What should I major in?

There are so many environmental degree tracks at Appalachian!  How do you choose?  What is the difference between them all?

 

This can definitely be confusing.  We have compiled as much information as possible on this page to help you decide if a degree in Geology, a degree in Environmental Science, or a degree in another program is the right major for you.

 

1. If you want to work in the environmental industry (involving fieldwork, studying groundwater and surface water resources and contamination, hazardous waste site management, etc.)...

  • We strongly recommend the BS in Geology with an Environmental Geology concentration or BS in Geology with a concentration in Quantitative Geoscience, which are designed to provide students with the hands-on, field-based training in demand by the environmental industry.  Students in this program receive considerable field-based training as well as GIS coursework, and typically find employment in the environmental industry immediately upon graduation. We have developed a strong alumni network in the environmental science industry in the southeast in the last several years, and Appalachian Geology graduates are in high demand. Moreover, students in these tracks will have the background to begin the licensure process to become a Professional Geologist (PG), which is a necessary licensure for career advancement in the environmental industry (companies with licensed PGs on staff are more competitive for contracts and grants).  Students in our program are encouraged to take Part I of the Association of State Boards of Geology (ASBOG) licensure exam their senior year.
  • If you aren't 100% sure you want to work in the environmental industry but want to keep your options open, note that all geology degrees (except for the Geoscience Education track) at Appalachian make you eligible for a Professional Geologist (PG) license after you have five years of work experience and pass both the Geologist in Training exam upon graduation and the PG exam after you earn your experience.    

2. If you are interested in environmental policy and environmental law...

  • Students who are interested in working in environmental policy while desiring a strong science background typically choose the BS in Environmental Science - Environmental Professional.  These students will be prepared for regulatory rather than technical jobs in the environmental fields, but will still receive intense training in the natural sciences and in mathematics. Students are typically employed in environmental policy positions and state/local government.
  • Students who wish to study the environment from a social justice angle may be better served by the BS in Sustainable Development: Environmental Studies Concentration, where students are prepared for careers that help build connections between environmental scientists, policy makers, and the general public.  Graduates of this program tend to look for work with non-profit environmental organizations, advocacy groups, some government agencies, and private businesses, but do not receive the scientific/field training required for employment by environmental consulting firms. 
  • For those who are interested in the role that business practices and economics plays on the environment, a BA in Economics with a concentration in Environmental Economics and Policy may be what you are looking for. Students who go into this program typically find work with government or non-profits with a focus on environmental issues. 

3. If you want to be outside doing something vaguely environmental, but don't like math?

  • All of our degree tracks require at least Calc I, and nearly all require Calc II as well.  For severely math-phobic students, the Environmental Science degree tracks (and the Geology degree tracks) are probably not your best choice of major.  In our experience, though - many incoming students who think they hate math actually like it a lot once they come to college.
  • Some students know they want to major in something associated with the environment but prefer a more hands-on degree involving sustainable building systems and sustainable technologies rather than studying the natural sciences. These students typically major in programs within the Department of Sustainable Technology and the Built Environment.
  • Other students have found that the programs in the Department of Recreation Management and Physical Education better suit their needs, particularly those who want to lead outdoor education programs or work in adventure tourism.
  • Students who are interested in agriculture and its role in the environment may be interested in the agroecology program in the Department of Sustainable Development.

4. If you want to work as a park ranger, or in fish and wildlife...

5. If you want to go on to graduate school in the earth and environmental sciences instead of directly into the workforce...

  • About 40% of our students go on to graduate school. Our students typically receive full tuition waivers and stipends to attend graduate programs, so paying for graduate school is not usually a problem in the geosciences.  
  • For students who wish to go on to graduate school in the geosciences rather than directly into industry, we highly recommend the BS in Geology with a Quantitative Geoscience concentration.  This is one of our most intense (and popular) degree tracks, which provides students with a math minor and a variety of computational coursework.  
  • Students earning a BS and BA in Geology have a more flexible set of course requirements than our Quantitative Geoscience track, but are likewise well prepared for graduate school in the geosciences.
  • The interdisciplinary BS in Environmental Science provides a rigorous, interdisciplinary overview of the natural sciences and mathematical sciences (Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Geology, Mathematics, and Statistics). A degree in Environmental Science provides a flexible, strong foundation for admittance to interdisciplinary graduate programs. 

6. If you want to work in a government or commercial laboratory doing environmental work (toxicity studies, the laboratory side of water testing, etc.)...

  • Other students are interested in concentrating on the chemistry side of the environmental sciences; for these students, the BS in Chemistry with an Environmental Chemistry concentration is the degree track for you.  Students in this program typically go on to graduate school or directly into laboratory positions within industry or government.

7. If you are interested in the instrumentation used in the environmental sciences ...

8. If you want to be a paleontologist or work in museums...

9. If you want to be a high school or middle school earth and environmental sciences teacher...