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How to Get Accepted to the Best Colleges in Ecology and Environmental Studies

College programs in Environmental Studies and Ecology are some of the fastest-growing fields of study, and many of the programs have gotten competitive. Whichever your dream school, the question is: What can you do to set yourself apart and get accepted?

Ecology Project International (EPI) has compiled a list of tips and resources that can help you get the experience and skills you need to get into the program of your dreams—or find work in environmental studies and conservation.

Real Wildlife Research Experience

No other experience can make your application shine as much as doing real wildlife research. Going on a field science expedition, working with wildlife, assisting scientists, collecting critical data, helping to save endangered species: most people don’t get those kinds of experiences until grad school.

If you can find a way to get real research experience, you’ll be taking an important step toward getting accepted to the program of your dreams.

So, where can you get that kind of experience?

Nonprofit organizations and government agencies like the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), United States Forest Service (USFS), United States Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS), national parks, state parks, and even your local Parks and Recreation Department may offer internships that can give you on the ground experience in wildlife biology, environmental restoration, or ecological forestry.

If you don’t have internship opportunities near you, check out online community science opportunities where you can help scientists collect data remotely. (These are a lot of fun too!) One of the easiest ways to get real wildlife research experience is by doing a field course, like EPI’s Field Ecology Programs. Field courses often include wildlife conservation projects and allow you to make connections with real scientists. They can be a great way to get hands-on experience in the field.

Service Learning

Working on a service-learning project can help you stand out among other applicants in ecology and environmental studies—and it’s a chance to help the planet too!

Have you volunteered with someone in your family to clean up the park? Have you pulled invasive weeds with a nonprofit? Maybe you’ve organized a beach or river clean-up for your community. All of these volunteer activities highlight your authentic passion for the natural world, and that you are already walking the talk.

What if you don’t have any service-learning experience? Check out our blog on service learning and how you can find a good project.


There’s nothing in the world quite like travel. No other experience can replace it. It opens the eyes and the senses. It turns you into a student of the world. Travel offers you the chance to understand the web of connectivity between humans and their environment—and to find your place within it.

Travel experiences can also help in one of the most daunting tasks in applying for college: the application essay. Anecdotes often form the backbone of those essays and a good trip is full of good stories. Imagine telling them about that one time you were in Costa Rica, protecting sea turtles from the threats of climate change…

Leadership Awards

Really, any kind of award can be a positive addition to your resume. Don’t dismiss local and community awards, either.  Winning those can also help you prepare for larger competitions.

There are all kinds of awards out there. You can enter science fairs, writing competitions, or ecothons. EPI offers its own Alumni Leadership Award for students who’ve gone on our Field Ecology Programs and been inspired to lead their own conservation projects in their communities.

Check out Nicole's story. She put her Alumni Leadership Award into action by installing bee boxes and offering a workshop on bee conservation education in her community.


Some environmental programs, like the University of Montana’s Environmental Studies program, believe strongly in activism. UM’s Environmental Studies program was the first of its kind in the country—started 50 years ago—and was founded on the belief in the power to affect positive change in humanity’s relationship to the natural world through policy change.

Have you written letters to your government officials, or a letter to the editor, or demonstrated in a strike against climate change? No matter how seemingly small, if you can connect these experiences to your passions and desired effect on the planet, your application will show your initiative.

Be Yourself!

Only you are you! Show your admittance committees what makes you—you. Let your science freak flag fly and show admissions counselors that YOU add to the diversity and health of the school by contributing a facet of life no one else does. Did you breed hamsters when you were 10? Did you have houseplants that you did experiments on? Have you had an art show that focused on environmental issues or written poetry on human relationships with the earth? Think about the unique ways you’ve shown curiosity and care and concern for our natural world.

We know applying for college can seem like an overwhelming experience, but here at EPI, we believe in you and your hopes for the earth. We hope this list helps you get into the school that is perfect for you. Good luck!

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