Guide to getting a bachelor in environmental engineering
Environmental engineering focuses on applying engineering knowledge and skills to solving environmental problems and preventing environmental hazards. A bachelor in environmental engineering opens doors to a wide range of careers in this field.
Given the accelerated pace of industrial development and technological advancements, it is more important than ever to protect the natural environment and resources and to mitigate existing damage. Environmental engineers apply analytical processes to solving these complicated environmental issues.
If you’re passionate about the environment, are a technical thinker, and tend to seek rational and practical solutions to problems, a career in environmental engineering may be right for you.
Check out the best colleges for environmental engineering to find the right fit for you.
Should you get a bachelor’s in environmental engineering?
A bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering suits individuals with great attention to detail, a love of solving problems, and a passion for protecting the environment.
Depending on your chosen career post-graduation, you may find yourself using CAD software, analyzing data with tools such as MATLAB, and working with various specialized design and compliance software.
» Read: Is my degree worth the cost?
Bachelor’s of environmental engineering
The above is a short-term comparison between the entire bachelor’s degree market and the bachelor in environmental engineering. It is a snapshot of earnings 3 years after graduation.
The above is a longer-term estimate of degree performance. It is based on census survey data detailing people’s major, age, and salary.
How to pick a bachelor in environmental engineering
There are a range of factors to consider when deciding on a school and program, including:
Accreditation is an important first filter when picking an environmental engineering undergraduate program. The gold standard for engineering programs is Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET). ABET accreditation informs your future employer that your degree meets industry standards.
While many complete non-specialized environmental engineering programs, a specialization may lead to better work opportunities after college.
Popular environmental engineering specializations include:
- Environmental facilities design and construction
This specialization focuses on what environmental engineers need to know to design and ultimately build facilities for improving environmental sustainability.
- Water resources
In this specialization, students learn about water treatment plants, developing advanced systems for water distribution networks within a city, and providing clean water resources globally.
- Biological and chemical processes
This specialization focuses on how chemical processes and biological factors influence the environment.
- Environmental engineering and science
Students in this specialization combine core lessons from environmental engineering and science to developing more sustainable practices and technologies.
- Energy-water-environment stability
In this specialization, students examine how energy, water, and other environmental resources can be managed to ensure sustainability and stability.
The best bachelor of environmental engineering programs
Find below our ratings of the comparative earnings, costs, and payback rates of different BSE environmental engineering programs.
How much does a bachelor in environmental engineering cost?
See above how cost and earnings vary depending on the type of institution. Payback refers to how many years it takes students to cover the median costs while earning the median salary. Payback is calculated by subtracting the median earnings of a high school graduate from the median earnings related to this degree.
Depending on whether you attend a private or public university, the cost of your environmental engineering degree may vary. Earnings 3 years after graduation are similar between the 2, with graduates of private colleges earning slightly more but having to deal with a slower payback rate because of the higher cost of studies.
Financial aid and scholarships for environmental engineering majors
Environmental engineering students often apply for scholarships and financial aid to reduce the costs of schooling. The first step is to fill out the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) form to determine what type of financial aid you may qualify for. Meeting with your college or university financial aid advisor to ensure you haven’t missed any opportunities is a wise decision.
The next step is to apply for as many environmental engineering scholarships as possible. The more scholarships you apply for, the better your chances of qualifying.
What to expect from an environmental engineering program
Once you have chosen an ABET-accredited college or university, the next step is to dive into the details of your program. Like other engineering disciplines, environmental engineering programs involve a set of foundational courses in the first 2 years of study, followed by more specialized courses in the final 2 years.
What are the admission requirements for a bachelor in environmental engineering?
Various engineering programs tend to have similar admission requirements. ACT, GPA, and SAT scores as specified by individual schools are the most common requirement, as are high-school STEM prerequisites.
How long does it take to get a degree in environmental engineering?
Earning a bachelor’s in environmental engineering degree usually takes 4 years.
Internships are a great way to get a feel for the type of work you may do in the future. They can also help you learn about the major employers in the field. Engineering internships are usually completed during junior or senior year. If a company appreciates the work you did during your internship and you’ve built a good relationship with your coworkers, you may be offered a full-time position immediately after graduation.
FE and PE exams
Many industrial engineering graduates take the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam when nearing graduation, allowing them to start on a career path towards their Professional Engineer (PE) license. Engineers with a PE are highly sought-after and command higher compensation and pay.
The FE is offered in 7 disciplines:
- electrical and computer
- industrial and systems
- other disciplines
As an environmental engineering student, you are not restricted to the FE Environmental. However, due to the challenging nature of the exam, it is recommended to choose the discipline you are most prepared to be tested in. After completing the FE and working in your respective field for at least 4 years, you have the opportunity to complete the PE Environmental exam and become a professional licensed engineer.
What type of courses are there in a bachelor of environmental engineering?
During the first 2 years of an environmental engineering program, students take core courses to establish their engineering knowledge.
Once these are completed, common environmental engineering-specific courses include:
Foundational courses in environmental engineering focus on sources of contaminants, the physics and chemistry of water, air, and soil, and various concepts and tools for assessing sustainability.
Systems engineering exists in most engineering fields. Sustainable systems seek to optimize resource use, including water treatment, water reuse, and energy production processes. Technical, economic, and environmental factors are considered.
Courses in environmental engineering and science apply quantitative evaluations of environmental processes such as mass and energy balances, mass and heat transfer, chemical kinetics, modeling of water and air quality, and risk analyses to sustainable engineering projects.
Soil ecology is the study of how soil organisms interact with other organisms and their environments. Key soil processes are examined, including nutrient cycling, soil aggregate formation, and biodiversity interactions.
Courses in hydrogeology cover how water moves in the shallow subsurface and its application to water resource development and environmental pollution.
What type of environmental engineering bachelor’s degrees are there?
The most common types of environmental engineering bachelor’s degrees awarded by colleges and universities include:
- Bachelor of Engineering (B.Eng. or B.E.)
- Bachelor of Science (B.Sc. or B.S.)
- Bachelor of Science Engineering (B.Sc.Eng.)
- Bachelor of Engineering Science (B.Eng.Sc.)
- Bachelor of Technology (B.Tech.)
- Bachelor of Applied Science (B.A.Sc.)
While these titles do have some variation, they are mostly interchangeable so long as you earn your degree at an accredited school.
What careers can I have with a bachelor in environmental engineering?
A bachelor in environmental engineering can put you on the path to a wide range of careers. Which you choose depends on what area you are most interested within the field.
A master’s degree in environmental engineering will open up additional career opportunities in leadership or research and development roles.
Frequently asked questions
Is environmental engineering in demand?
Yes, there is projected demand for environmental engineers within the next decade. However, at 4%, as predicted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the profession is growing more slowly than other engineering disciplines and occupations.
Do I need a PE license to be an environmental engineer?
While each state sets its own licensing requirements, most environmental engineers cannot serve the public without at least completing the FE exam to become engineers-in-training. Other states require a PE license for most higher-level jobs in environmental engineering.
Where do environmental engineers work?
Environmental engineers work in a variety of settings including offices, industrial sites, waste management facilities, and various outdoor sites. Their primary working environment differs depending on their specific role.
Is environmental engineering the same as civil engineering?
Environmental engineering is a subset of civil engineering specializing in the natural environment. Civil engineers design, construct, or supervise the construction of city infrastructure. Environmental engineers, on the other hand, develop processes and technology that solve direct problems related to human interactions with the natural environment.
Are environmental engineers real engineers?
Yes, environmental engineers are real engineers who have a specialized degree in a sub-niche of civil engineering. A bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering is similar to a degree in other engineering disciplines, differing primarily in the topical electives taken in the second 2 years of study.
To stand out among your peers post-graduation, completing the FE and starting on the path towards Professional Engineer (PE) licensing opens up a wide range of employment opportunities. Learn more about the FE exam for environmental engineering in this resource from the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES).
The AAEES is a non-profit professional organization that provides board certification for environmental engineers and scientists. They also offer workshops and seminars, publish a periodical and other materials, and train and support students and young professionals.