Exploring Environmental Science: Diverse Career Opportunities for Environmental Science Graduates

09/10/202329 minute read
Exploring Environmental Science: Diverse Career Opportunities for Environmental Science Graduates

In the face of escalating environmental challenges, the question “is environmental science a good major?” has never been more pertinent. The rapidly changing climate, depletion of resources, and rising pollution levels make the global need for environmental awareness and action more pressing than ever before. This makes environmental science a compelling choice for college. But what do environmental science majors do after they graduate? This article explores at a wide range of diverse career paths that await environmental science graduates.

Environmental Science: Knowledge for Today’s Most Pressing Challenges

From shrinking ice caps to the dramatic loss of biodiversity, the need for environmental awareness and decisive action is acute. This pressing situation calls for a new wave of dedicated professionals equipped with the right knowledge and skills. The purpose of this article is to take you on a tour of some of the most intriguing and impactful career opportunities that await environmental science graduates.

Beyond the traditional roles one might associate with the field, environmental science opens doors to a wide array of industries and vocations, each placing immense value on this degree.

In fact, with an environmental science degree and the right mix of academic learning and experiences, you can open doors to even more opportunities, including many like those we're about to explore — so keep reading!

Whether it's shaping policy, innovating green technologies, or advocating for conservation, an environmental science degree offers a canvas broad enough for every aspirant to paint their unique mark.

Join us as we delve deeper into these roles and understand why environmental science is an exceptional major that prepares you not just for compelling career options but for a professional life that is guided by a purpose-driven mission.

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Conservation and Natural Resource Management

Environmental Scientists

Environmental scientists aren't just confined to labs; they're out in the wild, wading through rivers, scaling mountains, or perhaps even diving deep into oceans, all in the name of research. With a degree in environmental science or similar discipline, environmental scientists apply their training to a wide range of research, testing, and analysis roles.

High school students can consider many many specialized career prospects within this broad environmental science pathway — especially if they’re up to the challenge of pairing their environmental science learning with other relevant engineering expertise.

Some environmental scientists perform field work that keeps them close to nature, where they endeavor to probe unsolved mysteries of the natural world. Their discoveries can help other specialists — in medicine, engineering, and environmental policy arenas for example — more fully understand ecosystems on a large scale and at the micro-level.

Environmental scientists may work independently or in teams to design or develop new methods and solutions that can be deployed to help preserve the planet and its diverse life forms for the next generation.

If you’re in high school now, getting a bachelor of science degree in environmental science is a great jumping off point. Additional stops on your journey will likely include further postgraduate studies — especially if you want to unlock doors to more advanced roles as a scientist. Also, consider areas of complementary specialization for this pathway, such as biochem or health sciences.

Park Rangers

A degree in environmental science is one of many great degrees — along with others such as forestry, biology, and geology — that offer great training if you want to work as a park ranger. If you love natural landscapes and care about preserving them for others to marvel at, learn from, and enjoy, then you might want to consider becoming a park ranger.

With a job like this you might just have the coolest "office" around: national parks, forests, and historical sites. But you’ll also have a job with a cool mission — helping ensure these areas remain protected, pristine, and healthy.

Park rangers are part of a larger corps of government service personnel whose work involves protecting and patrolling designated state and federal parks and wilderness areas, while also engaging in outreach and education to park visitors.

As a ranger with a strong science background, you’ll more likely monitor ecosystems and not so much campgrounds. Nonetheless, you might also share your knowledge with park visitors — as a docent or tour guide, for example.

With your insights into the intricacies of life forms and natural and biological science concepts, you can help visitors see beneath the surface of the larger landscapes to be able to marvel at a 1,000 year-old giant Sequoia tree, the geological evolutions of desert canyons, or the amazing ways that animals adapt to and interact with different ecosystems.

For high school students who like environmental science and love fieldwork, these career paths offer ways to work in and learn from outdoor settings, protect outdoor treasures, and share knowledge about the environment and the workings of complex ecosystems with the general public.

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Environmental Consulting and Regulation

Environmental Consultants

Environmental consultants wear many hats. One day they could be advising a company on how to reduce waste, and the next, they could be at a construction site ensuring all activities are environmentally sound. Their diverse roles ensure businesses tread lightly on our planet.

Environmental consultants enjoy the intrinsic rewards of using their knowledge day-in and day-out to help others find better work processes and solutions.

Imagine a business leader who needs help tracking and understanding new environmental regulations that impact his company, or another one that needs new solutions in order to implement more environmentally sound practices. In situations like these, environmental consultants are often called in to help with problem solving.

Environmental consultants may also help policy advocates complete survey assessments for environmental impact analysis or other policy studies related to environmental reform efforts.

As a consultant you might work as part of a large firm alongside teams of consultants with different strengths and specializations. But, you could also opt for more independence and flexibility as a self-employed consultant running your own business.

High school students who like data analysis but are more interested in using their expertise to do more practical, solution-oriented work — as opposed to more focused research, experimentation, and data analysis — may find a consulting track a good fit.

Regulatory Compliance Specialists

Picture this: a sprawling factory planning to expand its operations. Before a single brick is laid, regulatory compliance specialists are on the scene, reviewing plans, inspecting sites, and ensuring that every step aligns with environmental laws and guidelines.

Regulatory compliance specialists are continually keeping tabs on the evolving landscape of environmental regulations, ensuring they're always a step ahead. If discrepancies arise, they don't just point them out but work collaboratively with businesses to devise solutions, ensuring that operations remain both profitable and eco-friendly.

They conduct workshops, training sessions, and seminars, helping corporations understand the 'why' behind the regulations, turning compliance from a mandatory chore into a shared vision of environmental responsibility.

For high school students drawn to the idea of environmental protection but also interested in the dynamic world of corporations, this role offers the best of both worlds. As a regulatory compliance specialist, you're not just a watchdog but a bridge between commerce and conservation, helping business leaders understand how they can navigate business needs without compromising the planet's health.

Environmental consultants and regulatory compliance specialists both work at the intersection of environmental science and business management and leadership. They help find ways for business models and environmental initiatives to coexist, so businesses can adapt to new change pressures and promote long-term benefits for the planet.

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Sustainability and Corporate Responsibility

Sustainability Analyst

Do you see yourself in a career where you help companies turn 'green' and help make a positive impact to protect the environment? Well, that's the life of a sustainability analyst.

Sustainability analysts are trained in industrial and environmental science concepts and they help develop and advocate for sustainable business strategies, pushing for practices like zero waste or carbon neutrality.

Every time you see a company announce they've shifted to eco-friendly packaging, or they're powering their operations entirely with renewable energy, there's likely a sustainability analyst behind the scenes!

These analysts don't just operate in the shadows of boardrooms, though. They’re often doing day-to-day fieldwork — perhaps assessing the feasibility of solar panels at a factory or evaluating the carbon footprint of a product. Their role is like that of an environmental detective, finding clues on how a business can reduce its ecological footprint and then piecing together a sustainable roadmap for the future.

For high school students who love problem-solving and want to make a tangible impact, this career offers a blend of analysis, creativity, and direct application. Plus, there’s a sense of accomplishment in seeing a corporation, which was once a significant polluter, transform into a model of sustainability because of your strategies.

Corporate Environmental Managers

If you’ve seen a corporation give employees a day to plant trees or clean up beaches, these events are often orchestrated by corporate environmental managers. But their job goes way beyond just events.

In fact, if you take this role seriously, a key part of your job will be using your environmental science training to help inform — and most likely persuade — corporate higher ups to abandon “green washing” tactics and really engage in actions and initiatives that will have an important impact.

Corporate environmental managers ensure that companies not only promise sustainability but also act on it.

At the helm of a company's green transition, corporate environmental managers work closely with different departments  — from procurement to marketing — and ensure each one integrates eco-friendly practices. They're also the bridge between the company and stakeholders: whether it's communicating sustainability efforts to customers or collaborating with environmental NGOs.

In this role you’d be empowered by your environmental sciences training, and most likely pair that knowledge with some training in business, human resource management, or organizational leadership. You’ll need a background like this to be creative and a good business communicator in order to help companies identify and willingly adopt environmentally friendly practices.

If you see yourself in a career where leadership and business management acumen intersect with environmental stewardship and science, this pathway could be a great option.

Snapshot of Related Careers
Environmental Scientists and Specialists$76,480
Conservation Scientists and Forresters$64,420
Environmental Science Protection Technicians$48,380
Forest Science Technicians$63,740

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation

Climate Analysts

The earth's climate is changing, and climate analysts are our front line of defense. By studying past patterns and predicting future changes, they help nations prepare and adapt, whether it's for sea-level rise or extreme weather events.

If you love data on a vast scale, and global scale, have strong data analysis skills, and want to use your data proficiency to inform macro-environmental policy, then climate analyst could be an excellent pathway.

As a climate analyst you might specialize in data analysis — gathering, verifying, and organizing data and statistical findings. You could also find yourself leading efforts in technical writing and communications — interpreting complex data for different audiences, and communicating in various digital formats or even in live presentations.

If you have a passion for advocacy and combating climate change but you know your real talent is with numbers, statistics, and data analysis, a climate analyst role could be a perfect niche. You’d find that your math skills, combined with your environmental science degree are highly valuable as you help inform climate change policy and advocacy on a large scale.

Finally, consider the other academic qualifications that will best complement your environmental science degree for this pathway — perhaps in fields such as meteorology, architecture, data science, or civil engineering.

Climate Resilience Planners

Climate resilience planners design cities and communities in ways informed by climate science. They are like architects for a changing world heavily impacted by climate change and extreme weather events and risks.

Climate resilience planners apply environmental science and engineering skills to make innovative designs — to ensure buildings and infrastructure are more resilient and can better withstand climate change. This means what we build can better withstand extreme weather and that communities can more quickly bounce back from those events.

From design, to retrofitting, to materials science, and more, climate resilience planners are the bridge that connects climate change science and climate risk to real-world action in the realms of civil engineering, urban and regional planning, and architecture.

If you want your niche to be related to how society can forecast, model, and adapt to climate change and more extreme weather events, then consider using your environmental science to pursue pathways in climate analysis or climate resilience planning.

Environmental Education and Outreach

Environmental Educator

Imagine trekking through a dense forest, stopping occasionally to explain the magic of photosynthesis, or demonstrating how a simple act of releasing pollutants into a stream can affect an entire ecosystem. Every day is a new adventure — from hands-on workshops in botanical gardens to discussions under the starry sky about the importance of dark sky preserves.

As an environmental educator, your classroom is likely to be outdoors more often than indoors as you seek to educate others about science, help them experience wonder, and inspire them to become more involved in protecting the environment.

High school students who fondly recall those lessons about the rainforest or the water cycle were likely touched by the passion of an environmental educator. If you ever felt the urge to share your love for the environment and ignite that spark in others, this career might be your calling.

Outreach Coordinators

Picture this: a local park plagued by littering undergoes a complete transformation, thanks to a community clean-up event. Or a neighborhood coming together to create a communal garden, buzzing with pollinators and vibrant flowers. Behind these transformative events, there's often an outreach coordinator.

Outreach coordinators organize community clean-ups, and conservation campaigns. They mobilize and inspire communities, reminding everyone of their role in safeguarding the planet.

They aren’t just organizers either… They’re inspired change leaders who see the potential in every community to make a difference. Their day is fueled by activism, their weapon is networking, their skills are knowledge, organizing, project management, and inspiring colleagues and communities.

For high schoolers who've always felt the urge to lead, to bring people together for a cause, this role offers a chance to make local changes with global echoes. It’s a career path that spotlights how an environmental science degree opens doors to not only good jobs, but to opportunities to touch lives, shape communities, and leave a lasting legacy for the planet.

If you’re fueled by a love of community-building, teaching, and creative communication — as much as you are by hard science — then the right bachelor of arts degree program in environmental science — as opposed to a more traditional bachelor of science path — may be a good fit. With some background in cultural studies, communications, or political science as a complement to your environmental science degree, you should find you have a powerful tool kit for effective outreach to mobilize others to protect the planet.

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Snapshot of Related Careers
Management Analysts$76,480
Project Management Specialists$95,370
Operations Research Analysts$85,720
Urban and Regional Planners$79,540
Technical Writers$79,960

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Renewable Energy and Green Technology

Renewable Energy Specialist

Imagine being part of a team that's erecting a vast wind farm in the plains or setting up solar panels that harness the scorching sun's power to light up entire communities. As a renewable energy specialist, your mission is to capture nature's boundless energy and convert it into electricity.

But this role requires both technical science skills and vision…

In this role your work is at the heart of the global shift towards cleaner, sustainable energy sources. Renewable energy specialists assess landscapes, climates, and resources to determine the best fit for renewable energy projects and continuously monitor and evaluate the efficiency of these systems, ensuring that they deliver optimal performance.

For environmental science majors passionate about combating climate change and fascinated by principles from electrical, mechanical, or civil engineering, this career provides a front-row seat to one of the most transformative movements of our time.

Sustainable Design Consultant

Ever wonder about those buildings covered in plants, or those neighborhoods that seamlessly blend nature with urban life? What you’re seeing are works inspired and informed by the magic touch of a sustainable design consultant.

And, although many people are charmed by the natural elements and aesthetics, this consultant work isn't just about aesthetics but about changing how humans engineer their living spaces.

A sustainable design consultant will apply principles of sustainability and environmental science into architectural and urban designs, ensuring energy efficiency, minimal environmental impact, and a harmonious coexistence with nature. For instance, they might advise on how a building can maximize natural light or how rainwater can be harvested for multiple uses.

As a sustainable design consultant you would blend environmental science learning with architectural principles and a flair for creativity. You might also have a passion for materials science, to understand how different natural and man-made materials can be used in new and creative ways for sustainable designs.

High schoolers who have an artistic flair, a love for the environment, and some real aptitudes for engineering and architecture principles will find this role a perfect blend of design work and science.

The fields of renewable energy and green technology are brimming with innovation. Venturing into these domains means opening your eyes to careers that didn’t even exist a few decades ago. These pathways should continue to reward environmental science majors for decades to come.

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Water and Air Quality Management

Water Quality Specialist

From rivers and lakes to underground aquifers, water quality specialists ensure that the water we consume and use is safe and clean. Picture a pristine lake or a major urban reservoir… As a water quality specialist you’ll be the guardian of one of our planet's most vital resources.

Water quality specialists collect water samples in mountain lakes, rivers, or other tributaries, or in reservoirs that replenish urban areas in order to analyze water sources for purity or look for warning signs of contaminants.

But, because their role goes beyond just monitoring, your environmental science degree will pay off in many ways. For example, as a water quality specialist you might interpret data or apply your thorough understanding of aquatic ecosystems to identify the sources of potential threats — such as pollution, climate change, or human activities.

In addition to monitoring and sleuthing, a water quality specialist may perform in consulting roles too — devising mitigation strategies, advocating for stricter water purity or water treatment standards, or for the introduction of natural purification systems.

For this pathway, relevant fields complementing your environmental science degree could include hydrology or biochem.

Air Quality Analyst

Have you ever looked at the hazy horizon of a city and wondered about the air quality? As an air quality analyst you'll be on the front lines, deciphering what's in the air we breathe. Using sophisticated equipment, you’ll identify and track specific pollutants and measure pollutant levels, from car emissions to industrial discharges.

Air quality analysts not only gather data about air quality, they also interpret the data, and inform the public and policymakers about the sources of pollution and its impacts on public health and the environment.

Based on the many kinds of analyses they conduct, air quality analysts play a pivotal role in helping policymakers discern when policies are inadequate or need to be updated based on evolving risks or concerns.

If you’re wondering how you’ll use your environmental science degree to make a difference as an air quality analyst, just think of city-wide car-free days, regulations for lead-free gasoline, regulations on factory or refinery pollutants, carbon offset policies, or the push for more green spaces… All of these can be influenced by the work of air quality analysts with the right qualifications in fields such as environmental science and chemistry.

Water and air are fundamental to life on Earth. Ensuring their quality and purity is a monumental task that holds the promise of a better, healthier future. For high school students looking at environmental science as a potential major, these careers highlight the tangible, real-world impact they can make.

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Environmental Policy and Advocacy

Environmental Policy Analyst

Can you see yourself as part of a team that sifts through piles of research, trends, and data to shape how a country approaches its environmental challenges? Or maybe you have an aptitude for technical writing and reporting, further honed by your background in environmental science, and you use these skills to present findings to lawmakers or at public policy forums.

Environmental policy analysts are at the epicenter of decision-making, but their role isn’t just restricted to research. Policy analysts use research data and evidence to evaluate or forecast which policies are most effective, or not, and when new policies are needed and why.

Whether it's determining the implications of a proposed deforestation activity or understanding the impact of banning single-use plastics, environmental policy analysts use reasoning and persuasion, informed by science principles, to advocate for the planet.

In this occupation you might find yourself engaging with policymakers, advising them on the best environmental strategies, or helping them to advocate for more stringent pollution controls or more conservation funding.

For high school students who love delving deep into research but also want their work to lead to tangible changes, this role is an intriguing option. It requires strong written communication and critical thinking skills, and a blend of science, academia, advocacy, and activism.

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Environmental Advocate

Ever been moved by a passionate speech about saving the rainforests or reducing carbon footprints? The chances are that an environmental advocate was behind that rallying call.

Environmental advocates work with communities, NGOs, and even corporations to lobby for greener policies and practices. Whether it's organizing grassroots campaigns, leading protests, or collaborating with media outlets for awareness drives, environmental advocates use their passion for change and their environmental science education to impact public opinion and public policy.

High school students who feel a pull towards activism will find this career a direct route to instigating environmental change and discover that it offers the widest possible range of work settings — in local, regional, national or global contexts and in nonprofit, corporate, or government settings.

If you’re contemplating an environmental policy analyst or environmental advocate career path, pursuing broad research and communication skills as complements to your environmental science degree should help prepare you for greater success.

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Research and Academia 

Environmental Researcher 

As an environmental researcher, the world is your laboratory. Envision your “office” — standing at the edge of the melting Arctic, collecting samples, or deep within tropical forests, studying biodiversity. 

Environmental researchers play a pivotal role in our understanding of environmental science, from climate patterns and soil health to the intricate balance of marine ecosystems. With a curious mind, you delve into nature's secrets, trying to unravel mysteries, or investigate the impacts of human actions on the environment. 

And, because there are so many pressing environmental policy issues facing society today, your findings, empowered by your environmental science education, won’t just be collecting dust in academic journals. 

Your research and analyses will in many cases become the bedrock of evidence-based policy decisions, helping governments, organizations, and communities make informed choices. 

For high school students who are inherently curious, enjoy discovery, and who want to marry research and analysis work with fieldwork in the outdoors, this role offers a fulfilling, purpose-driven career path.

Environmental Science Professor

Picture a lively lecture hall where animated discussions about ecosystems, conservation, and climate change are the order of the day. As an environmental science professor, you'll provide the knowledge and creative spark students need to learn from interactions like these and grow their passion for environmental science and for helping sustain healthy environments.

Beyond lectures, environmental science professors guide students through hands-on projects, field trips, and research endeavors, ensuring they get a comprehensive grasp of environmental concepts.

For high school students driven to never stop learning and who feel at home in academic settings and doing intensive research and writing, this career offers a chance to enjoy intellectual pursuits with like-minded colleagues while shaping the next generation of environmental leaders and innovators.

Diving into the realms of research and academia with an environmental science degree isn't just about personal growth and discovery. It's about pushing the boundaries of what we know about our planet and, in turn, imparting that knowledge to inspire a new generation. With research and education at the center, these two career paths showcase the promise of continuous learning, exploration, and the joy of igniting curiosity in others.

Snapshot of Related Careers
Market Research Analysts$68,230
Postsecondary Educators$84,840
Social and Community Services Managers$74,240

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Final Thoughts

In our exploration across the multifaceted world of environmental science, we've journeyed through a wide range of career paths that blend science with an urgent sense of purpose.

Whether it's delving into research to uncover the mysteries of life forms and climate forces on our planet, designing sustainable urban landscapes, being an educator, or advocating for impactful environmental policies, environmental science careers offer many rewarding paths aligned with a wide range of professional aptitudes and personal passions.

For those of you on the cusp of deciding your academic and professional futures, remember this: an environmental science degree isn't just a pathway to a job; it's a call to a mission. Embracing this field means you aren't just thinking of the present, but you're dedicated to ensuring a better future for the next generations.

What Makes Crimson Different

With so much riding on your next steps, you’ll want to think about whether you'll find the best colleges and universities for the passions and learning you most want to pursue.

If you feel stuck or want some expert perspectives, sign up to talk to a Crimson Advisor for personalized feedback on your college journey and next steps.

As our planet faces unprecedented challenges, the role of environmental science professionals has never been more crucial. So, to all aspiring environmentalists reading this: the world needs you. Follow your passion, hone your expertise, and play your part in writing a greener, sustainable chapter for our planet.