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Study abroad : Subject Guides

Studying an earth and environmental sciences degree

Find out what a course in earth and environmental sciences involves, where is best for this degree and the entry requirements you'll need to fulfil.

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Want to tackle real world problems? Climate change is a trending topic right now which makes a degree in earth and environmental sciences particularly timely. Studying earth and environmental sciences will teach you how to approach issues such as pollution, public health, environmental change, and policy. If you’re passionate about the environment, love the outdoors and want to solve some of the challenges facing the world today, this could be the ideal degree for you. Here we run through course content, entry requirements, job prospects and more.


What is earth and environmental science?

Combining the scientific disciplines of biology, physics, chemistry and geology, environmental science looks specifically at natural processes which affect environments on the planet. You can expect such courses to cover challenges facing the planet and humans, such as climate change, sustainability, conservation and pollution. Environmental science will usually look at the past, present and future of environmental processes and related issues. You’ll learn to manage large data sets and perform your own analysis as a way of interpreting and reporting on case studies.



While course content will differ, an earth and environmental science degree could cover the following modules:

  • Geology and tectonics
  • Atmosphere and weather
  • Environmental processes
  • Natural hazards
  • Pollution
  • Sustainability
  • Marine conservation
  • Geographical information systems
  • Ecology


It is also common to do fieldwork during an environmental science degree, which is a great opportunity to put your theoretical knowledge into practice. For example, students at Lancaster University in the UK have the chance to visit Mount Etna in Sicily to study volcanic processes. If you have a particular interest in one area of environmental science, many universities offer optional modules that you can select based on your preferences.


Interested in studying earth and environmental science abroad? Check out the following universities offering this programme:


Where is best to study earth and environmental science?

There is no arguing that Scandinavian countries such as Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Finland are leading thinkers for sustainability and renewable energy. These countries are some of the most environmentally conscious in the world and often rank highly for their green outlook and policies. Check out our guide on studying sustainability in Sweden for more inspiration.



However, leading institutions for earth sciences are primarily based in the U.S., UK and China (Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2021). It really depends on what sort of experience you are looking for and your preferences for your studies. Use our course matcher tool to find the university, subject and country that suits you best.


What are the entry requirements for an earth and environmental science degree?

As this degree requires foundational knowledge of different scientific disciplines, universities may ask for students to have studied one/two science subjects at A-level (or equivalent) such as biology, chemistry or physics. You will be expected to have good grades at this level, such as ABB. For international baccalaureate, BTEC or other qualification entry requirements, you will need to get in touch with the university directly as these can differ widely.


What are the English language requirements?

As an international student, you will also need to prove your English language proficiency, universities typically asking for results for one of the following tests:

  • Duolingo
  • PTE


For an earth and environmental science degree, you will usually need an overall IELTS score of 6.0-6.5 with no lower than 5.5 to 6 for each section. Again, make sure you check with the institution’s you’re interested in before applying so that you know exactly what you need to achieve. Need more advice on English language testing? Check out our guides on IELTS vs TOEFL and understanding English language test scores.


How long will an earth and environmental science degree take?

It will depend on which country you choose for your environmental science degree; however, you can expect to study this subject for three to four years in the UK, Canada and the U.S. at undergraduate level. A master’s degree will usually take one year to complete with full-time study and two years for part-time students. Start searching for a master’s degree in environmental science. You can also find out more about making the move from undergraduate to postgraduate study.


What can you do with an earth and environmental science degree?

The skills and knowledge acquired through an earth and environmental science degree will create opportunities for you across a range of professions as shown below:


  • Horticulturalist (amenity/commercial) – Producing plants for a specific purpose such as for public spaces like gardens, park and crematoriums.
  • Environmental consultant – Providing assessments on the management of environmental issues for clients and ensuring they are abiding by environmental laws and regulations.
  • Marine biologist – Focusing on life in the ocean including the conservation of ecosystems, plants and animals.
  • Climatologist – Researching weather patterns for different climates.
  • Ecologist – Studying the relationship between animals, plants and the environment.
  • Archaeologist – Looking at past human activity through excavation projects or ‘digs’ to collect data and understand the development and behavior of humans throughout history.
  • Hydrologist – The scientific study of water in different settings such as rivers, rainfall and the water cycle.



Niall O’Donoghue studied a bachelor’s degree in biology and a master’s degree in environmental change and international development at the University of Sheffield, UK. He said, “Environmental sustainability permeates the activities of every organisation and business around, so it’s always worth considering that your line of work might come from somewhere you don’t necessarily expect. Some of the most important work when it comes to sustainability doesn’t take place anywhere near our fields, forests, or oceans.”


Check out the full interview with Niall about his university education and current role in flood and coastal risk management for the UK government. 


Furthermore, remember that you will also gain many transferrable skills, relevant to other professions. Some of these skills include:

  • Data analysis
  • Teamwork
  • Problem solving
  • Communication skills
  • Research skills
  • Experience in a laboratory
  • Presentation skills
  • Commercial awareness
  • Project management skills


Hopefully you’ve found the information you were looking for and are ready to start browsing earth and environmental science courses. Make sure you also check out our news section to stay up to date with the latest stories related to international study.

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