Earth Sciences Major Guide

Earth Sciences Major Guide

Key Takeaways

  • Earth sciences majors can specialize in a wide range of concentration areas.
  • Many of the career opportunities for Earth sciences graduates offer higher-than-average salaries.
  • A degree in Earth sciences could put graduates in a position to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges.

Students majoring in Earth sciences can study subjects such as mineralogy, climatology, hydrology, paleontology, agriculture, conservation, and preservation. This means that a degree in Earth sciences can lead you down a wide range of professional paths in science, environmentalism, education, and much more.

The Earth sciences major is the study of the Earth, its atmosphere, the materials and substances that compose them, and the processes that produce weather patterns, climate shifts, geological events, and more. The Earth sciences field is composed of four primary sub-disciplines–geology, meteorology, oceanography, and astronomy.

If you’re ready to earn your degree at one of the most prestigious schools in the world, get started with a look at the Most Influential Schools in Earth Sciences.

Or read on to find out what you can expect as an Earth sciences major.

Featured Programs

5 Reasons to Major in Earth Sciences

1.Earth sciences majors are well paid.

Scientific careers tend to involve specialized, challenging, and well-paying jobs, and Earth sciences is no different. Whether as an environmental scientist, geologist, or atmospheric scientist, landing a job in a branch of Earth sciences can lead to a big paycheck.

Many careers in Earth sciences have much higher-than-average median salaries and job growth for these positions is predicted to be faster than average.

2.Earth sciences majors literally learn how the world works.

Earth science involves the study of the Earth, the substances that compose it, and the processes that define it. In studying Earth science, you develop a deeper understanding of the world we live in from the clouds over our heads to the dirt underneath our feet.

3.Earth sciences majors can enact positive change.

Earth science gives you the opportunity to contribute to advances in sustainability, alternative energies, environmental conservation, agriculture, food production, and more. Your degree in Earth sciences could put you in a position to produce findings, technology and innovations that could solve some of the world’s greatest challenges from global hunger to climate change.

4.Earth sciences majors have interesting careers.

Whether studying minerals, crystals, and magma deep within the Earth, or measuring patterns of atmospheric change, Earth science majors lead interesting careers full of discovery, investigation, and problem-solving opportunities.

5.Earth sciences majors are influential.

Earth science majors help to guide our understanding of important issues such as global climate change, the health of our oceans and the need for improved sustainability in our collective lifestyle practices. Today, top influencers in Earth sciences are bringing new light to volcanology, climate change, sustainability, and much more.

Find out who the Most Influential People are in Earth Sciences today!

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What Kinds of Earth Sciences Degrees Are There?

Earth sciences degrees come in an extremely wide variety. Available as everything from an associate degree to a PhD, Earth sciences degrees can be earned as a general course of study, but are more likely offered as specialized programs in areas such as geology, atmospheric science, meteorology, climatology, environmental science, hydrology, or oceanography. Note that most Earth science jobs require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree for entry.

  • Associate in Earth Sciences (AA or AS): An associate degree in Earth sciences typically takes two years to complete and requires 60 credits. At this level, students develop a foundational knowledge of the field through courses in subjects such as geology, meteorology, and oceanography. Students emerge prepared for some entry level technician roles, as well as internships. This is also an affordable way to get a head start before pursuing a bachelor’s degree in a more specialized area.
  • Bachelor of Earth Sciences (BA or BS): A bachelor’s in Earth science typically takes four years to complete and requires 120 credits. At this level, students develop foundational and specialized knowledge in areas including atmospheric sciences, hydrology, environmental conservation, sustainability, mineralogy, and paleontology. These programs also typically require lab experience and a research project, and sometimes an internship. Students graduate ready for entry level roles in jobs such as meteorologist, geologist, environmental scientist, and hydrologist.
  • Master of Earth Sciences (MA or MS): A master’s in Earth sciences typically takes two years to complete and requires 30-45 credits. At this level, students are working in specialized areas, developing advanced knowledge in subjects like geochemistry, climate change factors and prevention, protection of water sources, the “deep time” history of the Earth, and the forecasting of major meteorological events. Students must complete a research project or thesis, as well as an internship. Master’s degree holders will qualify for advanced jobs such as geochemist, hydrologist, conservation scientist, or agricultural scientist.
  • PhD in Earth Sciences: A PhD in Earth sciences is the highest level degree you can earn in the field. This terminal degree will typically take three to five years to complete, and requires a combination of advanced coursework, a research project and dissertation, comprehensive exams, and lab or instructional work. At this level, you will already be well into your specialization area. Therefore, you may need to determine where to earn your doctoral degree based on how each school ranks for your specialization. Your PhD will qualify you for an array of high-level professions, including director of research, or tenured college professor.

*Note: Many, but not all, degree programs offer the choice between Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science degrees. Likewise, many, but not all, advanced degree programs offer a choice between Master of Arts, and Master of Science degrees. In most cases, the primary difference is the diversity of course offerings. “Science” degree courses will focus almost entirely on the major discipline, with a deep dive into a specific concentration, including laboratory, clinical or practicum experience. An “Arts” degree will provide a more well-rounded curriculum which includes both core/concentration courses and a selection of humanities and electives. The type of degree you choose will depend both on your school’s offerings and your career/educational goals. Moreover, there are sometimes numerous variations in the way that colleges name and categorize majors. The degree types identified here above are some of the common naming variations, but may not be all-encompassing.

Thinking of a graduate degree in earth science? Check out What Can I Do With a Master’s Degree in Earth Science? for more information on obtaining a graduate degree in this field.

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What Are Some Popular Earth Sciences Concentrations?

Your “concentration” refers to a specific area of focus within your major. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) provides a complete listing of college degree programs and concentrations (Classification for Instructional Programs), as sourced from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). According to IPEDS, the following are among the most popular Earth sciences concentrations:

  • Agricultural Science
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Climatology
  • Conservation Science
  • Earth Science
  • Environmental Science
  • Geochemistry
  • Geology
  • Geophysics and Seismology
  • Geoscience
  • Hydrology
  • Meteorology
  • Oceanography
  • Paleontology
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What Courses Will I Take as a Earth Sciences Major?

Your concentration will determine many of the courses you’ll take as an Earth sciences major. Likewise, you will be required to take a number of requisite courses on foundational topics such as Earth materials and hydrology. However, you will also have the freedom to select an array of courses that most interest you. As an Earth sciences major, you’ll have the chance to craft a well-rounded educational experience that ultimately furthers your professional goals.

Common Earth sciences courses include:

  • Earth Materials
  • Earth Processes
  • Earth Climate and History
  • Paleontology
  • Geology
  • Climatology
  • Mineralogy
  • Petrology
  • Atmospheric Thermodynamics
  • Sedimentation and Tectonics
  • Atmospheric Instrumentation
  • Hydrology
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What Can I Do With a Major in Earth Sciences?

With such a wide range of specialization options, Earth science majors have an equally wide selection of career paths. Keep in mind, your major specialization largely determines your professional specialization, so if you want to work as a geologist, we wouldn’t recommend specializing in agricultural science (unless you plan to work at the intersection of the two subdisciplines). Your Earth sciences major can lead to a wide range of career opportunities, including these top jobs:

Career Outlook for Students with Earth Sciences Degree

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Geology/Earth Science

Degree Level: Bachelor's

  • Location: The U.S. (Private Schools)
  • Avg. Cost of Degree*: $11,004
  • Avg. Expenses*: $17,194
  • Avg. Starting Salary*: $38,148
  • Avg. Salary after 4 Years*: $52,475
  • Avg. Cost Recoup Time**: 11 years
  • Job Growth: 4.43%
  • Number of Jobs: 142,200
  • * denotes ‘annually’
  • ** denotes ‘at 15% of annual salary’

Career Salaries

CareerJob GrowthAvg. Salary
Natural Sciences Managers4.87%$122,066
Atmospheric, Earth, Marine, and Space Sciences Teachers, Postsecondary3.68%$97,456
Geoscientists, Except Hydrologists and Geographers4.94%$87,973
Chemistry Teachers, Postsecondary3.48%$84,717

Average Career Salaries

Bottom 10%MedianTop 10%

Promising Job Markets

StateCost of LivingAvg. Salary
#2 Oklahoma13% higher than average$106,704
#3 Michigan15% higher than average$103,740
#4 Texas10% higher than average$104,508
#5 North Carolina11% higher than average$99,516
#6 Tennessee14% higher than average$93,255

Top Industries

IndustryAvg. Salary
Natural Sciences Managers$122,066
Atmospheric, Earth, Marine, and Space Sciences Teachers, Postsecondary$97,456

Which are the best colleges for an Earth sciences degree? Students can attend top-ranked research universities or liberal arts colleges, depending on their preferences, for their degree.

Thinking of a graduate degree in earth science? Check out What Can I Do With a Master’s Degree in Earth Science? for more information on obtaining a graduate degree in this field.

Are you interested in exploring other college majors and programs? Don’t miss our comprehensive guide to college degree programs for an overview of the most popular college majors.

Curious how far you could go with a major in Earth sciences? Start with a look at the top influencers in the field today!


Now that you know how to major in Earth sciences, check out The Most Influential Schools in Earth Sciences and get started on your path to an Earth sciences degree.

And if you’re shopping for the right college, be sure that you’ve reviewed our Resources on critical issues like Accreditation, Scholarships, Financial Aid, and more!

Get valuable tips and expert advice with a look at our Career Guidance homepage.

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