By BVS Staff
Welcome to our ranking of the 20 best small colleges for environmental science majors on a budget.
Each of these top schools has a minimum of three relevant programs for students seeking a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies or a related area (including but not limited to ecology, environmental engineering, forestry, marine biology, natural resource conservation, sustainability studies, and wildlife science). In addition, they each maintain an overall undergraduate graduation rate of at least 40%.
Of course, to be a best value, these top-ranked schools also have to demonstrate a genuine commitment to affordable education – which means meeting our net price requirements. All of the programs on this ranking have estimated annual costs (as reported on College Navigator) of less than $34,000 a year.
But which of these is the most affordable small college for an environmental science degree? Scroll down to #1 to find out!
For more information on the methodology, click here.
20. Washington College
Located in tiny Chestertown, Maryland, Washington College offers an idyllic haven for nature lovers. Environmental science students couldn’t dream of a better location to access the great outdoors; not only is the Chester River within walking distance of campus, but the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays – as well as the Bombay Hooke National Wildlife Refuge – are all less than an hour away. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Undergrads can pursue myriad opportunities within the Department of Environmental Science and Studies, which houses two bachelor’s degrees in this field. The top college for environmental science majors also sponsors field courses in Bermuda and Ecuador, where you can study the ecology of coral reefs and tropical rain forests up close.
Net Price: $33,861/yr
19. St. Lawrence University
Like most majors, there is no single set of characteristics that defines the best small colleges for an environmental science degree. However, if your goal is to combine a love of the environment with a more traditional science education, then St. Lawrence is the dictionary definition of a smart choice. Although the school also offers an independent degree, it has also pioneered a combined major program that permits students to link their environmental studies coursework with one of 10 other traditional degrees. Approved options include natural science programs (ex. Geology or Chemistry) as well as social science majors (ex. Philosophy or Economics).
Net Price: $31,010/yr
18. Sewanee: The University of the South
Out of all the schools on this environmental science colleges ranking, few can rival the breadth of Sewanee’s course offerings. The list of “green” majors at this southern school is especially impressive considering its small size. For roughly 1,800 undergraduates, Sewanee provides more than half a dozen eco-conscious programs. These include majors like Ecology and Biodiversity, Forestry, and Natural Resources and the Environment, plus a certificate in Watershed Science. You can even minor in Religion and the Environment! All of this is part of Sewanee’s Integrated Program in the Environment (SIPE), which also supports field study in “the Domain.” This one-of-a-kind outdoor laboratory encompasses 13,000 acres of woodlands, caves, farms, and lakes where SIPE students can conduct research and connect to nature.
Net Price: $29,239/yr
17. Tuskegee University
Initially, you may be surprised to find one of the nation’s best colleges for environmental science majors in central Alabama. But saving the planet isn’t all about wandering through the rain forest and hugging panda bears (although that does sound nice). At Tuskegee, “going green” means taking a practical approach to resource conservation. The university’s Department of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (DAES) has spearheaded this effort, designing career-oriented concentrations that address real problems. For example, the Plant and Soil Sciences major emphasizes plant production and trains students for careers in crop biotechnology. Another option focuses on natural resource conservation and management, making it ideal for aspiring park rangers or wildlife biologists.
Net Price: $28,497/yr
16. Smith College
A women’s college with deep roots in the liberal arts, Smith has earned a well-deserved reputation as an open-minded institution with a penchant for progressive thinking. Thus, it’s only fitting that the school take a non-traditional approach to environmental education. In fact, despite being one of the best small colleges for an environmental science degree, Smith doesn’t actually have a degree in environmental studies at all! It does, however, feature a robust interdisciplinary program in Environmental Science and Policy, where you can learn how to communicate your passion for the planet in way that “transcend[s] disciplinary boundaries.” Or for an education that’s less humanities and more hands-on, the Environmental Geoscience track will provide the perfect precursor to a career in archaeology or environmental engineering.
Net Price: $26,318/yr
15. Albright College
In stark contrast to its neighbor on this best environmental science colleges ranking, Albright employs a straightforward approach to the study of sustainability. For undergrads at this small school in Pennsylvania, the choice is between a broad-based program in environmental studies or environmental science, or a slightly more focused track in environmental chemistry. The latter two options are laboratory-based and will appeal primarily to science-minded students with an interest in research and technology. The former option leans more heavily on the social sciences, encouraging students to explore the earth’s role in disciplines as diverse as economics, sociology, and public policy.
Net Price: $24,971/yr
14. Florida Southern College
Residing in the appropriately-named town of Lakeland, Florida Southern College has not overlooked the unique opportunities that its aquatic home affords. Many of the environmental science courses at FSC include a “strong outdoor component,” with plenty of opportunities to collect data and tour local agencies. Another major benefit is the school’s proximity to Tampa, which provides for an easy commute once you land an internship with an organization such as the Lowry Park Zoo or Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. But FSC isn’t just a top college for environmental science majors; its marine biology program offers similar perks to students interested in the ecology of ocean life.
Net Price: $24,589/yr
13. Barnard College
New York, NY
At Barnard College, studying the environment is serious business. This top small college for an environmental science degree emphasizes “the need for well-trained scientists” and sustainability advocates in every area of society. As such, Barnard supports three academic programs that represent a range of interdisciplinary interests: Environmental Science, Environmental Biology, and Environmental Policy. The department can also accommodate double and “special” majors for undergraduates who want to apply their love of nature to a different industry, such as law or journalism. And if you start to miss the flora and fauna while living in the concrete jungle, you can always apply for an off-campus program like the SEA Semester or Columbia’s Summer Ecosystem Experiences for Undergraduates (SEE-U).
Net Price: $23,741/yr
12. Franklin and Marshall College
A few minutes on Franklin and Marshall’s website should convince just about anyone that this is one of the best small colleges for an environmental science degree on the East Coast, if not the entire country. The opportunities available to students in F&M’s “Earth and Environment” department far outpace any expectations for a school of this size. Each of the department’s degree programs – Environmental Science, Environmental Studies, and Geosciences – incorporate hands-on learning tools that help put environmental issues in context. Fields trips in particular are an essential part of the curriculum; past expeditions have included traveling to Yellowstone to study the predatory habits of wolves, visiting Hawaii to explore active volcanoes, and undertaking independent research in places as far away as Malaysia!
Net Price: $23,092/yr
11. Colgate University
If you find yourself drawn to interdisciplinary programs – or you simply can’t make up your mind between two fields of study – Colgate University may be the answer. In addition to the traditional environmental studies major, the university also offers four blended programs that combine eco-conscious coursework with one of four other disciplines: biology, geology, economics, or geography. As a result, Colgate graduates enjoy versatile careers that may land them in a laboratory, corporate office, or even on Capitol Hill. And yet, Colgate has taken its commitment to being one of the best small colleges for environmental studies even further, pledging to be a “carbon neutral” campus by 2019.
Net Price: $21,741/yr
10. Chatham University
Although you won’t find any of the standard “green” degree programs at this small college (such as environmental science), Chatham University can do you one better. Eco-warriors will quickly fall in love with its Bachelor of Sustainability (BSUS) program, which offers novel concentrations like Ecological Wellbeing and Sustainable Design and the Built Environment. All classes take place at the Eden Hall Campus, which houses nearly 400 acres of high-tech, indoor-outdoor laboratories. Facilities include an aquaculture lab, waste-water system monitoring center, solar high tunnels, and much more. Plus, students enrolled in this affordable environmental studies program get to live and work in a fully-sustainable residence hall that utilizes solar and geothermal energy.
Net Price: $21,066/yr
9. Colorado College
Colorado Springs, CO
Many know Colorado as a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts and environmentalists. Therefore, it’s only appropriate that Colorado College earns a spot on this top environmental science colleges ranking. CC’s claim to green fame comes in the form of an integrated program that houses two distinct majors: environmental science and environmental policy. Science majors can also choose from concentrations in environmental chemistry and environmental physics, the latter of which is especially hard to find at other schools. Colorado College also offers a minor in Environmental Issues, which is strategically-designed to complement coursework in a wide range of fields, from the natural sciences to the humanities.
Net Price: $21,027/yr
8. Catawba College
It should be clear by now that, despite all they have in common, every program on this environmental science colleges ranking has something unique to offer, too. Catawba College is no exception, and perhaps its most distinctive feature is its concentration list. At Catawba, you can choose from specializations that only a handful of schools in the entire country offer, including Environmental and Outdoor Education, Natural Resource Management, and Sustainable Planning and Leadership. But if that’s not enough to catch your attention, the school’s ecological preserve surely will be. The nearly 200-acre property, which includes a greenhouse, science exploratorium and study center, and waterfowl impoundment, is a frequent site for undergraduate field research.
Net Price: $20,359/yr
7. Davis & Elkins College
Davis & Elkins is perhaps best described as one of the top colleges for environmental science majors who don’t love science. Of course, the school still offers a traditional environmental science degree, complete with courses like Plant Taxonomy, Biogeography, and Atmospheric Resources. But D&E earns this alternative title thanks to two deeply interdisciplinary programs. The first is a B.A. in Biology and Environmental Studies, which is ideal for students who want to work in “non-scientific areas but need considerable knowledge of environmental concepts.” The other is a B.A. in Sustainability Studies, which trains program members to work as environmental advocates in fields like economics development and community health.
Net Price: $20,202/yr
6. Alaska Pacific University
If this were any other ranking, we might hesitate to include a school that requires a 6+ hour plane flight (or more than 60 hours of driving!) just to get there from the continental US. But no ranking of the best colleges for environmental science majors would be complete without Alaska Pacific University. This tiny school, which enrolls fewer than 300 undergraduates, dedicates a significant portion of its equally tiny academic resources to studying the environment. Bachelor’s degrees include a B.A. in Sustainability Studies, a B.S. in Marine and Environmental Sciences, and a B.A. in Outdoor Studies. But no matter which you choose, you’ll spend plenty of time taking advantage of APU’s greatest asset: the beautiful Alaskan landscape it calls home.
Net Price: $19,536/yr
5. Northland College
Tucked away in a tiny town in the northernmost part of Wisconsin, Northland College is easy to overlook. But this hidden gem deserves recognition as a leader in environmental education. In fact, it’s almost hard to believe the sheer number of eco-friendly degrees it has on offer – especially considering it’s such an affordable small college for environmental studies! And it’s not just the quantity of options that makes Northland so exceptional; the academic variety is equally impressive. From Sustainable Entrepreneurship to Water Science to Fisheries and Wildlife Ecology, this school is overflowing with one-of-a-kind programs.
Net Price: $19,191/yr
4. Colby College
At Colby College, nature-friendly programs are everywhere you look. Naturally, the Department of Environmental Studies is the primary engine that fuels green initiatives on campus. In addition to majors in Environmental Studies, Environmental Policy, and Environmental Computation, the department also supports numerous opportunities for project- and field-based learning. And if you keep your grades up, you may be eligible for the ES Honors Research Program, a prestigious initiative that requires you to conduct independent research and present your results at an annual symposium on campus. Colby undergrads outside of the ES program can also indulge their eco-conscious interests through certain concentrations, such as the “Ecology and Evolution” track within the biology degree.
Net Price: $18,908/yr
3. Pfeiffer University
Pay close attention to the green degrees available at Pfeiffer University; although the college’s Environmental Science and Studies programs are barely distinguishable by name, they are complete different in function. They aren’t even housed in the same academic division! First, the B.S. in Environmental Science (Division of Applied Health Sciences) provides an in-depth examination of ecological issues and incorporates a heavy dose of lab coursework in the natural sciences. In contrast, the B.A. in Environmental Studies emphasizes social science topics like criminal justice and global affairs – and includes a foreign language requirement, too.
Net Price: $18,316/yr
2. SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry
This top environmental science colleges ranking is full of great academic programs for anyone passionate about sustainability. But none hold a candle to the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. At SUNY-ESF, students and faculty alike eat, sleep, and breathe green. Forget individual majors; this school has nine entire departments teeming with one-of-a-kind eco-friendly programs. Some of the more unique options include Environmental Resources Engineering, Environmental Education and Interpretation, Sustainable Energy Management, and Forest Ecosystem Science. SUNY-ESF also boasts one of the country’s top ranger schools. Located on a 2,800-acre campus in Adirondack Park, The Ranger School provides highly specialized training in land surveying, forest technology, and research conservation.
Net Price: $17,813/yr
1. Daemen College
With an annual net price of approximately $17,500, Daemen narrowly beats out SUNY-ESF as the #1 affordable small college for environmental studies. Daemen also joins a small subset of schools on this list that don’t offer a traditional degree in environmental science. Instead, you might consider the college’s program in Global and Local Sustainability, which features a practical mix of coursework in sustainable design, urban development, and renewable energy. Or if you’d prefer an education that has more labs and fewer lectures, both the natural science and biology degrees at Daemen offer optional concentrations in Environmental Studies.
Net Price: $17,551/yr
Want to find out exactly how much it will cost for you to attend one of these affordable environmental studies programs? Check out the U.S. Department of Education’s Net Price Calculator Center.