If you have a passion for the environment and the innovative problem-solving skills of an engineer, you may have already decided to pursue a career in environmental engineering. Deciding on a subject of study is a major decision, but just as important is deciding how to reach your goals. You need to know what level of education makes the most sense for you, what to look for in a college degree program and what to do after graduation so that you can realize your dream of becoming an environmental engineer.
Earning a Degree
The first step to becoming an environmental engineer is earning a bachelor’s degree. In the course of their daily work, environmental engineers have to draw on a rich educational background that combines engineering principles and practices with sciences like biology and chemistry and niche areas of study such as soil science, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Because environmental engineers need a variety of specialized knowledge and skills, you should look for a program of study that focuses narrowly on environmental engineering.
One way to ensure that your chosen program of study will adequately prepare you for a future in environmental engineering is to make sure that it is accredited. The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, known as ABET, currently accredits 64 bachelor’s degree programs in environmental engineering throughout the United States as well as four master’s degree programs of study in the field. To become accredited, a program must employ licensed professional engineers with certification or experience in environmental engineering. The curriculum of an ABET-accredited program will include studies in mathematics, including statistics and calculus-based physics, earth and biological sciences, fluid mechanics and concepts of chemistry such as kinetics and stoichiometry. Coursework and laboratory projects allow students to understand the concepts and applications of energy balances, life-cycles, the environmental impact of various factors and the phases of water, soil and air.
Gaining Experience and a License
While a degree is necessary to begin a career in environmental engineering, it is only the first step in a longer process. Upon graduation, aspiring engineers must pass the Fundamentals of Engineering examination to officially become engineers-in-training. Upon completing sufficient work experience as required by the state in which they intend to work, these engineer interns can take the Professional Engineering examination and apply for a license. Engineers may also decide to earn a master’s degree in environmental engineering, especially if they would like to advance to management positions later in their careers.
The path to becoming an environmental engineer is challenging, requiring studies in numerous disciplines of science and engineering and passing scores on two professional examinations. However, engineering as a whole engineering is a lucrative field, with those who hold only a bachelor’s degree earning an average of $3.5 million over the course of their careers. Environmental engineering in particular is a rewarding career for those who have a love of the environment.