10 of the Best College Environmental Programs in the U.S.

An aerial view of Northland College's campus in Ashland, Wisconsin. (Photo: Northland College).

Every year, the number of green college programs — and the number of students enrolled in them — rises, as careers in environmental policy, sustainability, law, and management become more common. And whether your interest lies in marine conservation, agriculture, sustainable building, or fisheries, there's a program out there for you: Click through to see 10 that earn an A-plus for the education, experience, and research opportunities they provide.

1. Northland College

At Northland College, environmental studies isn't just a major — it's a part of the school's education requirements across all curricula. The Environmental Sciences Department offers majors in environmental chemistry and environmental geosciences; the Natural Resources department includes emphases on ecological restoration, fisheries ecology, and wildlife ecology; and the Nature and Culture Department allows majors in outdoor education and humanity and nature studies. The Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute brings environmental responsibility to the surrounding community, and since 1971 the school has stressed sustainability across the board: Classes like sustainable business, sustainable agriculture, and renewable energy prepare students for a green future, while an off-grid building insulated with straw bales and an eco-friendly residence hall that was a prototype for the LEED rating system help them understand sustainability now.


The State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry handles more than 25,000 acres of land in Central New York and the Adirondack Park, where nearly 2,500 students in the graduate and undergraduate program choose majors as specific as aquatic and fisheries science, construction management, forest ecosystem science, paper engineering, and bioprocess engineering. Research takes priority, too, with faculty working on more than 450 projects — including wildlife disease prevention, nanotechnology, and genetic engineering — around the world.

3. Middlebury College

The undergraduate degree in environmental studies at Middlebury College was the country's first, established in 1965. Now, more than 40 years later, the program is still one of the forerunners of the green movement: Students have won awards including the Udall Scholarship in Environmental Policy and the Fulbright Grant; author Bill McKibben worked with six students to create the Step It Up movement in 2007; and students can choose specialties including conservation biology, environmental policy, religion, philosophy, and the environment. Elsewhere on campus, students have the opportunity to work in the school's organic garden, join the Middlebury Mountain Club , and take part in events organized by the Environmental Quality organization.

4. Cornell University

Once the country's oldest forestry college, today the Department of Natural Resources at Cornell University offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in majors that include applied ecology, resource policy and management, and a Ph.D. in Natural Studies. Off-campus, extension programs in fish and wildlife biology and management; ecology and management of landscapes; and environmental inquiry and youth education allow students and faculty to take their education to the local community.

5. Duke University

Students at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences choose from undergraduate, graduate, or doctoral degrees in concentrations that include environmental studies and policy, earth and ocean sciences, and environmental law. The University also maintains a hands-on Marine Laboratory in Beaufort, NC, where courses on biology, science and nature writing, and marine policy take place in the Gold LEED-certified conservation center. Doctoral candidates have three research areas to pick from: marine science and conservation, which includes marine ecology and coastal geology; earth and ocean sciences, comprising climate change and solid earth processes; and environmental studies and policy, which focuses on ecosystem science and aquatic and atmospheric sciences.

6. College of the Atlantic

While the other colleges on this list offer a wide variety of environmentally-related degrees, College of the Atlantic takes the opposite approach: Students share one major — human ecology — and then tailor the course load to his or her own specific interests. Social and environmental issues take center stage though, as all the students are expected to address them through their self-designed curriculum and senior project; examples of past projects include a photographic exhibit based on the birds of Hawaii; one student's wilderness immersion trip along a Virginia creek; and a multimedia fundraiser for a Zimbabwean nonprofit.

7. Arizona State University

Since 2004, the Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University has focused on "rapid urbanization"— studying the growth of cities and the related effects on the surrounding ecosystem — asking questions about water distribution, construction materials, alternative energy, and air pollution. And since 2007, the Institute's Sustainability School has allowed students to join the mission to "develop solutions to some of the most pressing environmental, economic, and social challenges of sustainability, especially as they relate to urban areas." The school currently offers undergraduate and graduate degrees, and plans to add professional development programs in the future.

8. Yale University

The Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies offers masters degrees in environmental management, forestry, forest science, and environmental management — plus mid-career one- and five-year masters programs, and joint degrees with programs that include architecture, law, international relations, and divinity. Doctoral students focus their efforts on research; current options include biodiversity conservation, hydrology, pollution management, tropical ecology, and water resource management — plus many others. The school's new building, Kroon Hall, claims to be even more sustainable than LEED Platinum levels require, with a geothermal heating system, natural lighting, solar hot water heaters, and a rainwater harvesting system.

9. Green Mountain College

All students at Green Mountain College base their education around the Environmental Liberal Arts program, which includes classes on our understanding of nature, the ethics of environmental policies, and an intensive writing seminar. Beyond that, majors in traditional careers — like business, communications, and psychology — are available alongside more uncommon specialties, like adventure education and youth development and camp management. The campus's Farm & Food Project lets students participate in the growing process, from gardening organically to driving oxen, putting them in touch with what the farm manager calls, "the food revolution that is transforming farming."

10. Montana State University

The bachelor of science degree in sustainable food and bioenergy systems from Montana State University offers three specific concentrations — agroecology, sustainable crop production, and sustainable food systems — in three different departments at the university, and includes courses in both the College of Agriculture and the College of Education, Health, and Human Development. Students work at a 2.5-acre vegetable farm that's part of the school's agricultural research program and participate in internships on the area's small farms. As for post-grad, the college expects students to land jobs in sectors like food safety, bioenergy production and improvement, and agricultural biosecurity.