Derick de Souza
Written By - Derick de Souza

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The online sustainability master’s degree educates students to investigate the availability of resources, understand their importance and usage, and implement sustainable solutions that best suit the protection and conservation of resources. Graduates of the master’s in sustainability online find employment in the areas of environmental science and conservation. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for Environmental Scientists and Specialists was $76,480 in 2022[1]. This page will give details of the MSus degree, including specialization options, career prospects, ways the course may be funded, available scholarships, accreditation, and more.

Master’s in Sustainability Online

Table Of Contents

Featured Online Programs

Southern New Hampshire University

PROGRAM: Online Masters Degrees in Criminal Justice with Counter Terrorism Concentration

Southern New Hampshire University is a private, nonprofit, accredited institution with more than 3,000 on-campus students and over 60,000 online students, making us one of the fastest-growing universities in the country. Founded in 1932, we’ve been relentlessly reinventing higher education ever since and have gained national recognition for our dedication to helping students transform their lives and the lives of those around them.

We’re proud to provide affordable, accessible education that students can pursue on our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH, over our innovative online platform or at our regional centers in Manchester, Nashua, Portsmouth and Salem, NH, and Brunswick, ME.

SNHU has earned the GetEducated.com Best Buy and Best of Business – Best Online Degree awards and is consistently ranked as a top Military Friendly® School by G.I Jobs®.

Best Master’s in Sustainability Online Programs

The best master’s in sustainability programs online emphasize theoretical classes and research, with professional practice integrated throughout. The online sustainability master suits students with time constraints or already employed in their preferred domains. There are various factors based on which to rank the best master’s in sustainability programs online, like accreditation, financial aid available, fees vs. career prospects, admission requirements, program requirements, graduation rates, quality of faculty, etc. With these in mind and more, here are some of the best master’s in sustainability online programs in the U.S.:

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College Name & AddressTuitionGraduation Rate
#1
University of Connecticut
352 Mansfield Road, Storrs, Connecticut 06269
$17,53283%
#2
Pennsylvania State University-World Campus
128 Outreach Building, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802
NANA
#3
Arizona State University Digital Immersion
1365 N Scottsdale Rd, Scottsdale, Arizona 85257
$9,77426%
#4
University of Denver
2199 S. University Blvd, Denver, Colorado 80208
$53,64076%
#5
Virginia Polytechnic Institute
210 Burruss Hall, 800 Drillfield Dr., Blacksburg, Virginia 24061
$14,09887%
#6
Glasgow Caledonian New York College
64 Wooster Street, New York, New York 10012
$36,800NA
#7
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
1 Aerospace Blvd., Daytona Beach, Florida 32114
$8,91619%
#8
North Dakota State University-Main Campus
1301 12th Avenue North, Fargo, North Dakota 58108
$7,29365%
#9
Loyola Marymount University
One Lmu Drive, Los Angeles, California 90045
$19,64279%
#10
Thomas Jefferson University
1020 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19107
$22,06871%

Source – Integrated Post Secondary Education Data System & University Data
*Tuition rates are for in-state and per year. Program specific rates may apply.
**NA – data not available

Understanding Master’s in Sustainability Online Programs

Sustainability is essential to ensure a similar quality of life for future generations on the earth. The online sustainability degree studies and documents the social, economic, moral, and political impact of diminishing resources and the communities they support. The master’s in sustainability degree is taught using theoretical classes, research, and practical methods via three models: the regular brick-and-mortar school model, the online university option, or a hybrid option in which most courses will be conducted online, while students will physically attend classes for a specified duration. The program requires between 35 and 48 credits and often culminates with the student having to complete a capstone project. The capstone could be a group project, internship, or thesis. Most colleges need a thesis to be submitted as a part of the program.

The online sustainability degree provides an educational opportunity for three kinds of students: 

  • Students who desire to augment their education and eventually obtain a doctorate in sustainability or related fields
  • Sustainability practitioners and environmental scientists employed in the field who have completed their bachelor’s degrees and aspire to advance in their respective domains.
  • Traditional and non-traditional students seeking to complete a master’s degree in sustainability. 

Comprehensively, on completion of the sustainability master’s degree, graduates will understand ecological science and will also have refined skills in documenting and evaluating evidence, making reasoned arguments, and making informed decisions concerning environmental conservation & sustainability, legalities, and ethics.

Curriculum and Skills Gained in Master’s in Sustainability Online Programs

An online master’s in sustainability usually comprises 35 to 48 credits. The curriculum typically covers core courses and electives or specializations. It follows an interdisciplinary approach to education with sustainability knowledge through science, business, economics, public policy, communication, and social justice. The core courses taught will depend on the college chosen. Examples of courses students can expect in an MSus degree program are: 

  • Foundations of Sustainability This course covers the three foundations of sustainability – the environment, economy, and society. It includes modern challenges facing sustainability and strategies to overcome these challenges to ensure long-term success.
  • Quantitative Methods in Sustainability This course covers statistical methods to quantify the damage caused to the environment and uses these quantitative methods to predict and assess future damage. Statistics may also be used to predict the benefits of proposed remedial and conservation actions. Quantitative methods also assess the sustainability of the resources a company uses.
  • Human Dimensions of Sustainability This course covers the habitats and the people and communities that are dependent on the habitats. Protecting habitats is important to maintain civilized societies free from food, water, and energy shortages.
  • Environmental Informatics This course covers the theory and application of advanced computational and analytical techniques to issues dealing with the conservation of the environment.

A few other sustainability courses include but are not limited to:

  • Global Human Systems
  • Sustainable Organizational Management
  • Natural Science for Sustainability
  • Sustainability Law and Policy
  • Sustainability and Systems
  • Pursuing Sustainability through Governance
  • Applied Ecology
  • Sustainability: Ethics, Equity, Justice
  • Environmental Law and Policy 
  • Human Dimensions of Sustainability
  • Resource & Environmental Economics

Since the scope of the study is so vast, students of a master’s online sustainability degree usually choose majors or specializations depending on their interests, resources, courses available, and career goals. 

Choosing an online master’s in sustainability can be a socially, intellectually, and financially rewarding career choice. After receiving an education in sustainability, graduates can pick and choose employment opportunities both inside and outside sustainability fields. These domains have become increasingly important in government, academia, and industry. Among the skills gained from the program, graduates will have the ability to:

  • understand the ethical issues surrounding sustainability;
  • understand the concepts and methods of various disciplines, as well as how these can be used to address sustainability issues;
  • create innovative, adaptable solutions to sustainability challenges;
  • understand sustainability concepts, issues, and the disciplines required to address real-world problems;
  • consider sustainability issues holistically;
  • collaborate and work in multidisciplinary teams; and
  • examine the role and effectiveness of various methods of inquiry and analysis.

Master’s in Sustainability Degree Types

The online master’s in sustainability encompasses the interdisciplinary approach to education with core sustainability knowledge through science, business, economics, public policy, communication, and social justice. The MSus degree could be a:

  • Master of Arts Sustainability Online  
  • Master of Science Sustainability Online 
  • Master of Business Administration in Sustainability Online (MBA in Sustainability) 

Of these, the predominant two degrees are:

Master of Arts in Sustainability

The Master of Arts or MA in Sustainability Online (also known as MAS) is chosen by students inclined towards knowledge generation and designing new ways to address sustainability challenges. This type of degree requires a thesis or academic paper as a culminating submission. It is geared toward students interested in the social sciences, such as humanities, the liberal arts, or related fields.

Master of Science in Sustainability

The Master of Science or MS in Sustainability Online is an interdisciplinary and innovative program that provides students with the knowledge to understand the complex relationship between environmental factors, natural systems, economic models, legal limits, policy protocols, and political and social challenges. This type of degree requires a thesis or academic paper as an end-of-program submission. It is designed for students interested in the natural sciences, economics, engineering, or related fields.

Specializations in Master’s in Sustainability Programs

Students in a sustainability master’s degree online study and document the social, economic, moral, and political impact of diminishing resources and the communities they support. Since the scope for sustainable studies is vast, most students choose specializations depending on their interests and career objectives. Some available sustainability specializations for prospective students to explore and consider are:

Area of Specialization Description 
Sustainable Systems This specialization covers systems thinking and systems modeling and applying systems modeling to existing and developing environmental problems.
Environmental Informatics This specialization covers the theory and application of advanced computational and analytical techniques to issues dealing with the conservation of the environment.
Sustainable Food Systems This concentration focuses on food policy and production. Students learn about food trends and agricultural innovations while networking with farmers, ranchers, and influential policymakers.
Conservation Ecology This specialization covers local, regional, national, and international environmental problems. The program focuses on concepts and skills to study ecosystems and solve complex problems surrounding said ecosystems.
Behavior, Education, and Communication This specialization studies the causes, implications, and implications of actions and decisions that impact the environment and natural resources. Students learn to use techniques and resources to encourage conservation and behaviors that save resources among the relevant stakeholders.
Sustainable Leadership Through the lens of sustainability, this specialization teaches organizational leadership skills. The core areas of study include strategy, communication, leadership & global context, and more.
Sustainable Solutions This specialization is intended to prepare students to apply sustainability principles and approaches to careers addressing complex human and environmental challenges in various fields.

A few more examples of specializations in sustainability include: 

  • Environmental Sustainability or Environment & Sustainability
  • Sustainable Global Enterprise
  • Sustainability Management
  • Sustainable Business Practice
  • Sustainability Leadership
  • Energy And Sustainability
  • Sustainable Business & Innovation
  • Sustainable Development
  • Urban Resilience & Sustainability
  • Sustainable Engineering
  • Sustainable Communications & Behavior

Accreditation for Master’s in Sustainability Online Programs

While pursuing an online Master’s in Sustainability, it is always better to choose accredited sustainability colleges. When a school is accredited, it means that the institution has been evaluated by one or more independent accrediting organizations recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (USDE)[2] and/or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA)[3] and the industry. The school is found to have gone through a high educational quality assurance procedure. Some of the most common agencies that accredit colleges are regional ones, such as the: 

  • New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)[4]
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)[5]
  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)[6]
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)[7]
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)[8]
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)[9]

More information on accreditation is available in the Accreditation Guide.

Timeline for graduation from Online Master’s in Sustainability Programs

A master’s in sustainability online usually comprises 35 to 48 credits. Students enrolled full-time in the MSus degree can generally complete the degree in about two years. Some online master’s in sustainability programs can be completed in twelve to eighteen months, depending on the coursework, specialization, whether one opts for Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Learning and chosen college. Part-time students may require over three years to finish and graduate from their programs.

Online Master’s in Sustainability Programs Admission Requirements

The master’s in sustainability online admission requirements to be met are similar to most other graduate programs. The following is a list of the frequently common sustainability master’s admissions requirements at most colleges:

  • Online application for the chosen university, along with the application fee
  • Bachelor’s degree from an accredited university
  • Grade Point Average (GPA) of at least 2.8 on a scale of 4.0 (varies by school)
  • Official academic transcripts that show completion of the most recent completed bachelor’s degree**
  • A Graduate Résumé
  • A Statement of Purpose or Personal Statement
  • At least 2 Letters of Recommendation
  • Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or Graduate Management Admission Test (GMAT) Scores
  • College-specific requirements – some colleges will have specific requirements. Students must check with the admissions office at the college/s to which they are applying for exact requirements.

**An unofficial copy of the transcripts indicating completion of the bachelor’s degree can be submitted during the application process. The official copy of the transcript must be submitted once admission is received.

No GRE Master’s in Sustainability Online Programs

Schools in the United States usually require scores from standardized tests for students to complete the admission process. The two most common standardized tests are the GRE (Graduate Record Examination) and GMAT (Graduate Management Admission Test).

For some online master’s in sustainability programs like the Patel School of Global Sustainability at the  University of South Florida[10], the graduate majors determine the GRE requirement. This GRE requirement may be waived at the discretion of the department or college on a case-to-case basis.

Wake Forest University[11] and Johns Hopkins University[12] are excellent examples of universities offering online master’s in sustainability no GRE programs.

Read the GMAT vs. GRE guide to understand their similarities and differences.

Accelerated Master’s in Sustainability Online Programs

Accelerated master’s in sustainability online degrees enable students to earn master’s degrees quicker. This allows students to earn their MSus degrees in around a year. Some schools also provide the option of obtaining an undergraduate and master’s degree in sustainability combined. By using this option, students choose and take courses at the undergraduate level that will help in the master’s program. This helps save time, reduce the cost of education, and acquire a bachelor’s and master’s degree in five years instead of the usual six years.

Hofstra University[13] and Columbia University[14] have accelerated master’s programs in sustainability, enabling students to earn their bachelor’s and master’s degrees in five years.

Free Sustainability Courses Online

Several free master’s in sustainability online courses are available from various sources. These courses offer additional knowledge of new practices in the sustainability field. Although they may provide additional support and innovations in standards and practices within sustainability, they may not all be recognized or accredited and, therefore, cannot replace a complete degree program. A few free courses, along with their descriptions, are listed below:

Course Provided by Description 
Managing Responsibly: Practicing Sustainability, Responsibility, and Ethics[15]Coursera This course is an integrative approach to sustainability, responsibility, and ethics. It empowers managers to deal competently with challenges.
Sustainable and Renewable Energy[16]Alison This course offers a thorough understanding of energy source exploitation, including the best approaches for their adoption and how they contribute to sustainable development.
Supply Chain Sustainability[17]OpenLearn Organizations need an efficient and effective supply chain for the context in which they operate. While enabling this, they need to consider sustainability issues in their supply chain strategies. Sustainability concerns in the supply chain will cover environmental sustainability and include social sustainability (ethics and well-being), financial sustainability, and network sustainability.

How to Pay for a Master’s in Sustainability Online Program

The average cost of a master’s degree is around $29,000. A master’s in sustainability online varies from about $10,000 to $30,000 annually. However, this varies from school to school. To ease the burden of paying for their graduate studies, prospective students can tap into various sources of financial aid. Financial aid may be scholarships, grants, student loans, FAFSA, and graduate assistantships. It is advisable to consult the Financial Aid Guide to choose the most suitable financial aid. Here are a few options to consider:

Scholarships

Many students of a master’s in sustainability online may be eligible for scholarships. Scholarships are usually merit-based, and the award amount of the scholarship is contingent on factors such as gender, minority status, major chosen, and professional orientation. Students must exercise caution when they apply and avail of scholarships, as there are numerous Scholarship Scams

Grants

The cost of an MSus degree can be wholly or partially funded through grants a student may be eligible for. Grants are usually not merit-based or based on the student’s accomplishments and academic prowess; instead, they are typically based on the student’s financial need.

Graduate Assistantships

Graduate Assistantships are another way to discount the cost of a sustainability master’s online. They are also a great way to gain experience and build a network of people and sources of information that will benefit the student even after the program is completed. Graduate assistants have many responsibilities in helping with teaching activities or research and are accountable to other students and the faculty of their program’s department.

FAFSA

FAFSA, short for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is another option for students to mark down the price of a master’s in sustainability online. Students can apply to FAFSA to check their eligibility for financial aid from the federal government.

Scholarships for Master’s in Sustainability Online Programs

Graduate Scholarships are usually merit-based and factor in a student’s academic achievements. They are one of the best means to reduce the financial burden of pursuing a master’s in sustainability online program. Here are two scholarships applicable to sustainability degree programs:

Eckenfelder Scholarship[18]

The Wesley Eckenfelder, Jr. Scholarship supports students interested in pursuing a career in ecological protection. Those majoring in civil, chemical, mechanical, electrical, or environmental engineering or environmental sciences (e.g., geology, hydrogeology, ecology) can apply for this scholarship.

Award/Amount: $5,000 

Application Deadline: Varies

RTK Scholars Program[19]

The RTK Scholars Program is administered by the RTK Environmental Group and provides scholarships to students studying environmental science, biology, engineering, or a related physical sciences major.

Award/Amount: $1,500

Application Deadline: May, annually

Careers and Salary Outlook for Master’s in Sustainability Graduates

An online master’s in sustainability can lead to an incredibly fulfilling financial and intellectual career. Graduates who complete a  sustainability master’s are equipped with the knowledge and skills highly sought after by government and private sector employers and by leading university doctoral programs. Career opportunities span a broad range of industries and fields. Graduates can find lucrative employment within and outside the conservation and sustainability industry with their communications, analytical, and critical thinking strengths.

The career path of individuals who pass the MSus degree depends on their specialization. Upon completion of an online sustainability master’s, graduates can look forward to careers such as:

  • Environmental Scientists & Specialists
  • Conservation Scientists & Foresters
  • Urban & Regional Planners
  • Zoologists
  • Wildlife Biologists
  • Climate Change Analysts
  • Ecology Specialists
  • Environmental Lawyers
  • City Planners
  • Policy Analysts
  • Construction Managers
  • Communication Professionals
  • Industrial Technologists

Some possible career options, their job descriptions, annual median pay, and potential growth are listed below:

Occupation Median Annual Salary Job Growth (up to 2030) Job Description 
Conservation Scientists and Foresters$64,4204% (as fast as average) Conservation scientists and foresters manage the overall land quality of natural resources like forests, parks, and rangelands. Conservation scientists and foresters work for the local, state, and federal government agencies managing forest lands and resources.
Environmental Scientists and Specialists$76,480 6% (as fast as average) Environmental scientists and specialists channel their expertise in the natural sciences to protect the environment and safeguard human health.
Urban and Regional Planners$79,540 4% (as fast as average) Urban and regional planners develop land use plans and programs that help create sustainable communities, accommodate sustainable population growth, and revitalize physical facilities

Certifications and Licensing for Sustainability Graduates

Professional certifications do not require as much time, effort, and financial investment as an academic certification. They are formulated for working professionals who wish to keep current with current practices and knowledge. Certifications are also a great way to enhance career prospects and move up the hierarchy of an organization. Usually, recertification periodically is required to be maintained. A few of the certifications available to graduates of an online master’s in sustainability are:

Additional Resources for Sustainability Professionals

A sustainable future will depend on using comprehensive ideas for sustainability challenges. Even after completing the master’s in sustainability online, sustainability professionals will have to liaise and coordinate between different departments as a part of their responsibilities. They will also have to keep abreast with the latest innovations and developments in the sustainability field. To equip themselves to do this, they may tap into various resources. Here are some resources available for sustainability professionals:

  1. International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP)
    The International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP) is an organization that promotes cooperation and coordination amongst its members. Members can avail of journals and newsletters and access its website for listing, discussing, and analyzing the latest innovations and protocols in environmental protection, conservation, renovation, and renewal.
  2. The Association of Climate Change Officers (ACCO)
    The Association of Climate Change Officers (ACCO) is an organization and cross-sector community of practice for individuals addressing climate change in their organization’s operations and mission. ACCO membership fosters collaboration with leading-edge practitioners, policymakers, climate scientists, and researchers to advance solutions and build capacity in addressing climate change.
  3. International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)
    The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) promotes research and policy work in areas vital for transformation, where policy shifts can garner positive change and make significant gains in sustainable development. IISD publishes independent, concise, exemplary research on sustainable development issues, including briefs, policy reports, and protocol guidelines.
  4. Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW)
    Engineers for a Sustainable World (ESW) is a non-profit international network of students and professionals passionate about technical sustainability. ESW provides mentoring & support, guides & resources, an active community of peers, and hosts conferences.
  5. Net Impact
    Net Impact is a nonprofit membership organization for students and professionals interested in social and environmental causes. Over 300 volunteer-run chapters and 100,000 members support programs and networking events on CSR, nonprofit management, social entrepreneurship, environmental sustainability, and international development.

FAQs About Master’s in Sustainability Online Programs

What is a master in sustainability?

A master’s in sustainability educates students to investigate the availability of resources, understand their importance and usage, and implement sustainable solutions that best suit the protection, conservation, and utilization of the said resources. Sustainability is essential to ensure a similar quality of life for future generations.

Is it possible to complete a master’s in sustainability online?

What can you do with a master’s in sustainability degree?

How long is a sustainability master’s?

Is a sustainability master’s worth it?

Master’s in sustainability vs. MBA in sustainability – what is the difference?

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