Environmental Studies Majors: Salary and Career Facts

Find out about the types of jobs you could pursue with an environmental studies major. Read on to learn more about career options, along with salary and education info. Schools offering Environmental Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Can You Do With an Environmental Studies Degree?

Environmental studies majors can consider a variety of career options that make use of their knowledge of the natural and social sciences. These options include broader themes such as ecology and geography, as well as specific areas that could include marine mammal research, math, or environmental grant writing. Job opportunities can vary, though three popular options include an environmental compliance officer, a conservation scientist, and an urban planner.

Environmental compliance officers ensure all environmental regulations are followed by companies and that permits, licenses, applications, and more are filed properly. Conservation scientists work with the government and land owners to promote forestry and conversation efforts, promoting sustainable harvesting, managing clearing efforts, and ensuring compliance with regulations. Urban planners create detailed plans to develop an area's infrastructure with regards to compliance with building and zoning codes, the environment, and the community.

Take a look at the following chart for an overview of how to enter this field.

Environmental Compliance Officer Conservation Scientist Urban Planner
Degree Required Bachelor of Science Bachelor of Science Bachelor of Arts
Education Field of Study Environmental science Environmental science Environmental science
Key Responsibilities Investigate violations, inspect environmental facilities, write compliance plans Monitor health of ecosystems, work with government agencies to manage and preserve environmental balance Ensure that land use and infrastructure projects comply with regulatory codes, educate public
Job Growth (2014-2024) 2%-4% (for environmental compliance inspectors)**7%* 6% (for urban and regional planners)*
Average Salary (2015) $69,180 (for all compliance officers)* $63,800* $70,680 (for urban and regional planners)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **O'Net Online

What Can I Expect as an Environmental Studies Major?

An environmental studies major combines several disciplines from the natural and social sciences. You can expect to take courses in environmental policy, ecology, sociology, or anthropology. You'd learn about environmental policy and human geography, perhaps completing a thesis or internship. You may study marine animals and their environments, wetlands ecology, or environmental toxicology. Schools allow students to gain research experience, working with faculty on research grants.

What Jobs Can I Qualify For?

The choice to earn a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies may have some bearing on the jobs for which you'll be qualified. Bachelor of Arts programs tend to focus on humanities, in addition to core science and mathematics courses. With this option, urban planning, or environmental journalism would be possible career plans.

Bachelor of Science programs, by contrast, have more science requirements, and they focus more on lab-based work in the field. The Bachelor of Science track can prepare you for an entry-level position as a conservation scientist or environmental compliance inspector, among others.

What Do These Careers Entail?

An environmental compliance inspector is responsible for investigating violations of environmental laws, such as illegal dumping, and for inspecting facilities and systems involved in such practices as water treatment. You would be responsible for writing notices of violations, developing compliance plans, and inspecting records.

A conservation scientist may specialize in water or soil conservation issues. As a conservation scientist, you'd be responsible for monitoring animals, soil and plants native to specific areas, or for monitoring water to check for contamination. You'd also work with government agencies at the local, state, and federal levels to ensure that resources are adequately preserved and managed in the most productive ways.

An urban planner works with local governments to ensure that city, county, and state codes are met as changes are made to regulations regarding the use of land resources. Planners conduct public meetings to encourage citizen input on potential changes to a city's or county's urban growth boundaries. They also work with architects and other consultants in the design of infrastructure improvements.

Environmental journalists scout out potential news stories related to environmental dangers and the steps various groups are taking to curb these dangers. Since environmental concern is a global issue, this position may require you to do some significant traveling, both domestically and internationally.

How Much Can I Earn?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) information for environmental compliance inspectors indicates average annual earnings of $69,180 in 2015. In the same year, the federal government employed the most compliance inspectors in general, while the highest paying industry were securities and commodities exchanges.

Conservation scientists' average yearly salary was $63,800 as of May 2015, reports the BLS. Conservation scientists who worked for scientific research and development services earned the most, with an average of $84,970 per year.

Data from the BLS also indicate that urban planners earned an average of $70,680 annually in 2015. A large majority was employed by local governments.

What Are Some Similar Careers?

Architects design different kinds of buildings, such as houses, factories, offices, and apartments. They often work closely with urban planners, especially on large-scale projects. Foresters work with conservationists to monitor the state of forests, ensuring sustainable harvesting, helping to control forest fires, and devising plans for better and less damaging ways of removing trees. Agricultural and food scientists research farming and agricultural projects to try and discover new and more efficient ways of producing food, typically with consideration to the environment. All of these careers require a bachelor's degree to enter the field.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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