According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, environmental engineers “use the principles of engineering, soil science, biology, and chemistry to develop solutions to environmental problems. They are involved in efforts to improve recycling, waste disposal, public health, and water and air pollution control.” These professionals contribute to sustainability by helping communities, businesses and other institutions solve environmental problems and, better still, prevent these problems in the first place through new, more efficient and safer technologies.
Popular Environmental Engineering Degree Programs
- Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science in environmental or ecological engineering
- Master of Science in environmental engineering
- Master of Engineering with a focus on environmental engineering
- Doctor of Philosophy in civil and environmental engineering
Few associate degree programs in environmental engineering exist.
Environmental Engineering Degree Prerequisites and Curriculum
Prerequisites for undergraduate environmental engineering degrees typically include a high school diploma and successful completion of courses in basic sciences (like Earth science and physics) and mathematics at the high school level. Students in associate and bachelor’s degree programs can expect to take coursework in:
- Chemistry (inorganic and organic)
- Mathematics (including advanced levels of calculus)
- Various forms of engineering (such as civil, computer, mechanical and environmental)
- Water resources and quality control
- Water supply and sewage system design
- Air pollution
- Solid and hazardous waste engineering systems design
- Environmental biotechnology and bioremediation
Students who have completed advanced placement high school coursework in chemistry, physics and mathematics often have an edge in meeting the stringent coursework standards they will face in undergraduate environmental engineering degree programs.
Prerequisites for graduate degrees typically include an undergraduate degree in environmental or civil engineering, or undergraduate coursework in these subjects. For example, the prerequisites of the University of California Berkeley’s Master of Science in Civil and Environmental Engineering include two years of mathematics (including calculus, linear algebra and differential equations), one semester of physics and two additional semesters of science (physics, chemistry and/or biology); students must also take fluid mechanics, introduction to environmental engineering and hydrology or water chemistry. In addition, the university strongly recommends that students have experience with Matlab or other high-level programming language, as well as physics and/or chemistry coursework beyond the minimum listed above.
Doctoral programs typically require students to develop a unique, individualized course of study in cooperation with their faculty adviser and a committee of faculty or outside experts who hold doctorates in the student’s desired area of study. These programs build upon a student’s prior undergraduate or graduate degree coursework, compounding it with specialized study and research. Most doctoral programs require the student to pass comprehensive exams and to conduct a doctoral dissertation of original research in environmental engineering.
Environmental Engineering Careers
With a degree in environmental engineering, students can work for companies or governmental agencies. They may work in the field, such as at construction or remediation sites, or in the office, collaborating with planners, designers and managers on projects. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average salary of environmental engineers was $80,890 as of 2012, and jobs in this field are expected to grow 15 percent by 2022.