Geology is the study of the earth, the materials that make it up, the structure of those materials, and the processes acting upon them, as well as the organisms that inhabit the earth. An important aspect of geology is the study of how those materials, structures, processes, and organisms have changed over time.
Why Study Geology?
As an international student preparing to study in the United States, you may still be trying to decide on a field of study. Geology may not seem like a very interesting subject; after all, who wants to spend all their time studying rocks? But geology is more than just rocks; geology is the study of the continents, the oceans, the atmosphere, and the earth’s magnetic and gravitational fields. It encompasses the physical, chemical, and biological sciences. It is concerned with the earth’s history and the processes operating in and on the earth, such as the formation of its surface features and the erosion and deformation of this surface. The better we understand geology, the better we can preserve our planet.
Students who study geology also develop reasoning and analytical skills that will be useful to them throughout their lives. Geology is an inductive science that requires creativity—geologists develop hypotheses, sort through any available data, and determine the most logical theory based on that data.
As a geology major, you will look at the earth and the forces acting upon it, including the solids, liquids, and gasses that make it up. You will study various sciences including biology, chemistry, and physics. You will have the opportunity to visit geologically important local, regional, and national sites. Because geology is a science, you should be prepared to spend roughly three to four hours a week in the lab.
In an introductory geology class, you will learn the basics of geology, including how to identify rocks, minerals, and fossils. You will likely also cover topics such as plate tectonics, the theory that land masses, such as continents, are on plates that move across the surface of the earth.
Courses you should expect to take as a geology major in the United States include:
- Physical geology
How to Choose a Geology Program
When selecting the college or university that you want to pursue your geology degree, there are several questions you will need to ask about each program. These include:
- Are field trips and field instruction built into most, if not all, courses?
- How much access will you have to labs and instruments, such as chemistry equipment, housed in other departments?
- Have any of the professors worked as geologists outside of the academic setting (in industry, for example)?
- Will you have the chance to focus on a particular subject, like hydrogeology, environmental geology, or exploration seismology?
Careers in Geology
Students who study geology in the US can go into a number of possible careers. The careers include, but are not limited to:
- Geographic specialists, who use math, computers, aerial photography, and satellites to measure and map the globe. They also help construction teams and property owners find the best places to build.
- Geoscientists study the earth’s structure and composition. They specialize in specific areas. For example, oceanographers study the geology, biology, and chemistry of the oceans, and hydrologists study the way water circulates both on and below the earth’s surface.
- Meteorologists study the atmosphere. The most widely recognized meteorologists are those who appear on news and weather channels, but most meteorologists are employed by the National Weather Service.
- Mining and geological engineers help find deposits of coal, metals, and minerals. They also design mines and equipment used to bring those materials to the surface, and solve safety and environmental issues related to mining.
Students who study geology have a number of doors open to them, depending on where their interests lie.