Majoring in Environmental Sciences
The Environmental Science, Policy, and Management Department’s Environmental Sciences (ES) major is a top-rated, interdisciplinary program that deals with the impact of human activities on natural systems. In order to address these problems, students are trained to apply tools and techniques from a variety of disciplines such as biology, ecology, chemistry, toxicology, geology, hydrology, meteorology, geography, engineering, statistics, behavioral science, policy analysis, economics, and law.
Explore the new Environmental Sciences Major Map!
Environmental Sciences (ES) provides a broad, comprehensive education in the fundamentals of biology, chemistry, math, physics, and social sciences. The discipline involves the study of interactions between human activities and biological and physical environments on all scales, from the local to the global. ES majors finish their degree with a year-long research project, the senior thesis. Students investigate an environmental issue, design and execute independent research, and present their results in oral and written form. This major is offered by the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management (ESPM).
What will I study?
In the lower-division courses (i.e., freshman and sophomore level courses), the ES major emphasizes basic science in a rigorous curriculum drawn from a variety of departments including biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, economics, and environmental science. Students choose one of three concentrations that affect which lower-division math and science courses they complete (please see the ES Major Snapshot for details). Students should choose a concentration based on their intended research area.
Students should choose a concentration based on their intended research area.
Biological Science Concentration:
- This concentration is the most popular and is great for students interested in conservation, ecology, biodiversity, and other topics in biology. Requires Chem 3A/3AL, Bio 1B, and Bio 1A/1AL.
Social Science Concentration:
- The Social Sciences Concentration is also very popular and offers the most flexibility for completing lower-division science requirements. This concentration is a good fit for students interested in the economic, political, and sociological aspects of environmental topics. It is the only concentration that offers Chem 1B as an option instead of Chem 3A/3AL.
Physical Science Concentration:
- Students with a strong interest in math, physics, and engineering typically choose this concentration. Requires Math 1A, Math 1B, Physics 7A, and Physics 7B.
The upper-division ES courses blend core requirements with a great deal of flexibility and allow students to tailor their coursework to their own research interests. Students choose two electives, courses in modeling and social sciences, and also complete a sequence of courses focused on preparing students to engage in research.
Students must take their upper-division statistics course prior to enrolling in ESPM 1000ES. In this course, Intro to Research Methods of Environmental Science, students learn fundamental tools and frameworks for engaging in research and creating a proposal for their senior thesis. ESPM 100ES (offered spring only) must be completed before students enroll in the Senior Research Seminar--ESPM 175A/L (fall) and ESPM 175B/L (spring). This creates a chain of four classes beginning in fall of the junior year. Students who plan to study abroad or otherwise not continuously enroll at Berkeley for their junior and senior years should talk to the ES advisor about planning options.
The Senior Research Seminar in Environmental Sciences
ES students finish their degree with a year-long senior research project by taking ESPM 175A/L (fall) and ESPM 175B/L (spring). The thesis experience is the capstone of the major where students have the opportunity to investigate an environmental problem or issue of their own choosing. Using the skills and knowledge from their previous courses, students learn how to formulate testable hypotheses about biological, physical, or social patterns and processes associated with an existing or potential environmental problem, collect data to evaluate their hypotheses, and present their results in a professional manner. The experience is extremely helpful for students as they prepare for environmental careers, future research, or graduate/professional school.
For more information about the senior research seminar, please see the ESPM 175 website . This site includes suggestions for possible thesis topics, information about the structure of the course, descriptions of previous projects, and much more.
What can I do with this major?
ES students are well prepared for environmental work as well as careers in many different areas. Every year, ES graduates pursue a variety of opportunities including working for the government, working in non-government or non-profit agencies, and working in the private sector. Many students also attend graduate school in academia (M.S. or Ph.D. programs) or in medicine, law, and other professional programs. The rigor and flexibility of the ES major allow students to adapt their coursework to best meet their career goals.
Declaring the major
Students must complete the lower division requirements outlined here for Rausser College students and here for students outside the college. Please refer to the AP, IB, & A-Level Exam Equivalency Chart to determine what requirements may be fulfilled by exam scores. Once students complete the minimum requirements to declare, they should meet with the ES major advisor and fill out the Change of College or Major Form to declare ES and, if applicable, change colleges into Rausser College of Natural Resources.
For prospective junior transfer students, please review the ES Transfer Admissions Guidelines and make sure you’ve completed the minimum admission requirements.
Environmental Sciences Student Association (ESSA)
The Environmental Sciences Student Association (ESSA) is for students interested in environmental sciences. ESSA's main goal is to bring together students with interests in the environment in a fun, academic, and social atmosphere. Membership is open to all UC Berkeley students. ESSA organizes academic, social, and career/internship events throughout the year. Among the events are advising nights, service projects, hiking & camping trips, and several career events. To subscribe to the ESSA mailing list, send a request to be added to the list with your name and email address to email@example.com. You may also join ESSA on Facebook.
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