Earth & Environmental Sciences 


Areas of Focus:

  • Geology: BA, MS, PhD, Minor
  • Geophysics: PhD

Department Website

Degree Requirements

Sample Four Year Plan

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Geology is a science concerned with the Earth—its relationship to the solar system, its origin and developmental history, its structure and composition and its dynamic processes. Geology also relates to human endeavors and needs, including the use of natural resources, the preservation of the environment and the mitigation of natural hazards and global change.

At the junction of the high plains and the Rocky Mountains, CU Boulder is ideally suited for the study of the geological sciences as the surrounding area is a natural outdoor laboratory that allows for the study of a variety of geological features of all ages in a diversity of settings.

My PhD in geology/geography from CU was the best interdisciplinary background I could have gotten for my career with the USGS, studying geologic records of climate change.  I just entered my 35th year with the USGS and my background from CU is something I tap into every day."

— Daniel R. Muhs (PhD 1980), research geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey

The Department of Geological Sciences, through excellence in teaching and research, advances understanding and appreciation of the Earth and its resources, structure, processes and history. The department works to create an informed and scientifically literate public, capable of making the choices required for a sustainable future, and are dedicated to educating the next generation of leading Earth and planetary scientists. Through basic research into minerals, sediments, rocks, fossils, natural fluids and gases, and landforms, their faculty and students further understanding of the past, present, and future whole Earth system, including linkages between the solid Earth, and its enveloping hydrosphere, atmosphere, and biosphere.

The University of Colorado Boulder is located in a region having the greatest concentration of geophysical researchers in the nation and perhaps the world, which has elevated the department to one of worldwide prominence. It has maintained a reputation of excellence and world-wide acclaim for more than 100 years with its graduate program ranked in the top 20 in the nation, “geosciences” more broadly ranked #2 in the world by the most recent U.S. News and World Reports rankings, and the “earth sciences” discipline at CU Boulder ranked #1 globally by the most recent Shanghai Rankings. As well, the department’s “remote sensing” research is ranked #21 in the world.

The undergraduate major in geological sciences offers two options, each leading to a bachelor of arts (B.A.) degree. Students who would like to acquire a basic knowledge of geology while majoring in some other field should consider the minor program in geology:

  • General Geology Option: This option offers in-depth training in the traditional areas of the geosciences, including a broad scientific and analytical background based on chemistry, physics, and mathematics.
  • Geophysics Option: This option focuses on the physics of the earth. In particular, you will study the materials, structure and processes of the earth’s interior, and the deformation and dynamics of the earth.   

In addition, the department is home to a number of award-winning faculty, including, but not limited to, two distinguished professors, a distinguished research lecturer, two different highly cited researchers, a recipient of the Colorado Governor’s Award for High-Impact Research, and early career award winners from the National Science Foundation and NASA.

The Department of Geological Sciences considers the diverse opportunities for field studies in the high plains and central Rocky Mountains of Colorado a particular strength of its undergraduate programs, and is nationally recognized in several areas of research including: 

  • Cosmochemistry and Planetary Geology;
  • Earth Science Education;
  • Economic and Energy Resources;
  • Geobiology and Astrobiology;
  • Geochemistry;
  • Geochronology, Thermochronology, Geologic Time;
  • Geodynamics, Geophysics, Remote Sensing;
  • Geomorphology and Cryosphere;
  • Global Change;
  • Hydrology;
  • Natural Hazards;
  • Paleoclimate and Paleoceanography;
  • Paleontology and Paleobiology;
  • Petrology and Mineralogy;
  • Sedimentology and Stratigraphy; and
  • Structure and Tectonics.

Their diverse faculty also include several who have joint affiliations with or collaborate with scientists at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences, the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, Biofrontiers Institute, the CU Museum of Natural History, the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, NASA and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. These groups are involved in interdisciplinary research relevant to the region, global change issues, earthquakes, remote sensing, hydrology, planetary geology, and other geological and geophysical topics throughout the world. 

For the undergraduate students pursuing a degree in geological sciences, there are a number of research opportunities beyond just class work:

  • The Department of Geological Sciences sponsors an Undergraduate Mentoring Program to engage geology majors in the excitment of scientific discovery. In exchange for research assistance, each mentor assumes a one-on-one mentoring responsibility for their undergraduate major, providing advice on professional development, graduate school, or employment opportunities. Department grants of $1,000 each are used to support the research activities of each faculty-student pair.

  • The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) offers students a chance to work alongside a faculty sponsor on original research. Learn to write proposals, conduct research, pursue creative work, analyze data and present the results. For more information, call UROP at 303-492-2596 or visit the UROP website.

  • You may choose to seek honors in geology, which results in the designation of cum laude, magna cum laude, or summa cum laude at graduation. Contact your primary advisor during your junior year.

  • The experience of studying abroad can prove invaluable for you as a geology major. Your first-hand experience can provide you with new insights into the earth and how different cultures interface with the environment. The university offers more than 100 programs throughout the world that offer credit, in some cases fulfilling major and core requirements. You may spend a few weeks to a full academic year abroad, depending on the program you select. Prior language study or other prerequisites are necessary for some programs, so early planning for study abroad is essential. Further information about study abroad is available from Education Abroad, 303-492-7741 or on the education abroad website.

The B.A. degree with a major in geology can lead to various entry-level positions in the energy and economic-minerals industry, environmental evaluation and regulation, industrial relations, reclamation, resource evaluation, research, surveying, and numerous other areas. The degree is also excellent preparation for later professional work in such fields as journalism, law, and economics.

If you are interested in professional work in the earth sciences, graduate school is generally necessary. You can then specialize in fields such as geochemistry, paleobiology, tectonics, remote sensing, paleoclimatology, geohydrology, petroleum geology, global change, paleoceanography, environmental geology, sedimentation, basin analysis, structural geology, mineralogy, ore deposits, petrology, geophysics, surficial and glacial geology, and soils.

Energy and mining companies, consulting firms, land development corporations, environmental analysis firms, research organizations, federal agencies, and academic institutions are among those organizations that commonly employ professional earth scientists.

Career Services offers free services for all CU Boulder degree-seeking students, and alumni up to one year after graduation, to help students discover who they are, what they want to do, and how to get there. They are the bridge between academics and the world of work by discussing major and career exploration, internship or job searching, and graduate school preparation. 

According to The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • The median 2017 income for geoscientists was $89,850, according to the bureau.

Estimated Geology Salary Info

At CU Boulder, Geological Sciences graduates earn more than the nationwide average of comparable majors as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. CU Boulder alumni in this discipline earn an estimated annual salary of $91,433, based on a pool of 325 alumni who graduated between 1989 and 2018. This amount is also the more than the average for all CU Boulder graduates with a bachelor's degree, according to a survey by Esmi Alumni Insight of 25,000 alumni who graduated during the same stretch.

Jobs in geoscience are expected to grow by 14 percent, faster than the average for all jobs, between 2016-2026.

The geological sciences department has an extensive list of alumni that are either working or have worked in a variety of industries across the globe. Some alumni of the program include:

  • Steven Jacobsen (BA; PhD) is professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Northwestern University, where he has received a Distinguished Teaching Award. He also served as distinguished lecturer of the Mineralogical Society of America and has received a David and Lucile Packard Award, Presidential Early Career Award for Science and Engineering and a Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Award from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation.
  • Penny Patterson (BS '76; PhD '90) is senior technical professional advisor for ExxonMobil.
  • Tim Grove (BA '71) is the Robert R. Shrock Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences in the department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  From 2008-10 he served as president of American Geophysical Union, the largest and most influential professional society in geosciences.
  • Vance Holliday (PhD '82) is professor of geoscience and archaeology at the University of Arizona and recipient of 2018 Fryxell Award for Interdisciplinary Research of the Society of American Archaeology. He also has received the Kirk Bryan Award and the George R. "Rip" Rapp Archaeological Geology Career Award from the Geological Society of America.
  • Bruce Benson (BA '64) has been president of the University of Colorado system since 2008. He was the Republican nominee for the governorship of Colorado in 1994.