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Pros and Cons of Environmental Engineering at UNSW

So, you’ve gotten the facts about what it’s like studying a Bachelor of Environmental Engineering at UNSW and now you want a personal opinion on the course?

Well, look no further because you’ve come to the perfect place!

We got to chat with Catherine, a Bachelor of Engineering student at UNSW, who gave us the lowdown on the course. She told us about the good and the bad, the pros and the cons and everything else there is to know about Environmental Engineering at UNSW.

Let’s get started! 

Why should you study an Environmental Engineering degree at UNSW?
Top 3 Pros of an Environmental Engineering Degree
Top 3 Cons of an Environmental Engineering Degree
Mistakes You Shouldn’t Make
Things to Know Before Starting UNSW Environmental Engineering
What Makes this Degree Different
Motivations for Studying UNSW Environmental Engineering
Potential Career Paths

Why should you study an Environmental Engineering degree at UNSW?

Environmental Engineering at UNSW is all about the impact that humans have made on the natural environment. You’ll be evaluating and innovating different ways to manage and alleviate these effects.

An environmental engineer will develop varying infrastructure to protect and sustain the environment and they’ll develop products that improve public health, water disposal, water contamination, air pollution and water supply. So, pretty important stuff!

Environmental Engineering UNSW - Quote

Catherine explained to us that environmental engineering generally emulates civil engineering just without the construction component. She explained:

“The environmental side includes biology in first year and quite a lot of chemistry. We study how chemicals might transfer into contamination in landfill. We also do a lot of waste water management and we learn about how environmental laws and policies change and how construction or any new developments can comply with them.” 

As a student in UNSW’s Environmental Engineering degree, you’ll be encouraged to create resourceful and effective innovations to conserve the environment. You’ll spend a lot of your course delving into the world of biology, ecology, geology, physics and chemistry!

So, if science is your thing, environmental engineering could be perfect. 

Top 3 Pros of an Environmental Engineering degree

 #1: Wide career prospects 

According to Catherine, a great element of Environmental Engineering at UNSW is the wide scope of career opportunities that you’re qualified for by the end of it all. Even though you have to major in a specific component of engineering, your options are still wide.

She explained, “You are still qualified to become a design engineer in water, geotech, and transport but you have the added sustainability mindset when creating engineering solutions. It’s very important in this day and age when climate change is a big concern.”

So, studying Environmental Engineering doesn’t mean that you are now required to pursue a career that’s directly aligned with the environment. In fact, the knowledge you gain around sustainable solutions will be valued in almost any area. 

#2: Valued knowledge in sustainability 

“This sort of follows on from the previous point but sustainable engineering solutions are a huge focus in the engineering industry. Sustainability can and should be applied to all disciplines of engineering but the fact that the environmental engineering degree focuses on sustainability makes this degree attractive to employers,” Catherine noted. 

Leading on from her last point, Catherine reiterated the value of an education in environmental knowledge and sustainability. Sustainability is a bit of a hot topic right now which is great for you and of course, necessary for the environment!

You’ll be involved in creating the next environmentally-friendly design. In a time where climate change advocation is becoming more and more prominent, your skills will be highly sought after by loads of progressive businesses. 

#3: The holistic program  

While Environmental Engineering is quite a prescriptive program with somewhat limited opportunities to choose electives or other personalised classes, Catherine told us that the broadness of her classes made it feel as though she was covering everything she needed to know. 

The wide range of classes you study makes the degree feel more holistic than other engineering degrees. It’s not just studying physics, maths and chemistry,” Catherine said.

She elaborated, “You also study environmental law, biology and ecology and analytical tools that are used in sustainability assessments. Because of this, you have a stronger knack for the end users or end impacts of engineering solutions.” 

So, according to Catherine, Environmental Engineering at UNSW is a unique degree that teaches everything there is to know about the engineering world and beyond. 


Top 3 Cons of an Environmental Engineering degree

#1: You don’t develop much sustainable building design knowledge

One of the slight negatives of an Environmental Engineering degree, according to Catherine, is the lack of sustainable building design classes in the program. However Catherine noted that this is only really a con if it’s a career choice that you’re specifically aspiring towards. 

She explained, “If you want to get into sustainable building design, having an understanding of the civil courses helps. These courses are the only courses that are excluded from the environmental engineering degree compared to civil engineering. However, it’s not a be all and end all if you don’t have this background.”

#2: It may feel as though you’re in a narrow career path (but luckily, you’re not!)

Catherine told us that as an Environmental Engineering student, it can be a little discouraging to feel like you’re on a one way street in the career world. She explained that since it’s a relatively new discipline, the way it’s taught generally changes depending on the institutions which can be hard when job searching especially when employers don’t know too much about the degree. 

Environmental engineers have been prone to feeling like they’re being pigeonholed within their degree and it’s because employers generally don’t fully understand this degree. The degree tends to vary between universities, some are more science based and others, like UNSW, are more engineering based,” Catherine explained. 

So, really this degree is the opposite of narrow. Catherine explained:

“As you go through Environmental Engineering at UNSW and you discover that you are interested in the “civil” pathway such as water, transport or geotechnical engineering, you need to make sure to reiterate this to employers and let them know you are qualified for it because you’ve done these civil subjects.” 

#3: Catherine couldn’t list a third! 

Despite those mentioned above, Catherine has told us that she’s been really happy with her Environmental Engineering degree. 

Although this is also a great time to note that not everyone has the same experiences at uni. The parts that Catherine dislikes might be the ones that you love the most!

It’s completely dependent on the person so if you’re still on the fence, it would be a good idea to check out the subjects that you’re going to do and attend any info night at the uni that you can! 

You can take a look at any upcoming UNSW engineering events right here

Any regrets? 

I honestly don’t have regrets about studying this degree.” Catherine went on to explain that despite the cons listed above, she’s thoroughly enjoyed her course — although she admits that she has had her occasional doubts. 

Catherine added, “I can’t deny that there have been moments where I questioned my decision but that is because I also have a very keen interest in psychology so I was indecisive. I do sometimes wish that I did a Civil and Environmental course so that I could go more in depth into construction.”

What do you wish you had known before starting Environmental Engineering at UNSW? 

#1: Get involved in clubs and societies 

Try to be involved in student societies and actively hang out with friends in your own degree from the beginning of first year. Your network of friends keeps you sane through the study and overall just making good memories at uni,” Catherine said. 

Luckily for you, UNSW has plenty of opportunities for you to meet new people and enhance your professional network. Arc @ UNSW is a program that offers over 300 clubs and societies that you can be a part of! 

As Catherine mentioned, it’s a good idea to actively maintain these new uni networks that you’ll create because it’s always important to feel as though you have a strong support system at uni. This is why it’s such a great idea to join some of the clubs on offer like the Civil & Engineering Society, the Physics Society, Women in Engineering or maybe even Yoga Club! 

You can check out Arc @ UNSW right here

#2: Start considering careers 

Catherine also told us about the importance of thinking about what you’d like to do in the future as soon as you can. Of course, don’t stress about this, but if you’re keen on dipping your toes into the working world, it’s great to start checking out your options. 

Catherine advised, “Start thinking about the end goal of your uni degree as soon as you can. You don’t need to decide about it in first year but just keep it in mind. Do your research on engineering companies and what kind of work they do.”

She said that reminding herself of her future goals helped her stay motivated and dedicated to her studies. 

It helps you stay motivated when you have context of how what you’re learning at uni is applied to the industry because sometimes it can just feel like a bunch of useless equations,” Catherine explained.  

What makes this degree different from the ones offered at other universities? 

According to the QS World University Rankings, UNSW ranks at #1 for Engineering and Technology in Australia — you can’t get much better than that! If you’re someone that values a top notch education that’s celebrated as number one, this course may be perfect for you. 

For Catherine, the social life and support network was what made her choose UNSW. 

“The social life at UNSW is, in my opinion, better than at other universities. People aren’t pretentious — they are very down to earth, and the student societies are like a family of support for you, providing you with social, academic and career events. There is also always free food, ” Catherine explained. 

So, not only will you learn from experienced and accomplished staff but you’ll get to create long-lasting friendships which, you never know, may be your main takeaway from uni. 

What inspired you to choose Environmental Engineering at UNSW?

I chose this degree because I really enjoyed maths in high school and was passionate about sustainability so it seemed like the perfect degree for me. UNSW is one of the best universities in Australia for engineering. There are a lot of useful resources and facilities like our Founders and Makers room where you can go,” Catherine said. 

So, there you go. If you’re someone that prioritises your maths and science homework at school then maybe this is a degree that you should look into. Catherine knew that she enjoyed maths and she was really just searching for the perfect place to accommodate her studies and her aspirations — UNSW happened to be that place. 

If you want to get a deeper understanding of the course to see if it’s something you can imagine yourself pursuing, check it out here

What are the possible career paths?

Environmental Engineering UNSW - Careers

With the engineering skills combined with knowledge in environmentally sustainable solutions, you’ll be equipped with the necessary skills for a wide range of career opportunities.

Since this degree at UNSW is rather career-focused, a lot of your recommended professions involve working as an environmental engineer. And maybe that’s what you want to do! If so, great. If not, that’s fine too! 

The beauty of an Environmental Engineering degree is that the skills that you’ll acquire will suit a variety of alternative career paths too. Maybe you’d like to move into management consultancy, project management, government policy or business analytics.

You could also pursue a career in academia where you can commit to graduate research, work within university policy-making or pursue private sector research and development projects. Really, the world is your oyster! 

Gemma Billington is a Content Writer at Art of Smart and an undergraduate student at the University of Technology Sydney. While studying Journalism and Social and Political Sciences, Gemma enjoys spending her time at the gym or reading about Britain’s medieval monarchy – ideally not at the same time. She currently creates and administers social media posts for Central News and writes for the student publication, The Comma. After completing her undergraduate degree, she hopes to study a Masters of Medieval History and is very excited about the prospect!


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