Field of Study: Environmental Engineering
Environmental engineering programs prepare people to use math and science to design systems that help solve problems in the environment. Students learn ways to monitor and control pollution in the air, on land, and in the water system. They also learn about health and safety protection.
Have you ever wondered what happens to all the plastic bottles that get recycled? Somebody had to design a system that collects them and sorts out the different varieties. There has to be a way to remove the paper labels and product residue. Then, they have to be shredded into small bits so that they can be shipped efficiently to a plant that will melt them down for new uses.
As an environmental engineer, you might work on problems such as this. You might be employed by an industry directly related to the environment, such as a sewage treatment. Or you might deal with environmental aspects of another industry; for example, you might devise a way to reduce air pollution resulting from the smoke coming out of a smokestack. You might be a consultant who helps companies clean up chemical spills.
The political will to reduce pollution is not always strong. Yet over the long run, the demand for a healthy environment keeps increasing, so the need for environmental engineers is expected to increase.
Your education begins with a lot of science and math. All engineering students take chemistry and physics, but you take biology as well. You learn how to apply scientific methods to solve environmental problems. Sometimes you use a computer to simulate a solution. This allows you to try out several scenarios and find the one that works best. You try to achieve not only high efficiency but also low costs.
A bachelor's degree is often good preparation for entering the work force in this field. You can earn this degree in four or five years of full-time study beyond high school. About 100 colleges in the U.S. offer this degree.
In addition, master's and doctorate degrees are offered in this field. Today, many employers look for candidates with advanced degrees. In general, master's degrees take an additional two years to complete, and doctorate degrees take another three to five.
You can prepare for this program by taking courses in high school that prepare you for college. This typically includes four years of English, three years of math, three years of social studies, and two years of science. Some colleges also require two years of a second language.
- Computer Science and Programming
- English Composition
Admission to graduate programs is competitive. You need a bachelor's degree in engineering (or a significant amount of course work in engineering and related courses), good grades, and good test scores.
Additional requirements at some schools include:
- Graduate Record Exam (GRE) General
- Letters of recommendation
- Personal statement
Typical course work
This program typically includes courses in the following subjects:
- Electronic Circuits
- Engineering Physics
- English Composition
- Environmental Quality Engineering
- Fluid Mechanics
- General Biology for Environmental Engineering
- Geology for Engineering
- Introduction to Computer Science
- Linear Differential Equations
- Microbiology for Environmental Engineering
- Senior Design Project
- Solid and Hazardous Waste Management
- Water and Wastewater Engineering
Graduate study in this field typically includes:
- Required courses
- Master's thesis (which usually takes the form of a significant project)
- Preliminary exams (doctoral degree only)
- Dissertation and dissertation defense (doctoral degree)
Things to know
You are likely to do much more writing on the job than you expect. Be sure to take a writing course, plus other humanities courses that require you to develop your communications skills.
Many engineers move into other fields later in their careers. Some go into sales. Others go into management. Some course work in business subjects may help you make a smooth career shift into the business world. Good communications skills will help here as well.
Some bachelor's programs combine work experience with classroom learning. These tend to take five or even six years to complete. The extra time is worthwhile, because the work experience teaches valuable skills, helps build job contacts, and may earn you money.
You will need to be licensed as an engineer by your state. Usually you must have a degree from a program recognized by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. Then, you need several years of work experience and must pass an exam. Often you can take the exam in two stages. Your best bet is to take the first exam when you graduate or soon afterward.
Similar fields of study
- Biological Sciences, General
- Engineering Physics
- Engineering Technology, General
- Engineering, General
- Environmental Engineering Technology
- Environmental Health
- Environmental Science
- Environmental Studies
- Mining and Mineral Engineering
- Nuclear Engineering
- Ocean Engineering
- Petroleum Engineering
- Water Resources Engineering
- Water and Wastewater Treatment Technology
Careers you may qualify for
Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology
American Academy of Environmental Engineers
Select "Careers in Environmental Engineering" from the left menu.
American Society for Engineering Education
Environmental & Engineering Geophysical Society
The Environmental Engineer
The National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering
The Society of Women Engineers
Technology Student Association
No schools' programs are being reported at this time.