20 Best Master’s Programs for Natural Resource Management

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Natural Resource Management, at a Glance:

Natural resource managers oversee and implement conservation and sustainability plans for publicly and privately owned land, including:

  • Parks
  • Nature preserves
  • Historic sites
  • Mining operations
  • Building construction projects.

Their work also covers human activities that may benefit, influence, or harm the natural environment.

Job Growth and Salary Information:

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expected 1% employment growth for conservation scientists from 2012-2022, with the most growth expected to occur near federal forest lands. Increased demand for American timber and wood pellets will contribute to the job growth, the BLS stated.

Average yearly salaries for conservation scientists in general were estimated at $64,420 by the BLS in 2014.

Careers May Involve:

  • Hands-on work in restoring and maintaining natural areas and resources, which requires knowledge of plant and animal ecosystems.
  • Providing and presenting educational programs for community groups, which requires extensive interaction with people and strong communication skills.
  • This is particularly common for those employed by national and state parks.
  • Working for state or federal government agencies tasked with monitoring and enforcing compliance with resource usage regulations and laws. 

Some natural resource managers may choose to specialize in one specific conservation or natural resource activity to become a:

  • Forester
  • Wildlife manager
  • Range manager
  • Fisheries worker
  • Parks manager

Here you will find a comprehensive list of twenty schools that offer online and on-site master’s programs, which will prepare students to become hired as natural resource managers.

20. University of Hawai’i Manoa

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This program fuses natural and social sciences to offer an integrative and inter-disciplinary program, which inspires students to understand and manage tropical and sub-tropical terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Because of the campus’s location, much focus is placed on island settings and their relevance to managing land and seascapes. Specifically, the curriculum emphasizes the application of physical, biological, and social sciences to the conservation and sustainable management of natural, environmental, and economic resources.

Degree Type: Master of Science in Natural Resources and Environmental Management

Location: Honolulu, HI

University Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Senior College and University Commission

Application Deadline: February 1, for Fall Term. September 1, for Spring Term.

Course Flexibility and Other Info: As a foundation for graduate training, all (Natural Resources and Environmental Management (NREM) students are expected to acquire a common base of knowledge embodied in a set of core courses. Beyond that, students are expected to develop knowledge and skills within a chosen specialization area. This helps to ensure that students have the real-world skills needed to perform specific tasks, analyze resource management and policy issues, carry out original research, and effectively perform outreach and educational activities.

19. University of Alaska Fairbanks

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This program is designed to prepare students for a management career in natural resources planning and administration; communication and public information; and/or operational innovation, improvement and impact assessment.

Degree Type: Master of Natural Resource Management

Location: Fairbanks, AK

University Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

Tuition: Up to $403/credit for residents. Up to $823/credit for non-residents

Course Flexibility and Other Info: While not requiring scientific research, the curriculum involves critical reflection, empirical inquiry, and intellectual honesty. A written product, referred to as an “opus,” and an oral presentation demonstrating sound scholarship will be required. Final acceptance of the project will be by the student’s committee and the associate dean of the department.

18. State University of New York

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The primary focus of this program is to provide an opportunity for graduates coming from related academic backgrounds with baccalaureates to gain a science-based education in forest and natural resources management. Graduates will successfully function as researchers and managers on multi-disciplinary forest management teams and respond to the challenges related to the sustainable management of local, regional and global resources.

Degree: Master of Science in Forest and Natural Resources Management

Location: Syracuse, NY

Program Accreditation: Society of American Foresters

Application Deadline: January 15, for Fall Term. November 1, for Spring Term.

Course Flexibility and Other Info: The program is open to students with some prior background in forestry and natural resources, as well as to those without such background. Students with a degree in a related discipline (e.g., ecology, biology, wildlife, chemistry, etc.) can complete the program in 24-30 months. Students without a general science background will require more than 30 months to complete the program. More than 4 semesters of coursework may be required for students from non-science backgrounds who need additional basic undergraduate coursework as part of their program of study. The degree requires at least 30 graduate credits, of which 24 are for coursework and six are for the thesis.

17. University of Arizona

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This program provides an interdisciplinary graduate education for individuals wishing to contribute to natural resource policy and management decisions made in an environment increasingly influenced not only by technical elements, but by economic, legal, political and social factors as well. This major is appropriate for students continuing on from undergraduate work in natural resource management and for mid-career professionals interested in broadening their expertise in natural resource policy, administration, planning, management and ecology.

Degree Type: Master of Science in Natural Resources

Location: Tucson, AZ

University Accreditation: North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission

Application Deadline: February 1, for Fall Term. August 1, for Spring Term

Course Flexibility and Other Info: Students may pursue either a thesis or non-thesis course of study at the discretion of faculty in each option, and the course requirements for all graduate students are individually tailored for each student, with guidance from a faculty advisory committee.

16. Indiana University Online

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This program builds problem-solving expertise and leadership abilities, delivering the tools that students and professionals need in order to manage organizations—profit and nonprofit—and guide them to success.  At the Kelley School of Business, students will find their management knowledge and leadership ability growing with each course.

Degree Type: Master of Science in Strategic Management

Location: Online

University Accreditation: North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission

Tuition: $1,300/credit, for the 2016/17 academic year.

Application Deadline: June 1, for Fall Term.

Course Flexibility and Other Info: Designed for professionals with two or more years of experience in manager-level decision making, students can earn this 30 credit-hour graduate degree in 15 months or in five years, at whatever pace works best for them.

15. Oregon State University

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The College of Forestry at Oregon State University, which offers this online program, is consistently recognized for having one of the top natural resources programs in the United States. In May 2013, OSU’s work in forestry earned a No. 8 ranking in a new international survey of more than 3,000 universities.

Degree Type: Master of Natural Resources

Location: Corvallis, Or (also online)

University Accreditation: Northwestern Commission on Colleges and University

Tuition: $441/credit for on-site students. $521/credit for online students.

Application Deadline: May 1, for Fall Term. September 1, for Winter Term. January 1, for Spring Term. March 1, for Summer Term

Course Flexibility and Other Info: This program is ideal for working professionals because it is conducted entirely online. Students may access the knowledge and education they need to propel their careers forward, at whatever pace works best for them. Students must complete at least 45 credits to earn this degree.

14. Colorado State University

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This program was designed for professionals who are seeking the necessary skills and knowledge to advance in the field of natural resources. The program provides a broad natural resources education with specialized resource management expertise in rangeland ecosystem science or sustainable military lands management, depending on the focus area that the student chooses.

Students will finish this program as well-rounded leaders, equipped with an understanding of the interconnected-ness of natural resource management systems and how that lends itself to solving real-world problems from a holistic viewpoint.

Degree Type: Master of Natural Resources Stewardship

Location: Online

University Accreditation: North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission

Tuition: $639/credit

Application Deadline: August 1, for Fall Term. December 15, for Spring Term.

Course Flexibility and Other Info: The student must complete at least 30 credits to earn this degree. Coursework is designed to provide a comprehensive understanding of how multiple organizations and agencies fit into the broader natural resource management system, training individuals to think across disciplines.

13. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University

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The College of Natural Resources and Environment at Virginia Tech is nationally and internationally recognized for its undergraduate and graduate education. Programs focus on managing natural resources and preserving the diversity of Earth’s physical and cultural environments. The college’s world-class faculty is dedicated to mentoring students through experiential learning toward the development of sustainable solutions to society’s natural resources-related problems.

Degree Type: Master of Natural Resources Management

Location: Online

University Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges

Tuition: $745/credit for residents. $1452/credit for non-residents.

Course Flexibility and Other Info: At its core, this program is a non-thesis interdisciplinary graduate degree designed to accommodate the busy schedules of working professionals. Integral to the degree is the opportunity for students to design unique capstone projects that provide a learning experience while also enhancing students’ professional capabilities and skills. As the program thrives on diversity and interdisciplinary perspectives, Virginia Tech welcomes applicants from all academic fields who are interested in natural resources, environmental issues, and global sustainability.

12. The University of Tennessee at Martin

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This program is designed to prepare working agriculture and natural resources professionals for career advancement. Both faculty and students in the department engage in public service and limited applied research related to needs of the region.

Degree Type: Master of Science in Agriculture and Natural Resources

Location: Online

University Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges

Tuition: $534/credit for residents. $582/credit for  non-residents.

Application Deadline: Applications should be received four weeks prior to the first day of the semester.

Course Flexibility and Other Info: The curriculum is comprised of 36 hours of graduate course work and is offered exclusively via the Internet. It features three concentrations: Agribusiness & Risk Management, Natural Resources Systems Management, and System Science in Agriculture.

11. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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This program provides students around the world the opportunity to study with outstanding scientists in the fields related to natural resource management and environmental sciences. The degree can be completed online with only one trip to the Urbana-Champaign campus (for the final examination and presentation of the special project). Most importantly, students graduate with a degree from the University of Illinois, a university known around the world for its excellence in scientific, natural resource, and agricultural education.

Degree Type: Master of Science in Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences

Location: Champaign, IL (also Online)

University Accreditation: North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission

Tuition: $12,060 for residents. $26,058 for non-residents.

Course Flexibility and Other Info: The degree requirements are flexible, allowing students to shape their coursework and special project research to suit their own interests and goals. While the school was approved to advertise the program as an “online course” beginning in 2008, the Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences department has offered an off-campus M.S. program since 1999.

A feature that is unique to this university is that students can try this program out before making the commitment of applying for admission. They can take up to 12 hours as non-degree seeking students to see if the program is going to meet their needs, or to build a strong academic record that will increase their likelihood of being admitted.

10. University of Minnesota

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This program is among the top ranked programs of its kind in the nation, placing as high as number two in the National Research Council’s latest rankings. It is truly interdisciplinary, with students specializing in one of eight areas of study (referred to as “tracks”) which cover the biological, physical, ecological, social, managerial, and engineering sciences.

Degree Type: Master of Science in Natural Resources Science and Management

Location: Morris, MN

University Accreditation: The Higher Learning Commission

Tuition: $20,650.

Application Deadline: March 1, for Fall Term

Course Flexibility and Other Info: The University of Minnesota in Morris is a national public liberal arts college that charges residents and non-residents the same tuition in an effort to make a high-quality education available to students from across the country. According to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, students graduate with one of the lowest debt levels in the Midwest. As a result, the publication named the school a “Best Value” college.

A unique feature to this school is the Peace Corps Master’s International program, which is a challenging and exciting way to link academic experience with international development service. This program provides a unique opportunity to work in the field on international development issues while earning a M.S. degree. The degree is offered through an agreement between the United States Peace Corps and the Natural Resources Science and Management Graduate Program at the University of Minnesota.

9. University of Denver

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The University of Denver has been named a top 100 university by U.S. News for nearly a decade. Students will expand and enhance their knowledge of natural resources, water management, zoning, forestry, mining, and land use in this concentration designed to advance managerial careers within the field of natural resources.

Degree Type: Master of Natural Resource Management

Location: Online

University Accreditation: North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission

Tuition: $599/credit.

Application Deadline: July 17, for Fall Term. October 23, for Winter Term. January 29, for Spring Term. April 17, for Summer Term.

Course Flexibility and Other Info: Students must complete 48 credits (12 courses) in order to earn this degree.

8. Utah State University

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This program is designed specifically for working professionals in the natural resources field, who are returning to school to advance their careers. Graduates from the S.J. & Jessie E. Quinney College at Utah State University are competitive for administrative and technical positions in many career areas.

Degree Type: Master of Natural Resources

Location: Online

University Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

Program Accreditation: Natural Resources Distance Learning Consortium

Tuition: $423/credit

Application Deadline: June 15, for Fall Term. October 15, for Spring Term. March 15 for Summer Term.

Course Flexibility and Other Info: Students choose from several flexible course delivery options that fit the schedules of full-time students as well as working professionals. This program does not require a thesis, and focuses course work around eight core requirements related to natural resource management. Students complete a unique capstone experience that provides an opportunity to apply their skills to real-world problems.

7. Humboldt State University

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This program is intended to provide graduate training in traditional disciplines, as well as flexibility for training in the interdisciplinary aspects of natural resources. The program offers specializations in Environmental and Natural Resource Sciences (ENRS), Forestry, Watershed and Wildland Sciences (FWWS), Wildlife, and Fisheries.

Degree Type: Master of Science in Natural Resources

Location: Arcata, CA

University Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Senior College and University Commission

Application Deadline: February 1, for Fall Term. September 30, for Spring Term.

Course Flexibility and Other Info: The student must complete at least 30 credits to earn this degree. The curriculum requires completion of a thesis as part of the student’s training for research in management of natural resources. Candidates for the degree are required to consult with an appropriate faculty committee and prepare individual programs of study which must be approved by the committee.

6. University of Idaho

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In this program, students will learn to manage natural resources from a broad range of perspectives. They will develop a systems view of natural resources through a series of courses that explore the field as it relates to ecology, human behavior, policy, law, practical tools, and technology.

Degree Type: Master of Natural Resources

Location: Moscow, ID

University Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities

Tuition: $8,222 for residents. $22,226 for non-residents.

Application Deadline: February 1, for Fall Term. September 1, for Spring Term.

Course Flexibility and Other Info: Designed as a terminal degree, this course-based, advanced program is ideal for mid- and executive-level working professionals who want to enhance their educational credentials in natural resource management without disrupting their careers.

5. Walden University

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Whether students are advancing their careers in the government, nonprofit, or private sector, this program provides them with the skills needed to effectively manage projects, teams, and organizations across sectors and environments. From best practices for streamlining processes and systems to practical strategies for motivating people, this master’s degree program can enable students to develop strong practical approaches to management; gain fundamental understandings of budgeting for non-financial managers; participate in timely, relevant assignments that reflect the most current management thinking; integrate global awareness, legal and ethical considerations, human capital development, and social change opportunities into day-to-day management styles; and deepen functional expertise through a choice of eight optional specializations.

Degree Type: Master of Science in Management

Location: Online

University Accreditation: North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission, National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education

Tuition: $23,150

Course Flexibility and Other Info: The program is designed to take 24 months to complete. Of those that completed the program in 2013-2014, 62% finished in 24 months.

4. Cornell University

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Cornell was one of the first institutions of higher education in the United States to offer advanced degrees with graduate study included in the curriculum at its founding. Today, it is one the world’s leading academic and research institutions and has the broadest range of programs in the Ivy League. Cornell attracts some of the world’s best researchers, thinkers, scholars, inventors, scientists, humanitarians, and overall idea leaders. At the Graduate School, a genuine sense of camaraderie – particularly between faculty and students – fosters collaborations and community, while supportive staff help guide students through their life at Cornell.

Degree Type: Master of Science in Natural Resources, with a concentration in Risk Analysis and Management

Location: Ithaca, NY

University Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education, New York State Board of Regents, and the Commissioner of Education

Tuition: $20,800

Application Deadline: December 1, for Spring Term. September 30, for Fall Term.

Course Flexibility and Other Info: The graduate program in natural resources is highly individualized and interdisciplinary. Students work with faculty advisors to identify course requirements and to define a research or professional project. In order to be admitted, a faculty member must express interest in supervising a prospective student, therefore it is important to correspond with potential faculty advisors during the application process. Students must complete a thesis.

3. Oklahoma State University

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This program is one of the oldest programs in the nation, having been founded back in 1977. Over the last several decades the program has graduated over 340 M.S. students. These graduates have gone on to be leaders in every facet of the environmental field. These individuals are now lead scientists at EPA; professors and deans at major universities; industry and energy leaders; CEO’s of environmental consulting firms; sustainability experts; tribal environmental program leaders; environmental educators; and leaders in a wide variety of municipal, state, and federal agencies.

Degree Type: Master of Science in Environmental Sciences

Location: Stillwater, OK (also Tulsa, OK)

University Accreditation: North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission

Tuition: $196/credit for residents. $785/credit for non-residents.

Course Flexibility and Other Info: The Environmental Science Graduate Program (ESGP) is operated under the administration of the Graduate College at Oklahoma State University. Due to its interdisciplinary nature, the ESGP attracts and produces students capable of thinking beyond a single discipline. OSU’s unique approach to graduate education offers flexibility with locations at its main campus in Stillwater and a satellite location in Tulsa. Each student has a unique opportunity to develop a degree plan that specifically addresses their individual career goals. Degree integrity is ensured through the guidance of the student’s graduate advisor and committee.

2. University of Wyoming

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This program offers students a unique opportunity to blend a rangeland ecology background with courses in wildland watershed management and hydrology. Wyoming’s diverse rangeland, including plains, grasslands, mountains, deserts, foothills, and shrublands, provides abundant opportunities for study.

Degree Type: Rangeland Ecology and Watershed Management

Location: Laramie, WY

University Accreditation: North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission

Tuition: $232/credit for residents. $693/credit for non-residents.

Application Deadline: Year-round

Course Flexibility and Other Info: This program requires 30 credit hours, which must be approved by the student’s graduate advisory committee, as well as an approved research plan.

1. University of Pennsylvania

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Students, faculty, and partner scientists collaborate in modern classrooms and state-of-the-art teaching and research labs in the Forest Resources Building and in the Agricultural Sciences and Industries Building.

The department also offers opportunities for hands-on learning in a variety of local ecosystems, including forests, wetlands, and urban and agricultural sites. Two professional foresters oversee more than 8,000 acres of University-owned forestland that serves research and teaching goals.

Degree Type: Masters in Natural Resources Management

Location: Philadelphia, PA

University Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education

Application Deadline: January 4, for Fall Term.

Course Flexibility and Other Info: The Forest Resources Building opened in September 2006, earning a silver certification in the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. Its exposed beams and trusses showcase the beauty of Pennsylvania hardwoods. A 4,700-square-foot green roof puts sustainability concepts into practice. A rooftop patio is available for groups or individuals to use for classes or meetings.

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