Guide to the Best Online Master’s in Environmental Science

Explore flexible online master’s degrees from top schools that can prepare you to lead the way solving today’s biggest environmental issues.

Last Updated: 05/11/2022

Environmental issues impact everything from climate change to construction. Whether you’re interested in environmental advocacy or consulting on environmental regulations affecting businesses, an online master’s in environmental science or an online master’s in environmental studies offers rigorous scientific study alongside topics like business, public policy, and anthropology—all of which combine to improve our future and our world.

The following guide highlights flexible options for pursuing a master’s in environmental science online degree and showcases several standout programs. Plus, we take a close look at popular careers for graduates, how much they pay, and how the job market looks. Keep reading for answers to your pressing questions about this versatile degree, and see what this online master’s program can do for you.

2022’s Best Master’s in Environmental Science Online Programs

We highlight several standout online environmental science master’s programs. These colleges and universities offer flexible and affordable online degrees that take an interdisciplinary approach to addressing various global environmental issues. These programs also stand out for their affordability and student services. The list of top online environmental science master’s degree programs was based on reviewing several key program components, including accreditation, online program availability, overall affordability, and student support services. Online program availability and affordability received the heaviest weighting. Discover a school to meet your needs now.

About the ranking

Methodology for the STEPS Best Online Programs in 2022

Generate List of Eligible Schools and Programs

To be eligible for this ranking, schools were required to meet the following criteria based on government data provided by The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

  • Institutional accreditation from an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • At least one program in subject area offered partially or fully online.

Assign Impact of Data Points

After generating the list of eligible schools, the STEPS data team then assigned weights and ranked schools based on a mix of affordability, support services, and online program availability. Online program availability and overall affordability received the heaviest weightings.

Online Program Availability

  • Number of online programs in subject area reported by school to the U.S. Department of Education. When unable to verify this number, a star-based system was used to signify the number of programs relative to peers.

Affordability

  • Cost:
    Relative cost of attendance compared to peer schools on the list. Based on tuition and fees per academic year.
  • Students w/ Institutional Aid:
    Percentage of students who receive financial aid from the school itself.

Support Services

  • Academic Counseling:
    Existence of this service on campus or online.
  • Career Placement:
    Existence of this service on campus or online.

About Our Data

All STEPS rankings use the latest official data available from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Most recent data pull: July 2021

1
University of Idaho

Moscow, Idaho

Total online programs: 6

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 16:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 91%
Online Students 786
2
University of Arizona

Tucson, Arizona

Total online programs: 5

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 15:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$
Institutional Financial Aid 89%
Online Students 949
3
Oregon State University

Corvallis, Oregon

Total online programs: 5

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 18:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$
Institutional Financial Aid 73%
Online Students 641
4
Auburn University

Auburn, Alabama

Total online programs: 4

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 20:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$
Institutional Financial Aid 59%
Online Students 508

Total online programs: 3

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 22:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 77%
Online Students 2,530
6
University of Illinois Springfield

Springfield, Illinois

Total online programs: 3

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 12:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 91%
Online Students 238

Total online programs: 2

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 20:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$$
Institutional Financial Aid 53%
Online Students 5,793
8
Montana State University

Bozeman, Montana

Total online programs: 3

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 17:1
Tuition (In-State) $$
Institutional Financial Aid 86%
Online Students 37
9
Johns Hopkins University

Baltimore, Maryland

Total online programs: 3

Academic Counseling Yes
Career Placement Yes
Student-to- Faculty Ratio 6:1
Tuition (In-State) $$$$$
Institutional Financial Aid 57%
Online Students 4,640

What You’ll Learn in an Environmental Science Online Master’s Program

An environmental science online master’s program provides you with an exceptionally flexible degree, allowing graduate students the opportunity to augment core classes with various academic concentrations and electives. With concentrations from environmental education to climate change you will be able to tailor this online degree to your academic interests and career goals.

Because this degree typically is multidisciplinary, students encounter various academic areas such as business, political science, and anthropology. As a result, students gain a broad knowledge base that applies to an equally broad spectrum of careers. Keep reading to learn more about popular classes and academic concentrations.

Common Classes in Online Environmental Science Master’s Programs

While courses differ between schools, online environmental science master’s programs and the closely related online master’s in environmental studies typically take an interdisciplinary approach. Core classes traditionally cover essential environmental science topics and are supplemented by concentration and elective courses. We’ve highlighted a handful of standard graduate-level courses below.

Foundations in Sustainability

Examining sustainability issues from business management and environmental management perspectives, students familiarize themselves with the fundamental theories of sustainability and challenges in natural resource management and community planning. Other topics include energy and natural resources, biodiversity, and global climate change.

Environmental Economics

Acting as an introduction to environmental and natural resource issues, students cover topics such as the principles of market efficiency, the economic concept of value, and environmental policy. By understanding economic principles, you’ll examine environmental issues including pollution, renewable natural resources, and nonrenewable resource management.

Environmental Law

Providing a broad overview of issues in environmental law, students familiarize themselves with topics such as federal and state statutory protections, environmental justice, and regulatory prohibitions. By analyzing critical legal disputes and current environmental practices, students gain practical knowledge of the legal framework underscoring environmental issues.

Global Sustainability

Providing students with a working understanding of sustainability and its social and economic implications, this class covers sustainable strategies and social responsibility within a business context. Through case analyses and interactive assignments, students familiarize themselves with the complex relationship between businesses and the environment.

Coastal Resilience

In this online offering, students explore the many scientific fields at play in coastal areas. Students cover topics such as coastal geomorphology, sea-level rise, and coastal erosion and storms. Supplementing scientific studies, students examine issues in land management, population growth, and community planning.

Ways to Specialize Your Master’s in Environmental Science Online

One of the benefits of an online master’s in environmental science or an online master’s in environmental studies is that you typically have the opportunity to tailor degree requirements to your academic interests and career goals. While programs do have core requirements, the majority of your degree comprises specialized classes and electives. Take a look at several popular academic concentrations below.

Climate Change

For students interested in developing an understanding of climate impact and processes, a climate change concentration includes topics in the aquatic, atmospheric, and marine science areas. Climate change classes often include green infrastructure, ecological restoration, and global environmental change. Students also focus on community resilience and natural resource management.

Environmental Education

Whether you’re interested in teaching in the classroom, public outreach, or public relations, an environmental education concentration merges scientific knowledge with communication and pedagogical skills. Students select from classes such as social justice in education, socio-cultural dimensions of free-choice learning, and communicating ocean science to informal audiences.

Social Science

A social science specialization allows you to enhance environmental science knowledge while exploring how issues in social science impact the field. Concentration coursework includes topics like applied econometrics, environmental and resource economics, and statistical applications in anthropology. Students also look closely at research methods, design, and statistical analysis.

Climate Change

Designed for students interested in careers in areas such as consulting, business, and government, this track focuses on instituting sustainable solutions addressing both business and environmental concerns. Students also gain real-world skills in communication, management, and business.

Natural Resources Management

This academic track is traditionally tailored toward individuals working in the field who are interested in career advancement. From agency biologists to environmental consultants, this path includes business and management training and a close look at environmental policy and business issues. Degree candidates also explore professional skills like strategic planning, operations, and ethics.

Accreditation for Online Master’s Degrees in Environmental Science

Earning an online master’s degree in environmental science or an online master’s degree in environmental studies requires a serious investment of both time and money. The best schools earn regional accreditation through a rigorous evaluation from accrediting agencies. The resulting accreditation acts as a stamp of approval, meaning that the school meets the academic, institutional, and administrative benchmarks traditionally associated with a quality education. If your prospective school doesn’t highlight their accreditation, be sure to ask about it.

Additionally, going to an accredited institution means more than getting your money’s worth. Accreditation influences your ability to transfer credits and receive financial aid. Employers may frown on a degree from an unaccredited school. When searching for the online master’s in environmental science or online master’s in environmental studies that the best meets your needs, make sure you’re applying to an accredited program.

FAQs About Earning Your Master’s in Environmental Science Online

How long does it take to complete a master’s degree in environmental science online?

The time it takes to complete your online master’s in environmental science or your online master’s in environmental studies depends on several factors. While students typically take 16-30 months to graduate, your status as a full-time or part-time student has a significant impact on the duration of your master’s program. Graduation timetables vary, but an online program affords you the chance to complete coursework at your own pace.

Additionally, specific program requirements influence academic timelines as well as how frequently required courses are available. The University of Houston-Clear Lake offers a 36-credit online program that full-time students can complete in just 16 months. Conversely, the University of West Florida has a 30-credit program where the estimated program length is 24-30 months.

How much does an online master’s degree in environmental science cost?

Even though your online master’s degree in environmental science or your online master’s in environmental studies requires a substantial financial commitment, there are ways to mitigate costs. For starters, your status as an in-state student can significantly reduce tuition rates. Additionally, as a general rule, public institutions cost less than private colleges and universities.

There are also some hidden benefits to online learning. When you subtract on-campus fees and costs accrued by driving to campus, online students often save considerable cash in the long run. Financial aid opportunities are also widely available.

Check out the table below to see how much your master’s in environmental science might cost.

School NameNo. of CreditsCost/CreditTotal Tuition Cost
Oregon State University45$560$25,200
University of West Florida30$385 (in-state)
$1,044 (out-of-state)
$11,550 (in-state)
$31,320 (out-of-state)
University of Houston-Clear Lake36$320 (in-state)
$464 (out-of-state)
$11,520 (in-state)
$16,704 (out-of-state)

What are the admissions requirements for online master’s environmental science degree programs?

Admissions requirements vary from program to program, but there are some essential things you’ll need to provide when applying to your online master’s in environmental science program. Requirements vary, so make sure to reach out to admissions staff to ensure you check all the boxes. These are some standard admissions requirements:

  • Official academic transcripts
  • Completed bachelor’s degree
  • Cumulative GPA of approximately 3.0
  • Professional and academic letters of recommendation
  • Admissions interview
  • Personal essay laying out academic and career goals
  • Professional resume
  • GRE scores
  • Prerequisite courses in math and science
  • Professional experience in a related field

Admission into many environmental science degree programs is competitive, so meeting minimum admissions requirements is not always enough for admittance.

Do I have to take the GRE to get into an online environmental science master’s program?

Some programs do require GRE scores for admission. That said, other programs don’t, and still others waive standardized test score requirements for high-achieving undergraduate students. Schools such as the University of Idaho and the University of Arkansas do not require GRE scores for admission. Additionally, Oregon State University waives GRE requirements for applicants with an undergraduate GPA of at least 3.0.

Is an environmental science master’s degree worth it?

For potential graduate students interested in a flexible degree with a wide variety of career applications, an online master’s in environmental science or an online master’s in environmental studies could be a great choice. Additionally, most programs offer several academic specializations, thus allowing students to tailor their degree to meet their educational and career objectives.

Typically this degree takes an interdisciplinary approach, so students gain essential science knowledge alongside fundamental business, communications, and policy proficiency. As a result, the degree applies to many careers. Keep reading to see what you can do with an online master’s in environmental science or an online master’s in environmental studies.

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

From governmental roles to careers in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, an environmental science master’s degree expands career opportunities and increases earning potential. Additionally, an online master’s in environmental science offers focused technical knowledge while opening the door to leadership positions. The closely related master’s in environmental studies is somewhat less technical in nature and prepares students for careers with nonprofits, state and federal parks, and nature centers. Both degrees help ensure that the public understands environmental issues and works to keep these at the top of the political agenda.

Take a look at the five potential careers for environmental science grads highlighted below. In addition to showing median salaries for each job, you’ll also see the Bureau of Labor Statistics projected job growth between 2019 and 2029. Each career we’ve listed projects a positive growth rate, showing that environmental science graduate students are entering a growing field.

Environmental scientists examine environmental problems and conduct extensive research to develop solutions. These professionals have a deep knowledge of environmental policy, laws, and regulations and often provide data-backed guidance for businesses and governments regarding a range of environmental issues.

Median Annual Earnings (2020)Job Growth
(2019-2029)
$73,2308%

These environmental-focused professionals oversee a wide variety of natural areas such as parks, forests, and rangelands. Armed with a knowledge of laws and regulations, these workers ensure that protected areas are managed effectively. Responsibilities include overseeing land-use contracts, creating plans for natural resource management, and working with businesses and governments to ensure ventures are legal and environmentally sound.

Median Annual Earnings (2020)Job Growth
(2019-2029)
$64,0105%

Steeped in water movement science and addressing water availability and quality issues, these professionals employ both technical and scientific knowledge to collect and analyze data. Hydrologists often address pollution, erosion, and drought issues and utilize their training to consult on projects such as irrigation systems and water treatment facilities.

Median Annual Earnings (2020)Job Growth
(2019-2029)
$84,0405%

Traditionally dealing with issues in land use, population growth, and community revitalization, urban planners use their training to evaluate environmental impact studies, scrutinize building plans, and present proposed projects to elected officials and community members. These professionals typically have a working knowledge of environmental regulations, building codes, and state and local laws.

Median Annual Earnings (2020)Job Growth
(2019-2029)
$75,95011%

While a master’s in environmental science typically doesn’t lead to tenure-track jobs at large research universities, this degree can open doors to teaching roles at community colleges and adjunct positions at other colleges and universities. These professionals teach environmental science-related topics and work with students to develop essential knowledge.

Median Annual Earnings (2020)Job Growth
(2019-2029)
$80,7909%