What do environmental science degrees cover?
Very much an ‘interdisciplinary’ subject, environmental science degrees challenge students to combine skills and knowledge from a variety of different fields. This could mean exploring aspects of biology, chemistry, physics, geography, Earth and marine sciences, and also social sciences. The idea is to combine multiple perspectives and data sources, to build up a fuller understanding of natural and human environments.
Fieldwork is an important part of most environmental science degrees, which often include trips to a variety of different countries and world regions, giving those who study environmental science the opportunity to experience different habitats, climates, land formations and societies. You can also expect to spend a fair amount of time in the lab, learning how to carry out different types of tests and analysis. In addition, students often undertake voluntary work in an environment-related role, which provides valuable experience to prepare them for future environmental science careers.
Entry requirements for environmental science degrees
As is true of all subjects, entry requirements will vary between different institutions. However, those applying for an undergraduate (bachelor’s) degree in environmental science can expect to be asked for a diploma of secondary education, including good grades in at least one of the following related subjects: biology, chemistry, economics, geography, geology, mathematics or physics. At master’s level, you’ll need to have completed a relevant bachelor’s degree, either in environmental sciences or in one of the subjects mentioned above. Some universities may require applicants to attend a face-to-face interview, and/or to sit an entrance exam, often depending on national norms.
Course structure and assessment methods
Environmental science degrees usually last for three or four years at bachelor’s level and one or two years for a master’s qualification. The initial stage of your studies will include compulsory core modules, which aim to give you a general understanding of environmental science and introduce you to some of the main principles. The following stages will typically allow students to choose options from a selection of possible course modules, allowing for growing specialization in one or more environmental science topics. Towards the end of your program, you are likely to have the opportunity to carry out your own research on a topic of your choice. Assessment methods include essays, written discussions, exams, problem sheets, laboratory reports, field exercises, field notebooks and seminar presentations.
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Environmental science specializations
The list of possible environmental science topics is a long one, and each environmental science department will have its own key focus areas. Areas of specialization range from a focus on understanding specific life forms and ecosystems in great detail, to studying environmental systems and changes at whole-planet level. Some examples of environmental science topics you may encounter include:
An example of a subject at the ‘up close’ end of the environmental science spectrum, soil ecology is focused on the various processes which can affect soil, and how this can impact on natural environments and human needs such as agricultural production. Issues studied could include soil nutrition levels, the spread of pathogens (such as viruses and bacteria), the impact of pesticides and other chemicals, and soil porosity (spaces between grains).
The disciplines of aquatic biology and marine biology are similar. Aquatic biology focuses on the study of freshwater environments such as lakes, ponds, rivers and wetlands, while marine biology is concerned with saltwater environments, including the oceans and brackish bodies of water. In each case, you’ll study various aspects of life in these types of ecosystem, learning about specific habitats and relationships, including issues of conservation, resource use and economic implications.
At the ‘big picture’ end of the spectrum, the field of Earth systems focuses on large-scale changes in the Earth and its atmosphere, and the environmental systems that affect the whole planet. Environmental science topics you might cover here include geomorphology (understanding land formations and predicting future changes), weather systems, climate change, ice ages and oceanic systems.
Environmental and biological conservation
A specialization in environmental and biological conservation will involve studying different groups of organisms – such as birds, mammals and insects – and their natural habitats, with a focus on understanding the survival challenges they face, and the conservation techniques that may be used. Those who specialize in this field will be well prepared for future environmental science careers in a conservation focused field, working to protect various species and limit the risk of extinction.
Energy and climate change
The question of climate change is one of the most hotly debated and significant issues of the current century. Specializing in this field will allow students to understand the possible causes of climate change, the existing evidence for change and projections for the future, and potential solutions. Students may opt to focus on more environmentally sustainable approaches to energy production and consumption, a field in which there’s certainly high demand for graduates.
Water resource management
This specialization focuses on the management of available water resources, used for human needs such as drinking, sanitation, agriculture, leisure and industry. Students will learn about various water resource management challenges faced by communities around the world, looking at different approaches to balancing supply and demand, as well as assessing related environmental, economic and legal factors.
Pollution prevention and remediation
This area focuses on human pollution of the natural environment, introducing students to different types of pollutants and how to assess the extent and consequences of pollution. Students will also learn about strategies for pollution prevention and remediation – how to stop it from occurring, and how to lessen its negative impact. This could be good preparation for environmental science careers not only in pollution management, but also in waste reduction and disposal.
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Environmental science careers
There are many different environmental science careers open to graduates, in sectors ranging from outdoor recreation to waste disposal, and from public policy development to agriculture. Some of the environmental science careers you may consider include:
Environmental consultancy careers
Working in environmental consultancy means providing advice to various organizations, either governmental or private, about an issue connected to the environment. This could mean assessing the environmental impact of an existing or planned project; advising on the pollution or contamination of land, air or water; measuring the ‘carbon footprint’ of an activity; advising on relevant legislation and regulations; and generally helping companies to become more sustainable.
Nature conservation careers
This pathway is for those who want to focus on protecting and promoting the natural environment. Nature conservation careers could involve overseeing the sustainable management of a natural area; planning and supervising projects to increase biodiversity or to bolster a particular species; fundraising and campaigning to raise awareness of relevant issues. Employers include charities and non-profits, national parks and nature reserves, private estates, local authorities and consultancies.
Environmental education careers
Suited to those keen to pass on their knowledge and passion for the subject, environmental education careers could mean visiting schools to give talks, leading nature walks and organizing events, training volunteers and running workshops or courses, and liaising with educational and community groups. Common employers include trusts and charities, local authorities and other public sector groups, and attractions such as zoos, wildlife parks and botanical gardens.
Environmental management careers
If you choose a career in
The Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science degree program is designed for students interested in an interdisciplinary scientific perspective on environmental and sustainability issues, analysis, and management. The degree program provides the broad foundation in physical, life, and social sciences needed for a career or graduate study in environmental science and related fields such as climate change, ecology, and conservation. Students who complete the program successfully will be able to assess environmental issues critically from multiple perspectives; to perform field, laboratory, and computer analyses; and to conduct original research. The program is designed to prepare graduates for careers in local, state, and federal government laboratories and nonprofit agencies, environmental consulting firms, environmental education and outreach agencies, and universities and other research settings. The degree is offered by the College of Natural Sciences with a focus on biological sciences, by the College of Liberal Arts with a focus on geographical sciences, and by the Jackson School of Geosciences with a focus on geological sciences. The degree programs share common prescribed work, but each degree has its own specific requirements. Students may earn only one Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science degree from the University.
The Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science curriculum consists of 126 semester hours of coursework. All students must complete the University’s Core Curriculum. The specific degree requirements consist of prescribed work, major requirements, and electives. In some cases, a course that is required for the degree may also be counted toward the core curriculum.
A course in one prescribed work area may not also be used to fulfill the requirements of another prescribed work area; the only exception to this rule is that a course that fulfills another requirement may also be used to fulfill a flag requirement, unless otherwise specified.
In the process of fulfilling the core curriculum and other degree requirements, all students are expected to complete the following Skills and Experience flags:
- Writing: three flagged courses beyond Rhetoric and Writing 306 or its equivalent; students in the College of Natural Sciences and the Jackson School of Geosciences must complete only two flagged writing courses. For students in the College of Natural Sciences, at least one writing flag must be from an upper-division course.
- Quantitative reasoning: one flagged course
- Global cultures: one flagged course
- Cultural diversity in the United States: one flagged course
- Ethics and leadership: one flagged course
- Independent inquiry: one flagged course
Prescribed Work Common to All Environmental Science Majors
BS EVS: Option I: Biological Science
One of the following foreign language/culture choices:
Beginning level proficiency coursework, or the equivalent, in a foreign language.
First course in a foreign language and a three-semester-hour course in the culture of the same language area.
Two three-semester-hour courses in one foreign culture area; the courses must be chosen from an approved list available in the dean’s office and the college advising centers.
Three hours in statistics chosen from Statistics and Data Sciences 328M and 321; with the consent of the undergraduate adviser, an upper-division statistics or probability course may be used to fulfill this requirement.
Three hours in conservation and environmental biology chosen from Biology 351, 375, and Marine Science 356. Marine Science 356 may not be used to satisfy both requirement 10c and requirement 14. Marine Science 352 may count with prior approval of the faculty adviser.
Biology 325 or 325H (for students completing Biology 315H), and 370.
One of the following taxon/systems-based diversity courses or pairs of courses: Biology 321L, 324 and 124L, 327 and 127L, 340L, 448L, 353F, 453L, 354L, 455L, 364, 369L, 471G, Marine Science 352D, 352E, 354C, 354E, 354U, or 357. Biology 337 may count with prior approval of the faculty adviser.
One of the following physiology, neurobiology, and behavior courses or pairs of courses: Biology 322 and 122L, 328 and 128L, 438L, 339, 345E, 346, 359J, 359K, 359R, 361, 361T, 365S, 371L, Marine Science 355C, Neuroscience 365R.
Complete one upper-division laboratory course in addition to the laboratory requirements in the Prescribed Work Common to All Environmental Science Majors. A laboratory course taken to meet requirement 16 or 17 may be used to fulfill this requirement.
Enough additional coursework to make a total of 126 hours.
BS EVS: Option II: Biological Sciences Honors
To fulfill requirements 1 through 4 of the prescribed work common to all options above, students complete the following breadth requirement: An honors mathematics course; Biology 315H and 325H; Chemistry 301H and 302H; Physics 301 and 101L; and a designated honors statistics course. Credit earned by examination may not be counted toward this requirement.
A section of Undergraduate Studies 302 or 303 that is approved by the honors program adviser.
A section of Rhetoric and Writing 309S that is restricted to student in the Dean’s Scholars Honors Program.
Two semesters of Biology 379H; these courses may be used to fulfill requirement 9.
Three semester hours in conservation and environmental biology chosen from Biology 375, 351, Marine Science 356. Marine Science 356 may not be used to satisfy both requirement 10c and requirement 18.
One of the following taxon/systems-based diversity courses or pairs of courses: Biology 321L, 324 and 124L, 327 and 127L, 340L, 448L, 353F, 453L, 354L, 455L, 364, 369L, 471G; Marine Science 352 (Topic: Principles of Estuarine Ecology), or Marine Science 352 (Topic: Marine Invertebrates), 352D, 354C, 354E, 354U or 357. Biology 337 may count with prior approval of the faculty adviser.
Six semester hours of coursework in the College of Liberal Arts or the College of Fine Arts.
Complete one upper-division laboratory course in addition to the laboratory requirements in the Prescribed Work Common to All Environmental Science Majors. A laboratory course taken to fulfill requirement 19 may be used to fulfill this requirement.
Enough additional coursework approved by the honors adviser to make a total of 126 semester hours.
Students must fulfill both the University's general requirements for graduation and the college requirements. They must also earn a grade of at least C- in each mathematics and science course required for the degree, and a grade point average in these courses of at least 2.00. More information about grades and the grade point average is given in the General Information Catalog.
To graduate under the honors Option, students must remain in good standing in the Dean’s Scholars Honors Program, must submit an honors thesis approved by the program honors adviser, and must present their research in an approved public forum, such as the college’s annual Undergraduate Research Forum. More information about the Undergraduate Research Forum is available at https://cns.utexas.edu/.
- Mathematics: Mathematics 408C, or 408N and 408S, or 408K and 408L.
- Chemistry: Chemistry 301 or 301H; 302 or 302H; and 204.
- Physics: Physics 317K and 117M, or another four-hour calculus-based physics sequence.
- Biological Sciences: Biology 311C and 311D, or 315H.
a. Biology 373 or Marine Science 320. Marine Science 320 may not be used to satisfy both requirement 5a and requirement 10c.
b. Biology 373L or Marine Science 120L. Environmental science majors in the College of Natural Sciences must choose Biology 373L.
- Geological Sciences: Geological Sciences 401 or 303, 346C, and an approved geological sciences course in sustainability.
- Geography: Geography 335N.
- Field experience and research methods: Environmental Science 311 and 121.
- Senior field/research experience: one of the following pairs:
- Environmental Science 271and 371 or Environmental Science 171 and 471.
- Environmental Science 172C and 472D or Environmental Science 272C and 372D.
- Environmental Science 271 or Marine Science 348, and one of the following: Chemistry 320M, Geography 360G, 368C, 462K, Geological Sciences 327G, Mathematics 408D or 408M. Note: Geography 360G, 462K, and Geological Sciences 327G may not be used to satisfy both requirement 9c and 10b. Biology 277 may substitute for Environmental Science 271 with prior approval of the faculty adviser.
- Environmental and sustainability themes: one course in each of the following thematic areas:
- Environmental and sustainability policy, ethics, and history: Geography 334, 336C, 339K, 340D, 342C, 344K, 356C, Journalism 346F, Marine Science 367K, and Philosophy 325C. Biology 337, Geography 356, 356T, or Sociology 321K may be counted with prior approval of the faculty adviser.
- Geographic information systems: Geography 360G, 462K, Geological Sciences 327G.
- Climates and oceans: Biology 456L, Geography 333K, Geological Sciences 347D, 347G, 377P, Marine Science 320, 440, 352, 354Q, 354T, 356. Marine Science 320 may not be used to satisfy both requirement 5 and requirement 10. Marine Science 356 may not be used to satisfy both requirement 10c and requirement 14 in Option I. Marine Science 356 may not be used to satisfy both requirement 10c and requirement 18 in Option II. Geography 356T, Geological Sciences 371C, and Marine Science 352 may count with prior approval of the faculty adviser.
- Environmental economics, sustainability, and business: Economics 304K, 330T. Advanced Placement credit for Economics 304L may be used to satisfy this requirement.
- Environmental Science 141 and 151.