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Going green: Everyone has heard the phrase, but what does it really mean? Generally speaking, “going green” refers to thinking and acting in ways that minimize the impact one has on the environment. For someone thinking about college, however, going green means finding the right degree program to launch a sustainability-related career with real potential for long-term success.
This guide offers a comprehensive look at those degrees available today for undergraduate students looking to take their green academic careers to the graduate level. Students interested in sustainability will learn about the most popular degree programs offered, how to pay for them, and what career opportunities wait after getting a green education.
The number and variety of green careers is large and growing, as is the number and variety of green graduate degree options. The list below highlights some of the most popular sustainability-related graduate degrees currently offered, along with an example of a specific college program for each.
Possibly the most popular and fastest growing degree choice under the umbrella of green graduate degrees is the M.B.A. in Sustainability. In fact, it’s difficult to find a highly-reputable business school in the United States today without a full program or specialization in sustainability. Variations in degree title include Environmental Management, Sustainable Business, Business and Sustainability, and many others.
Kenan-Flagler Business School, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Another popular degree title offered at a growing number of colleges and universities. Environmental Studies graduate programs, generally speaking, are interdisciplinary in structure, typically combining coursework from several academic departments including the physical and natural sciences, social sciences, business, and even architecture, communications and law. Specific degree titles and requirements may vary from school to school.
University of Oregon
Environmental engineering combines the theories and practices of environmental science with the principles of engineering in order to develop systems that protect the human health and the natural environment. Specific fields include air pollution control and air monitoring, industrial ecology, solid and hazardous waste management, water treatment and wastewater management, and more.
School of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech)
Often confused with Environmental Studies-titled programs, the M.S. in Sustainability is typically a research-based degree that incorporates several disciplines such as sociology, economics and the environment in order to apply the knowledge and skills gained toward real-world problems.
School of Sustainability, Arizona State University
The M.S. in Environmental Science(s) is commonly a stand-alone degree (as opposed to the interdisciplinary M.S. in Environmental Studies) that integrates aspects of several scientific fields, including biology, chemistry, mathematics and physics, in order to better take on contemporary environmental issues and problems.
College of Arts and Sciences, Baylor University
It is not surprising that geography departments at a growing number of highly-respected colleges are home to a variety of graduate degree programs with specializations or concentrations in sustainability-related subjects. In most cases, these geography degree programs, like those in environmental studies, incorporate a number of disciplines to understand and develop potential solutions to sustainability issues, both locally and worldwide.
Central Connecticut State University
This degree is most commonly offered through a college or university’s architecture department. The purposes and requirements of a M.S. in Sustainable Design can vary substantially across schools. In many cases, it is designed to cater to those individuals who have gained some amount of professional experience in the working world and are returning to school to gain knowledge regarding sustainable design methodologies.
College of Fine Arts, Carnegie Mellon University
Graduate degrees in sustainable agriculture come in a wide variety of titles, including Sustainable Food Systems and Agroecology. The focus of sustainable agriculture degree programs is to develop an understanding of agricultural systems and how they relate to broader environmental, social and economic issues.
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, University of Vermont
A particularly popular degree choice is the M.S in Environmental Health (or Environmental Health Sciences). This program is designed to provide students with the knowledge and skills to identify and analyze the health impacts on humans from natural, occupational and social environments. Areas of study include environmental chemistry, environmental biology, toxicology, industrial hygiene, and more.
Fielding School of Public Health, University of California Los Angeles
Degrees in this area are designed to prepare working professionals with a deeper understanding of fish and wildlife conservation and management by examining the relationships between living natural resources, human culture, economics, public policy and more. Additional degree titles subjects include Wildlife Science, Fisheries and Wildlife Administration, Fish & Wildlife Biology and Wildlife Conservation.
College of Environmental Science and Forestry, State University of New York
Scholarship, fellowship and grant opportunities exist in abundance for students seeking sustainability-related graduate degrees and the best place to start a scholarship search is at your college or university financial aid office. The list below offers just a sampling of the types of scholarship and other programs designed to help green grad students pay for their education.
National Garden Clubs Scholarships
Graduate student scholarships are available to master’s students pursuing a degree and planning a career related to gardening, landscape design, environmental issues, floral design or horticulture. Degree subjects include agronomy, horticulture, landscape design, forestry, wildlife science, forest/systems ecology, and many others.
NEWH Sustainability Design Competition
Competition open to interior design students. Participants must submit a “dynamic, creative, cutting edge design utilizing the very best products and technologies which encompass sustainable topics including: site selection, water efficiency, energy conservation, products/materials, and indoor environmental quality.”
Orchid Care Scholarship
Available to students pursuing programs in botany, horticulture, environmental science, conservation or related field, with a focus on orchids. Academic topics include, but are not limited to, researching orchids in their native habitats, increasing biodiversity and aiding in conservation efforts.
Annie’s Sustainable Agriculture Scholarship
Awarded to undergraduate and graduate students studying in the U.S. with a focus on studies in sustainable agriculture. Applicants must submit a brief personal statement that includes his or her perspective on how their studies and work will cultivate a healthier and happier world.
Theodore Gordon Flyfishers, Inc. Founders Fund Scholarship
Awarded to a full-time student who has demonstrated “excellence and outstanding dedication in an area of study that falls within an environmental field of a school or department.” Majors include, but not limited to, biology, ecology, law, conservation, environmental studies or science, natural resource management, zoology and hydrology.
Amphibians Survival Alliance Seed Grants
Not strictly a scholarship, these grants are designed to kick start projects or allow for new innovative approaches to address conservation, research and education challenges. Applicants must submit projects that address at least one of the sponsor’s specified priority actions.
Arnold W. Fritz Scholarship
Sponsored by the Canton Audubon Society, this scholarship is available to students pursuing studies in environmental science, conservation, natural history and other nature related subjects, including environmental law. Applicants must, among other requirements, submit a 200-word essay explaining how the student expects to “make a difference in the environment.”
Land Conservancy of New Jersey Scholarship Program
Two scholarships are awarded to students studying environmental science, natural resource management, conservation, horticulture, park administration or related field. Applicants must be a resident of and considering a career in the State of New Jersey.
Dr. W. Wesley Eckenfelder, Jr. Scholarship
Candidate must be a full-time student with a declared major in civil, chemical or environmental engineering, or one of the environmental sciences. The award is sponsored by Brown and Caldwell, a private engineering consulting firm focused on the water and environmental sectors.
Brown and Caldwell Minority Scholarship
Available to minority (Hispanic or Latino, Black or African American, Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander, Asian, American Indian or Alaska Native) students with a declared major in civil, chemical or environmental engineering, or one of the environmental sciences.
National Association for Surface Finishing (NASF) Scholarships
NASF scholarships are offered to individuals interested in studying chemical engineering, material science or engineering, mechanical engineering, metallurgical engineering, environmental engineering or chemistry. Candidates must be able to demonstrate academic achievement and involvement in extracurricular activities.
NHA Past Presidents’ Legacy Scholarship
Open to full-time graduate students with a minimum 3.0 GPA and pursuing an academic program related to the hydropower industry, including engineering, science (biology, fisheries, and hydrology), communications and or environmental studies. Sponsored by the National Hydropower Association.
Science To Achieve Results (STAR) Fellowships
These fellowships are open to both master’s and doctoral candidates studying environmental science and engineering. Areas of research include emerging environmental approaches and challenges, human health risk assessment, chemical safety for sustainability, safe and sustainable water resources, and more. Fellowships are sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Emily M. Hewitt Memorial Scholarship
Eligible to California students pursuing a degree in environmental protection, forestry, wildlife and fisheries biology, parks and recreation, park management, environmental law and public policy, environmental art, and California history. Sponsored by the Calaveras Big Trees Association.
A.V. Stout Fund Grants
Open to college and university students, as well as qualified individuals and organizations, these grants are given for research into New England wildlife and its habitat, as well as the improvement of management techniques through innovative ideas and programs.
Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship Program
Designed to help students with financial need pursue an advanced degree in oceanography, marine biology, maritime archaeology and all other science, engineering, social science and resource management disciplines involving ocean and coastal areas. Preference is given to women and minority applicants. Sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Good360 Sustainability Scholarship
The Good360 Sustainability Scholarship is open to students of all majors who have an interest in environmentalism or sustainability. Applicant must submit a 200 to 300-word essay answering the question, “What does sustainability mean to you?”
These graduate scholarships are available to students pursuing a degree in environmental health sciences. Applicants must have one year of coursework remaining to be eligible. Sponsored by the National Environmental Health Association and the American Academy of Sanitarians, Inc.
SEG awards a number of scholarships, all of which can be applied to with one application. For students pursuing a curriculum directed toward a career in applied geophysics or closely-related field such as geosciences, physics, geology, or earth and environmental sciences. Sponsored by the Society of Exploratory Physicists.
Switzer Fellowship Program
The Switzer Fellowship Program offers one-year fellowships to graduate students in New England and California whose studies and career goals are directed toward environmental improvement. Applicants must demonstrate leadership in their chosen field. Open to both master’s and doctoral students.
It’s a matter of supply and demand. The number of green graduate degree programs is growing because of their increasing popularity amongst students, which in turn is due to the expanding need for sustainability professionals throughout the economy. And that need is not just speculation. Consider this: According to the Ecotech Institute’s Clean Jobs Index for August 2015, nearly a half-million “clean jobs” were open that month, an increase of 57 percent from August 2014. The bottom line is that the future of sustainable careers is not wishful thinking. It’s real.
That’s not to say that all green careers are created equal. Some sustainability jobs are hotter than others.
Here are a few facts and statistics about green careers, in general and for particular industries, both now and in the future:
Potential growth trends indicate the following as top sustainability-related fields:
“The [report’s] conclusion is that, as a general proposition, countries that sustain [a] 1.5 percent of GDP level of annual investments in energy efficiency and clean renewables will also be able to maintain economic growth at healthy rates while providing a sufficient supply of energy resources to undergird growth. These investments in energy efficiency and renewable energy will also be a net new source of job opportunities.”
In 2011, employment in the Green Goods and Services sector in the United States accounted for 2.6 percent of the labor force or over 3.4 million jobs total.
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
“A greener economy could lead to net gains of up to 60 million jobs… Much of the additional employment in a greener economy will be created in the production of green goods and services. While evidence is limited, it suggests that these jobs tend to be more qualified, safer and better paid than comparable jobs in the same or similar sectors.”
Other top fields for those seeking a green career:
The need for more green professionals is driven by several factors, including:
With the ever-growing concerns of climate change, population growth, shrinking natural resources and other problems, many people are starting to realize the truth of this statement: “All jobs in the future will be green jobs.” And that future may not be far off. In the meantime, one does not have to look far to find countless career options for those who wish to be in the forefront of the green revolution. The list below offers a sample of some of the most in-demand green jobs available today.
Agricultural and Food Scientists
Agricultural and Food Scientists work to develop and maintain the efficient production and safety of world’s food supply. Advanced positions in the field, particularly those involving research, often require a master’s or doctoral degree. Research in genomics and agricultural sustainability will likely be a factor in the number of agricultural science jobs in the future.Read More
Atmospheric Scientists, including Meteorologists, study the Earth’s weather and climate, and its impact on human activity. Governmental budget cuts will mean that the best future job prospects for this occupation will be in the private sector.Read More
While job growth for all chemical engineers is tepid, employment prospects should remain strongest for those professionals who remain at the cutting edge of new and emerging technologies such as those concerning environmentally safe and sustainable manufacturing processes.Read More
Conservation Scientists and Foresters
Conservation Scientists are responsible for the management of the land quality of forests, rangelands, wetlands, parks and other natural resources. Overall demand for these occupations is expected to be slow. However, an increased need for forestry conservation and protection against manmade dangers like fires, will help bolster the demand for professionals in the field.Read More
Environmental Engineers apply engineering principles to analyzing and developing solutions to environmental problems. Continued demand for Environmental Engineers will be driving by the federal government’s efforts to clean up contaminated sites and need to comply with heightened government regulation on the part of businesses and organizations throughout all economic sectors.Read More
Environmental Lawyers represent employers and clients in all sectors of the economy in both criminal and civil cases involving a wide range of environmentally-related issues such as water law, clean technology, climate change, renewable energy, government regulation and many others.Read More
Environmental Scientists and Specialists
Environmental Scientists and Specialists analyze environmental problems and issues in order to develop solutions. Job growth for the profession going forward is predicted to be most heavily in the private sector with consulting firms who advise clients on minimizing negative environmental effects and complying with government regulations.Read More
Geologic and Petroleum Technicians
Geologic and Petroleum Technicians work under the supervision of scientists and engineers in the exploration and collection of natural resources such as oil, natural gas and minerals. Common tasks include conducting field tests and lab experiments, collecting samples, operating equipment, monitoring exploration activities and more.Read More
Geoscientists are concerned with the composition, structures and processes of the Earth. The role of Geoscientists in the discovery and development of alternative and renewable energy sources such as solar, wind and geothermal, is crucial and will fuel the need for professionals in this occupation moving forward.Read More
Green Building and Retrofit Architects
Green Building and Retrofit Architects are engaged in the design of homes, offices and other buildings that use the latest environmentally-friendly and fuel efficient technologies, techniques and products. They are most often employed by private architectural firms, but may also work directly for large corporations, non-profit organizations and even governmental agencies.Read More
Health and Safety Engineers
Health and Safety Engineers are employed in the health and manufacturing industries to save lives and enhance employee safety in the workplace as well as help develop safer and healthier consumer products.Read More
Hydrologists are concerned with the Earth’s water supply, how it functions in its natural state and how it is used by humans and other living things. Hydrologists currently, and will continue to, play an important role in the development of water management plans that address the varied and significant problems resulting from climate change.Read More
Lobbyists are professionals that consult with government officials, elected and otherwise, in an attempt to influence them to advocate and vote for legislation that benefits the lobbyist’s clients. Lobbyists work in all sectors of the economy, particularly for private corporations or industry associations, as well non-profits.Read More
Microbiologists study microorganisms to better understand how they grow, behave and interact with other living things. They are employed in both the public and private sectors in research and development to solve problems and develop new and safer products. The need for improved methods for preserving the environment and protecting human health helps to fuel the continuing need for highly-skilled microbiologists.Read More
Natural Sciences Manager
Natural Sciences Managers oversee the work of scientists in a variety of fields, including biologists, physicists and chemists. Most start out their careers as scientists themselves, requiring only a bachelor’s degree, but return to school for to complete a master’s or doctoral program to advance into a management position.Read More
Physicists are concerned with the fundamental constructs of the universe including space, time, energy and matter. In regard to sustainability careers, Physicists, especially Applied Physicists, will remain in demand in the development of new and more efficient materials and equipment.Read More
Sustainability Consultants work primarily for private consulting firms providing advice on sustainability and environmental concerns of business clients throughout all phases and aspects of a company’s operations. They may provide guidance concerning compliance with government regulations and meeting self-imposed green initiative goals.Read More
Sustainability Directors merge the worlds of environmental protection and business together. They work to create more energy efficient and environmentally safe manufacturing processes, educate and train employees to adhere to sustainability-friendly policies and promote a company’s image to its customers and community as environmentally-concerned.Read More
Urban and Regional Planners
Urban and Regional Planners develop plans for communities and land use in consideration of population, facilities and other factors. While the estimated job growth for this occupation is unremarkable, the increasing interest in sustainability and environmentally sound development will increase the demand for professionals trained in those subjects.Read More
Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists
Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists study the behavior and characteristics of animals and how they interact with humans and their ecosystems. Overall job growth in these occupations is projected to be slow. However, the impact of continued human population growth, climate change and pollution will continue to feed the demand for qualified professionals.Read More
We’ve had our graduate degree (M.S. Geography with a specialization in Global Sustainability) now for five or six years. We call it “global” because, in the broader perspective, that’s what sustainability is really all about. It’s a big picture perspective. The degree is a good fit with geography because geography looks at those human and physical aspects of Earth.
We get into the political and cultural [aspects], but then get very much into the environmental [aspects] as well. If you think about the three pillars of sustainability being environmental, social and economic, we teach about all of those in geography. And making the connection where the three intersect, where they’re all working together harmoniously, that’s the “sweet spot” of sustainability.
It’s really kind of exciting to watch. The first student to ever graduate from our program now works at the Institute for Sustainable Energy, which is an NGO that educates the public about sustainable energy options. Then we have graduates working for the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. We’ve had graduates go on to get their PhD. degrees. And they’re in every field including wildlife and endangered species; fisheries; and the Water Bureau branches where they’re looking at the health and the biodiversity in the waters, rivers and streams. Graduates are going into research on climate change and along the coastlines.
We’ve sent then off to do jobs and internships with the United States Geological Survey. Some have gone abroad, some into the Peace Corps. They’ve gone into eco-tourism, which is another emerging connection with sustainability. Another big one is agriculture. We’re getting a ton of requests for students to come and work on organic farms or help out with community service agriculture primarily throughout the whole Northeast. A couple of students have ended up being hired to look into things like the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. We’ve had another student go to work for an environmental justice NGO.
Oh, yeah. In fact, I would say that probably half of our graduate students are people either employed part-time or full-time while working on their degrees. You want to make [earning a degree] possible for people that are already embedded within the existing economic system to come and be educated about what that word “sustainability” really means and then take that knowledge back into that system and apply it. A lot times they are getting the education paid for by their employer because the employer has at least gotten the message that they better get on this bus about sustainability or they are going to be left behind.
There are plenty more sources for funding a green graduate education than just the list of scholarships, fellowships and grants listed above. Below are several useful online resources to help you find the money needed to finance your green graduate degree:
The most important financial resource for any college student is the U.S. Government. It is where to go for all information about federal student loans as well as a great source for grants and scholarship programs. For anyone beginning their college financing journey, this is a great place to start.
An excellent clearinghouse site for information on student financial aid resources of all kinds. Features include a scholarship search engine, advice on saving for college, funding sources for military and veterans, financial aid application forms, cost and loan calculators, and much more.
FINFA is a non-governmental, not-for-profit organization and regulator for all security firms doing business in the United States. This FINFA site offers comprehensive information on college savings programs such as 529 plans, Coverdell Education Savings and custodial accounts, and savings bonds.
TICAS is an independent, nonprofit organization working to make higher education more available and affordable. TICAS supports a number of college financing related projects such as the Project on Student Debt, whose goal is to increase public awareness of the impact of student debt on families, the economy and society.
Not just for financial aid administrators, this site provides a wealth of information geared toward students and their parents about the financial aid process and resources in general, plus information and links to financial aid commissions and agencies for each state.
Peterson’s website offers a comprehensive scholarship search engine as well as information on specific colleges and grad schools, test preparation and practice, and what information and documentation is needed for grad school application.
Sallie Mae is a private corporation that provides, services and collect on private education loans. The Sallie Mae site offers comprehensive information on its loan programs as well as a scholarship search engine (including search options for minorities and women) and tools to help plan and pay for college.
The Unigo website provides of all kinds for college and prospective college students. Included here is a comprehensive scholarship search engine and student loan finder tool, as well as search engine for in-college jobs and internships.