Online Degrees In Environmental Engineering

The world’s population is growing rapidly. In fact, the United Nations estimates that there will be 9.7 billion people by 2050. And every one of those people will have basic needs like access to clean water, air, and shelter; not to mention a way to dispose of the waste they may create. All this can put a huge strain on the earth’s limited resources. Environmental engineers are the individuals who may be tasked with finding innovative solutions to global warming, waste disposal, water pollution and ozone depletion; protecting wildlife; and improving methods of recycling and waste management.

The College Board recommends that individuals in this field be passionate about the environment, be team players with excellent communication skills as well as have a love for math and science. If this sounds like you, then perhaps an online environmental engineering degree is the one for you. Online environmental engineering degree programs may allow recent high school graduates, working professionals or career changers to obtain the education they need while still adhering to work family and other commitments.

There can be an overlap between the fields of environmental engineering and environmental science. However, there is a distinction between the two. The following definitions have been taken from the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists (AAEES).

  • Environmental engineering is defined as the application of engineering principles to improve and maintain the environment for the protection of human health, for the protection of nature’s beneficial ecosystems, and for environment-related enhancement of the quality of human life.
  • Environmental science is defined as the application of scientific principles to improve and maintain the environment for the protection of human health for the protection of nature’s beneficial ecosystems, and environment-related enhancement of the quality of human life.

Environmental engineers apply engineering along with principles of biology, and chemistry to solve environmental problems. While their duties can vary greatly with the type of project and resources involved, some general responsibilities may include:

  • Preparing environmental investigation reports and reviewing and updating them as necessary
  • Analyzing scientific data and carrying out quality control checks
  • Designing environmental protection projects and providing technical support for them
  • Ensuring various projects and industrial and municipal facilities meet environmental compliances by carrying out inspections
  • Advising corporations and governmental agencies on how to clean up contaminated sites
  • Working with environmental scientists, hazardous-waste technicians, urban planners, and other specialists to address various environmental sustainability issues

The following steps outline how you can become an environmental engineer:

Step 1: Take high school courses in chemistry, biology, physics, and math, including algebra, trigonometry, and calculus.

Step 2: Conduct your research on the various schools and colleges offering traditional or online environmental engineering degree programs.

Step 3: Enroll in an accredited environmental engineering degree program, preferably one that is ABET accredited.

Step 4: Gain as much experience as possible while in school through projects and internships.

Step 5: After graduation, look for a job or choose to continue with a graduate degree.

Step 6: Research your states licensing requirements.

Step 7: Pass the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) examination to earn the Engineers In Training (EIT) designation.

Step 8: Obtain at least four years of work experience before obtaining the Professional Engineering (PE) license.

Step 9: Obtain professional certifications that can help boost your career.

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that most environmental engineers work for federal, state, local governments, engineering services, and management, scientific and technical consulting services. It predicts that the need to clean up contaminated sites as well as to improve water efficiency is likely to drive the demand for their services.

The table below outlines the mean wages, employment outlook and predicted job growth for occupations related to this field using data from the BLS.

Career
Employment
Median Salary
Projected Job Growth
Environmental Science and Protection Technicians, Including Health32,620$50,7609.2%
Environmental Engineering Technologists and Technicians18,010$54,7408.6%
Environmental Scientists and Specialists, Including Health84,290$77,9408.2%
Environmental Science Teachers, Postsecondary6,060$93,4506%
Environmental Engineers53,150$94,2205.1%

Source: 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

Different degrees may allow individuals to enter the workforce in this field in varying capacities. Individuals with associate degrees can enter the workforce as environmental engineering technicians, working under the direction of an engineer, or continue on to earn a bachelor’s degree. A bachelor’s degree is usually the minimum requirement to enter the field as an environmental engineer although the BLS states that many employers may prefer candidates with a master’s degree. Doctoral degrees can lead to advanced research, postsecondary teaching positions, or high-level engineering careers in industry and government.

What can I expect to learn in an online associate degree program?

Students studying to earn an environmental engineering associate degree online can expect to learn about different aspects of environmental issues and the common practices in place to alleviate them. They may learn how to analyze and test water, wastewater, air, and solid waste samples in order to get to the root of problems at a site.

Typical duration: Two years of full-time study

General prerequisites: High school diploma or GED

Typical coursework: Topics are designed to help students learn to identify environmental hazards, examine the effects of pollution through testing and become a part of the solution to mitigate these problems. Apart from general education coursework, core courses may include:

  • Air pollution control systems
  • Environmental biology
  • Hazardous materials
  • Principles of environmental science
  • Water resources engineering

Students may need to attend practical courses on campus depending on their online environmental engineering degree programs.

What kind of jobs can I get after earning an associate degree in environmental engineering?

Graduates of environmental engineering associate degree programs online may choose to continue their education with a four-year degree or qualify for employment in industrial facilities, utility and construction companies and governmental facilities. Potential job titles include:

  • Environmental engineering assistant
  • Environmental engineering technician
  • Hazardous materials technician
  • Recycling coordinator
  • Water and waste water treatment plant and system operator

What can I expect to learn in an online bachelor’s degree program?

Online environmental engineering bachelor’s degree programs are currently unavailable due the hands-on nature of the course of study. However, students may be able to take some of their general education courses online and core courses on campus.

Bachelor’s degree programs aim to provide a strong fundamental background in engineering science, design and practice. Different programs will have different areas of focus so it is important to explore a wide range of schools offering environmental engineering before enrolling in a particular program. Some programs are oriented toward a career, others toward graduate study.

Online Master’s Degrees in Environmental Engineering

What can I expect to learn in an online master’s degree program?

Master’s degree programs may focus on the student’s area of specialization along with contemporary issues and the latest research. Students can learn how to develop sustainable solutions to complex environmental problems including the assessment and remediation of past damage.

Typical duration: Two years of full-time study

General prerequisites: Bachelor’s degree in environmental or civil engineering; GRE

Typical coursework: Topics can include protection of resources, pollution prevention, transport of contaminants, and emissions control methods among others. Some courses you may take include:

  • Emerging trends in corporate sustainability
  • Environmental microbiology
  • Introduction to surface and colloid chemistry
  • Treatment systems hydraulics
  • Water resources management

Possible electives: Alternative energy resources; photovoltaic systems engineering; corrosion of metals

What kind of jobs can I get after earning a master’s in environmental engineering?

Graduates of online environmental engineering master’s degree programs may find employment in chemical, pharmaceutical, mining, energy, and manufacturing industries to name a few. They may qualify for supervisory positions leading teams on projects from conception to finish. Potential job titles include:

  • Biofuels/biodiesel technology and product development manager
  • Environmental compliance inspector
  • Environmental health safety specialist
  • Environmental scientist and specialist
  • Industrial hygienist
  • Water resource specialist

Online graduate certificates in environmental engineering may suit working professionals who want to advance their knowledge in a particular aspect of the field. They may also suit individuals who want some graduate education in environmental engineering but do not have the time or financial resources to commit to a master’s degree. Certificate programs may also help open up specialized career opportunities due to the highly focused nature of their curricula.

Typical duration: One year of part-time study

General prerequisites: Bachelor’s degree in environmental or civil engineering; GRE

Typical coursework: Classes you take can vary highly depending on the focus of the program. However some examples of courses include:

  • Advanced technologies in environmental engineering
  • Biochemical engineering
  • Engineering design and impact assessment
  • Groundwater modeling
  • Hazardous waste remediation

Possible electives: Advanced sanitary engineering design; environmental chemistry; principles of environmental engineering

What can I expect to learn in an online doctoral degree program?

Online environmental engineering degree programs at the doctoral level can equip students with the advanced knowledge and research skills they need to reconfigure the impact of industrial practices and human activities through the development of new technologies and strategies.

Typical duration: Five to seven years of full-time study

General prerequisites: Master’s degree in environmental or civil engineering; some programs may require GRE scores

Coursework: Classes can vary greatly depending on the program and specialization. In addition to core coursework, students usually also take courses in research methodologies and advanced statistics.

Some programs may require students to complete residencies on-campus.

Dissertation: The dissertation phase of the program is typically the longest. Students conduct original research for their dissertation. Once complete, they then need to mount a defense of the dissertation before a committee.

What kind of jobs can I get after earning a doctorate in environmental engineering?

A doctoral degree in environmental engineering may qualify individuals for high-level roles in a number of different industries. They may also be able to enter research and academia. Some graduates may become tenured professors in universities or join research firms while others may occupy executive positions in a variety of industries.

Accreditation

Accreditation is a voluntary process schools undergo to demonstrate that their educational offerings, facilities and faculty meet the professional standards required in the industry today. Prospective employers may tend to prefer candidates who have graduated from an accredited school. Additionally, enrolling in an accredited school can be an important prerequisite for receiving federal financial aid and professional certifications. Environmental engineering degree programs are accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) in the United States.

Specializations in Environmental Engineering

The field of environmental engineering is vast and interdisciplinary in nature. Specializations may help you narrow down the focus of your education and therefore your career in areas of your interest. Some examples of specializations are:

  • Air pollution control
  • Biochemical engineering
  • Contaminant hydrogeology
  • Groundwater modeling
  • Hazardous waste management

Certifications in Environmental Engineering

Entry-level environmental engineers do not require licenses. However, those aspiring to advance their careers may need to obtain a Professional Engineering (PE) license. While you need four years of work experience to sit for the PE examination, recent graduates of ABET accredited bachelor’s degree programs may be able to sit for the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam which allows them to use the engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs) designation. Licensures typically need to be renewed periodically.

Professional certifications are not usually mandatory. However, they can demonstrate your area of expertise in the field as well as your commitment to it. A variety of professional certifications are offered by the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists (AAEES).

Employment Statistics

Environmental Engineering Technicians

Industries with the highest concentration of employment
  • Remediation and Other Waste Management Services
  • Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services
  • Waste Treatment and Disposal
  • Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services
  • Water,Sewage and Other Systems
States with the highest level of employment
  • California
  • Texas
  • Pennsylvania
  • Minnesota
  • Massachusetts
Top-paying metropolitan areas
  • Augusta-Richmond County, GA-SC
  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA
  • Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land, TX
  • Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA
  • San Diego-Carlsbad, CA

Environmental Scientists and Specialists, including Health

Industries with the highest concentration of employment
  • Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services
  • Social Advocacy Organizations
  • State Government, excluding schools and hospitals (OES Designation)
  • Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services
  • Petroleum and Coal Products Manufacturing
States with the highest level of employment
  • California
  • Florida
  • New York
  • Texas
  • North Carolina
Top-paying metropolitan areas
  • Santa Rosa, CA
  • Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA
  • San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA
  • San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA
  • Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV

Source: 2016 Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

As with many STEM fields, you may find there are plenty of scholarships available for eligible students of environmental engineering degrees. Scholarships and financial aid programs may be offered by colleges, universities, educational foundations, medical facilities and more. We’ve listed some scholarships below to help you get started in your search.

Other resources for aspiring environmental engineers

Sources

  • 7-3025.00 – Environmental Engineering Technicians, O*NET OnLine, National Center for O*NET Development, www.onetonline.org/link/summary/17-3025.00, accessed November 2019
  • Basic Needs for All: Engineering for the Developing World, Norwich University Online, https://online.norwich.edu/academic-programs/masters/civil-engineering/resources/infographics/basic-needs-for-all-engineering-for-the-developing-world, accessed November 2019
  • Careers in Environmental Engineering and Environmental Science, American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists, https://www.aaees.org/careers/, accessed November 2019
  • Earth and Environmental Engineering Doctorate Degree, Columbia University, https://cvn.columbia.edu/program/columbia-university-earth-and-environmental-engineering-doctorate-degree-doctor-engineering, accessed November 2019
  • Earth and Environmental Engineering Master’s Degree, Columbia University, https://cvn.columbia.edu/program/columbia-university-earth-and-environmental-engineering-masters-degree-masters-science, accessed November 2019
  • Environmental Engineering (Certificate), University of North Dakota, https://und.edu/programs/environmental-engineering-certificate/, accessed November 2019
  • Environmental Engineering (Ph.D.), University of North Dakota, https://und.edu/programs/environmental-engineering-phd/index/, accessed November 2019
  • Environmental Engineering Graduate Certificate Program, The George Washington University, https://www.cee.seas.gwu.edu/environmental-engineering-graduate-certificate-program, accessed November 2019
  • Environmental Engineering Master’s Degree Online, Old Dominion University Online, https://online.odu.edu/programs/environmental-engineering-masters-degree, accessed November 2019
  • Environmental Engineering Online (MS), Worcester Polytechnic Institute, https://www.wpi.edu/academics/online/study/environmental-engineering-ms, accessed November 2019
  • Environmental Engineering Technicians, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/environmental-engineering-technicians.htm, accessed November 2019
  • Environmental Engineering Technology, A.S., Three Rivers Community College, https://www.threerivers.edu/academics/degrees-certificates/environmental-engineering-technology/, accessed November 2019
  • Environmental Engineering-Waste and Water Technology Associate Degree, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College, https://www.nwtc.edu/academics/programs/fields-of-interest/science-technology-engineering-and-mathematics/environmental-engineering-waste-water-technolo, accessed November 2019
  • Environmental Engineers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/environmental-engineers.htm, accessed November 2019
  • Environmental Scientists and Specialists, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/environmental-scientists-and-specialists.htm, accessed November 2019
  • Hazardous Materials Removal Workers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/construction-and-extraction/hazardous-materials-removal-workers.htm, accessed November 2019
  • Major: Environmental Engineering, Big Future, The College Board, https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/majors/engineering-environmental-engineering, accessed November 2019
  • Hazardous Materials Removal Workers,
Related Resources & Tools

Online Landscape Architecture Degrees

Online landscape architecture degrees can lead to a number of careers in fields like landscaping, urban planning and landscape architecture.

 

Online Quality Control and Safety Degrees and Programs

Learn how online degrees in quality control & safety can help quality assurance professionals keep pace with best practices and advance into management roles.

 
Methodologies and Sources