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Best 15 States for Masters in Environmental Science Programs in 2021

March 30, 2021 | Staff Writers

Masters in Environmental Science
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Fracking, climate change, threatened ecosystems, finding sustainable ways to feed our growing population… these are only a few of the debated issues. But along with awareness comes a need for environmental scientists. In fact, experts project the field to grow by 8% over the next decade.

That’s good news if you’re pursuing a masters in environmental science. Although, most environmental scientists are employed by government organizations, there’s a long list of other potential career paths — and income levels. From agricultural inspectors to geoscientists, you could make upwards of $150,000+ annually, depending on your degree, experience, and where you call home.

Studies show that some states rank higher than others when it comes to planting roots after getting a college degree. And each state has something different to offer — especially if the environment is just as important as your environment.

We’ve put ranked the top 15 states with the highest salary potential for environmental science degree holders. Then we added a random list of institutions that offer a masters program in environmental science, along with an estimated overall tuition cost and the percentage of college students who stay in that state. Check them out below.

The Best 15 States for Masters in Environmental Science Programs

1. Texas

Everything’s big in Texas — from hurricanes to gas and oil to thousands of miles of coastal habitats — and salaries for environmental scientists. Topping our list of the highest median wage, the Lone Star State has plenty of institutions that offer a masters in environmental science, including the University of Texas at San Antonio, Tarleton State University, University of Northern Texas, and West Texas A&M University.

  • Median Salary Range: $78,000-150,000
  • Average Total Tuition Cost of Schools Listed: $12,021
  • Percent of College Grads Who Stay: 56.06 (average; depends on location)

2. Oklahoma

When the Great Plains were turned to desert in the mid- to late-1930s, many Okies fled the state in search of richer farmland. Although Oklahoma hasn’t experienced the severity of the Dust Bowl since, their clean water supply is still a top priority. College grads from Oklahoma State University and University of Oklahoma can find careers in water conservation, soil management, and air quality in abundance throughout the Sooner State.

  • Median Salary Range: $65,000-123,000
  • Average Total Tuition Cost of Schools Listed: $11,325
  • Percent of College Grads Who Stay: 39.3

3. Louisiana

Louisiana’s livelihood for generations has depended on water for sugar cane and cotton crops, fishing, and importing/exporting. With the mighty Mississippi among the country’s most polluted waters, hurricanes on the rise, and an ever-increasing sea level, environmental scientists are in high demand in the Pelican State. Students with a masters in environmental science from Louisiana State University, University of Louisiana, or Southern University and A&M College who land soil and plant science or forester positions can expect a mid-$60k salary; geoscientists average closer to $110k.

  • Median Salary Range: $68,000-110,000
  • Average Total Tuition Cost of Schools Listed: $20,721
  • Percent of College Grads Who Stay: 33.3

4. Pennsylvania

Over 70% of Pennsylvania’s college grads stay put, which is no surprise with the Keystone State’s rolling hills, dense forests, and winding waterways. But it wasn’t always that pristine. Decades ago the steel industry contributed to the suffocating air and sewage-filled waters. Although cities like Pittsburgh have cleaned up their act, environmental scientists are needed to keep it that way. And students will find a masters in environmental science right in the heart of the green renaissance — the University of Pittsburgh.

  • Median Salary Range: $55,000-109,000
  • Average Total Tuition Cost of Schools Listed: $28,410
  • Percent of College Grads Who Stay: 71.1

5. Maryland

With 4,000 miles of shoreline along the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland is ideal for aquafarms and fishing (it’s the country’s largest producer of blue crabs). But those same waterways that provide an economic boost also put the Old Line State at risk. The land under the Bay is slowly sinking, causing the sea level to rise at a higher than average rate — some believe 160,000+ acres will be destroyed by 2100. So trained experts with a masters in environmental science from institutions like Frostburg State University are needed now. 

  • Median Salary Range: $77,000-99,000
  • Average Total Tuition Cost of Schools Listed: $13,110
  • Percent of College Grads Who Stay: n/a

6. Virginia

Like Maryland, Virginia also relies on the country’s largest estuary, the Chesapeake Bay. The Bay, along with its 100,000 tributaries, is home to almost 4,000 plant and animal species. Climate change, farming, population booms, and a host of other issues can affect its delicate balance, so environmental scientists are needed to keep it all in check. Students from the University of Virginia can get a dual masters in environmental science — part law, part science — to help shape legislation. Or an MS that links the natural world with the people that interact with it.

  • Median Salary Range: $86,000-96,000
  • Average Total Tuition Cost of Schools Listed: $27,760
  • Percent of College Grads Who Stay: 31.6

7. New Hampshire

With 33 downhill and cross country resorts, New Hampshire ranks in the top five nationally for ski revenue per capita. Unfortunately, with greenhouse gases on the rise, the days of below freezing temps and heavy snowfalls may be numbered — some experts predict a decrease of almost 50% within the next 20 years. That’s where environmental scientist can help slow the decline. At institutions like Antioch University, an environmental studies master’s degree can be combined with Peace Corp service.

  • Median Salary Range: $72,000-95,000
  • Average Total Tuition Cost of Schools Listed: $40,351
  • Percent of College Grads Who Stay: n/a

8. Washington

The Evergreen State lives up to its name with its plan to transition to 100% clean energy by 2045. With this enormous undertaking, environmental scientists are in high demand. Grads with a master’s degree from the University of Washington or Washington State University can join the almost 85,000 in the clean energy field. Students at UW can choose post-grad degrees like atmospheric, quantitative ecology and resource management, as well as environmental engineering. At WSU, students can pursue a masters in environmental science in areas like ecological planning, air quality management, and energy and carbon policy. WSU offers this degree in Pullman, Tri-Cities and Vancouver.

  • Median Salary Range: $85,000-94,000
  • Average Total Tuition Cost of Schools Listed: $29,708
  • Percent of College Grads Who Stay: 64.6

9. Nevada

With millions of neon lights equating to thousands of miles of carbon emissions, you’d think the Sin City strip would be Nevada’s only environmental headache. Unfortunately, it’s not. The Silver State is also fighting metal contamination due to mining, air pollution, and water shortages. The booming economy is a welcome sight for environmental scientists looking for jobs in academics, atmospheric sciences, and government agencies that help formulate policies. And with a Civil and Environmental Engineering masters from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, graduates can do just that.

  • Median Salary Range: $60,000-93,000
  • Average Total Tuition Cost of Schools Listed: $8,910
  • Percent of College Grads Who Stay: n/a

10. Mississippi

Even though the muddy Old Man dominates the landscape in its namesake state, a small sliver of Gulf coastline is a bigger concern. With rising sea levels, warmer temperatures setting off larger storms, and catastrophic hurricanes occurring more often, the 300-foot mean elevation of Mississippi could be devastated. But with challenges come opportunities — especially for those with a masters in environmental science. Some of the best schools in the state, like University of Southern Mississippi, Mississippi Valley State University, and Mississippi State University are also some of the best in the country for environmental science.

  • Median Salary Range: $50,000-91,000
  • Average Total Tuition Cost of Schools Listed: $15,924
  • Percent of College Grads Who Stay: n/a

11. Alaska

When Katharine Lee Bates wrote the lyrics for America the Beautiful, she must’ve had Alaska in mind. The Last Frontier’s spacious skies, amber waves of grain, and purple mountain majesties are breathtaking. However, oil extraction and warmer climates are taking its toll on the picturesque landscape and iconic glaciers. With only two universities offering a masters in environmental science (University of Alaska Anchorage is one), the choices for training may be low, but the opportunities for employment are abundant. Grads can find jobs in research, state fisheries, or academia — and pocket $90+K.

  • Median Salary Range: $90,000
  • Average Total Tuition Cost of Schools Listed: $15,390
  • Percent of College Grads Who Stay: n/a

12. California

Inspired by the 1960s anti-war “teach-ins,” Gaylord Nelson recruited a Stanford grad to help him organize the first Environmental Teach-In. That inaugural 1970 Earth Day spurred the passing of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act. Today, the Golden State is once again on the forefront of environmental events, but this time, with devastating results. Droughts, wildfires, rising ocean levels, and smothering smog present a host of career avenues for those seeking a masters in environmental science. Schools like Stanford University, University of Southern California, and California State University in Los Angeles offer a variety of options — from environmental data to geophysics.

  • Median Salary Range: $86,000-90,000
  • Average Total Tuition Cost of Schools Listed: $37,197
  • Percent of College Grads Who Stay: 58.5 (average; depends on location)

13. Colorado

Global warming affects every corner of the planet, but in Colorado, it can snowball into dire consequences. Warmer weather means less snow for skiing and less water (70% comes from snowpack). An increase in temps also invites more pine beetles that have already devastated acres of forests. Dead trees then lead to forest fires. With many advocacy groups based here, along with national parks, there are plenty of ways for environmental scientists to make an impact. And a multitude of institutions to choose from that offer a masters in environmental science, like University of Colorado Denver, Regis University, Colorado School of Mines, and University of Colorado Boulder.

  • Median Salary Range: $73,000-90,000
  • Average Total Tuition Cost of Schools Listed: $20,540
  • Percent of College Grads Who Stay: n/a

14. Nebraska

In the flat, wide expanses of Nebraska, you’ll find miles of corn rows. But one thing you won’t see is the world’s largest freshwater aquifer — not only because its deepest part is 1,200 feet below the surface, but it’s also on the brink of being drained dry. With increasing drought, improperly managed land, and threats to wetlands, conservation measures in the Cornhusker State are critical. And so is the need for atmospheric and conservation scientists, as well as specialists in the turbine industry — all that can get training at colleges like the University of Nebraska.

  • Median Salary Range: $65,000-90,000
  • Average Total Tuition Cost of Schools Listed: $10,230
  • Percent of College Grads Who Stay: n/a

15. Rhode Island

Although small in size, this New England state is a giant in environmental legislation — from the 2012 bill that prohibits school construction on sites where there are ongoing threats of toxic vapors to the 2014 Action Plan to put 3.3 million zero emission vehicles on the road. But the Ocean State isn’t without its faults. The second most densely populated state has problems with overfishing, misuse of resources, and industrial toxins that have leaked into the Narragansett Bay. Graduate students with environmental science degrees from the University of Rhode Island can focus on a handful of areas to help restore and maintain the state’s splendor.

  • Median Salary Range: $66,000-88,000
  • Average Total Tuition Cost of Schools Listed: $31,928
  • Percent of College Grads Who Stay: 31.9

Our Ranking Methodology

First, we compiled the list of median salaries for environmental scientists by state (degree level wasn’t indicated), according to Environmental Science.org. We ranked the highest to lowest salary, than listed the top 15 states.

Within each state, we randomly selected regionally accredited institutions that offer a masters in environmental science (this list isn’t meant to be comprehensive), along with the average overall tuition to complete the program (minus fees and other related costs). We also indicated the percent of college graduates who remain in each state, where available.

If you’re employed by one of the schools listed and disagree with the information we’ve provided, please feel free to contact us and we’ll make the correction.

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