There are so many degree tracks at Appalachian! How do you choose?
What's the difference between environmental studies and environmental science and environmental geology?
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.
Degree tracks at a glance:
- Environmental Science (BS) - Life Science concentration - an interdisciplinary degree track where students do coursework in geology, chemistry, and biology.
- Environmental Science (BS) - Earth System Science concentration - an interdisciplinary degree track concentrating on earth surface processes.
- * Geology (BS) - our most versatile degree track, which prepares students for a variety of geoscience jobs and graduate studies in the geosciences. Requires field camp.
- * Geology (BA) - just like the BS, but with a language requirement. Requires field camp.
- * Geology (BS) - Environmental Geology concentration - a degree track designed for students who wish to go directly into the environmental industry upon graduation.
- * Geology (BS) - Paleontology concentration - a degree track for students interested in paleontology. Students receive biology minor. Requires field camp.
- * Geology (BS) - Quantitative Geoscience concentration - a degree track designed for students who wish to go on to graduate school. Students may elect to receive math minor. Requires field camp.
- Geology (BS) - Earth/Environmental Science Secondary Education concentration - prepares students to teach in the NC public school system immediately upon graduation.
* degree track prepares students for Professional Geologist (PG) licensure
If you have more questions, contact the following advisors for more information:
- for questions about the Environmental Science degree tracks, contact Dr. Cynthia Liutkus-Pierce
- 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
What should I major in?
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.)
BS in Environmental Science - Earth Sciences Track
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. We have developed a strong alumni network in the environmental science industry in the southeast in the last decade, and Appalachian GES graduates are in high demand.
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, or the BS in Environmental Science - Earth Sciences. Students with these degrees 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, six of our eight degree tracks in GES 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.
Wetlands and Ecology
BS in Environmental Science - life sciences track
The curriculum for the BS in Environmental Science life sciences track gives students the necessary training to become licensed wetlands assessment professionals in the environmental industry. Students who complete the BS in Environmental Science - life sciences degree track will have completed a majority of the requirements necessary to become a Wetland Professional in Training (WPIT), which is the first step in gaining PWS (Professional Wetland Scientist) certification.
Earth Materials (rocks, minerals, mining, 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 industry. These degree tracks are the department's most flexible track, but still requires 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 summer field course in geology.
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.
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.
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) 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).
Oil and gas, green tech materials and metals mining
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.
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)
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).
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.
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.
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 Lab
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. Students who take extra chemistry courses while in the BS in Environmental Science (either track) can also find jobs in analytical laboratories.
If you are interested in the instrumentation used in the environmental sciences ...
Students who are more interested in physics, electronics, and developing instrumentation can get a BS in Applied Physics with an emphasis area in Environmental Physics. Students in this program typically go on to graduate school or are employed in industry laboratories upon graduation.
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 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!