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Guest Blogger Counts Down the Top Colleges and Universities for Environmental Studies

Last month, thousands of high school seniors received college acceptance letters and today, on College Signing Day, they are making the ultimate decision about where they’ll spend the next four years. So EIA was very excited to be presented with one of our supporter’s countdown of the top ten* universities for students interested in pursuing degrees in environmental studies.

For students just beginning their college search, the summer months are sure to be filled with exploratory college visits, and creating that itinerary may at first seem overwhelming. The following list was created to make the college search a bit easier, by evaluating schools that have developed a reputation for exceptional academic standards and a unique range of out-of-classroom opportunities.

To effectively grade each school, our contributor created a grading rubric to judge Academics, Student Environmental Participation, Financial Support, and Campus Sustainability. To read the full rubric and see the corresponding point system, [please click here]. You may also use this grading rubric to evaluate colleges and universities not listed in this review.

*A subjective compilation, by a guest blogger, of schools in the United States that have exemplified strong academic quality, student activities, campus sustainability, and financial support related to environmental science and policy. EIA does not endorse any of the colleges and universities listed. EIA encourages students to consider a degree in environmental science and policy and working to protect the earth. However, EIA further encourages students to consult guidance counselors and other resources to find the school that is right for them. This guest blog post does not necessarily reflect the opinions of EIA.

By Sarah Anouilh, EIA Guest Contributor

10. Green Mountain College (Poultney, Vermont)

Academics: Green Mountain College’s seven environment-centric majors for undergrads include Animal Conservation and Care and a minor in Animal Studies.

Academics Score: 11

Student Environmental Participation: There are three environmental student groups on campus, including a Forestry Club. Students may also submit creative proposals for a greener school to a fund known as the Student Campus Greening Fund.

Student Environmental Participation Score: 5

Financial Support: Green Mountain College’s scholarships include two environmental scholarships for students: the Environmental Advancement Scholarship grants up to $7,000 to students with “an interest in addressing the growing ecological issues and crises confronting our world.” The Demonstrated Excellence in Environmental Practice (DEEP) Scholarship grants $2,000 to students who have proven action in confronting environmental practice through community service, research, or art.

Financial Support Score: 2

Sustainability: The College's Sustainability 2020 report highlights “authentic sustainability” and details five campus initiatives to be achieved by 2020. The college boasts one Gold LEED-certified building, one Gold STARS rating, and membership with the ACUPCC.

Sustainability Score: 13

Grand Total: 31

Green Mountain College’s curriculum and sustainability initiatives are confirmation of its dedication to the education of environmental protection. Nearly a fourth of its undergraduate programs are environment-centric, while the student body’s enthusiasm for outdoor adventure endorses conservation ethics outside of the classroom.

9. Northland College (Ashland, Wisconsin)

Academics: Northland boasts eleven undergraduate majors relating to the environment. Students may elect to study forestry or fisheries and wildlife ecology, which are reminiscent of EIA’s Forests and Wildlife campaigns.

Academics Score: 15

Student Environmental Participation: With four environmental student groups and affiliations with the American Fisheries Society and American Meteorological Society, students have plenty of opportunities to learn about real-world environmental scenarios.

Student Environmental Participation Score: 4

Financial Support: Both the Sigurd Olson Eco-Visionary Scholarship and the Environmental and Outdoor Program Award offer undergraduates with interests in environmental and sustainability studies between $500 and $4,500 per year.

Financial Support Score: 2

Sustainability: This school has eight sustainability initiatives, including a public pledge to become carbon neutral by 2030, as well as four Campus Ecology Program case studies by National Wildlife Federation (NWF), and a Gold LEED-certified library.

Sustainability Score: 15

Grand Total: 36

Northland College is acclaimed for its accomplishments in sustainability with a pledge of $1 billion towards energy efficiency as a participant in the Billion Dollar Green Challenge. Plus, Northland’s Dexter Library was one of the first Gold LEED-certified structures in all of Wisconsin!

8. Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, Maryland)

Academics: Environmental programs include a B.S. in Global Environmental Change and Sustainability from the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences as well as a B.S. in Environmental Engineering.

Academics Score: 2

Student Environmental Participation: JHU is home to a Sustainability Network which has 17 environmental students clubs. Scholars seeking to improve campus sustainability may pursue a role in the Sustainability Student Leadership Program or present their favorite campus greening plan to the Sustainable Hopkins Infrastructure Program (SHIP).

Student Environmental Participation Score: 21

Financial Support: While internal and alumni scholarship programs for undergraduates are limited, JHU’s Office of Financial Aid offers merit and need-based scholarships for incoming freshmen.

Financial Support Score: 0

Sustainability: JHU is most certainly a green school. Buildings and Infrastructure, one of seven campus sustainability initiatives, includes the completion of a Gold and Silver LEED-certified building. Although JHU is not a signatory of the ACUPCC nor is recognized by AASHE, the college boasts two Campus Ecology Program case studies. JHU’s Energy and Climate Change Task Force aims for a 50 percent greenhouse gas emissions reduction by 2025.

Sustainability Score: 14

Grand Total: 37

As a world-renowned research institute, Johns Hopkins University works to find solutions for today’s most threatening environmental crises. Additionally, a partnership with the EPA known as the Climate Showcase Program—a program encouraging future “green ambassadors” and student leadership—offers young professionals the opportunity to consult for non-profit organizations within Baltimore.

7. Columbia University (New York City, NY)

Academics: Columbia’s Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences includes a B.S. in Environmental Science. Students may also major in Earth and Environmental Engineering, Sustainable Development, Environmental Biology, and Environmental Policy.

Academics Score: 5

Student Environmental Participation: Columbia’s Environmental Stewardship office oversees thirteen environmental student organizations, while environmental science majors can network in 25 student groups overseen by the prestigious Earth Institute. Columbia’s student campus “greening” includes the Green Fund for environmental projects and the Sustainability Initiative Consulting Board, which is a student-faculty collaboration aimed at cultivating sustainable university policy.

Student Environmental Participation Score: 33

Financial Support: Although there is no merit-based aid offered by the university, the Earth Institute encourages students to apply for over one hundred private and federal scholarships based on various scientific disciplines.

Financial Support Score: 0

Sustainability: Eight campus initiatives reflect Columbia’s dedication to environmental stewardship. The university is also home to a Platinum LEED-certified campus building, seven Gold LEED-certified buildings, and one Silver LEED-certified building. Columbia has earned a Gold AASHE rating and is a signatory of the ACUPCC.

Sustainability Score: 39

Grand Total: 77

With advanced research facilities and relationships with NASA, the EPA, and United Nations, Columbia is the ideal school for young minds pursing a career in Earth sciences. Columbia’s sustainability is reflected in its numerous green structures, including green laboratories, an energy-saving fuel conversion initiative, and a completely geothermal energy-dependent building.

6. State University of New York – Environmental Science and Forestry (Syracuse, New York)

Academics: There are 18 undergraduate programs in environmental sciences at SUNY-ESF. Those majoring in Conservation Biology, Wildlife Science, Aquatic and Fisheries Science, or any of SUNY’s forest-centric undergraduate programs analyze mounting anthropogenic pressures on the Earth’s forests and wildlife.

Academics Score: 25

Student Environmental Participation: There are 20 student clubs with environmental focus. Students may also participate in campus-wide sustainability audits as part of the student-faculty collaboration, Campus Climate Change Committee.

Student Environmental Participation Score: 22

Financial Support: SUNY-ESF offers four scholarship opportunities: a merit-based Scholarship (up to $8,000 per year), the Phi Theta Kappa transfer student scholarship ($1,500 per year), the Haudenosaudee Scholar Award ($5,000 per year) and the Legacy Scholarship (up to $250 per semester.) There are also 35 alumni awards designated for undergraduates pursuing degrees in environmental, forestry, or wildlife studies.

Financial Support Score: 39

Sustainability: SUNY-ESF’s administration is making strides towards its goal of being carbon neutral by 2015. The school recently unveiled the Platinum LEED-certified ESF Gateway Center. The institution also boasts a Gold LEED-certified structure and seven Campus Ecology Program case studies. SUNY-ESF is an ACUPCC signatory.

Sustainability Score: 15

Grand Total: 101

SUNY-ESF is deeply invested in environmental and natural resource education, and extensive multidisciplinary scholarships simultaneously encourage environmental studies while lending credence to the values of alumni and current students.

5. University of Colorado – Boulder (Boulder, Colorado)

Academics: Environmental undergraduate studies are limited to Environmental Design, Environmental Engineering, and Environmental Studies.

Academics Score: 3

Student Environmental Participation: Students at Boulder have the option of joining any of 13 campus clubs related to climate, wildlife, and sustainability. Opportunities for student leadership include the CU Student Government Environmental Board and the Assembly for Sustainability and Equity.

Student Environmental Participation Score: 17

Financial Support: Environmental Science students may apply to one of three $1,000 alumni awards. Boulder’s Program in Environmental Design sponsors ten undergraduate awards.

Financial Support Score: 13

Sustainability: CU Boulder is a global leader in sustainability with six campus sustainability initiatives and three Campus Ecology case studies. Boulder boasts five Platinum, 11 Gold, and one Silver LEED-certified buildings. It is also a signatory of the ACUPCC with a Gold AASHE rating.

Sustainability Score: 69

Grand Total: 102

University of Colorado – Boulder prepares students for exciting and meaningful careers: scholars affiliated with CU-Boulder’s Environmental Center, or the “largest student-run environmental center in the United States,” work off-campus, promoting sustainability throughout the city and beyond. This work involves engagement with citizens through the Community and Social Engagement (CASE) for Sustainability, Sustainable Practices Program, CU Going Local, and the INVST Community Leadership Program.

4. Duke University (Durham, North Carolina)

Academics: Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment offers a B.A. in Environmental Sciences and Policy, B.S. in Environmental Sciences, B.A. in Earth and Ocean Sciences, and a B.S. in Earth and Ocean Sciences. Students may also major in Civil and Environmental Engineering.

Academics Score: 5

Student Environmental Participation: Students may join any of 26 environmental student clubs. They may also participate in the Campus Sustainability Committee and submit proposals to the Green Grant Fund.

Student Environmental Participation Score: 30

Financial Support: While scholarships at Duke University are few, paid work experience opportunities enhance students’ environmental expertise and the college’s green presence. Campus Sustainability Fellows or the Students for Sustainable Living on-campus paid internships encourage the implementation of environmentally-friendly policy in all campus operations.

Financial Support Score: 2

Sustainability: Duke has two Platinum, four Gold, 12 Silver buildings, and 10 LEED-certified campus structures. It is also an ACUPCC member with 11 campus initiatives.

Sustainability Score: 70

Grand Total: 107

Duke University’s acclaimed research facilities, including the Duke Marine Lab, Duke Forest Lab, and the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, provide the perfect backdrop to understanding the intricacies of the most pressing environmental problems and finding solutions.

3. Cornell University (Ithaca, New York)

Academics: Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Science (CALS) has seven environment-centric majors, including an Animal Science program and a climate change minor. Cornell also has Design and Environmental Analysis and Environmental Engineering programs.

Academics Score: 12

Student Environmental Participation: Cornell has 36 environmental student organizations and a Presidential Sustainable Campus Committee.

Student Environmental Participation Score: 38

Financial Support: CALS offers five scholarships to undergraduates in environmental-related disciplines.

Financial Support Score: 5

Sustainability: As a signatory of ACUPCC and a three-time recipient of a Gold AASHE rating, the Cornell Sustainable Campus Climate Action Plan lays out 62 goals to create a low-carbon future. Cornell also boasts three Campus Ecology Program case studies as well as a Platinum and eight Gold LEED-certified structures.

Sustainability Score: 55

Grand Total: 110

With an environmentally-conscious student body and exceptional academic programs, Cornell has the resources to make monumental breakthroughs in environmental discoveries. Motivated to “address one of humankind’s greatest challenges,” Cornell scholars investigate environmental policy affecting public health, renewable energy, and other topics in seven acclaimed research institutes. The Cornell University Cooperative Extension integrates environmentalism with social and economic causes for sustainable community development throughout New York.

2. University of California – Berkeley (Berkeley, California)

Academics: Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources offers five environmental programs that are both major and minor areas of study. Environmental Engineering and Environmental Design are also related options.

Academics Score: 12

Student Environmental Participation: There are numerous student-faculty collaboration efforts, including the California Climate Action Partnership (CalCAP) as well as the Environmental Sciences Student Association, Student Sustainability Forum, University Halls Sustainability Committee, and the Berkeley Water Group. Additionally, Berkeley has 17 student clubs related to environmental topics.

Student Environmental Participation Score: 29

Financial Support: The College of Environmental Design offers five undergraduate scholarships, while environmental engineers and environmental scientists are welcome to apply to any of 22 separate scholarships.

Financial Support Score: 49

Sustainability: Berkeley’s Office of Sustainability and Energy implemented twelve campus-wide sustainability initiatives including plans to become carbon neutral. Berkeley has four Gold and four Silver LEED-certified campus structures as well as an ACUPCC affiliation.

Sustainability Score: 33

Grand Total: 123

Advanced leadership potential in the University of California – Berkeley’s extracurricular activities encourages undergraduates to lead by example and expand their work beyond the classroom. CalCAP, which pursues the collective sustainability goals of Berkeley’s faculty and students, successfully reduced the university’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels.

1. University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign (Urbana-Champaign, Illinois)

Academics: UIUC’s College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences (ACES) offers 12 environment-centric majors, including Environmental Engineering and Earth, Society, and Environmental Sustainability. Also, UIUC faculty Dr. Jonathan Tomkin offers a free sustainability course online.

Academics Score: 16

Student Environmental Participation: There are 43 student groups associated with ACES alone and 11 other student-led organizations related to environment and sustainability. The Student Sustainability Committee funds student-led projects striving for “a better, cleaner, safer environment” on campus. The Sustainability Working Advisory Teams (SWATeams,) a student-faculty collaboration promoted by UIUC’s Institute for Sustainability, Energy, and Environment (iSEE), helps the school to meet campus sustainability objectives. Finally, a Sustainability Council teaches faculty and student leaders to enhance sustainability strategy and policy on campus.

Student Environmental Participation Score: 62

Financial Support: ACES currently offers one hundred scholarships to students hoping to pursue higher education in environmental studies, natural resources, or agriculture with prizes ranging from $250 to over $1,000. The Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences has four alumni awards for undergraduates and the Eggers Engineering Scholarship gives “preference to students in Departments of Civil and Environmental Engineering.”

Financial Support Score: 105

Sustainability: iSEE has ten initiatives, including a pledge to be carbon neutral by 2050. As a member of the ACUPCC and a STARS Gold rating recipient, UIUC holds an impressive four Campus Ecology Program case studies through NWF, as well as three Platinum, two Gold, and six Silver LEED-certified buildings.

Sustainability Score: 49

Grand Total: 232

Innovative undergraduate programs, dedicated college faculty, a plethora of scholarship opportunities, and ideal student engagement are testament the University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign commitment to nurturing the minds of future environmental leaders. The school also participates in the nationwide Recycle Mania and EcoOlympics programs.

Thank you for checking out this exciting college countdown! Keep in mind that there are many great schools out there, extending far beyond the Top Ten list. Be sure to do your own research to find the right fit for you and your goals.

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