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What is Environmental Engineering?

What is environmental engineering and what do environmental engineers study?

Environmental engineering encompasses the scientific assessment and development of engineering solutions to environmental problems impacting the biosphere, land, water, and air quality. It is an interdisciplinary subject, bringing together topics from mechanical, electrical, civil, energy and chemical engineering.

Environmental engineers are dedicated to public health and safety; ensuring it by providing safe drinking water, treating and disposing of hazardous wastes, maintaining air quality, controlling water pollution, and remediating contaminated sites.

Why should I study environmental engineering? What will be my contribution to society?

Environmental issues affect almost all commercial and industrial sectors, and are a central concern for the public, for all levels of government, and in international relations.
These issues include safe drinking water, wastewater processing, solid and hazardous waste disposal, outdoor air pollution, indoor air pollution and transfer of infectious diseases, human health and ecological risk management, and prevention of pollution through product or process design.

With a growing need to move towards sustainability, there is an even greater demand for environmental engineers to help us deal with problems in the future.

Why CU Boulder?

Why should I pursue my undergraduate degree at CU Boulder?

CU Boulder offers a broad education, excellent technical training, and hands on experiences to prepare our graduates to be successful in the professional world.

Our degree provides mastery of principles and practices, inspires service for the global public good and prepares students for graduate school, professional licensure and broad and dynamic careers.

Our graduates are recruited heavily for positions in the industry by both Fortune 500 companies and smaller start-up firms. We are top ten ranked among public institutions and in environmental engineering/environmental health programs by US News and World Report, and program is well-designed and geared to maximize your success.

Are there opportunities for semester abroad programs?

Yes, CU Boulderoffers many study abroad opportunities around the globe including Australia, Germany, Egypt, New Zealand, Singapore and more! Some programs are as short as two weeks in duration, and others can take you abroad for a full academic year.  

If you are planning to study abroad for a full semester and would still like to graduate in four years, you will need to stay on track with all of your core coursework and have a good understanding of the department’s prerequisite structure. Start researching study abroad programs and talking with your academic advisor early.

What organizations can I get involved in?

There are more than 300 academic, political, social, religious, and recreational clubs and organizations that you can join. This can help you to meet new people who share your interests and explore your passions. There are also a number of engineering societies that you can get involved with in the College of Applied Science and find your place.

Learn more and see dates for club fairs and campus events here: Campus-wide and Engineering Societies.

How do I apply?

You can apply for admission to CU Boulder here!

Our Program and Resources

How big is the Program?

The Environmental Engineering program at CU Boulder has more than 200 undergraduate students, 85 graduate students, and around 30 faculty members. We are one of the largest undergraduate EVEN degree programs in the United States.

How does undergraduate advising in Environmental Engineering work?

All students meet with an Academic Advisor each semester. Junior and senior students are also assigned a Faculty Mentor to provide career counseling and promote greater student faculty interaction.

Students are required to meet with their academic advisor prior to course registration for each semester. An advising hold to block registration remains on each student’s record until advising has occurred.

Faculty Mentors are also available for all students during any semester by appointment, for academic and career counseling beyond the required pre-registration meetings.

What resources are available if I need extra help?

There are various resources available to you including tutors, the BOLD Center and engineering ambassadors. The Student Academic Success Center (SASC) provides free workshops for all students on topics such as academic skills development, time management, and also provides individual academic coaching. Depending on what class you are struggling in (i.e. APPM, Physics, Chemistry for Engineers) there may be department support available to you. More information can be found on the Engineering Advising site.


How do I apply for scholarships or financial aid?

The College of Engineering and Applied Science provides scholarships to reward high-achieving students and ease the financial burden on their families. These scholarships are made possible through private gifts to the college and they can be used to supplement university scholarships and financial aid packages.

Find out about other financial aid and scholarship options here:
Financial Aid
Scholarship Services


What classes will I take?

Our degree program includes coursework in advanced mathematics, biology, chemistry and physics, and engineering. Like other engineering fields, courses in solid mechanics, fluid dynamics and thermal sciences are central to an environmental engineering degree.

Coursework specific to environmental engineering includes water and wastewater treatment, hazardous waste storage and treatment, and air pollution control. In addition, environmental engineering requires hands-on water, soil and air quality laboratory experiences, computer modeling and data analysis, and experience in the design of environmental engineering systems.

You can find our curriculum and descriptions of courses on our Degree Guidelines page.

How long will it take to finish my degree?

Our BS Environmental Engineering Degree is structured to be completed in four years; however, you may take more or less than four years depending on the number of credit hours you take each semester, whether you take classes over the summer, how many credits you transfer from high school/community college, etc.

What relevant minors and certificates does CU Boulder offer?

The College of Engineering and Applied Science offers numerous certificate and minor programs which can complement your degree in Environmental Engineering. Find out about all of your options on our Minors and Certificates page.

What humanities courses can I take?

Students can take any of the humanities courses listed on the Humanities, Social Sciences, and Writing requirements page.

Do I have to take the FE?

Yes, one of the requirements for graduation with the EVEN BS degree is that you must take the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam. This test serves two purposes:

  1. It provides you the opportunity to complete the first step toward Professional Engineer (PE) status.
  2. It provides the Environmental Engineering Program with a useful assessment of engineering proficiency attained by EVEN graduates.

You must take the FE Exam during your final two semesters. Find out more on our FE Exam page.

Transfer Credit

How do I change my major to Environmental Engineering?

You can find information here.

If you are already in the College of Engineering, you should set up an appointment with an advisor to discuss your decision, as well as fill out a major change form, found here.

How will AP and IB credit count towards my degree?

Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) exam scores must be sent directly to the CU Boulder Office of Admissions by the testing agency.  

AP and IB credit will be automatically applied to your degree requirements where applicable, but it is important for you to know what credit you have earned in order to register for the appropriate first-year courses.

Check the AP/IB Equivalency Charts to determine if your exam scores will earn CU Boulder credit. Make note of the CU Boulder Course Equivalent, which will determine whether the credits will apply toward your EVEN degree requirements.

Learn more at the Environmental Engineering AP/IB page.

What classes should I take in high school to make a smooth transition to the program?

Some recommended courses for students to take in high school to transition into engineering are Chemistry, Algebra, and calculus.  It is also a good idea to complete all of the MAPS requirements prior to attending the school of engineering.

What courses can transfer from another college/community college?

If you are transferring from a different college/university, check here to find a detailed view on the courses that will transfer, as well as requirements for those courses.

Faculty and Research

Where can I find more information about your faculty?

Our faculty teach many specialized courses over a broad range of environmental interests. Many of them are also involved in research, which takes place at the Sustainability, Energy, and Environment Laboratories (SEEC) and in our labs in the Engineering Center.

You can read more about our faculty and their research in the EVEN Program here.

How can I get involved in a research project?

Easy, just ask! Talk with your professors to see what kind of research they are conducting and see if they could use any extra hands. Our faculty are always looking out for hard-working undergraduate students to assist with their research.

There are also programs such as the Discovery Learning Apprenticeship, Independent Study and the Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program which give undergraduate students more freedom to design their own project with an original proposal.

Approximately 20% of all EVEN students participate in independent research while they are students at CU Boulder. These research opportunities can be paid positions, for course credit (such as a senior thesis), or on a voluntary basis.

Career Outlook

What kind of career paths can I pursue with an environmental engineering degree?

Upon graduation, many environmental engineers find jobs in private corporations, including industrial manufacturers and engineering consulting businesses. There are also many positions with government agencies at the municipal, state, and federal levels. With an environmental engineering degree you could delve into research, private practice and consulting, construction, industry, or even teaching.

Read personal career stories from some of our alumni here.

Is there a growing job market for Environmental Engineers?

Yes. The projected growth in the number of environmental engineers is four percent over the next decade.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are over 52,300 environmental engineers actively employed in the U.S.

How do I find an internship?

CU Boulder has a great online career resource called Handshake. Here you can search for job and internship positions and connect with more than 180,000 employers locally, nationally, and internationally. Handshake is also a great way to learn about career fairs, networking events, and recruiting visits that you can attend to talk to employers.

You can also schedule career advising appointments and on-campus interviews. To learn more about everything Career Services has to offer, visit their website.

The College of Engineering also has their own Career Services site with engineering-specific information.