic projects will expect a much greater level of a multidisciplinary approach, encouraging the student to look outside the confines of environment, psychology and philosophy.
It may seem an unusual fusion of disciplines, but Environmental Psychology is an important fledgling field in which we are always finding new uses and applications. The human experience has been undervalued as a source of research data for many years, and today we have a better understanding and awareness of the importance of perception and human psychology to a wide variety of factors that concern the environment. As a graduate of Environmental Psychology, you may consider any of the following options as potential career choices:
- Building conceptual design beyond the purely structural. You may be working with architects to promote plans that are conducive to open spaces, natural shading and promoting low carbon
- As store merchandisers and shop layout planners, working out ways to influence consumers to buy more and maximize sales
- Office space use to maximize a number of factors including light and shade, to get best use out of existing space, or to promote wellbeing through good and effective use of décor
- Urban planning, the placement of new facilities, not only so they are efficiently placed, but also for the psychological impact. A person's view can be spoiled, so what is most convenient is not always the best place
- Promotion of tourist attractions through good design, access and spatial analysis - another way in which science and statistics blend with psychology (the science of conceptual landscapes)
- Similarly, in heritage management in the promotion of cultural landscapes and their facilities in encouraging people to think of natural environments and monuments as “theirs” and having a vested interest in their upkeep and promotion
- Environmental health, promoting good practice for employers - ensuring they comply with regulations on lighting and HVAC
- Interior design: You will understand how to make use of light and building facilities and the impact design has on the users' attitudes and perception. These things cannot always be quantified scientifically.
All of these things are environmental in some way, and they are important to both the private and public sector.
Employers agree; the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimate that employability of people with qualifications in Environmental Psychology will increase by 8% between 2020 and 2030, making it a profession with steady growth in the fast moving field environmental science. Naturally, the higher your qualification level, the greater the opportunity for career development and the more options will be open to you.
2020 US Bureau of Labor Statistics salary figures and job growth projections for Environmental Scientists and Specialists reflect national data not school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary. Data accessed September 2021.
Core Skills You Will Develop While Studying Environmental Psychology
Environmental Psychology students will develop a number of critical core skills essential for any graduate job. Here are the most common that you will develop.
- Research: Core to most degree programs is the ability to find sources and use them, to develop practical testing and compare results
- Critical analysis: Some projects will require the examination and interpretation of large data sets including statistics and survey data, sample analysis and census data
- Investigation: Similarly, you will develop skills in collecting primary data as part of your own project. These will include researching other data as well as putting together your own survey
- Project design: If you are likely to go on to any of the careers we list above, then you will need to know how to design and propose projects to those who may end up using the data. This will also include proposal writing
- Theory and argument: Most disciplines have theory of some kind but the interpretative nature of psychological theory makes this even more critical
- Communication & presentation: You will learn how to present data and adapt your findings to the audience, and improve your written or oral skills to a high level