Is a Conservation Biology Degree Right for You?
A bachelor’s degree in conservation biology is a good fit for students who are passionate about the environment and preserving endangered species. Prospective students should have a propensity for science and a genuine interest in combating issues that negatively affect biodiversity and the planet as a whole, such as tropical deforestation, the destruction of other fragile ecosystems, and overconsumption of limited natural resources. They should also have a desire to research issues pertaining to natural resource conservation and a willingness both to educate the public about the importance of pursuing a sustainable future and to push for legislation that protects the environment. Students who want to pursue scientific research careers in conservation biology must be willing to pursue a graduate degree, but other careers in conservation are open to bachelor’s degree holders.
Advice for Earning Your Conservation Biology Degree Online
Prospective students should realize that few, if any, conservation biology bachelor’s degrees are delivered 100% online. This is because all programs in the natural sciences have significant lab requirements, and typically require field work as well. Some online programs manage this difficulty by creating hybrid programs that offer online course work with a campus-based lab component, but it is more likely that you will need to take all lab courses on site.
While this doesn’t mean that you can’t take a significant amount of your general education or non-lab courses online, it does mean that working students will need to plan ahead for their courses that involve labs or field work. We urge students who are uncertain about their career path to consider majoring in a broader area, like biology, and pursue a specialization in conservation biology, as this may open up a wider variety of career opportunities for them.
Students who enroll in conservation biology programs will gain a solid foundation in the hard sciences, including general and organic biology, chemistry, physics, and genetics. Lab work and field work in the natural sciences are also incorporated so that students can learn scientific principles in a hands-on manner. A conservation biology bachelor’s degree might incorporate the following courses:
- Principles of Biological Diversity
- Principles of Living Systems
- Land Resources & Environmental Science
- Conservation Genetics
- Research Methods in Conservation Biology
Common Career Paths
Typically, graduates who pursue careers directly related to their field go on to become conservation or wildlife scientists, lab technicians, or natural resource managers. The best jobs in conservation biology, such as those in research and academia, require a Ph.D. Some specific career options are outlined below. Keep in mind that salaries vary greatly depending on your level of experience and education, your roles and responsibilities, and the region of the country you live in.
- Expected Growth: 5%
- Average Annual Salary: $62,290
Conservation scientists come up with ways for people to improve land while minimizing any negative impact on the environment, and they ensure that government regulations are being followed when people develop land. They may even make recommendations to farmers, ranchers, and other landowners on effective erosion-control methods as they develop their land. Federal, state, and local government is the biggest employer of conservation scientists, with the federal government employing 33% of these scientists, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
A bachelor’s degree in an area like forestry, rangeland management, environmental science, or a related area like conservation biology is typical for these careers. The above job outlook and salary average were provided by the BLS.
- Expected Growth: 5%
- Average Annual Salary: $56,130
In general, foresters manage forested lands, but their responsibilities differ by employer. One forester may provide oversight of a reforestation project and lead efforts to plant trees and monitor their growth process, while another may provide oversight for the harvesting of trees. Still others develop plans to mitigate the risk of wildfire in forests, or prevent the spread of diseases in trees.
A bachelor’s degree in forestry or a related area, like conservation biology, is a typical requirement to enter the profession, and courses in ecology, biology, and forest resource management, are helpful, the BLS explained. The employment growth projection and salary average provided above were drawn from the BLS.
- Expected Growth: 7%
- Average Annual Salary: $61,880
Wildlife biologists study animals in the wild. They learn about their behaviors and observe their interaction with their habitats. They also advocate for the conservation of ecological systems that support these animals’ ability to survive and reproduce. Wildlife biologists often write reports and papers to make recommendations on ways to manage wildlife without destroying animals’ homes.
While you can obtain an entry-level position in the field with a bachelor’s degree, a graduate degree will be required for advancement, the BLS explained. The above job growth projection and salary average were provided by the BLS.
Environmental Scientist or Specialist
- Expected Growth: 19%
- Average Annual Salary: $68,810
Environmental scientists collect environmental data in the form of soil, water, or air samples; analyze whether a pollutant is causing environmental damage; and make recommendations on how this damage can be reversed or mitigated for the promotion of environmental and human health. They may conduct research on the impact a new construction project would have on the surrounding environment, or lead efforts to restore contaminated lands and waters to health.
A minimum of a bachelor’s degree in one of the natural sciences is required to obtain a position as an environmental scientist or specialist, the BLS explained. The job outlook and salary figures listed above were provided by the BLS.
Conservation Science Teachers
- Expected Growth: 17%
- Average Annual Salary: $68,810
Graduates of bachelor’s programs may choose to continue their education at the graduate level in order to pursue careers in academia. These professors and instructors teach future conversation biologists about the techniques and concerns involved in wildlife conservation, test their understanding of the subject, and contribute toward a university’s curriculum in the subject. This position also gives candidates the opportunity to pursue their own research interests, and publish scholarly work in the discipline.