What is a Geology Degree?

Geology, also known as geoscience and Earth science, is the study of the Earth. Students of the discipline learn about:

  • The processes that act upon the Earth, such as floods, landslides, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions
  • The materials of which the Earth is made, such as water, oil, metals, and rocks
  • The history, evolution, and past climates of the Earth

In studying these things and becoming geologists, their goals are:

  • To better understand and predict natural disasters
  • To more effectively plan land use
  • To discover minerals and energy resources
  • To preserve natural resources and protect the environment

Classes in geology degree programs cover subjects like chemistry of the earth, sedimentary rocks, paleontology, geophysical tools, math for earth sciences, data analysis, and climate change.

Program Options

Associate Degree in Geology – Two Year Duration
The Associate Degree in Geology is not that common, but some schools do offer it. In general, the associate program is designed for students who plan to transfer to a four-year bachelor’s program in geology. Therefore, the curriculum is made up of a combination of general education and basic geology courses. Here is a sample curriculum:

  • English Composition
  • Calculus
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Physics
  • Physical Geology
  • Historical Geology

Bachelor’s Degree in Geology – Four Year Duration
Graduates with a Bachelor’s Degree in Geology are prepared to enter geology graduate programs or to work in entry-level positions in the field, both in government and the private sector. The typical curriculum at the bachelor’s level includes courses like the following:

  • Historical Geology
  • Structure and Bonding in Chemistry
  • The Solid Earth – A Dynamic Planet
  • Planet Earth – Laboratory Exploration
  • Mesozoic Earth: Age of the Dinosaurs
  • Electricity, Light, and Radiation
  • Geological Time and Stratigraphy
  • Computer Methods in Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences
  • Petrology – Introduction
  • Mineralogy – Introduction
  • Field Techniques
  • Field Geology
  • Elemental and Isotopic Geology
  • Sedimentology
  • Tectonic Evolution of North America
  • Structural Geology
  • Volcanology
  • Paleontology
  • Mineral Deposits
  • Fossil Fuels

Master’s Degree in Geology – Two Year Duration
Many geologists hold a Master’s Degree in Geology. At this level, students typically choose a concentration within geoscience. Among the major specializations are:

  • Engineering Geology – geology applied to design and construction of buildings and infrastructure
  • Environmental Geology – geology applied to protecting the environment and solving environmental problems
  • Geochemistry – study of the chemical composition of rocks and fluids and the chemical processes of the Earth
  • Geochronology – study of the age of rocks, fossils, and sediments
  • Geomorphology – study of the origin and evolution of features created by chemical and physical processes on or close to the Earth’s surface
  • Geophysics – study of the physics of the Earth: internal structure, earthquakes, gravity, geomagnetism; used to search for oil and mineral deposits
  • Hydrogeology – study of underground and surface water
  • Igneous Petrology – study of igneous rock formed from magma or lava
  • Metamorphic Petrology – study of how rocks are affected by heat and pressure to produce metamorphic rocks and minerals
  • Natural Hazards – study of phenomena like earthquakes, landslides, floods, volcanoes, etc.
  • Natural Resources – geology applied to the extraction of energy sources: oil, coal, natural gas, uranium, and alternative sources like geothermal energy
  • Oceanography – study of ocean chemistry, ocean floor geology, ocean waves and currents
  • Paleontology – study of fossils, from dinosaurs to microorganisms
  • Planetary Science – study of the geology of other celestial bodies, such as planets and asteroids
  • Remote Sensing – use of aerial sensing technologies for resource discovery and geological mapping of the Earth and other planets
  • Sedimentology – study of sediments, what they reveal about past environments, and how they impact energy and other resources
  • Seismology – study of seismic waves that pass through the Earth
  • Stratigraphy – study of the order, nature, and rates of change of geological processes and events, to build geological maps and databases
  • Structural Geology – study of rock movement and deformation and how rocks respond to stress
  • Unconventional Energy – geology applied to sustainable energy sources like geothermal energy, wind power, and tidal power
  • Volcanology – study of volcanoes and related hazards

Master’s graduates in geology qualify for many senior roles in the field.

Doctoral Degree in Geology – Four to Five Year Duration
Doctoral programs in geology offer students opportunities to combine laboratory and field research in the area of their specialization. See the list of specializations above, under the heading Master’s Degree in Geology. While conducting extensive research for their dissertation, students at this level are exposed to different research techniques, equipment, and software. They also do a significant amount of academic writing.

Doctoral graduates often become research scientists, university lecturers and professors, government advisors, and geological industry leaders.

Degrees Similar to Geology

Engineering Physics
Students of engineering physics learn how to use physics to solve practical problems. For this reason, the field is sometimes referred to as the bridge between physics and engineering. Coursework includes computational physics, materials science, thermodynamics, and nanotechnology.

Environmental Science
The basis of this discipline is that all natural things interact. Individuals who earn a degree in environmental science develop plans to prevent, control, or find solutions to environmental issues, such as pollution.

Atmospheric Sciences
While meteorology is the study of weather, especially weather forecasting, atmospheric science is the wider, all-encompassing study of the atmosphere, including climatology, air quality, and meteorology.

Meteorology degree programs teach students how to predict weather conditions. The typical curriculum examines atmospheric movement, climate trends, and ozone levels. With an understanding of these concepts, students learn about various meteorological phenomena. They learn how to use statistical analysis to forecast weather events from sun, clouds, and rain to heat waves, droughts, thunderstorms, tropical storms, tornados, and hurricanes.

Students of geography study the earth’s surface; its climate, soil, and water; and the relationship between people and the land. Some typical courses in a geography program are cartography, climatology, geology, political geography, statistics, and spatial analysis.

Landscape Architecture
A landscape architecture degree program teaches students both creative and technical skills. Landscape architects apply these skills to plan outdoor spaces and landscapes, such as parks, gardens, playgrounds, residential areas, and college campuses. Courses specific to landscape architecture include horticulture, hydrology, geology, environmental design, and landscape design.

Marine Biology
Students who earn a degree in marine biology study marine organisms and their behaviors and interactions with the environment.

Petroleum Engineering
Degree programs in petroleum engineering teach students how to find and safely and environmentally remove petroleum and natural gas from the earth.

Soil Science
Soil science degree programs are focused on the formation, ecology, and classification of soil. Students take courses in seed science, fertilizers, geology, weed science, and genetics.

Skills You’ll Learn

  • Observation
  • Data collection, management, and analysis
  • Quantitative Reasoning
  • Pattern recognition
  • Technical / IT skills
  • Report writing
  • Project Management
  • Oral and written communication
  • Teamwork
  • Field skills / comfortable working outdoors

What Can You Do with a Geology Degree?

Because of the specific nature of geology, many graduates in the field work in roles that are directly related to their degree. Here are some of the common occupational categories:

Engineering Geology
Engineering geologists often work for consulting engineering firms. They conduct studies of sites for potential construction projects, and their findings determine how foundations and other structures should be designed and built.

Environmental Geology
Environmental consultants analyze on-site samples of data and assess related environmental issues. Their objective is to ensure that development projects are environmentally responsible. Environmental risk managers may be responsible for analyzing and providing information on things like contaminated land, waste management, and the impacts of pollution and climate change. They often work for government agencies like the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Hydrogeology / Water Resources
Research hydrogeologists work for environmental regulators, national and local governments, and water companies. Their work may involve sampling the chemistry of groundwater (water that collects or flows beneath the Earth’s surface) to establish baselines.

Natural Hazards and Risk
Two of the major roles in this subfield of geoscience are volcanologist and seismologist. These scientists may work for government agencies like the U.S. Geological Survey.

Mining and Quarrying
In this sector, mine geologists, exploration geologists, exploration geophysicists, and remote sensing geologists are employed by mining companies or work as independent consultants to the industry. They apply their expertise to the search for and extraction of mineral resources.

Energy / Oil and Gas
Geologists who work with energy firms, oil and gas producers, and exploration companies use their knowledge in the search for and production of hydrocarbon reserves.


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