Best Online Master’s in Environmental Science Degrees

Choosing the best master’s in environmental science online program can be tough, especially because there are so many to choose from. Get help finding the right accredited master’s program for you in this guide.

Every day, our actions affect the Earth. Delving into the science behind how natural and man-made processes interact—and figuring out how to create a world that will work for us now and in the future—is at the core of a master’s in environmental science online degree. Climate change and environmental issues such as air and water pollution or deforestation are just some of the topics that you might tackle as an environmental scientist.

With your master’s in environmental science online, your career can go in various directions. You might work with companies to reduce their carbon footprints, teach the next generation of environmental specialists, or move into government and work on environmental policy at the federal, state, or local level.

Earning an online master’s degree in environmental science puts those careers in reach, especially with the learning flexibility this degree offers. Our guide shows you what it takes to earn an online master’s degree in environmental science and answers any questions you have about finding, applying to, and paying for the right program, as well as what you can expect after graduation.

College Spotlights: Best Online Master’s Degree in Environmental Science in 2021

As you choose your online master’s environmental science degree program, you will have plenty of options to sort through. We’ve identified some of the best master’s in environmental science online programs in terms of accreditation, affordability, learning flexibility, and potential for professional growth. The following is a list of three top-rated schools; this is just a preview of our more extensive environmental science online degree program rankings list that will come out later this year.

University of Illinois Springfield

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The University of Illinois Springfield’s Department of Environmental Studies offers several options for graduate students. One degree you can choose is the Master of Science in Environmental Sciences. Students opt to earn their degree through the traditional on-campus program or the 100% online program. The online path offers tremendous flexibility but doesn’t sacrifice quality. That’s because the curriculum is exactly the same and most courses are taught by the same on-campus faculty.

Another advantage of this program is the ability to choose a concentration. In addition to the General Environmental Science specialization, students can choose Environmental Planning and Management or Sustainable Development and Policy. To set students up for success both during the program and after graduation, faculty works with each student to develop a specialized educational plan. To graduate, students complete a thesis or graduate project. Multiple scholarships are available.

University of Idaho

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Regionally accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, the University of Idaho online Master of Science in Environmental Science Degree program is taught by the same world-class faculty that teaches on campus. Like many other programs, this online master’s degree consists of 30 credits. But the curriculum is unique in that it offers three areas of focus: physical science, biological science, or social science. Students take courses in at least two of these option areas. Students also have flexibility in choosing to complete a thesis or replace it with non-thesis research. The thesis track requires 24 credits of coursework and six credits for the thesis. The non-thesis track requires 27 credits of coursework and three credits of non-thesis research.

Applicants are required to have completed prerequisites in physical, biological, and social sciences plus statistics, pre-calculus (or higher) math, and scientific or technical writing. These may be met automatically based on the applicant’s undergraduate degree. If not, accepted students will need to take these classes before being eligible to take their full option of environmental science coursework.

Oregon State University

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Oregon State University offers its Master’s in Environmental Sciences online degree program, which gives applicants the choice of two potential degrees. First, there’s the Master of Science in Environmental Sciences. This degree is tailored to students with an interest in the science industry, but it also provides training to prepare graduates to analyze, understand, and manage issues related to the environment. There is a thesis and non-thesis option for the Master of Science degree.

Second, there’s the Professional Science Master’s in Environmental Sciences, which modifies the curriculum to provide a hybrid set of classes that include both scientific and business training. The goal is to prepare graduates to serve as a bridge between scientists and policymakers. Students who choose this degree will not complete a thesis. Instead, they will do an internship that allows them to work directly in government, business, or industry. Oregon State University’s Professional Science Master’s degree program is recognized by the National Professional Science Master’s Association.

Benefits of Getting an Online Master’s in Environmental Science

A bachelor’s degree is a great starting point, but earning an online master’s environmental science degree will put you on the cutting edge of science. And with compelling reasons like these, why not take that step?

  1. Convenient Learning

    You can earn a master’s degree in environmental science fully online. This means no trips to campus or meeting any in-person requirements. It’s perfect for working professionals trying to enhance their career with additional training while still continuing in their current jobs and earning a paycheck.

  2. Career Advancement

    While a bachelor’s degree in environmental science may be enough for an entry-level position in the environmental industry, those wishing to move up in their current jobs may find that a master’s degree is necessary. Taking on research, management, or policy roles typically will require a graduate degree.

  3. Switching Careers

    Many more professional options become available when earning a master’s degree, including teaching at the college level. With management, policy, and business classes as part of many programs, graduates will be ready to shift roles from fieldwork or research to policy or business-oriented management jobs.

What You’ll Learn in Master’s Environmental Science Online Programs

During their master’s education, students take a wide range of classes, from fundamental science and statistics courses to classes in specialized environmental topics like climate change and environmental analysis. There’s also ample opportunity to focus on a concentration. Below is a list of both core and specialized classes you can expect in a typical environmental science master’s program.

Sample Courses

  • Research Methods in Environmental Science

    One of the biggest areas of emphasis in any environmental science master’s program is the development of research skills. This is a core class that instructs students on how to conduct independent and original research. This class is especially helpful when students complete their thesis or research project.

  • Environmental Natural Sciences

    This class offers a basic overview of the subdisciplines that make up environmental science. Students cover topics such as physics, chemistry, biology, ecology, and earth sciences. Instruction also includes learning how these topics interact with each other and apply to environmental studies.

  • Environmental Analysis

    This course presents the skills of analytical and critical thinking within environmental science. After completing this class, students are able to not only understand and examine environmental issues but also communicate their ideas effectively, both verbally and in writing.

  • Advanced Topics in Geographic Information Science

    This course teaches students about web-based geographic information systems (GIS). Students learn how these systems work, including understanding web mapping and theories of map interactions. They’ll also learn about spatial databases and design concept considerations for GIS, especially with mobile devices.

  • Thesis

    This is usually an optional course but gives students a one-of-a-kind opportunity to expand their research skills in the environmental realm. If a student decides to complete a thesis, they will conduct an original research project that contains their findings and conclusions and demonstrates their understanding of what they learned in the master’s in environmental science online program.

Specialization Options

One of the benefits of getting a graduate degree is the opportunity to specialize. The majority of online master’s degree programs in environmental science are set up so that students take a few core classes before choosing a specialization. These are great opportunities for students to either shift their professional focus or take the next step in their existing area of expertise. The following is a list of just five possible specialization options.

  • Environmental Planning and Management

    This concentration prepares students to focus on the planning, management, and policy roles within environmental science. The curriculum includes classes that teach how environmental regulatory policies work and when they are effective. The curriculum also provides coursework on how to create environmental policies and analyze their effectiveness.

  • Water Resources

    This concentration exists for individuals who have an interest or background in the natural sciences but want to learn more about water resources and management. Students focus on how water moves within the ecosystems and environments on Earth.

  • Environmental Education

    This concentration is ideal for those who wish to move into a teaching career. The specialization may not meet all of the requirements to become a certified teacher, but it will provide students with the communication, research, and pedagogical skills to teach environmental concepts and assess learning progress.

  • Sustainable Development and Policy

    Many of the environmental struggles the world faces today relate to how humans make use of natural resources. This concentration provides a historical background to human development before shifting into effective concepts for sustainability. Some courses examine how changes to environmental policies and laws can encourage sustainable development.

  • Climate Change

    Climate change is one of the most critical challenges the world faces today. This area of specialization allows students to learn more about climate change and its effect on people, animals, and nature. This specialization covers not just the science behind climate change but also the political and business considerations.

Accreditation for Master’s in Environmental Science Online Programs

Accreditation is the process in which an independent reviewing body confirms that a school or program meets basic levels of educational quality. Accreditation can occur at the institutional level, where an entire school gets accredited from a national or regional accrediting body. There’s also programmatic accreditation, where an individual program gets accredited.

When applying to a master’s in environmental science online program or a master’s in environmental science online program, prospective students should confirm that, at a minimum, the school has institutional accreditation. Most environmental science programs will not be accredited at the programmatic level, but some are. For example, ABET has the Applied and Natural Science Accreditation Commission, which accredits applied and natural science programs. Then there’s the National Environmental Health Science and Protection Accreditation Council, which focuses on accrediting environmental health science programs. To learn more about a school’s accreditation status, visit the U.S. Department of Education’s Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

What You Can Do with a Master’s in Environmental Science?

With a master’s degree in environmental science, you will be primed for a career in any number of fields and industries. This includes not just the private sector, but also government work and academia, too. Those in policymaking roles at a government agency typically have a graduate degree; to become an instructor or professor in environmental science, a master’s is usually the minimum necessary. As for the private sector, a bachelor’s degree in environmental science might be enough for an entry-level position as an environmental specialist, but a master’s degree will be required to move up to supervisory roles. Below are a few potential careers that make good use of a master’s degree in environmental science.

Environmental Scientist

Environmental scientists use their scientific training to protect, research, and understand the environment. Much of what they do involves data collection and analysis. But with graduate-level instruction, environmental scientists can take a more influential role in crafting policies relating to environmental issues, especially when legal regulations or company rules must be considered.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$42,810 $71,360 $124,760

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics,

Environmental Engineer

A master’s degree is not a prerequisite to becoming an environmental engineer. However, if an engineer is looking to expand their responsibilities to advance their career, a master’s degree will help—especially if they want to focus more on business-development topics or research.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$54,330 $88,860 $142,070

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Environmental Science Instructor

To take on a teaching role, especially at the post-secondary level, a graduate degree is necessary. Earning a master’s degree in environmental science or allows someone already working in the field to shift to a career in academics.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$21,500
$39,350 $87,290

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Conservation Scientist

The role of a conservation scientist is to protect natural resources, especially forests and water resources. Job duties include monitoring the health of forests and water sources and creating strategies for their protection. A master’s degree in environmental science offers more advanced knowledge on not just a technical level but also a policy and strategic level too, increasing the conservation scientist’s opportunity for advancement.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$39,270 $62,660 $98,060

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Hydrologist

A hydrologist studies how the Earth handles the water above and below its surface. This often includes monitoring the environmental impact of pollution and other manmade effects on lakes, rivers, and oceans. The master’s degree is ideal for hydrologists who wish to improve their ability to communicate with the private sector or government policymakers.

10th Percentile Median Annual Pay 90th Percentile
$51,220 $81,270 $127,400

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2019

Costs and Financial Aid for Environmental Science

Earning a master’s in environmental science online will open doors to careers that involve working with the natural world, but it will take some time and money to get there. Before enrolling in a program, figure out how much it’ll cost and what arrangements you can make to help pay for it. Luckily, there are plenty of public loans, scholarships, and grants available for your schooling. There may also be other sources of funding, such as fellowships or tuition reimbursement offered by your employer. To learn more about these and other financial aid opportunities, check out our financial aid page.

What Your Online Master’s in Environmental Science Could Cost

School Name No. of Credits Cost/Credit Total Tuition Cost

University of West Florida

30

$384.60

$11,538

Unity College

30

$650.00

$19,500

Montana State University

30

$282.70 (in-state)

$1092.25 (out-of-state)

$8,481 (in-state)

$32,768 (out-of-state)

Q&A with an Online Environmental Studies Student

Christina Lampert is a sustainability marketer who has created her own social channel called the Sustennial Network to engage on the topic of sustainability business strategies. She has also worked in sales, making the business case for technological change amongst brand and shopper marketers within CPG companies. She studies Sustainability Management in order to grasp these sustainability skills needed to make the business case for sustainability.

Q. You’re pursuing a degree in an environmental-related field. Are there hands-on experiences you’re using to supplement your online learning?

A. Yes! At Columbia University we have a program called Net Impact, which is a club for pro-bono consulting. This consulting work focuses specifically on sustainability and impact. I, alongside of a team, participated last semester consulting for a fashion brand to calculate their carbon footprint comparison and market that to consumers. It really helped me apply a real-life business situation to my sustainability studies.

Q. What was the biggest challenge for you when it came to online learning?

A. The biggest challenge was naturally meeting people. You don’t realize how easy it is to make friends in person when you no longer have the luxury of small talk waiting for class to begin or walking out together! I definitely took that for granted during undergrad.

I’ve since learned to proactively set up Zoom chats with people outside of class. It’s certainly helped!

Q. On the flipside, what was the best part of online learning for you? What advantages did you enjoy?

A. I loved the flexibility of being able to take classes wherever. For the first time in my life, I don’t feel the pressure of making life choices with regard to moving or staying in one place due to a commitment such as graduate school. It’s allowed me to be able to try living in Arizona to see if I want to long term. If school wasn’t virtual, I wouldn’t be able to do this.

Q. What advice would you give someone who is considering an online degree in a field related to environmental science?

A. I think the field is growing exponentially and there is so much demand for this kind of expertise inside of corporations. When you look at applications for respective jobs, there are specific skills needed that generations were not taught during undergraduate curriculums. Therefore, the Masters and higher-level learning is so imperative to be considered in this field to actually enable positive environmental change.

Q. What do you wish you had known about online learning, especially at the master’s level, before you started the program?

A. I was unsure as to whether or not I would be able to handle the coursework. I decided to take five courses my first semester which is one more than the normal, full time graduate student. What I’ve found, however, is that there is barely any memorization, which was always my downfall. I learn best by doing, and practicing, and that is what graduate school is all about.

Therefore the coursework was right up my alley. Rather than being bogged down with all of the assignments, I felt super engaged since most of them were all about practicing the skills and developing the respective work

Q. Anything else you’d like to add about earning the master’s in environmental science or a related field?

A. It is such a great field to study. You’ll find that a lot of the people you are studying with have so much heart, given the purpose of study. I think it’s different from studying something like Accounting or Finance where your passion can be abstract, or not really even in it. Environmental students can always come together on one thing – caring about the Earth in an altruistic manner.

Frequently Asked Questions About Online Environmental Science Degrees

What are the admissions requirements for a master’s in environmental science?

Admission requirements vary for each school offering an online master’s in environmental science. However, most programs have some overlap. For instance, a prospective student can expect to provide the following when applying:

  • Application
  • Application fee
  • Statement of purpose
  • Official transcripts showing the applicant has at least a bachelor’s degree
  • Resume
  • Letters of recommendation

Many programs will not require applicants to take the GRE, although some require it unless the applicant has significant professional experience in a field related to environmental science.

How long will it take to finish my master’s in environmental science?

Most environmental science master’s degree programs consist of about 30 credits, whether through an online or on-campus track. This amount may vary slightly depending on the thesis. This means online students can earn their degrees in as little as one year. However many students will take longer, with some programs providing two to six years to complete the degree. Montana State University’s Professional Master of Science in Environmental Sciences is a good example.

Can I earn a master’s in environmental science 100% online or do I need to visit campus?

A master’s in environmental science online degree requires no in-person visits to a campus. As long as the student meets the basic computer technology and connectivity requirements, they should be able to earn their degree 100% online.