Environmental Engineering Topics

Guide to a Career in Environmental Engineering

What is Environmental Engineering? Environmental engineers use principles of chemistry and biology to solve and to prevent environmental problems. Environmental engineers possess a strong commitment to the environment and they enjoy a career that allows them to improve it. They have backgrounds in math and science and are detail oriented.


Professionals in this field work on environmental issues that include wastewater treatment, toxic materials control, and air quality control. Duties vary according to the project and can include collecting and analyzing data, performing quality control checks, and evaluating and devising solutions for environmental hazards.

A bachelor's degree is required for most engineering positions. In addition, most environmental engineers focus on a concentration area during their undergraduate studies. For an environmental engineer, education rarely ends with an undergraduate degree. To stay current in their field, engineers often continue their education with graduate degrees and continuing education courses.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, careers in the field of environmental engineering are expected to increase more quickly than average over the next ten years. People and corporations are beginning to focus on prevention of environmental problems and the effect of the environment on public health, which is resulting in an increase in jobs for environmental engineers.

Career Education in Environmental Engineering

Planning for your career as an environmental engineer The majority of college degree programs in the field of environmental engineering offer bachelor's and graduate level degrees. Associate's degrees and undergraduate certificate programs exist, but are less common.


An associate's degree in environmental engineering prepares the high school graduate to enter the engineering field as an assistant to an environmental engineer. This major, like other engineering degrees, emphasizes math and science. Basic science courses, college level algebra, and trigonometry are typically required. Courses applicable in the environmental engineering field may include wastewater treatment, safety practices, and environmental law and regulations. An associate's degree typically takes two years to finish and is a strong foundation for a bachelor's degree.

A bachelor's degree in environmental engineering is required for gaining employment as an environmental engineer. The bachelor's degree emphasizes math and science courses as well as classes specific to the environmental engineering field. Examples of these courses are air pollution engineering, environmental risk assessment, and principles of environmental engineering.

In some universities, environmental engineering is a supplementary program to a bachelor's degree in civil, chemical, or mechanical engineering. In these cases, students earn bachelor's degrees in another branch of engineering with a minor, or focus, on environmental engineering. A bachelor's degree in environmental engineering typically takes five years to complete, though some students may be able to complete it in four years.

Some colleges and universities offer an advanced certificate in environmental engineering studies. This certificate typically focuses on one aspect of environmental engineering and offers four to five courses in that area. It is intended for bachelor's degree holders who wish to continue their education beyond the undergraduate level. It is not considered a graduate degree.

To obtain your master's degree in environmental engineering you must first have a bachelor's degree in engineering or a related field, such as science. Courses required vary depending on the college or university you attend, but courses in management, protection of resources, pollution control, and water quality are common. A master's degree typically takes two years to finish.

What can you do with a University Degree in Environmental Engineering?

Career options for aspiring environmental engineers

Engineering Technician. An engineering technician is an assistant to an engineer or scientist. An engineering technician in the environmental engineering field is often responsible for assisting in research, collecting data, maintaining equipment, and assisting in the planning and execution of projects.

Engineering technicians usually have an associate's degree and are not required to have a license. An engineering technician may be required to work in a hazardous environment, such as dealing with nuclear waste removal or waste treatment.

Environmental Engineer. Environmental engineers resolve and help prevent environmental problems. They work in many areas including, but not limited to, air pollution control, industrial hygiene, toxic materials control, and land management. Duties of an environmental engineer range from planning and designing an effective waste treatment plant to studying the effects of acid rain on a particular area.

An environmental engineer is sometimes required to work outdoors, though most of his or her work is done in a laboratory or office setting. Career opportunities for environmental engineers exist in consulting, research, corporate, and government positions.

At minimum, environmental engineers must possess a bachelor's degree. They typically have either a bachelor's degree in environmental engineering or a bachelor's degree in another field of engineering with a minor in environmental engineering. Master's degrees are strongly encouraged, but not required. Environmental engineers offering their services directly to the public must be licensed professional engineers.

Engineering Manager. Engineering managers supervise engineers and support staff. They typically begin their careers as engineers and advance to the managerial level.

Engineering managers are responsible for administrative work in addition to supervising staff and engineering projects. The administrative work of an engineering manager often involves budgeting, creation of policies and procedures, and the hiring and training of staff members. Engineering management jobs in the field of environmental engineering are typically office jobs, though some managers may work in a laboratory setting.

Engineering managers often receive benefits such as stock options and bonuses. In addition to a degree in the engineering field, they typically have some business or management education.
Sales Engineers. In the field of environmental engineering, sales engineers typically have education and work experience as environmental engineers. Environmental sales engineers are responsible for selling equipment and/or services related to the environmental engineering field. For example, a sales engineer in the environmental engineering field may be responsible for the sale of air pollution control products to factories.

Sales engineers bring their education and experience to the position, enabling them to speak with their customers intelligently and accurately about the engineering aspects of the products they sell. In addition to sales, they often assist with the design and modification of their products.

Careers in sales can be stressful because, in most cases, quarterly job performance directly impacts job security. Sales engineers are often required to travel, sometimes long distances. Those engineers required to travel are often compensated with company cars and accumulation of frequent flyer miles.

Salary Expectations for Environmental Engineers


According to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, environmental engineers earned a median income of $61,410 in 2002. Engineering technicians, requiring less education, reported a median income of $36,850, almost half the income of engineers.

Engineering managers have many responsibilities that often require education beyond the undergraduate level. The majority of these professionals in 2002 earned annual salaries ranging from $89,520 to $98,000. Salaries vary by industry and by the amount of the manager's responsibilities.

A sales engineer's income is often a combination of commission, bonus and salary. Earned commission income typically depends on an individual's sales performance, while bonuses are often calculated based on the performance of the department or corporation. The median income of sales engineers in 2002, including commissions, was $66,660.

Certification and Licensure


Environmental engineers are strongly encouraged to become licensed Professional Engineers (P.E.). Requirements for this licensure vary from state to state, but typically involve:

graduation from an accredited engineering program,
work experience, and
completion of two examinations.
To qualify for licensure, the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology must accredit the engineering program you graduate from. Upon completion of their degree most engineers take the first examination, called Fundamentals of Engineering. The Fundamentals of Engineering examination is a two-part examination. Prospective engineers take four hours to complete each part.

The first section tests general engineering knowledge, while the second section tests knowledge in your specific field of engineering. Upon successful completion of this examination, a professional earns their classification as an Engineering Intern (EI), or an Engineer in Training (EIT).

Experience in the engineering field is the next step on the road to licensure. Different states have different requirements regarding this work experience, so it is important to check with your state on its licensing requirements.

Upon completion of the required work experience you may take the second examination, the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE). This examination is specific to your engineering field of expertise. An environmental engineer takes the PE Environmental exam. The PE is typically a six to eight hour examination, divided into morning and afternoon sections.

After completion of these steps, you may apply for licensure with the licensing board in your state. When you receive your license, you are considered a Professional Engineer, or P.E. Licensed professional engineers are the only engineers allowed to offer their services to the general public. You must possess your P.E. certification before you sign and seal any plans.

In many states, licensed engineers are required to maintain licensure through completion of professional development hours. Examples of professional development hours include:

attendance at applicable conferences or seminars,
published professional papers, articles or books,
participation in professional societies, and
college or continuing education credits.