The Environmental Studies program at CU Boulder is an interdisciplinary hub for collaboration in the environmental and sustainability fields.

As environmental problems have both human and biophysical components, students enrolled in the program from the program examine the intersection of science, policy and human values, as applied to environmental issues, across disciplines and acquire the skills and knowledge needed to help solve global, national, regional and local environmental challenges.

I came from a background of both science and philosophy, and I wanted to bring these passions together. The environmental studies program here at Boulder really offered that. There are people who study everything from water policy in the west, to diatoms in Antarctica, the science of climate change around the world to environmental ethics. You get to interact with professors and students who so a wide range of work, and I think that is truly special about the program.”

— Alex Lee (‘12)​

Environmental Studies is, at it's core, the study of the environment and human's role within it. 

An education in Environmental Studies provides students with an understanding of Earth's living and physical environment, processes that operate within the environment, as well as the nature and mitigation of human impact on the environment. Through the application of scientific tools and principles, environmental studies addresses a variety of issues related to our everyday needs and the environment in which we live from local to global scales.

Environmental Studies is unique amongst the sciences through its interdisciplinary approach, drawing on courses and expertise from over sixteen departments. The program is designed to equip students with the disciplinary rigor required to gain employment in the field, while at the same time providing them the broad perspective afforded by an interdisciplinary education.

As a major, students will learn the integration of science, policy, and values as applied to environmental issues and acquire an awareness of the complexity of factors relating to human interaction with the environment. Environmental problems have both anthropological and natural components, and students will come to understand the general principles of human-environmental interaction, global habitability, environmental change and sustainable human societies.

Students will take courses in the sciences, policy, ethics, economics, writing and math and an internship or field course and a capstone course. In addition, they will choose among three specializations: Climate and Energy, Natural Resources, Environmental Policy or Sustainable Development.

The Environmental Studies program and major is also considered one of the best in the world, ranking among the top programs by the Academic Rankings of World Universities report, U.S. News and World report, and by Nature Index, where it ranks #9 among all institutions in the world, for articles and books published, numbers of citations per article and grants, honors and awards received. And it's faculty, both those that call it home and those affiliated, are frequently recognized with awards and honors, including a Distinguished Research Lecturer, a recipient for the Governor's Award for Research Impact, two Aldo Leopold Leadership fellows, multiple Fulbright recipients and numerous fellows for places like the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Geophysical Union.

The Environmental Studies Program is internationally recognized in several areas of research, including ecological systems, the earth sciences, human-environment relations including environmental politics, philosophy and communication, and energy and the environment.

Their diverse faculty also include several who have joint affiliations with other departments within the college like ecology and evolutionary biology, economics, geological sciences, geography, political science, philosophy, anthropology, chemistry and biochemistry, other schools and colleges like environmental design, institutes and centers like the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research in the Cooperative Institute of Research in Environmental Sciences, the CU Population Center and the Natural Hazards Center in the Institute of Behavioral Sciences, the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR), the Center of the American West, the Renewable and Sustainable Energy Institute and CU Center for Sports Governance, and outside groups both inside Colorado and out, including the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the National Ecological Observatory Network (NEON), the Rockefeller Foundation and the National Science Foundation.

For the undergraduate students pursuing a degree in environmental studies, there are a number of research opportunities beyond just class work:

  • The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) and the departmental honors program offer avenues to work alongside a faculty sponsor on original research. Learn to write proposals, conduct research, pursue creative work, analyze data, and present the results. For more information, call UROP at 303-492-2596 or visit the UROP website.

  • Majors can choose to seek honors in environmental studies, which results in the designation of cum laude, magna cum laude or summa cum laude at graduation. Look into this program early as it involves securing a  faculty advisor and developing an individual project. 

  • Students may want to enrich their undergraduate years with study abroad. A first-hand experience abroad can provide them with new insights into regional and international environmental issues. The university offers more than 100 programs throughout the world that offer credit—in some cases fulfilling major and core requirements. Students may spend a few weeks to a full academic year abroad, depending on the program you select. Prior language study or other prerequisites are necessary for some programs, so early planning for study abroad is essential. Further information about study abroad is available from Education Abroad, 303-492-7741 or on the education abroad website.

With training in the principles of environmental studies and in environmentally-related disciplines such as geography, biology, and economics, students find employment opportunities in numerous sectors of the government, private research firms, and industrial companies

Graduate study in environmental science is another option for the environmental studies major, and is recommended for those planning a career in environmental education or research. Also, a significant number of environmental studies graduates go on to law school. 

Career Services offers free services for all CU Boulder degree-seeking students, and alumni up to one year after graduation, to help students discover who they are, what they want to do, and how to get there. They are the bridge between academics and the world of work by discussing major and career exploration, internship or job searching, and graduate school preparation. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • Median 2016 pay for environmental biologists and specialists with a bachelor’s degree was $68,910.
  • Projected 2016-2026 job growth for environmental biologists and specialists with a bachelor’s degree will be 11 percent, faster than the average for all jobs.

According to the 2019-20 College Salary Report by PayScale Human Capital: 

  • The median salary for someone with a bachelor’s degree in environmental health and safety fields and 0-5 years of experience is $55,000 and
  • $91,800 for 10-plus years of experience.

Environmental Studies

The estimated median salaries, as reported on Tableau, for Environmental Studies graduates for 1 to 5, 6 to 10, and over 11 years out from school.

At CU Boulder, Environmental Studies graduates earn roughly the same as the nationwide average of comparable majors as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and Payscale. CU Boulder alumni in this discipline earn an estimated annual salary of $78,258, based on a pool of 1336 alumni who graduated between 1989 and 2018. This amount, however, is less than the average for all CU Boulder graduates with a bachelor's degree, according to a survey by Esmi Alumni Insight of 25,000 alumni who graduated during the same stretch.

The Environmental Studies Program has an extensive alumni network working in a variety of industries across the globe. Some alumni of the program include:

  • Nathan Sanders (BA '94) is a professor and director of the Environmental Studies Program at the University of Vermont.
  • Kaylee Acuff (BA '04) is co-founder of Mountain Toad Brewing In Golden, Colorado.