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Online Geology Degree

Geology is the study of the physical features of a terrestrial body like Earth. A geologist is someone who is concerned with all the different Earth processes, materials, and ultimately, the history of the planet. There are a number of different degree programs available in the field. Due to the practical nature of this discipline, 100% online programs are not available.

What is Geology?

Geology is the study of Earth and all the materials and processes which resulted in its formation. This physical science takes a look at everything from rocks which make up the Earth to climate, non-renewable geological resources, plate tectonics, renewable geological resources, volcanic activity, the evolutionary history of life and geological hazards.

Types of Online Geology Degrees

Physical science programs like Geology require a considerable amount of laboratory and field-work experience. For this reason, geology programs which are taught completely online are rare. There are still however, certain degrees that offer geology courses online, as well as individual geology courses which could be taken online. There may also be certain hybrid geology programs that include both on-campus and online courses.

Associates Degree in Geology

Due to the fact that the field of geology requires at least a bachelor’s degree, an associate’s degree is usually taken as a step towards getting a bachelor’s degree or to work as geology assistant.
Entry Requirements

  • High school diploma or equivalent
  • Applicant must be 18 years of age
  • It is recommended that applicants have had taken courses in advanced sciences and math in high school

The above requirements are some of the most common when applying for admission.
Associate’s degrees in geology aim to give students a foundation in geology. Topics such as the composition of rocks, structure of various landforms, plate tectonics, erosion, glaciers, tides, natural resources, and climate change are taught in this program.
Students can expect to take some or all of the following courses:

  • Physical geology
  • Historical geology
  • Paleontology
  • Oceanography
  • Environmental geology

Bachelor’s Degree in Geology

A Bachelor’s degree in geology introduces students to the basic Earth sciences as well as the many layers of the planet. The degree is taught through classes, labs and fieldwork to give students a thorough understanding of the physical qualities of Earth as well as the processes that occur on the planet.
A bachelor’s degree in geology prepares students for entry-level positions in the field, although students commonly pursue higher qualifications. The degree typically takes 4 years to complete.
Entry Requirements

  • High School diploma
  • Applicants must have a strong background in science and math
  • Writing and communications must also have been taken in high school as geologists are expected to report their findings

The curriculum of this program involves both classroom and field work. Common courses offered include:

  • Oceanography
  • Ecology, climatology and the environment
  • Tectonics (how and why the Earth's surface shifts and moves)
  • Rock, gem and mineral formation
  • Aerial photography interpretation
  • Volcanoes
  • Glaciers
  • History and evolution of Earth

Master’s Degree in Geology

A master’s degree in geology gives students advanced knowledge about the Earth, the evolution of planets, natural resources and processes, and natural disaster management.
This degree is for those who intend to pursue advanced positions in the field of geology such as that of a geological researcher or for those who wish to continue on to a doctoral program.
Entry requirements

  • A bachelor’s degree in geology or in a related field
  • Minimum GPA as determined by program or school
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Certain universities require students to have taken particular courses in their undergraduate programs. Check with the university you intend to apply to in order to make sure you have the requisite courses.

Master’s programs in geology can be tailored around a students’ chosen research area such as natural resource management or tectonics. Accordingly, the curriculum of the program may differ with respect to the specialization area.
Students can expect to take some of the following courses during this program: 

  • Geochemistry
  • Structure and tectonics
  • Remote sensing
  • Petrology
  • Stratigraphy and sedimentation
  • Petroleum geology

Ph.D. in Geology

A Ph.D. in geology is intended for those who wish to concentrate on academics or research within the field of geology. Students in a doctoral program can expect to study geological issues in depth, perform lab and field work, and learn how to conduct extensive research.
Entry Requirements

  • A master’s degree in geology or another science related field
  • Some doctoral programs may accept students with a bachelor’s degree
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Minimum GPA as determined by individual programs

Doctoral programs are research intensive and help students gain an in-depth understanding of geological issues, such as erosion, changes in climate and the sustainable use of resources. Students may also specialize in a specific area of geology, such as hydrogeology, sedimentology or stratigraphy.
Some of the courses taken in this program include:

  • Earthquakes
  • Hazards in geology
  • Geologic development
  • Petroleum geology
  • Advanced paleontology
  • Field geology
  • Volcanology
  • Structural geology
  • Ground water study

Popular Online Geology Courses

Online geology courses have certain technical requirements which students should be aware of: students will need to have specialized geology software, and a high-quality color printer and scanner to reproduce geological maps, charts, and diagrams.
Some examples of popular geology courses offered online include:
Basic Geology Course
This introduces students to the basics of physical, structural, and sedimentary geology. Students can expect to learn about the history of geology, dynamic geological changes, rock formation, geologic time, and mineral composition.
Sedimentary Geology Course
Students learn how the sedimentary actions of different forms and bodies of water such as streams, lakes, oceans, and glaciers create and change landforms. This involves understanding the chemical and physical properties that transport, deposit, and transform sediment into rock.
Plate Tectonics Theory Course
This course focuses on the theory of plate tectonics, it’s history, and how it has evolved and developed. This will include study of the major fault lines, folds, and volcanoes. Students will also be examining the physical effects of volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and rifting.
Terrestrial Planet Geology Course
In this course, students will apply what they know of geology to other rocky planets in and outside of our solar system. Much of the course will center around how these planets came to be, develop, and ultimately change.
Geology and Biology Course
This course focuses on the interaction between biological and geological functions. This includes learning how fossils are produced and the various methods for interpreting the strata’s of rocks.

Geology Certification

There are some states that require prospective geologists to hold a professional license or be registered. South Carolina and Washington State are two such places with these requirements.
To become registered, candidates must hold at least a bachelor’s degree and have a minimum of five years of professional experience in the field. Clearing the exam is also part of the process. For more detailed information, and to determine whether these requirements will apply in your case, check the laws of the particular state you intend to practice in.

Job Prospects and Salary

According to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS),

  • In 2012, the annual median salary for geoscientists was $90,890
  • The top ten percent of geoscientists earned more than $187,200
  • According to BLS, the projected rate of employment growth for this profession between 2012-2022 is 16%. This is higher than the projected rate of employment for most professions, which is 11%.
  • As of May 2012, the annual median salary for geoscientists in the top five industries was:

Oil and Gas Extraction - $137,750
Federal Government, Excluding Postal Service - $94,830
Engineering Service - $74,360
Management, Scientific, and Technical Consulting Services - $74,020
State Government Excluding Education and Hospitals - $62,030

  • Geoscientists often work irregular hours and are required to carry out fieldwork, which involves significant travel.
  • According to BLS ‘The need for energy, environmental protection, and responsible land and resource management is projected to spur demand for geoscientists in the future’

The study of geology is dynamic and involves a mix of classroom and practical education. Students interested in pursuing a career in this field have a number of different degree options to choose from, depending on their career goals. Hybrid programs with online and on campus modules are available, and students are advised to carry out research into the best possible options for their future.


Frequently Asked Question(s)

Q:What topics will I be covering in an online geology degree?

A:An online degree in geology will cover a vast range of subjects such as the following: physical geology, mineralogy, physics, principles of paleobiology, geologic field methods, petrography, structural geology, sedimentary petrogenesis, etc. The curriculum will vary from college to college and will also depend on the degree-level you are pursuing.

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