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Environmental Science Careers — 7 Most Lucrative Jobs

Graduates working in environmental science careers

Environmental science careers can be extremely rewarding. Not only can you work in a career that brings important change for the entire planet, you can earn a sizable income while doing so.

But to enjoy this excellent profession, you need the right education.

In this article, we’ll help you understand what is environmental science. We’ll not just define environmental science, we’ll also help you understand a typical environmental science degree salary, as well as the various roles, including environmental policy careers.

What is Environmental Science?

What is the environmental science definition? That’s a simple question with a staggeringly complex answer. When even a scientist is asked to define environmental science, they may struggle. This is because the profession involves so many aspects of science, and can include a wide variety of careers.

But it’s still possible to define environmental science.

Environmental science is the combined study of numerous scientific disciplines applied to the environment. It can include ecology, physics, geology, biology, chemistry, engineering, and more, all put to use to help us understand the environment and how humans impact our surroundings. It also seeks to find solutions to these challenges.

This is, first and foremost, a science. Therefore, political and economic issues are largely left out of this discipline. (Or, at least, they should be left out of this discipline.) This field of study takes a deep look at the dynamics between the Earth and humans, as well as plants and other animals. It can include research on the air around us, the soil and rocks underneath us, and the water that fills the oceans and flows through rivers. It can include the study of environmental changes and their impacts on wildlife, or it can look at how plants change, and are changed by, the environment.

Resource management, pollution control, sustainability, responsible land use; all of these can be impacted by the work of an environmental scientist.

This is an exciting, rewarding, and important career field, one that is needed so we can create a safe and sustainable environment for the next generation.

Is environmental science a physical science? Physical science is the study of inorganic (nonliving) materials, substances, and processes. It includes astronomy, physics, chemistry, and more, and is considered distinct from biological science. Environmental science includes elements of both physical and biological disciplines. So if you ask “is environmental science a physical science or a biological science?”, the answer would be “both!”

The environmental science definition is important, but it’s essential that you might do with your degree after graduation.

What Does an Environmental Scientist Do?

One of the top advantages to earning a bachelor’s, master’s, or even a doctorate in environmental science or a related field is that you have the chance to perform a wide range of tasks and responsibilities. Some will work in controlled lab settings, others may work in large government facilities, while others will be out in the field, collecting samples and logging data.

Environmental scientist careers often include assessing the impacts of pollution and other issues that effect water, soil, and air, as well as plants and animals. However, your main focus is the environment, not the lifeforms that inhabit it. (This would pertain more to an environmental biologist.)

But overall, your job will likely include planning and conducting research regarding the environment, then collecting information and communicating the results to various people, including the general public, business leaders, and policy makers. Collecting data from studies is crucial, so basic math and statistical skills are important.

You will also need strong communication skills, a much of your work will likely include presentations and written essays on your scientific findings. Good communication is essential if you want to a career that positively impacts government policy. Environmental scientists will often write reports, and they may be tasked with informing government organizations about their research.

While scientific research is important, you may take your skills into environmental policy careers. In this type of career, you would provide guidance and information to policy makers ranging from local representatives to federal authorities. Environmental policy careers can be frustrating (your input may be disregarded) but it can also be one of the best ways to create significant, tangible, long-lasting change.

So what does an environmental scientist do? As it turns out, they do quite a lot!

Environmental Science Careers: An Overview

Career Options for Graduates

While there are some obvious career paths for anyone who completes a bachelor’s degree in environmental science, there are many different ways you can use your education. There are numerous careers, from government jobs to working in the private sector. You can go into a consulting career for businesses, or you can work directly as a research scientist, helping to develop the next big discovery in environmental science. There are also leadership roles, making this a broad, far-reaching education.

These careers can bring employment from a wide variety of organizations. Much will depend on the specific position, but, according the the BLS, roughly a quarter of environmental scientists are employed by consulting services. However, state and local governments combine to employ roughly 34% of all environmental scientists. Engineering services also employ about 9% of these professionals. From environmental policy careers to options for people who want to lead scientific teams, there are plenty of options available.

These professionals can work for research and development teams, manufacturing companies, and even consulting services. This shows just how far-reaching the career can be. About 28% of natural science managers, a career that is certainly possible with an environmental science degree, are employed by “research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences” according to the BLS.

Pros & Cons of Environmental Science Careers

There are many reasons that people study environmental science. The biggest motivation, however, is a sincere desire to help the environment. Regardless of the career, there is a strong chance that the work you are doing will benefit the environment, as well as the people, animals, and plants that live on Earth. Regardless of pay, this is often the motivation to complete this rigorous education.

But the pay can still be substantial. While it’s not the highest-paying career field, environmental science can bring salaries of $70,000, $80,000, and even $90,000, and many of these positions are available to people fresh out of college with no career experience. If you advance towards a doctorate degree or pursue a management position, you can conceivably earn an annual income above $100,000.

But like any career, there are downsides. First of all, it can be long, frustrating work. Projects may include years of research, planning, development, and execution, and the results may be minimal at best. (Nothing is ever guaranteed in experimental science.) This can cause frustration from previously optimistic scientists. The careers can include irregular hours, long shifts, and time away from home, which can add to stress and frustration.

While the pay is strong, many positions will require an advanced education, which could delay your potential to earn a high income.

That said, environmental science remains one of the top options for anyone who is motivated to help people, plants, animals, and Planet Earth.

Required Education, Experience & Training for Environmental Science Careers

Environmental science, as well as the related fields of study, is one of the most important career fields possible. Besides working in a rewarding, important, respected profession, you’ll also have the chance to enter a career with relatively little education. By this, we mean that you’ll most often only need a bachelor’s degree for most jobs, including the career of an environmental scientists.

Numerous scientific careers only require four years of study. Compared to professions such as an attorney or doctor, this is a much faster path to a fulfilling career. As an example, a geoscientist, which has a median salary over $90,000, only requires a bachelor’s degree. Even science managers, whose median salary is over $137,000, only need a bachelor's for many positions. (Although experience and leadership training may be required.)

There are, however, careers related to environmental science that will require more education. Most notably is a biochemist or biophysicist. These advanced scientific careers require a doctorate degree in many cases, which means prolonged and challenging (yet ultimately rewarding) education at the highest level.

As far as experience, most jobs require none. Geoscientist, environmental scientist, environmental engineer, and hydrologist, (just to name a few) require no previous experience or training (outside of a degree) to land most jobs. This creates a fast path to a high-quality profession.

How Much Will You Earn in Environmental Science Careers?

Is environmental science a good major? Few people go into the career field for pay alone, but this education does give you the chance to earn a world-class income. If we simply look at the profession of environmental scientist, we see some excellent earning potential.

The median annual income for an environmental scientist is $73,230. This is over $30,000 more than the median for all American occupations, which, at the time of this writing, sits at $41,950. The top 10% in this profession earn over $129,000 annually, so there is some serious potential for high salaries.

But you can also channel your education into different careers, including many that have even higher salaries. A geoscientists, for example, has a median salary over $93,000, while managers in life sciences have median incomes over $137,000. While many people enter these degrees because they are truly passionate about science and the environment, there are certainly financial motivations as well.

Job Spot Light: #1 Most Lucrative Entry Level Job


Median Salary: $93,580
Education: Bachelor’s
Experience: None
Growth: 5%

Want to earn a tremendous environmental science degree salary? Then this could be the job for you! A geoscientist is responsible for studying physical aspects of the Earth, analyzing its composition, structure, and processes with a goal of learning more about its history and responsible use. Planning field studies, collecting samples, analyzing geological data, and conducting lab test are all part of this important career.

While a geoscience degree (or even a minor) is generally preferred by employers, many of these professionals have degrees in environmental science. Many also have master’s degree, so a bachelor’s in environmental science combined with a master's in geoscience would be a perfect path to this lucrative career.

Sponsored Pick: Bachelor of Science in Geosciences / Natural Resources & Conservation from Southern New Hampshire University

Jobs Spot Light #1 Highest Paying Career

Natural Science Manager

Median Salary: $137,940
Education: Bachelor’s
Experience: 5 years or more
Growth: 5%

If you want to take your environmental science degree and earn a substantial income, you should pursue a career as a natural sciences manager. In this position, you’ll lead teams of fellow scientists as they create new innovations and discover new scientific breakthroughs.

While you only need a bachelor’s degree for many of these management positions, you will need at least five years of experience in the industry. Many of these managers have advanced master’s and doctorate-level degrees, although this may not be necessary. Also, because these are management and leadership positions, an education or some training in management will help you land one these positions.

Sponsored Pick: Master of Science in Environmental Policy & Management from American Public University System

5 High Paying Environmental Science Careers

If you are considering environmental science careers, you’ll have countless options. Here are a few of the top choices for earning a strong income…

#1 Biochemist

Median Salary: $94,270
Education: Doctorate
Experience: None
Growth: 4%

As a biochemist, you will study the chemical processes of living things, including both plants and animals. (Although specialization is certainly possible and likely common.) Cell development, disease, and reproduction are just a few topics that you’ll study and develop as a biochemist.

To become a biochemist, you will need a doctorate degree. However, your education has to start somewhere and a bachelor’s degree in environmental science would be an excellent way to launch this career, especially if you want to apply biochemistry towards helping the environment.

Sponsored Pick: Bachelor of Science in Environmental Science from Southern New Hampshire University


#2 Environmental Engineer

Median Salary: $92,120
Education: Bachelor’s
Experience: None
Growth: 3%

Using their understanding of soil, biology, geology, engineering, and chemistry, environmental engineers address a wide range of issues, including safe drinking water, sustainability, erosion problems, and waste disposal. Essentially, they use engineering to solve environmental problems.

These professionals typically have a degree in environmental engineering or a similar field, including engineering in general. However, a science-based degree could be a good addition to your education, as it will give you a strong understanding for the impact your work can have on the environment.

Popular Pick: Bachelor of Science in Applied Mathematics & Data Science / Life & Physical Science from Post University


#3 Hydrologist

Median Salary: $84,040
Education: Bachelor’s
Experience: None
Growth: 5%

A hydrologist studies how water moves. Specifically, they understand how water moves on the surface and through the Earth’s crust. This knowledge can be vitally important for developing cities, creating safe agriculture, and directing resources. Measuring water volumes and flow, as well as testing soil and water samples, are just part of this exciting and important career, one that can easily apply to environmental science.

The minimum education level for this career is a bachelor’s degree. However, many hydrologists have master’s degrees. In fact, bachelor’s programs for hydrology are fairly limited, so it’s common to seek an undergraduate degree in a related field (such as environmental science), then apply this education to a master’s in hydrology.

Sponsored Pick: Master of Science in Water Resource Policy & Management from East Central University


#4 Environmental Scientist

Median Salary: $73,230
Education: Bachelor’s
Experience: None
Growth: 8%

Clearly this is the most obvious of all environmental science careers. If you are going to study environmental science, you’ll have a clear and direct route to becoming an environmental scientist, a career that bring excellent pay along with the chance to do good things for the planet.

As an environmental scientist, you will protect the environment, as well as human health, through various efforts. Depending on the position, you may be tasked with cleaning waste, providing guidance to policy makers, or creating methods to reduce or mitigate pollution. Most environmental scientists have bachelor’s degrees in natural science or a related field, and master’s degrees can help enhance your career and earning potential.

Sponsored Pick: Bachelor of Arts in Environmental Studies from Virginia Wesleyan University


#5 Occupational Health & Safety Specialist

Median Salary: $72,530
Education: Bachelor’s
Experience: Some training often required
Growth: 4%

Health and safety specialists are often associated with work regulations and business procedures. Keeping people safe is not the only issue, however, as many of these specialists are also responsible for keeping the environment safe. (Which has obvious implications for human safety!) These professionals are often bus inspecting workplaces for safety, but they can also work to prevent damage to the environment.

To land this position, you will likely need some training, and an education in workplace safety and environmental policy could be helpful. While a bachelor’s degree is preferred, some only have technical degrees. An education in environmental science could be good starting point if you want to be a safety specialist who focuses on waste control and pollution reduction.

Sponsored Pick: Master of Science in Environmental Policy & Management / National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) from American Public University System

Start a Career That Makes You Proud!

Is environmental science a good major for your future? If you think a career in this important discipline would be right, start the path towards success today. With an education in environmental science, you can start a career that you will love for decades to come. Visit our online degree database to find resources and information on the top schools for launching environmental science careers!

Online Environmental Science Programs


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