Colleges with Green (Sustainability) Programs

We love working with our students in Application Boot Camp and Private Counseling, to help them explore and deepen their academic interests –and for a growing number of students in recent years, that field has something to do with the environment. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics confirms that the employment of environmental scientists and specialists is projected to grow 11 percent from 2016 to 2026, faster than the average for all occupations. We believe colleges (and the students applying to those colleges) are taking note.

Our thoughts are with those in Mozambique given the recent massive destruction from tropical Cyclone Idai, those impacted by flooding in the Midwest, mudslides and unprecedented wildfires in California, hurricanes devastating so many, the list goes on –and that’s just in the past year.

As Dr. Brad Sageman, a professor for Northwestern’s Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences department stated, increasing environmental disasters including floods, hurricanes, and more are highlighting the need for studying all things green. As he noted to the Chicago Tribune, “I suspect there is truly no way but for (sustainability) to become a critical part of everything we do. We’ll be hitting it everywhere we can.”

Some of us here at Top Tier Admissions have read David Wallace-Wells’ book, The Uninhabitable Earth, and it’s brought data and fact to a spinning reality.  Read it if you haven’t.

Researchers and faculty at Brown concur, noting that “Many of the most pressing challenges of the 21st century are environmental ones. We must find ways to feed a growing human population while maintaining the natural life support system provided by the Earth’s ecosystems.”


Colleges and universities around the world have been taking major steps to enhance and grow their environmental science/sustainability studies college majors and specialization options in areas such as: Environmental Analysis (Pomona College), Environmental Sciences and Engineering (UNC Chapel Hill), Geosystems Engineering and Hydrogeology (UT Austin), Forest Science (UWisconsin-Madison), and Environmental Studies major with a concentration in Land, Water and Food Security (Brown). Many high school students who have an interest in green studies are crafting scholarly opportunities during summers and seeking out, with our help, unique academic opportunities to propel them forward as sustainability scholars.

Cornell University recently launched the Cornell Initiative for Digital Agriculture (CIDA), a new program that aims to address today’s environmental issues with unique sustainability efforts meshed with digital innovation. CIDA hosted their first ever 36-hour hackathon recently where over 200 students worked to answer the question “How do you feed 10 billion people by 2050 without destroying the world?” Topics including digital agriculture, dairy technology and fish farming were highlighted in the hackathon.

It’s not just students who are already AT top universities like Cornell and Northwestern who are studying sustainability at national levels, but also many high school students, including juniors who will soon prepare their Common Applications and essays. We have seen our students take part in cutting edge research on water studies and digital agriculture.

sustainability studies

So… what do you do if YOU are working to become a sustainability scholar at the high school level and you’re targeting top colleges? Check out some of the above innovative major and concentration options, reach out to faculty in your targeted programs in advance of campus visits, and pursue a scholarly summer and fall that will allow you to pinpoint the main academic interest you’re presenting to colleges.



Earn college credits from the likes of Cornell in courses like their Younger Dryas Tree-Ring Field Research at Bell Creek in Upstate New York. Their program includes on-site fieldwork, tree-ring analysis, and faculty lectures on paleoclimatology.


Enter contests similar to the Bow Seat Ocean Awareness Annual Contest. Create a piece about a coastal/marine species, place, or system that will be threatened, altered, or lost due to climate change. Submissions can include visual art, poetry, prose, film, music. It’s open to students ages 11-18.


Register to take courses like this Coursera-U Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Introduction to Sustainability online, noncredit 8-week course. The professor is Dr. Jonathan Tomkin, the Associate Director of the School of Earth, Society and Environment and a research Associate Professor in the department of Geology at U Illinois.The course is graded and you can earn a course certificate upon completion, which can then be noted on your Common App.


If you live near DC, apply to become a Field Naturalist and Environmental Steward at the 400-acre Riverside Park in Great Falls, VA. You will assist with resource management projects and research, watershed cleanups, conduct wildlife surveys and more. This would be a big boost in terms of your research foundation AND community leadership.


Register to attend conferences like the American Water Works Association’s Annual Conference (even just 1 day). 2019’s theme was ‘Innovating the Future of Water’ and conference sessions were focused on asset management, utility risk and resilience and water quality challenges. In the past, student registration for the conference was just $35 and you gain access to industry and academic leaders in water studies and sustainability, learn about new technologies and innovative environmental science solutions, and much more.

The above 5 ideas are just a small sampling of what high school students can do to stand out among their peer applicants. We’d love to confer with you more on yourspecific academic interests as there are a mountain of research and community leadership opportunities out there –let us help you decide which to pursue!

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