Earning a Master's in Environmental Management Online

As sustainability careers rise, graduates of environmental management programs may find themselves in high demand. After all, most major companies now address sustainability to align with their mission and goals, to build or maintain their reputations, and to improve operational costs. With this in mind, it may behoove recent graduates -- and those already working in the field -- to earn their master's degree in environmental management. This guide offers information regarding online programs in environmental management, funding options, and organizational resources.

Student Profile: Who Earns an Online Master's Degree in Environmental Management?

Earning an online master's in environmental management benefits both students and working professionals interested in sustainability. This guide explains available options to those considering a specialization or professional certification. Read on to learn if earning a master's degree can help you meet your goals.

Why Get a Master's Degree in Environmental Management?

Pursuing Specialization

Specializing in a field sets you apart from other candidates. Within environmental management, students may concentrate in supply chain, corporate responsibility, or community development.

Career Advancement Opportunities

The skills and experience you gain during a master's program may position you for career advancement. Master's degree graduates may take on more responsibility and pursue advanced tasks, which generally leads to better pay and higher job satisfaction. Additionally, master's environmental management graduates may launch their own consulting careers or sustainability firms.

Online Learning Technology

Since online educational programs utilize advanced learning platforms to deliver course materials, learners acquire hands-on experience with the latest technology. For example, students conduct group sessions over live video, thus improving their collaboration skills in a virtual setting. Graduates of online programs demonstrate advanced technology skills, which may lead to special projects and career opportunities.

Prerequisites for Online M.E.M. Programs

Schools often require students to possess a number of prerequisites for advanced degrees. The following prerequisites ensure you possess the experience and education needed to succeed in an environmental management program.

  • Work Experience: Programs may require up to five years of work experience in sustainability, environmental management, or a related field. Some programs accept students directly from a bachelor's program. But students who work in the field before earning their master's degree may more easily apply advanced concepts, better positioning themselves for competitive graduate school admission.
  • Exams and Test Scores: Online master's in environmental management programs typically do not require test scores. That said, international students or students who do not speak English as a first language may need to submit TOEFL scores (unless they earned their bachelor's degree in the United States).
  • Coursework: Applicants must complete coursework in environmental studies, natural resources, physical and biological sciences, communication, history, and writing. Most programs require a minimum 3.0 GPA in the final 60 credits of the bachelor's degree, and some schools require remedial coursework if you do not meet the prerequisites.
  • Recommendations: For admission, students must submit three letters of recommendation from college professors, professional peers, or supervisors. Recommendations speaking to your qualifications, academic excellence, and experience benefit you most, as they demonstrate your readiness for a master's degree.
  • Essays: The admissions essay, sometimes referred to as a personal statement or objectives letter, expresses your personal interests and accomplishments. Programs typically want to know about the career goals and areas of interest that set you apart from other candidates. Follow essay instructions closely since admissions faculty also evaluate your writing ability.
  • Interviews: Many programs require a personal interview with department faculty, which online students may complete over the phone or through a videoconference. The interview process often proves extensive, but it gives potential students and faculty an opportunity to determine if the program fits the student.
  • International Students: International students may need to submit additional test scores and transcripts with course descriptions. TOEFL scores must be no more than two years old. Students must ensure that programs with residency requirements meet student visa requirements.

How Much Can I Make with a Master's Degree in Environmental Management?

Earning an online master's in environmental management leads to increased earning potential and more challenging work environments. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the salaries for natural science managers range from $62,080 to $208,000. Earning a degree gives you the opportunity to develop systems-level skills currently in demand by industry employers. An advanced degree promotes out-of-the-box thinking, prepares you to pursue nontraditional career opportunities, and positions you to become a leader in sustainability.

Traditional Careers for Environmental Managers

Career Stats Description

Senior Environmental Engineer

Median Pay: $86,800

Job Growth: 8%

Working in an office or on project sites when needed, environmental managers serve as strategists and developers on natural resource and sustainability-focused initiatives. They typically work with other engineers, policymakers, and community members.

Ideal for: Cooperative individuals who work well in team settings and boast strong critical thinking skills.

Urban or Regional Planner

Median Pay: $71,490

Job Growth: 13%

Environmental planners typically work in urban office environments planning and implementing land use and development. Planners collaborate with policymakers, officials, and community members through public meetings and one-on-one consultations.

Ideal for: Individuals with excellent communication and critical thinking skills who enjoy collaborative work with stakeholders.

Environmental Policymaker

Median Pay: $115,110

Job Growth: 3%

Policymakers research international and domestic political subjects, evaluate impacts, and forecast political changes. Environmental policy makers collect data from scientists and political agencies, using it to make policy recommendations.

Ideal for: Individuals who can utilize quantitative and qualitative methods to analyze data, apply it to systems change, and communicate effective policy.

Non-Traditional Careers for Environmental Managers

Career Stats Description

Senior Food Scientist

Median Pay: $62,910

Job Growth: 7%

Food scientists conduct field and laboratory research to analyze nutritional qualities in food. They also determine methods to enhance the safety of processed and genetically modified food and contribute to the development of food sources.

Ideal for: Focused individuals with exceptional critical thinking and communication skills who thrive in individual and small team environments.

Environmental Sales Manager

Median Pay: $121,060

Job Growth: 7%

Sales staff work with clients to determine their needs and propose solutions based on the products and services being sold. Managers also develop budgets and sales goals, and they oversee staff. Environmental sales occur between businesses and individual consumers seeking sustainable solutions.

Ideal for: Outgoing, detail-oriented individuals who can communicate effectively with a variety of customers.

Sustainable Product Director

Median Pay: $94,610

Job Growth: 2%

Working in sustainable materials, product directors research and evaluate materials used in green products. They may design and test products for consumer use. Directors develop ongoing relationships with vendors and customers and play a pivotal role in corporate sustainability initiatives.

Ideal for: Analytical individuals with good communication skills who enjoy working in offices or factories.

Software Application Developer

Median Pay: $106,710

Job Growth: 24%

Environmental software developers create information systems and other applications to track and maintain environmental data that consumers use. Developers work in office settings in collaboration with customers, programmers, and other IT staff.

Ideal for: Creative problem-solvers with attention to detail and a systems-based view.

Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017-2018

Paying for an Online Master's in Environmental Management

Tuition rates vary among schools, but students enjoy a variety of options that fit their budget. For example, accelerated paths and differing study timelines can result in fewer semesters for which students need to pay and faster entry into the workforce. Financial aid, including grants and scholarships, are also available specifically for students in environmental management.

Tuition Timelines

Consider these three paths for earning your online master's in environmental management. Choose an option that best meets your budget, other commitments, and career goals.

Part-Time Path

Part-time programs generally offer asynchronous classes. Students can attend synchronous or hybrid classes during the evenings.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: University of Houston Clear Lake
Total Credits Required: 36
Summary: Students can complete this degree in two years and six months. Tuition may increase each year, so extending your timeline could prove more costly. Students must take at least four credits per semester.

Full-Time Path

Full-time programs offer cost savings in the number of credits per semester and the length of time to graduate.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: University of Wisconsin
Total Credits Required: 34
Summary: Students can complete the program in as few as 18 months, depending on the semester they begin and the courses offered. The total cost of tuition is $23,426 at current rates. Wisconsin residents and nonresidents pay the same tuition rates.

Accelerated Path

Accelerated programs allow students to take additional credits per semester and offer shorter course timelines. For instance, some schools offer a 4+1 program to share credits between a bachelor's and master's degree.

Real-Life Example:

School Name: Arizona State University
Total Credits Required: 30 for the master's
Summary: Bachelor's students in the 4+1 can earn both degrees in five years. Accelerated students can earn their master's in 12-18 months. The full-time course load is nine credits, and students must take a minimum of three credits per semester.

Subject-Specific Financial Aid, Grants & Scholarships

Philanthropists support the need for skilled environmental leaders. Consider the list below for rewarding scholarship and fellowship opportunities.

What to Expect from a Master's Level Online Environmental Management Program

Earning an online master's in environmental management typically takes 36 months. Program lengths vary depending on format and curriculum. While many online programs deliver content solely through virtual classrooms, some require periods of residency. Furthermore, regardless of format, most environmental management students must complete a capstone project or thesis. Finally, following graduation, many students pursue additional certifications.

Major Milestones

  1. Capstone: Final semester

    Capstone coursework consists of a research project, internship, or group experience. Students complete capstones, usually a report or presentation, during their final year.

  2. Thesis: Final year

    A thesis-related course requires a minimum of four credits that students must complete prior to graduation; students enroll in as many credits as necessary to complete their thesis. An oral defense is required.

  3. Advancement to Candidacy: Following completion of minimum credits

    Following admission, students may need to complete 12 credits with a minimum GPA to earn formal candidacy for the master's degree. They must pass this milestone to advance in the program.

  4. Apply for Graduation: Final semester

    You may need to complete an application for graduation that lists your courses, exam scores, and other requirements. Graduates must pay a fee whether or not they attend the graduation ceremony.

  5. Internships: Midway through the program

    Internships begin during your second or third semester, once you complete the required seminar courses. Begin searching for an internship during your first semester.


Coursework in an environmental management program covers topics in business, law, and ecological principles. Students develop an applied understanding of the implications of climate change and environmental justice while gaining collaborative skills with a diverse set of stakeholders.

Environmental Policy, Law, and Ethics

This course examines the influence of current policy on sustainability and the ethics of building a sustainable economy. Students develop an understanding of the various governmental and nongovernmental environmental agencies and their impacts.

Water Management

Students explore water quality issues and the effects of climate change on water availability. Topics include public health, engineering, and conservation. Students conduct assessments of aquatic environments, water systems, and environmental mitigation.

Waste Management

This course covers methods of collecting, processing, managing, and disposing of waste in the agricultural, industrial, and civic environment. Students explore the impact of waste on the environment and the technological methods of recovering waste.

Community-Based Environmental Management

Students conduct analysis of the pros and cons of this environmental management method through case studies; they also visit a local project. They must submit a completed case study report at the end of the course.

Restoration Ecology

This course approaches the improvement of environmental degradation from an interdisciplinary perspective. Students learn to apply ecological principles, history context, and social context to community projects. Coursework covers the design, implementation, and maintenance of a restoration project.

Requirements to Practice

Recognized by employers in the private and public sector, certifications in environmental management serve as another avenue to demonstrate your knowledge and experience. While optional, these credentials provide validation of your competency to an employer. Requirements differ for each certification and may include education or work experience and additional examinations.

  • Registered Environmental Professional - The REP certification goes to project management and coordination professionals. Applicants must possess a graduate degree in environmental science or management. This certification requires a $300 fee, with no required exam. Federal employers such as the National Park Service recognize this certification.
  • Certified Environmental and Safety Compliance Officer - CESCO certifies professionals with basic knowledge of the laws and regulations related to environmental safety. Two years of full-time work experience in addition to a bachelor's degree are required. The exam and application fees total $300, and students can access a study guide for an additional fee.
  • Board Certified Environmental Scientist - Master's graduates must secure an additional 6.5 years of work experience and be currently employed in environmental science. Certifications are available in multiple specialities. Applicants must pass a written and oral exam, including a character evaluation. Fees total $250 per exam.
  • Certified Environmental Professional - Master's graduates with seven years of professional experience may apply. Applicants submit an essay, recommendations, transcripts, and resumes. They do not need to take an exam, and the fee costs $325. Five areas of certification are available. The credential meets the EPA guidelines for an Environmental Professional.

Professional Organizations & Resources

Professional organizations provide valuable resources to students and graduates. They promote advocacy work and offer a pipeline for policy changes. Members are committed professionals with valuable experience in the field, and many organizations offer mentorship programs. Networking opportunities abound at annual conferences or through local chapters, and career boards function as a source of unpublicized job opportunities.

  • National Association of Environmental Professionals: NAEP promotes ethics and proficiency in the field, provides publications and awards for students, and hosts an annual conference. Local chapters engage members in the community.
  • American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists: AAEES commits itself to helping humans live in harmony with nature. Students can network through school chapters and participate in award competitions.
  • Association for Environmental Studies and Sciences: AESS serves students and faculty in environmental programs around the world. Membership fees are based on income, and members receive access to mentors, a directory, and a syllabus databank. The organization also hosts a conference and publishes a journal.
  • Ecological Society of America: With a membership of 9,000 professionals, ESA promotes and supports the ecological sciences through research and certifications. Members participate in mentorship and diversity initiatives, and they network through local chapters.
  • National Association for Environmental Management: NAEM is an association of corporate leaders in sustainability. Members network with a community of high-level professionals and participate in peer-led development programs. The organization offers individual, corporate, and student memberships.
  • International Society of Sustainability Professionals: ISSP provides a sustainability assessment for professionals developing organizational sustainability practices. The website hosts an extensive multimedia library, free webinars, and a job board.
  • Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education: Environmental students can engage their own universities in the sustainability movement through AASHE resources. The website includes webinars, case studies, and assessments. A board includes job and internship opportunities in higher education.
  • Young Professionals in Energy: YPE is a service-oriented membership organization consisting of over 40,000 professionals. It focuses on networking and professional development for recent graduates through 40 worldwide chapters. The website includes a job board.
  • The Student Conservation Association: The SCA provides experiential learning opportunities for young adults. Students age 21 and over serve as field leaders for environmental projects or participate in Conservation Corps internships.
  • Conservation International: Conservation International leads three centers: environmental leadership in business, environmental policy, and science. Each area of the website features extensive resources, with careers and fellowships available worldwide.