There are so many degree tracks at Appalachian! How do you choose?
Students (and parents) often have significant misconceptions about what our degree programs actually entail and what kind of training they provide.
Further down on this page we have a "What should I major in?" table 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.
What's the difference between environmental studies and environmental science and geology and environmental geology?
- Geology is the study of the Earth - from deep time to the present, from surface processes down to the Earth's core. Many students don't know this, but a degree in geology is extremely versatile; it allows you to get jobs in the environmental cleanup industry, in the green tech industry, in water resources, in coastal preservation, in climate change mitigation, in the materials science industry, in civil engineering firms, in risk assessment/management, as well as in the traditional geoscience fields like geothermal energy, mining, and oil/gas.
- Geology (BS) - our most versatile degree track, which prepares students for a variety of geoscience and environmental science jobs as well as graduate studies. Note: Requires a six week summer field camp.
- Geology (BA) - just like the BS, but with a language requirement and a little less math. Note: Requires a six week summer field camp.
- Geology (BS) - Environmental Geology concentration - a degree track where students receive intense, hands-on technical training and is ideal for students who want to go directly into the environmental industry upon graduation. Note: this is not the same as the Environmental Science (BS) with a concentration in Earth Systems Science, which contains more math and computational courses and fewer geology courses.
- Geology (BS) - Paleontology concentration- a degree track for students interested in paleontology. Students receive biology minor. Note: Requires a six week summer field camp.
- Geology (BS) - Quantitative Geoscience concentration - a degree track designed for students who enjoy the math and computing side of the geosciences and environmental sciences. Students may elect to receive math minor. Note: Requires a six week summer field camp.
- Geology (BS) - Earth/Environmental Science Secondary Education concentration- prepares students to teach in the NC public school system (all physical sciences, not just earth sciences) immediately upon graduation.
- Environmental Science is an interdisciplinary field that investigates environmental problems by asking questions that science can answer. It involves coursework from multiple physical and life science disciplines, including geology, biology, chemistry, physics, and math. Degree tracks include:
- Environmental Science (BS) - Life Science concentration - an interdisciplinary degree track where students do coursework in biology, geology, chemistry, math/stats, and physics. Note: this is not the same as the Biology (BS) with a concentration in Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology, which is taught in the Biology department and does not require geology or physics classes.
- Environmental Science (BS) - Earth System Science concentration - an interdisciplinary degree track concentrating on earth surface processes. Students take classes in geology, physics, chemistry, math, and biology. Note: this is not the same as the Geology (BS) with a concentration in Environmental Geology, which contains more geology courses and fewer math and computational courses.
- Environmental Studies investigates environmental problems by asking and answering questions about how humans interact with their environment, and how policies can impact the environment. It involves coursework from discplines outside of the physical and life sciences, such as sustainable development, anthropology, political science, humanities, and technology. Environmental Studies is taught in the Sustainable Development Department, not in AGES.
What are you interested in?
Best Fit Degree Track
Environmental consulting (i.e. remediating polluted sites, groundwater quality and quantity, risk/hazard assessment and prevention, etc.)
We have developed a strong alumni network in the environmental industry in the southeast in the last decade, and Appalachian GES graduates are in high demand. If you want to go straight 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, which is 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. Other degree tracks that train you for these jobs include the BS or BA in Geology, and the BS in Geology with a concentration in Quantitative Geoscience.
Students with these degrees will have the background to begin the licensure process to become a Professional Geologist (PG), which is a necessary two-part licensure for career advancement in the environmental industry. The BS in Environmental Science - Earth System Science is more interdisciplinary and getting PG licensure in NC will require additional coursework. This degree may not be accepted in all states for PG licensure, regardless of how much extra coursework you have. Click here for details about which states accept a degree in Environmental Science for licensure.
There is no equivalent professional licensure program in Environmental Science, so we recommend that students who want to work in environmental consulting get a degree in Geology rather than Environmental Science.
Wetlands and Ecology
BS in Environmental Science - Life Science Concentration
The curriculum for the BS in Environmental Science - Life Sciences concentration gives students a head start on the necessary training to become licensed wetlands assessment professionals in the environmental industry through the PWS (Professional Wetland Scientist) certification.
Note: the BS in Biology with a concentration in Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology is a better option for students specifically interested in ecology and conservation studies as they pertain to living systems. The BS in Environmental Science - Life Sciences concentration is a more interdisciplinary, and investigates broader ecosystem interactions via biology, geoscience, math, and chemistry.
Technical solutions for climate change
The BS in Geology with a Quantitative Geoscience concentration and BS and BA in Geology provide graduates with the geology and physics and chemistry knowledge they need to work on climate change mitigation, such as sourcing materials for carbon-neutral green tech and battery storage (what isn't grown has to be mined!), carbon capture and sequestration (requires a strong foundation in mineralogy, geochemistry, and hydrogeology), and solutions for climate-related hazards. These degree tracks require an intensive, six-week summer field course in geology.
Studying the impacts and effects of climate change
BS in Environmental Science - Life Science Concentration
BS in Environmental Science - Earth System Science Concentration
These degree tracks give students the foundation to study the impacts, effects and systematics of climate change from a variety of fields, depending on their concentration. Students may elect to concentrate on the biological effects of climate change, the atmospheric science of climate change, or the impact of climate change on water resources, among many other subfields. If you are interested in studying climate change, talk with your GES advisor as soon as possible about the different options available. All of these degree tracks have minimum math requirements of Calc II or advanced statistics. A six-week summer field course is required for the Geology degree tracks, but not the Environmental Science degree tracks.
Environmental Activism, Environmental Justice
Students who wish to study the environment from a social justice and policy 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.
Earth Materials and Green Tech Mining (rocks, minerals, etc.)
The BS and BA in Geology are standard geology degree tracks that produce well-rounded students who are prepared to go to graduate school or directly into a variety of industries or government positions. These degree tracks are the department's most flexible track, but still require considerable external coursework in calculus, chemistry, and calculus-based physics. The BS in Geology with a Quantitative Geoscience concentration provides graduates with additional technical skills that they need to succeed at the graduate level (additional math classes, data processing and modeling coursework, etc.). These degree tracks require an intensive, six-week summer field course in geology.
Sustainable Food Systems and Agriculture
Students who are interested in sustainable food systems would be better served by the programs in the Department of Sustainable Development, such as agroecology.
Environmental Policy and Law
BS in Environmental Science (either track)
Students who are interested in working in environmental policy while desiring a strong science background typically choose the BS in Environmental Science or the BS in Geology with an Environmental Geology concentration. These students will still receive intense training in the natural sciences and in mathematics. Students are typically employed in environmental policy positions and state/local government.
Soil and/or water conservation, agroecology
Students who are interested in soil conservation and agriculture and its role in the environment may be interested in the agroecology program in the Department of Sustainable Development.
Fossils and Paleontology
The BS in Geology with a concentration in Paleontology is the track for you. We are one of the only schools in the country with a dedicated paleontology degree track! This program builds off the BS in Geology and targets the dedicated undergraduate interested in pursuing a career in paleontology, natural history museum curation, or the petroleum industry by providing a strong interdisciplinary background rooted in geology and biology, opportunities for student research in paleontology and museum studies, and a program of study designed to facilitate entry to graduate school. This degree track requires an intensive, six-week summer field course in geology.
Earth and Environmental Science Education: middle school and high school level
The BS in Geology with an Earth/Environmental Science Education track qualifies students for double licensure in Earth/Environmental Science and Comprehensive Science in all NC schools.
High tech applied geoscience (geophysics, fault modeling, groundwater modeling, geodesy, remote sensing, hazard modeling, etc.)
Students who wish to do computational geoscience and math (i.e. computer modeling, data processing, etc.) the BS in Geology with a Quantitative Geoscience concentration is the best option. This is one of our most intense (and popular) geology degree tracks, which provides students with an optional math minor and a variety of computational coursework. High tech applied geoscience is a broad term, but it encompasses geoscience fields that do a lot of computational work (geophysics, fault modeling, groundwater modeling, geodesy, remote sensing, hazard modeling, etc.). Students who go into these applied geoscience fields typically go on to graduate school for a MS (or PhD) and are then employed by environmental engineering firms, civil engineering firms, oil/gas companies, and federal, state and local government. These are some of the highest paying jobs in the geoscience fields (typically $90,000/year). This degree track requires an intensive, six-week summer field course in geology.
Mining, oil and gas
If it wasn't grown, it had to have been mined! Literally everything you use on a daily basis in the US involves the extraction of geologic materials. Students who wish to go into extractive industries typically major with a BS in Geology with a Quantitative Geoscience concentration, a BS and BA in Geology, or the BS in Geology with a concentration in Paleontology. All of these programs of study have the appropriate coursework to train students for careers in the oil and gas and mining industries. These degree tracks require an intensive, six-week summer field course in geology.
Ecology and Conservation
BS in Environmental Science - Life Science Track
The BS in Biology with an Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology is the best option for students specifically interested in ecology and conservation studies as they pertain to living systems.
The BS in Environmental Science - Life Science Track is also an option for students who want a more interdisciplinary view of the ecological sciences as they pertain to broader earth and environmental systems.
Starting my own Environmental Business, starting my own Sustainable Supply Chain Business
BS in Environmental Science (either track)
Students with a BS in Geology with an Environmental Geology concentration take business classes and typically begin work in the environmental industry upon graduation, and some start their own businesses after receiving training in the environmental consulting field. Most environmental consulting firms require someone on the staff with either a Professional Engineer (PE) or Professional Geologist (PG) licensure. 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.
The BS in Environmental Science degree tracks both provide options to complete the coursework necessary for licensure either as a PWS (Professional Wetland Scientist) or a Professional Geologist. If you choose a BS in Environmental Science, be sure to take the courses needed to attain these licensures.
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.
Geological/Environmental Research (graduate school)
BS in Environmental Science (either track)
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 an optional 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 BS in Geology with a concentration in Paleontology is specifically for students who want to go into paleontology graduate programs.
The interdisciplinary BS in Environmental Science tracks provide a rigorous, interdisciplinary overview of the natural sciences and mathematical sciences (Chemistry, Biology, Physics, Geology, Mathematics, and Statistics).
Forestry and Wildlife management
Students interested in forestry and biological natural resources are encouraged to major in biology, with a BS in Biology with an Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology The BS in Environmental Science life sciences track may also be of interest if you are broadly interested in natural resource assessment, but will contain a number of courses outside of the biology major which may not be relevant to students who are certain they want to go into forestry and wildlife management.
Outdoor/Adventure Guide; Environmental Education and Interpretation
Students who want to be outdoor educators (i.e. Outward Bound, interpretive guides, etc.) would be better served by programs in the Department of Recreation Management and Physical Education, with concentrations in Commercial Recreation and Tourism Management, Outdoor Experiential Education, and Recreation and Park Management.
There are many types of park rangers, so there are many degree tracks that would appropriate for these jobs, depending on what you are interested in doing as a park ranger. The Department of Recreation Management and Physical Education has a BS with concentrations in Commercial Recreation and Tourism Management, Outdoor Experiential Education, and Recreation and Park Management. The BS in Biology with an Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology would also be appropriate for some students, particularly those who intend to be wilderness rangers. Students interested in the law enforcement side of park ranger duties may be better served by a BS in Criminal Justice.
Working in an Analytical or Microscopy Lab
Many students find that they love working with GIS (Geographic Information Systems) to make maps, and receive degrees such as the BA or BS in Geography, or the BS in Community and Regional Planning in the Department of Geography and Planning. These students typically go on to make maps for a wide variety of environmental organizations and industries or are employed by state and local governments.
Fish and Game Officer
For those with an interest in the environment from a biological perspective, the BS in Biology with an Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Biology concentration is the degree track for you. Upon graduation, students in this degree track typically work with state and local governments or go into graduate programs.
Green/Sustainable Buildings and Technology
Some students know they want to major in something associated with environmental conservation 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.
Any combination of the above
Create your own environmental major via the Interdisciplinary Studies Program (IDS) This is an option for students who have a specific, interdisciplinary goal in mind who are not served by existing degree tracks.
I want to do something environmental but I hate (or am scared of) math!
All of the geosciences and environmental science degree tracks require at least Calc I, and most require Calc II, statistics, or higher level math.
In our experience, most students who come in saying that they "hate math" or are "bad at math" simply had bad experiences in high school math classes, but aren't actually bad at math. When these students take Calc I and realize it's really not that terrible, many actually go on to minor in math, much to their surprise. Don't deny yourself the value of an interesting degree program (with numerous and well-paying job prospects) because of problematic high school math experiences!
If you have more questions, contact the following AGES advisors for more information:
- for questions about the Environmental Science degree tracks, contact Dr. Bob Swarthout
- for questions about the Quantitative Geoscience degree track, contact Dr. William Anderson
- for questions about the Environmental Geology degree track, contact Dr. Sarah Carmichael
- for questions about the Paleontology degree track, contact Dr. Andy Heckert
- for questions about the general Geology degree track, contact Dr. Ellen Cowan
- for questions about the Secondary Education degree track, contact Ms. Laura Mallard
- if you are a transfer student, contact Dr. Steve Hageman