The 10 Best Environmental Science Schools in the US

Every student embarks on their college career with a craving for deeper knowledge, but few do so with quite as much optimism and passion as environmental science students.

A major in environmental science is about far more than just education. It is about a desire to be part of something bigger than one’s self, a hope that through diligence and curiosity, any person might be able to change this world for the better.

As long as humanity has existed, people all over the globe have found peace and inspiration through the study of nature, but environmental science takes that natural wonder a step further. By studying the goings on the planet, these remarkable scientists strive to identify its problems and offer practical, impactful solutions.

Before embarking on this life-changing study, however, every researcher starts the same way: a student searching for the best path to a strong education. 

The schools in this list are ranked based on each university’s position in the Niche best environmental science colleges list

Read on to learn more about what each of these astounding environmental science schools has to offer!

10. Dartmouth College (Hanover, NH)

Dartmouth College
Public domain photo by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons

Dartmouth College didn’t become the number-one ranking college in New Hampshire overnight; it did so through the extraordinary dedication and efforts of its world-class staff. 

Of all those inspiring professors, few are quite as remarkable as Professor Doug Bolger of the Environmental Science department.

Recently, Bolger was awarded the Frank J. Guarini Award for his extraordinary contributions to off-campus programs. 

For the entire length of his career at Dartmouth, he has been raising the standard for the next generation of students, leading them in volunteer activities that actively make their community a better place. 

Professor Bolger is not alone in his mission to lead by example. Dartmouth consistently makes efforts to keep its students fired up through reminders of the real-world application of their studies.

Whenever an unusual opportunity arises for learning, Dartmouth takes hold with both hands, as was the case with the recent panel discussion unpacking the inflation reduction act. 

During this valuable seminar, Dartmouth students could watch as a team of experts debated and clarified points of the recent inflation reduction act, a piece of legislation with a direct impact on their future careers. 

9. Princeton University (Princeton, NJ)

At Princeton University, the staff recognizes the importance of environmental studies in all its forms. 

In addition to maintaining a thriving program for all students hoping to make a career in environmental science, they also offer an alternate route for students of other majors.

By completing a small, specific set of courses, students of all majors have the opportunity to receive a certificate in environmental studies upon graduation, increasing their future opportunities and granting them the knowledge they need to improve the world no matter their career. 

Through the Grand Challenge initiative, students planning to dedicate their lives to this vital area of study can access the funds they need to fuel their own research, proving that the best education comes from hands-on learning. 

Whether students are interested in taking on the water and environment challenge or learning more about biodiversity, Princeton encourages them to think outside the box in their quest to come up with real-life solutions. 

8. Harvard Univerity (Cambridge, MA)

Harvard University
Public domain photo by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons

Few college facilities offer quite as many advanced research opportunities as those available at the Harvard University Center for the Environment

Starting from this base of operations, Harvard sends students, faculty, and other researchers worldwide in search of answers, bettering the education of both those involved and those safe at home.

Recently, one such team traveled deep into the woods of Western Pennsylvania to decipher how cold the area was in the 1400s, working from tree rings to learn more about how the environment has changed over time. 

Harvard’s most recently released report on this program indicates a deep desire to enhance its already thriving environmental science program with a hands-on approach to all learning. 

Furthermore, it shows an even increased dedication towards opening up access to learning all across the world, using its role as a “pioneer in digital technologies” to connect students with the best speakers, researchers, and projects all over the world. 

7. Rice University (Houston, TX)

Rice University takes a broad approach to environmental science, encouraging students in this field to team up closely with those studying planetary science as well. 

As a whole, the department works diligently to encourage diversity, both in the student body and the field in general.

No team does a better job in this mission than EEPSReach

This student-led team allows Rice University students the chance to put their studies to good use through outreach projects in the Houston Area. 

Powered by volunteer work and the desire to help, this team pairs up with teachers in the surrounding area to teach young students the real-world impacts of environmental science in their everyday lives. 

Students who hope to make more of a behind-the-scenes impact are welcome to get involved with Outcroppings, Rice University’s leading environmental science magazine. 

Here, they can learn from proven research and help lead that information into the hands of others, changing the world one reader at a time. 

6. Duke University (Durham, NC)

The Nicholas School of Environmental Science at Duke University offers more than just a degree; they offer a purpose.

This world-renowned research center spans sixteen different environmental focal areas, allowing students the range of study they need to find their unique passion. 

Whether they hope to focus on climate change, our food systems, or the diminishing wetlands, students are in good hands as they join the over 5,000 alumni who have felt the life-altering impact of this institution.  

In addition to state-of-the-art research facilities like Grainger Hall, the 70,000 square foot LEED platinum certified green study center, students of this school also have the chance to learn while surrounded by the environment they are sworn to protect. 

With easy access to Duke Forest, students take their studies into the real world, taking part in the 7,000-acre outdoor classroom and learning from the nature all around them. 

5. Columbia University (New York, NY)

Columbia University Hall
Beyond My Ken, 2014 Columbia University Earl Hall from north, CC BY-SA 4.0

Environmental science students are guaranteed valuable opportunities to take their education off-campus through vital learning experiences and other field trips when enrolled at Columbia University.

In fact, many of the courses in this program are actually designed around such trips!

Through the geological excursion to Eastern Sierra, freshman and sophomores are welcome to join in on a week-long trip to Eastern Sierra, California, where they receive class credit for spending their spring break immersed in the geology and environment of Mono Lake.

Similarly, a second excursion to Death Valley allows students to learn collaboratively as they experience life in the shoes of a true environmentalist, studying the formations and immersing themselves in a whole-learning experience.

The study of field biology in Barbados culminates in a trip to the island country, where they can witness how shifting plate tectonics has impacted the shape and environment of this tropical paradise. 

4. Brown University (Providence, RI)

Brown University
Kenneth C. Zirkel, Sidney Frank Hall for Life Sciences, Brown University, CC BY-SA 4.0

The institute at Brown for Environment and Society takes their words and puts them into action, providing students invaluable opportunities to get involved on a worldwide scale. 

Brown University encourages environmental science students to rigorously track their own carbon footprint to ensure that they continue their strong example to the rest of the world.  

Through almost ten distinct environmental groups, Brown University offers ample opportunity to help students learn from their peers and join the advanced researchers of this institute in creating actionable plans to change the world.

The Brown Market Shares Program reduces waste through a food-sharing program, ensuring that every student on campus has access to delicious, sustainable meal options. 

By volunteering, students gain valuable experience, help their communities, and also have the opportunity to take home their own farm-fresh produce.

Sunrise Brown takes a more political approach towards climate change, empowering students on campus to reach out to their legislature and have their voices heard. 

3. Yale University (New Haven, CT)

The Yale University School for the Environment takes a worldwide approach to learning, encouraging its students to travel the globe in pursuit of knowledge. 

Upon graduation, the class of 2023’s environmental science majors – containing 137 elite students– will have traveled to six continents, twenty-one countries, and twenty-nine US states and territories through their environmental studies. 

Empowered to continue learning, over half of these students will remain at school to pursue their master’s. 

This successful senior group perfectly encapsulates what makes Yale one of the top schools in this field. 

Nearly a quarter of this group identify as persons of color. This diversity is no accident; Yale takes special pride in offering specific scholarships to minority students hoping to pursue a career in this field, including the Doris Duke Conservation Scholarship Program and the Environmental Fellows Program. 

2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, MA)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Public domain photo by Daderot via Wikimedia Commons

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has long been recognized as one of the top institutions of higher learning in the nation. 

They bring the power of that reputation to play in their environmental studies program by pulling the best and brightest speakers from around the world, allowing their students the chance to receive an education beyond any other.

All year round MIT offers a series of seminars that supplement each student’s already rigorous education. 

For example, in recent days students can see Talia Tamarin-Brodsky speak on the connection between our changing oceans and increased tornados and cyclones.  

Later, Will Steinhardt– normally based out of UC Santa Cruz– is to speak on the top research in geophysics. 

Through participation in EAPS Scope– the university’s own environmental science publication– students can do more than just provide fodder for their resumes. They can participate in sharing some of the most breaking environmental research in the nation!

1. Stanford University (Stanford, CA)

Of all the opportunities an aspiring environmental science student can hope to gain, few are quite as impressive as those offered by the Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability

Here, this university uses its influence to draw researchers from all over the world, combining global efforts to create global solutions. 

Though among the newest schools at Stanford, this college has already made a name for itself through the intense efforts of the Woods Institute, which utilizes the top research capabilities in the country to make strides toward clean energy, renewable food production, and clean water around the world.

Always looking towards the future, Stanford is in the process of creating a brand new institute in the environmental science wing: the Institute for Sustainable Societies

Here, students with passionate political leanings can take part in research on the ways in which our environment impacts deep, systemic issues like culture, communications, and sustainable cities. 

When enrolled in this school, students can rest assured that they are taking part in a growing, thriving program that only seeks to become better over time.