How to Become a Geologist: Steps to Take from High School
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Do you love the outdoors? Are you fascinated by the Earth and its elements? Then geology could be the field for you.
Working at government agencies, nonprofit organizations, academic institutions, natural resources companies, civil engineering companies, and more, geologists play a critical role in understanding the planet’s reserves and how to use them effectively.
Is geology the path for you? Keep reading to find out!
What Does a Geologist Do?
At its core, geology is about studying the Earth and its various natural reserves, including rocks and rock formations. Geologists examine the history of circumstances that led to and could lead to the creation of natural elements, including volcano eruptions, mudslides, floods, earthquakes, and hurricanes. They conduct their work both outdoors (fieldwork) and in laboratories, performing activities such as:
- Collecting and analyzing soil samples
- Studying the current and former presence of animal life in various areas
- Examining how land masses have evolved
- Dating rock formations
- Conducting surveys
- Creating and presenting reports on their findings
The information they collect is used for a range of purposes, such as determining drilling locations or devising building plans.
How Much Do Geologists Make?
Geologists earned an average salary of $93,580 annually in 2020 according to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics. Keep in mind that salaries vary greatly depending on factors like level of education, location, and specific employer. For example, geologists with a master’s degree working at a private company likely have a higher earning potential than those working at nonprofits with a bachelor’s degree.
How to Become a Geologist: Steps to Take from High School
Most high schools don’t offer geology courses — although if yours does, you should certainly take them! — but you’ll often find relevant classes, such as Earth sciences, biology, environmental science, physics, and chemistry. To gain a solid foundation for college, take as many high-level courses in these subjects. Math is also critical to a geologist’s work, so advanced courses in subjects like calculus and statistics will also prepare you for success.
Additionally, you should hone skills in areas like communication through English and other humanities courses, since you’ll be tasked with communicating verbally and in writing.
On the extracurricular front, try clubs — outdoors club and environmental club, for example — related to your interest in the Earth. Science activities and competitions like Science Olympiad will also help demonstrate your passion to colleges.
Pursue a degree in geology or a related field, such as Earth sciences. You can find schools that not only have top geology programs but are good fits for you in other ways, such as location and size, by using CollegeVine’s school-search tool. Once you’ve found a school you’re interested in, you can use CollegeVine’s chancing engine to estimate your odds of acceptance. By inputting information like your GPA, AP courses, SAT scores and extracurriculars, you’ll have an idea how competitive your application is for particular schools.
To earn your bachelor’s, you’ll complete coursework in subjects like:
- Computer science
- Physical geology
- Data Science
- Research methods
You’ll probably be expected to perform research and field work as part of your program. Try to find opportunities to conduct research outside of the classroom, such as by assisting professors with their research or securing a geology internship.
While some geology positions only require a bachelor’s degree, others, such as government agencies, may want a master’s. Earning a graduate degree in geology or geosciences will help you land higher-level roles and increase your earning potential. Moreover, you will gain more experience conducting fieldwork and research, which will expand your skill set.
In graduate school, you’ll probably have the opportunity to specialize in fields like environmental geology, which focuses on interactions between humans and the planet.
Some geologists decide to continue their studies and pursue a PhD. Doctoral degrees may be required for research roles, especially if you want to lead your own team of researchers. PhDs tend to focus on a specific branch of geology, so you should have a defined interest and apply to work with a professor with that expertise. An important part of the PhD process is finding mentors to help you along the way.
Here are some universities that have rigorous geology PhD programs, according to a study by the American Geological Institute:
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology
- University of California, Berkeley
- University of Wisconsin, Madison
- University of Washington
- Columbia University
- Stanford University
- Pennsylvania State University
- Harvard University
- University of California, San Diego
- University of Michigan
Licensure and Practice
Some states require a license to practice if you’re performing work that affects the general public. Check with the National Association of State Boards of Geology to find out the requirements for the state in which you intend to practice. If you do need to be licensed, you will generally need a bachelor’s degree, several years of experience, and will have to pass an exam.
There are a range of career paths open to geologists with different levels of experience, from nonprofit work focused on conservation to governmental careers managing natural resources to private company positions identifying areas for petroleum extraction. Spend some time considering your skill set and gaining experience in different niches to find the best fit for you!