Why an Environmental Studies Major?


An illustration of an open academic textbook in front of the planet Earth.

It’s no secret that our planet is facing many challenges that affect everyone who lives here … and not just every person—every animal and resource. An environmental studies major prepares students to address these challenges in a multitude of ways.

Environmental concerns have been a consistent talking point for politicians, a factor in policy decisions, and the centerpiece of debates and protests for decades. And as our understanding of the interplay between humans and the natural world evolves, the subject has taken on added urgency.

Colleges and universities have responded.

More than 500 schools in the United States offer degree programs in this subject area, including the brand new environmental studies program at Elmhurst University, which will admit its first cohort of students in fall 2019. As an interdisciplinary field, environmental studies incorporate the natural sciences, politics, economics, geography and demography. The social sciences and humanities are also woven in.

With such expansive subject matter, the coursework checks a lot of boxes. In many schools, both bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degrees are awarded—focused around policy and STEM, respectively.

Students take classes in government and policy, economics and statistics, ethics, sustainable development, communications, urban studies, the natural sciences, and other STEM areas such as computer science and GIS. Most programs include lab research and outdoor fieldwork. Internships allow students to get a taste for the curriculum’s real-world applications.

Whatever the subject, rest assured you won’t spend much time memorizing facts from a text. Instead, you’ll be asked to generate realistic solutions to environmental problems, including pollution, resource shortages and sustainability.

Environmental studies majors are tasked with upending social forces to solve issues of climate change, energy sources and biodiversity. They must be adept at interpreting research data and analyzing statistics but also possess the ability to flex their creative muscles to find new solutions to old problems.

An even bigger challenge for students is sifting through components from many fields to try to solve complex dilemmas for stakeholders who likely hold different and even competing interests.

And there are no simple solutions.

Careers for Environmental Studies Majors

As public awareness over climate change and other environmental hardships have grown, so has the demand for workers with a command of science and policy.

Government agencies, private companies and academia all have a need for problem-solvers who can synthesize ideas from multiple sources to come up with new ways of doing things—whether that be updated laws, innovative consumer products, methods of managing land and resources, or approaches to education. Employment opportunities related to environmental studies are also growing, according to Data USA.

Many graduates of the field establish careers analyzing policies, designing impact studies or developing environmentally friendly and sustainable products. Even fields like public relations, fundraising and information technology often employ folks with environmental backgrounds.

Grads work in a range of fields, including advocacy, urban and regional planning, natural resource management, conservation and consulting. Many people use their bachelor’s degrees as a launching point to advanced studies in law, public administration, environmental ethics, political science, education and environmental science.

Whatever your eventual end plan, if you are passionate about the planet and eager to be a steward of sustainability, environmental studies may be the major for you.

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Posted March 7, 2019

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