Illinois has got a little bit of everything when it comes to the environment. The greater Chicago area represents one of the most urbanized parts of the country. The north and central parts of the state are largely agricultural. And in the south, the coal country in LaSalle County and broad swaths of forest support mining and logging operations.
Although we're technically a Plains state, we get a lot more biodiversity than you would expect from that designation. From the Mississippi to the Ohio, we have some of the nation's great rivers winding through the state, and the vast expanse of Lake Michigan stretching off the north makes water ecology and biology something of particular interest in Illinois.
We also reach down into Tornado Alley, which makes meteorological research important to many in the environmental sciences.
Whether purely as scientific research, or applied in a commercial capacity, you'll find plenty of work in environmental science taking place here, and some of the nation's top universities offering degrees in the field.
What Can I Do with an Environmental Science Degree in Illinois
There are a full range of government and private sector jobs dealing with environmental science in Illinois, from health and safety professionals to environmental engineers. Many positions are available at the state, city, and county levels.
Environmental scientists have another, non-traditional avenue for employment in Illinois, one that revolves around the Chicago Stock Exchange. As a major component of the National Market System, and home of the CME Group, Chicago's derivatives, futures, and options trading markets are all heavily dependent on the information and analysis provided by experts in earth and weather sciences.
It's also a major center for law and environmental affairs throughout the Midwest. Environmental engineering firms are always hiring here, and major food production companies need soils and crop experts and compliance specialists.
All this commercial activity really boosts the pay grade for environmental scientists in Illinois. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, environmental scientists here earn an average of $84,320 a year.
Master's in Environmental Science in Illinois
A master's degree puts you right at the top of the field and the pay scale in environmental science, and you have plenty of excellent choices for colleges offering the degree right here in Illinois.
As you would expect, all the usual suspects in the Chicagoland area have great programs, but so do many of the more far-flung schools throughout the state. In Charleston, Eastern Illinois University offers a highly professional MS in Biological Sciences to give you a grounding in fields ranging from bioenergy to behavioral ecology.
Or you can choose Southern Illinois University down in Carbondale, where the master's in Forestry puts eight different concentrations on the table, including watershed management and ecological restoration.
Bachelor's in Environmental Science in Illinois
Of course, before you get a master's, you're going to need a bachelor's degree. Illinois is home to plenty of solid options at the undergraduate level of environmental sciences, too.
Northwestern is a world-class university that delivers a bachelor in environmental science which might be more comprehensive than some graduate degrees you find elsewhere! With study abroad options and partnerships within the renewable energy industry, you get hands-on experience with real environmental challenges all over the world.
And if getting your hands dirty strikes you as an integral part of getting an environmental sciences degree, there's always Lake Forest College. Their environmental studies major offers the big-picture global environmental education you need to keep the ecosystem in perspective together with on campus and community research and volunteer opportunities from composting to working at the Wildlife Discovery Center.
Online Environmental Science Degree Options from Schools in Illinois
We're living in the 21stCentury up here in Illinois, so you know that some of your options for getting a degree in environmental science now live in cyberspace. It's a great choice for not only working professionals who can't commit to traditional classroom hours, but also anyone who can't easily relocate to attend the campus of their dreams.
If your dreams were getting a master's in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences at the University of Illinois, then there's no need for you to pick up and move to Urbana… the entire MS program can be completed online, without a single visit to the main campus. If you do value in-person interaction and direct lab supervision, though, some electives are offered in a hybrid format that allows you much of the flexibility of online coursework, while building in field trips and lab work with instructors and fellow students.