Environmental sciences is an interdisciplinary major that focuses on scientific study of the environment and understanding of the earth as a complex network of interacting organic and inorganic systems.
Career possibilities for students in this major include jobs in conservation, environmental assessment, and hazardous waste management. Graduates also may work in a state park or pollution control agency or as an inspection and compliance officer with the National Park Service. The major also is excellent preparation for graduate study.
Why Study at Iowa
Iowa’s Environmental Sciences Program offers rigorous training and a comprehensive approach, with four diverse environmental tracks: biosciences, chemical sciences, geosciences, and hydrosciences. Hands-on field experience is a crucial component of the program, and students are strongly encouraged to study abroad.
The major is truly interdisciplinary. Students will study and do supervised research with faculty members from the program’s four sponsoring departments—biology, chemistry, geography, and geoscience—as well as participating faculty from chemical and biochemical engineering, anthropology, and civil and environmental engineering.
Some of your degree requirements will overlap with those for degrees in related fields, so you may decide to earn a second major or a minor outside of environmental sciences. Or you might complete one of the university’s interdisciplinary certificate programs.
Students majoring in environmental sciences earn a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree. Both programs require course work in biology, chemistry, geology, mathematics, calculus, statistics, and ecology.
The BS degree program requires more intensive study in one of four tracks:
- Environmental Biosciences—studies biotic systems and the ability to inventory biologic resources; preparing students for graduate or professional training in disciplines such as ecology, wildlife management, and natural resource management
- Environmental Chemical Sciences—helps students develop an understanding of chemical principles and a working knowledge of basic chemical concepts as applied to the environment. It provides a foundation for advanced study in environmental chemistry
- Environmental Geosciences—provides basic understanding of geological principles and a working knowledge of basic geologic principles applied in the environmental industry; providing a strong foundation for graduate study in environmental geology, engineering geology, and natural hazards assessment
- Environmental Hydrosciences—helps students acquire an understanding of geological principles and a working knowledge of hydrogeology and hydrogeochemistry; preparing students for graduate study in hydrogeology, hydrology, geochemistry, aqueous chemistry, and environmental engineering
See Environmental Sciences in the UI General Catalog to learn more about required course work and graduating with honors.
Minor in Environmental Sciences
B.A. or B.S. with Teacher Licensure
Students interested in teaching at the elementary or secondary school level need to apply to the College of Education's Teacher Education Program (TEP). Environmental sciences majors who want to teach in elementary and/or secondary schools must complete the TEP in addition to the requirements for the major and all requirements for graduation. The TEP requires several College of Education courses and student teaching. Contact the Office of Education Services for details.
Joint B.A./M.A.T. with Science Education Subtrack
B.A. students majoring in environmental sciences who are interested in pursuing a graduate degree in teaching may apply to the joint Bachelor of Arts/Master of Arts in Teaching (M.A.T.) program offered by the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the College of Education. Designed for undergraduates majoring in biology, chemistry, environmental sciences, or physics, the joint program enables students to earn a B.A. and an M.A.T. in five years by beginning to earn graduate credit during their fourth year of undergraduate study and by counting up to 18 semester hours of qualifying credit toward both degrees. For more information, see Joint B.A./M.A.T. with Science Education Subtrack in the Teaching and Learning (College of Education) section of the UI General Catalog. Interested students should consult an adviser.
Related Programs & Courses
The University offers numerous programs and courses related to environmental sciences. Because your environmental sciences major is so strongly interdisciplinary, you’ll find that many of your courses overlap with requirements for other programs, offering you the opportunity to earn a second major or a minor in other disciplines, such as anthropology, biology, biochemistry, chemistry, civil and environmental engineering, geoscience, geography, physics, and psychology. This major also pairs well with the Certificate in Sustainability.
The degree program in Geography offers an environmental studies track that emphasizes human-environmental interactions, in contrast to the Environmental Sciences Program’s focus on the natural environment.
Students in this major need to meet the requirements for admission to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Admission Requirements Tabs
Students in this area of study may be interested in some of the Living Learning Communities in the residence halls that the University of Iowa has to offer.
Faculty, Facilities, and Resources
The departments that sponsor the Environmental Sciences Program offer students access to a number of outstanding facilities, including laboratories, computer centers, and a paleontological repository. Shared facilities include environmental, hydrogeology, geomorphic computing, morphometric, petrology, sedimentary geology, thin-section and rock preparation, quaternary materials, geographic information systems, and various chemistry and biology laboratories.
State agencies affiliated with the university include the State Archaeologist and the Iowa Geological and Water Survey. The State Historical Society has an office adjacent to campus. Iowa Lakeside Laboratory, the field station for Iowa’s three state universities, provides opportunities for students to take small, field-oriented classes.
Iowa graduates have job placement rates ranging from 86-100 percent, depending on their area of study, and our Pomerantz Career Center offers multiple resources to help students find internships and jobs.
Environmental sciences graduates are prepared for careers in conservation, environmental assessment, hazardous waste management, park inspection and compliance, or pollution control and monitoring.
The undergraduate degree program also prepares you for graduate study in disciplines such as biology, chemistry, ecosystem sciences, environmental engineering, environmental law, environmental science, environmental sustainability, geoscience, hydrologic sciences, natural resource management, remote sensing and landscape modeling, renewable energy, and urban and regional planning.
Application Process Tabs
Apply to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.