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Geology Major Overview

By Lisa Freedland

Lisa Freedland is a Scholarships360 writer with personal experience in psychological research and content writing. She has written content for an online fact-checking organization and has conducted research at the University of Southern California as well as the University of California, Irvine. Lisa graduated from the University of Southern California in Fall 2021 with a degree in Psychology.

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Posted: January 5th, 2022
Geology Major Overview

The earth is expansive, complex, and diverse. It’s home to a wide range of different physical features, substances, and structures – all of which geologists study. In addition to this, geologists analyze the forces acting upon Earth’s structures – allowing for a wider exploration of the Earth’s history and processes. 

If this sounds interesting to you, keep on reading to learn all about the geology major, its typical coursework, and common post-graduation opportunities! 

Related: Top 20 highest paying careers to consider

What is a geology major?

As part of their studies of the Earth and its many processes, geology majors closely observe and study the solids, liquids, and gasses that shape Earth. They may examine each substance’s role in their ecosystems, and determine whether they are a natural resource or detriment to their surrounding environments. 

However, this is not to say that geology is simply the study of Earth’s physical features (or, as many believe, the study of Earth’s rocks). Geology encompasses an investigation into Earth’s history, chemistry, and physics as well. The term “geology” is often used interchangeably with “geosciences” or “earth sciences.” “Geology” college curriculum may vary by school. However, if such distinctions exist – they are likely minor. Geology, geosciences, and earth sciences all tend to cover the same type of material. With that said, what can geology/geosciences/earth sciences majors expect to study in college?

Related: Grad school financing options

Coursework to expect

Perhaps unsurprisingly, geology majors will likely be required to take a few core science and math classes. As for science, rather than taking general chemistry or physics courses, geology majors’ classes may be specifically tailored to their major, and include topics like Physical Geology or Environmental Geochemistry. Required math courses may include those like data science or research methods, as these are crucial for giving students the necessary scientific background to conduct work in the field. Some schools may even have a formal research requirement necessitating that students take an “extended field trip” or conduct lab work to build such foundational scientific skills.

As students progress farther into their undergraduate careers, geology majors can choose courses from a wider range of specialized topics and subtopics. Such courses may explore specific types of ecosystems, or particular processes or substances of the earth – like the topics of hydrogeology and seismology. Elective courses, on the other hand, may focus on comparing Earth’s geology to that of other planets. Others may be more interdisciplinary, analyzing the human impact on earth through a social science lens. No matter which advanced or elective courses one chooses, though, all geology majors take communication classes. These will help them better explain their findings to those without a geology or scientific background.

Also see: 7 tips for finding a job after graduation

Below are some potential courses you may encounter as a geology major:

  • Physical Geology
  • Environmental Geochemistry
  • Invertebrate Paleontology
  • Special Topics in Geology
  • Evolution of the Earth
  • Dinosaur Paleobiology
  • Petrology
  • Data Science
  • Research Methods

Opportunities after graduation

After graduating with a geology degree, students open themselves up to many job opportunities in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. From conducting research, to teaching college students, to helping the government’s conservation efforts, geology majors can really do it all. 

Plus, their possible work opportunities are not limited to one specific area of geology. Besides working to protect the environment and promote conservation, those with geology degrees can also work as seismologists and collect earthquake data. Alternatively, they can map the movement of oceans’ as oceanographers. Other on-land options include working as engineers to design mines, infrastructure, and everything in between.

Working for private companies is also an option. A particularly common choice amongst geology majors is to become a petroleum geologist, wherein you help oil and gas companies manage and extract natural resources. Others may prefer to work in academic or in private labs, collecting samples and conducting experiments on them. Those who want to direct or lead their own labs might pursue a Ph.D., as these are often necessary to work as lead scientists or lab managers at universities.

Jobs you can get with a geology degree

With that said, what are some of the actual jobs that those with a geology degree can secure? Well, luckily for you, we’ve gone through and created a list of potential jobs that you can pursue with a geology degree (with descriptions and salaries included)! Let’s take a look.

1. Geoscientists

Becoming a geoscientist may be a good career path for those interested in the physical aspects of Earth, including its composition, form, and processes. Specifically, some of geoscientists’ duties include doing field studies, analyzing photographs and rock samples, conducting lab tests, and writing scientific reports. While only a bachelor’s degree is required to become a geoscientist, some enter the profession with a master’s degree.

2020 Median Pay: $93,580 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 5% (faster than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

2. Mining and Geological Engineers

The vast majority of mining and geological engineers’ work revolves around mines, from designing them to monitoring their potential impacts on the environment. Besides these, however, mining, and geological engineers are also responsible for overseeing the construction of mines, thinking of ways to successfully transport minerals to processing plants and preparing technical reports for miners, fellow engineers, managers, and other clientele. A bachelor’s degree in engineering is typically required to become a mining and geological engineer.

2020 Median Pay: $93,800/year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 4%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

3. Hydrologists

Hydrologists study water, its movement across Earth’s crust, and its many forms of precipitation (rain, snow, etc.). They also analyze how water can alter its surrounding environment, and how environmental changes can impact water quality. In order to conduct such research, hydrologists collect water and soil samples, testing their pH and pollution levels. With the information they gather, they then hypothesize and theorize about how to lessen the negative impacts of pollution, erosion, sedimentation, and other environmental issues. Their expertise also allows them to judge whether water-related-construction projects, like building hydroelectric power plants, are feasible or not. While a bachelor’s degree is typically required for entry-level hydrologist positions, some also begin their career with a master’s degree. 

2020 Median Pay: $84,040/year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 6%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

4. Geological and Hydrologic Technicians

Working under the supervision of scientists and engineers, geological and hydrologic technicians explore, extract, and monitor natural resources. To do so, they install and maintain both laboratory and field equipment, using it to gather samples which will later be analyzed in a laboratory. Geological and hydrologic technicians also work with such samples themselves – conducting tests on them to determine their characteristics and content. The information gained from such tests is then compiled into information for reports, databases, and more. Thus, geological and hydrologic technicians are largely involved in every aspect of the process: from setting up the tools, to collecting samples, analyzing the samples, and writing the final reports. In order to become a geologic and hydrologic technician, individuals typically either need an associate degree or two years of postsecondary training in applied science or a related field. Some jobs, however, may prefer applicants with bachelor’s degrees.

2020 Median Pay: $50,630/year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 9%

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

How do I know if a major is right for me? 

Knowing whether or not you’re majoring in the right subject is tricky. Even after being in college for multiple semesters or years, it is not uncommon for students to wonder whether they truly enjoy their major. However, many students also love their majors, and end up sticking with the same one for their entire college experience. So, if you’re thinking about majoring in geology, ask yourself these questions first:

  • Are you curious about the Earth, its features, and its processes?
  • Do you love the outdoors?
  • Are you passionate about exploring interdisciplinary problems?
  • Do you enjoy conducting scientific research?

If you answered “yes” to a majority of these questions, then geology may be a great fit for you. With that, we wish you good luck. Have fun in college!

Also see: How to pick a major

Frequently asked questions about geology majors

How do I become a geologist?

Besides earning a bachelor’s degree in geology or geoscience, those who wish to become geologists should also do field study work. While some degree programs require this, others don’t. However, we would recommend it for any student looking to become a geologist as it provides good on-the-job experience. While a bachelor’s and on-the-job experience are enough for employment at some companies, others prefer those with master’s degrees – perhaps in a specific subtopic of geology. Students may also complete a related internship while pursuing their master’s to gain more on-the-job experience. This way they will find out what work they’re truly passionate about.

Related: Scholarships360 major overviews

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