What is an Environmental Engineering Degree?
Many people end up in the sciences because they have a pure love of learning about the natural world. The engineering profession gives those who love science the best of both worlds, where they can combine science with real-world applications.
There are several branches of engineering, including aerospace engineering, computer engineering, petroleum engineering, and agricultural engineering.
Environmental engineering is the branch of engineering which is focused on improving the quality of the environment. Environmental engineers ultimately deal with issues that include recycling, waste control, and air and water pollution.
What is an Environmental Engineering Degree?
An environmental engineering degree is interdisciplinary, combining principles from several sciences and applying them to environmental problems. You will study biology, chemistry, soil science, and engineering, but you will also be expected to get practical work experience in the field while earning your degree. As a practical matter, students in environmental engineering will also learn about compliance and applicable laws.
What Is the Salary Outlook Like for Environmental Engineers?
Engineers are known for making a good living, and environmental engineers are no exception to that rule. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for environmental engineers is $42.13 per hour or $87,620 per year. You should qualify for an entry-level job with just a Bachelor’s Degree, although how much you make and what level education and experience you need depends on the job you choose.
Federal government employees are at the top of the pay range, with the median wages for environmental engineers being $105,410. Local government employees make a median salary of $87,910. The median salary for those working in management and consulting services is $81,110.
One great thing about engineering jobs is that there is an ongoing need for new people in the field. Job growth in environmental engineering is expected to grow as fast as other jobs, with 4,500 jobs being added to the job market within the next decade. A master’s degree will often make you even more employable, as there will be a need to replace engineers who are retiring.
Working Conditions for Environmental Engineers
Environmental engineers work in a variety of conditions. Many work in offices where they work with other engineers and planners, while others work mostly at outdoor sites on projects. The work week is usually a regular 40 hours per week, although some environmental engineers spend extra hours when they need to in order to finish projects.
Required Education and Skills
Most entry-level jobs require a Bachelor’s Degree, and some schools offer special programs where you can earn your bachelor’s and master’s degrees together in five years. The most important criterion when choosing a school is that it be accredited by ABET, or the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. If you want to prepare yourself early, you can take all the science and math classes possible while in high school, like biology, chemistry, calculus, and trigonometry.
Those who are likely to be successful in the environmental engineering field tend to possess certain personal qualities. They are usually imaginative, which helps them to see how systems work together. They usually have good reading, writing, and interpersonal skills, which help them to work as a team on projects. Of course, the best environmental engineers are also good at solving problems.
What Are Some of the Career Paths You Could Take as an Environmental Engineer?
The main choice you will probably need to make is whether you want to work for the government or in the private sector. There are major advantages and disadvantages to both, although there are great job opportunities in both areas.
Government employees tend to be paid more and have excellent job stability. They can expect to have access to standard benefits, including health insurance, life insurance, vacation and sick days, and a retirement plan. Private sector jobs may offer different kinds of opportunities not available in the government.
Here are just a few examples of the kinds of jobs available to environmental engineers:
- Green building engineer — Businesses are focusing more on their environmental impact, and green building engineers can help with everything from water efficiency to building specifications to indoor air quality.
- Environmental engineering consultant — This is one of the areas that will experience the most growth and offer the most opportunities as different kinds of businesses and organizations look for ways to reduce their carbon footprint.
- Environmental health and safety director — You will probably need a master’s degree for this position, where you help businesses meet health and safety standards and create sustainability programs that work for individual companies.
Environmental Engineering Degree Curriculum
You can go the traditional route by attending classes on campus, but you can also earn an online environmental engineering degree. Online degrees give students the flexibility they need to continue supporting themselves and their families while working toward their chosen careers.
You can choose an associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree in Environmental Engineering, although some schools offer Environmental Engineering as a specialty in Environmental Science. For example, Johns Hopkins offers an online master’s program in environmental engineering, and Columbia University offers an online Master of Earth and Environmental Engineering.
Within your major, there are several subspecialties you may be able to choose from. These include hazardous waste management and environmental engineering technology.
Typical Classes in Environmental Engineering Degree Programs
In order to complete your degree, you will need to take classes related to your major, but there are several other classes that are required that will help you gain the skills you need to be successful in an environmental engineering career.
You will need a solid foundation in Chemistry and Calculus, so you will start with basic classes like General Chemistry and Differential and Integral Calculus. There are also Physics classes in an environmental engineering curriculum, including Introductory Physics, and you will start developing your engineering knowledge by studying classes like Fluid Mechanics. Most universities will require at least one basic writing class, but your lab classes will also help you hone your writing and communication skills.