Online Geology Ph.D. Programs

By Brandon Mario D`Souza

Updated March 15, 2024

Brandon Mario D’Souza

Brandon is a registered social worker with Social Work England. He obtained his master’s in social work (personnel management & industrial relations) and used it in fields such as water treatment, construction, software, and education. Then he transitioned to the health and social care sector with an M.Sc. in health psychology. Brandon loves to write, cook, and play musical instruments (piano, guitar, melodica, ukulele, and kazoo) and enjoys the calmness and serenity of nature.


Master of Social Work, Master of Health Psychology

Areas of Expertise & Credentials

None to disclose in particular; the basics are covered in the short bio.

On this page
Back to top

Geology is a subfield of natural science that undertakes a scientific study of rock features composing Earth. The subject evaluates meteorites, extraterrestrial raw materials, and other earth structures through different geological methods. An online geology Ph.D. focuses on fundamental questions in Earth science, including formation, evolution, processes, and changes that occur on earth. The program generally includes extensive research and fieldwork experience that prepares students for excelling in both academic and professional careers in various geoscience fields, including sedimentology, geochemistry, groundwater and hydrogeology, volcanology, and more. Doctorates in geology can be employed as researchers, hydrologists, mining and exploration geologists, seismologists, conservation scientists, etc. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of geoscientists is expected an increase by 5% between 2021 and 2031, with an average median pay of $83,680[1].


Find the Best Online Geology
Ph.D. Programs

The best doctorate in geology must provide extensive fieldwork and research experience to students, preparing them for academic and professional careers in various geoscience fields. Factors like laboratories, quality of faculty advisors, curriculum offered, concentrations, and accreditation must be evaluated for program selection as they could significantly impact one’s career endeavors. Since selecting a good college can be pretty laborious, our teams at FBD have devised a unique ranking methodology to make it easier for prospective Ph.D. students to choose the best online geology Ph.D. programs:

The University of Idaho (U of I, or UIdaho), established in 1889, is a public land-grant research university in Moscow, Idaho. From accounting to wildlife resources, the university offers over 140 degree programs, including bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral, and specialist degrees, as well as honors programs. In addition, certificates of completion are available in 30 fields of study.
Univ Address Tuition Grad Rate
University of Idaho-Oncampus 875 Perimeter Drive MS 2282, Moscow, Idaho 83844 $7,754 59%

Universities and programs are ranked by various factors, such as affordability, curriculum and coursework, reputation and availability, program length, statistics, the potential of employment, and return on investment for the students. For a more in-depth analysis, please read about our rankings methodology page

What to Expect from an Online
Ph.D. in Geology

The online Ph.D. in geology focuses on the fundamental questions about geology and Earth science that range from how Earth is formed and its evolution to how it operates in today’s changing times. The program is typically offered in on-campus and online learning modes; some colleges also offer hybrid classes where one can combine online and offline classes. Students can expect laboratory work, seminars, lectures, and thesis-related courses, in addition to core coursework. They are also required to attend a written and oral comprehensive exam, prepare and write a dissertation, and defend it in front of a select panel.

Program Structure, Coursework,
and Dissertation

The typical Ph.D. program is divided into coursework, specialization, preliminary exam, dissertation, final oral exam, and dissertation defense. Doctoral students usually take a minimum of 6 courses in geoscience aimed toward the development of unique skills they would require to broaden their geological expertise and elaborate on their research project. Some specializations are offered depending on the institutions, including structural geology-tectonics, hydrogeology-biochemistry, geophysics-geodynamics, mineralogy-petrology-geochemistry, structural geology-tectonics, sedimentology-stratigraphy, and more.

Students can develop their program of study in collaboration with their supervisory committee, including the faculty advisor. This includes classwork, and research one will pursue throughout the program. In general, some essential components with most geology Ph.D. degrees include:


Students must typically study global geophysics, advanced structural geology, tectonic of orogenic belts, geological engineering, geochemical thermodynamics and transport, geohazards, paleoecology, dispositional environment, and much more. After finishing their coursework, students can expect a preliminary exam.

Preliminary Exam

Students must pass their preliminary exam to be considered doctoral candidates. This exam is typically taken after most of the required coursework is finished. After passing the exam, students can start working on their dissertation research proposal from the second year onwards. If they fail to pass the exam after a specific number of attempts, they may be disenrolled from the degree.

Research and Laboratory

Research is one of the critical aspects of a doctorate. Most institutions have laboratory facilities and specialized research and analytical equipment to help students academically. Throughout the program, graduates are expected to establish a strong base of analytical and research knowledge that helps them develop a marketable skill set and allows an easy move into the workforce post-graduation. Some colleges even provide opportunities to explore planetary and terrestrial geosciences using their cutting-edge analytical laboratories.


Students brainstorm their research topics with their advisor and submit a proposal to the research committee. They must sit for oral preliminary exams to assess their understanding of the field. They also need to defend the proposal through a public presentation in front of faculty members. After completing the dissertation, they must make it publication-ready and share their findings with the department.


Since the field of geology will primarily require its workers to perform on the field, geology doctorate degrees generally focus on providing extensive fieldwork experiences that will prepare graduates for their academic and professional careers. The fieldwork could be concentrated in various geoscience fields like sedimentology, geochemistry, geophysics, mineralogy, geomorphology, field geology, and more.

Some common topics around which students have done their Ph.D. include:

  • Biophysical Ecology
  • Stable Isotope Biogeochemistry
  • Ore Genesis
  • Mineral Exploration
  • Bio Venting and Augmentation
  • Application of Environmental Regulation and Toxicological Parameters
  • Carbon Management
  • Difficulty in Commercializing New Energy Technology
  • Offshore Oil and Gas Development
  • Oil Shale and Tar Sand Development
  • Hydraulic Fracking
  • Role of Groundwater in Geotechnical and Geological Problems
  • Aquifer Evaluation Methods

To understand more about doctorate programs, read the Guide to Ph.D. Programs.

Learning Outcomes and
Skills Gained

The Ph.D. in geology program is structured to help students understand the field in-depth and deep-dive into studying the Earth and other critical aspects that influence it. The degree prepares them for professional and academic careers in geology, including geomorphology, planetary geology, hydrology, volcanology, Earth observation, remote sensing, and other related fields. Some of the skills a Ph.D. holder will typically acquire through their doctoral studies includes the ability to:

  • recognize different scientific methods of collecting data and applying various geological tools and techniques to analyze data;
  • apply interdisciplinary methods to make analytic observations in the field and come up with possible solutions to the challenges faced today;
  • help others understand the relationship that exists between the society, systems of Earth, environment, and various fields of geology;
  • understand the data derived from geological samples either collected manually, published as digital media and resources, or direct observations made from secondary data sources;
  • demonstrate knowledge of geological techniques like boring, mining, and numerical modeling and statistics;
  • find solutions concerning depleting water, mineral, and more resources;
  • apply methodological approach while working and pay attention to details so that one can analyze earth samples and produce spatial geology maps; and
  • demonstrate practical teamwork skills to collaborate with other stakeholders like geochemists, engineers, and geophysicists, in the field.

Areas of Specialization for Geology
Ph.D. Students

Specialization is designed to teach specific skills or provide in-depth knowledge to the students that help them gain expertise in that subject and benefit them academically and professionally. Studying a particular concentration can also help one narrow down the topic they want to pursue dissertations in and evolve as an industry expert. Some concentrations one can usually expect to find in the Ph.D. in geology online degree are:

Area of Specialization Description Career Options
Economic GeologyThis concentration focuses on excavating materials on Earth for economic purposes. It helps one understand the mineral deposits distributions, the financial considerations to be made while recovering substances, and assessing the Earth’s reserves currently available.Economic geologists at museums, governmental departments, scientific bodies, consulting companies
Petroleum GeologyThis concentration introduces students to the key issues surrounding the petroleum industry. The primary learning here is about exploring conventional and unconventional hydrocarbons, whose origin, accumulation, exploration, and movement are also traced.Petroleum geologists and related careers
Mining GeologyIn this specialization, students explore the different processes of mining executed to extract desired materials from Earth. The negative impact of mining on the environment and safety concerns are also discussed.Mining geologists or geologists miners
Hydrology GeologyThis concentration develops an understanding of the exploration of water resources and their sustainable management. It studies underground water’s behavior, movement, and quality to learn the relationship between water, soil, and rock.Hydrogeologists
Environmental GeologyIn this concentration, students learn about developing healthy rivers and streams that could also support endangered wildlife. Several practical applications of geology principles are applied to artificial environmental problems.Environmental geologists or environmental scientists

Full-Time and Part-Time
Ph.D. Programs

On average, it could take four to six years of full-time study to complete geology Ph.D. programs online. During the program’s first two years, students devote their time to finishing their coursework. The rest of the time is dedicated to writing and defending the dissertation. The duration of the program could depend on how much time individual components of the program take to complete. Time will be distributed between passing the qualifying exam, oral defense of the thesis proposal, written thesis approved by the department, and oral defense of the written dissertation. Those pursuing the degree part-time would require six to eight years to complete.

Accelerated Geology
Ph.D. Programs

Students can fast-track their Ph.D. programs in various ways, which will help them complete the program in a shorter duration. Many institutions providing Ph.D. programs follow a trimester-based or quarter-based system to offer their coursework. However, an online accelerated doctoral program might not necessarily follow this schedule. Classes will be conducted throughout the year rather than just in specific periods, including summer classes. Through this fast-tracking of the curriculum, one can complete one’s required coursework in a year rather than two or three years in a traditional program. An accelerated online Ph.D. in geology will help working individuals seeking to enter the job market quickly or with other commitments like work and family. Universities providing an accelerated online Ph.D. in geology include The University of Arizona and Binghamton University-State.

Requirements for Getting into an Online
Geology Ph.D. Program

Ph.D. programs could be pretty competitive, and since it is an advanced degree, there is typically much more scrutiny when selecting students to enroll. Therefore, prospective graduates must understand the admission requirements for geology Ph.D. programs before applying, which will help them prepare better for their enrollment. A master’s in Geology is generally a requirement to enroll in the Ph.D. program, but not compulsory, as students with master’s in related fields may also be accepted. However, those with a master’s in geology will have a competitive edge over other applicants. The admission requirements for a Ph.D. program vary from institution to institution, but some of the standard requirements across most universities are:

  • Admission form and fee
  • Minimum Cumulative Grade Point Average of 3.0 CGPA
  • Official academic transcripts of prior university-level degrees
  • GRE scores (not mandatory in many colleges)
  • Statement of Purpose
  • Sample of written work of around 15-25 pages on an average
  • Two or three Letters of Recommendation
  • Résumé or Curriculum Vitae

No GRE Online Geology
Ph.D. Programs

The Graduate Record Examination or GRE scores reflect the academic abilities of students pursuing advanced degrees[2]. In most instances, GRE scores are a central component of applying to a doctoral degree program. However, many colleges across the country have been increasingly waiving off its requirement or making it optional. Ph.D. in geology no GRE programs are offered by Binghamton University-State University of New York[3] and Arizona State University[4], among others.

How to Ensure an Online Geology Ph.D.
Program Is Accredited

Students receiving education from an accredited institution are assured of the quality of education imparted to them. Graduating from an accredited institution also increases their chances of employability considerably. The accreditation process ensures that colleges self-regulate themselves and improve the quality of their program with recommended changes.

ABET – Applied and Natural Science Accreditation Commission is generally one of the independent organizations accrediting geology programs[5]. However, where the Ph.D. program may not be accredited, institutions are generally regionally accredited by one of six accrediting agencies:

  • New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Western Association of Schools anad Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)

Students can check the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs[6] to determine if the university through which they want to pursue their online geology Ph.D. is accredited by a recognized national or regional organization. Read the Guide to College Accreditation to understand more about accreditation.

Where to Find Free Online Courses for
Geology Ph.D. Students

Free courses can often benefit those pursuing a doctorate in geology online. They can help with exam preparation, research, and dissertation writing while presenting various perspectives and ideas about geology. Examples of free geology courses are:

CourseDescriptionProvided by
Oceanography: A Key to Better Understanding our World[7]This course explores various concepts of descriptive oceanography related to water’s physical characteristics. It introduces topics that help one understand the relationship between surface topography and water mass distribution.Coursera
Extreme Geological Events[8]This course explores the relationship between the emerging simple and complex life on Earth. It helps identify the difference between various geological events and activities occurring on Earth.Class Central
Climate Change: Carbon Capture and Storage[9]This course bridges the gap between the latest developments in engineering, policy and economics, geology, and science. It can help one understand how technology can be used objectively to make efforts toward climate change.edX

Ways to Pay for an Online
Geology Ph.D.

It can be pretty challenging to figure out how to pay for a doctoral program because of the high cost of this degree. The Ph.D. in geology online generally does not come cheap, costing several tens of thousands of dollars. Fortunately, prospective doctoral students can seek financial aid from various sources to fund their program, such as:


Scholarships are awarded to individuals with excellent academic track records. They are frequently funded by community groups, federal and state governments, individuals, colleges, and for-profit organizations. Scholarships do not require repayment unless the recipient fails to meet the terms of the award.


Grants, unlike merit-based scholarships, are awarded based on an applicant’s financial background and needs. They are usually provided by educational institutes, businesses, non-profits, and federal and state governments.

Graduate Assistantships

Graduate assistantships are an excellent way to offset some of the high tuition of a Ph.D. Teaching and research assistantships are available to eligible students in exchange for a stipend or tuition discount/waiver.

Student Loans

Student loans are offered by private and federal banks and financial institutions but with high interest rates. Although a loan is not a preferred option for funding one’s education, it can be helpful for those who may not qualify for federal aid, scholarships, or grants.


FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, is a tool to determine whether a student is eligible to receive any form of student aid from the government or select universities.

Fully Funded Online Geology
Ph.D. Programs

“Full funding” in a doctorate is a financial aid package provided to graduates that could include complete tuition, an annual stipend, salary for the study duration, and more. Examples of some universities offering fully funded geology Ph.D. programs are:

University of California Irvine[10]The University of California Irvine offers a fully funded Ph.D. in Earth System Sciences. The funding includes tuition, fees, and a yearly guaranteed stipend of about $35,000 annually. It also includes health insurance and on-campus housing.
University of Pittsburgh[11]The University of Pittsburgh provides complete funding packages that support graduates throughout their studies. Financial aid is given in the form of a scholarship for the tuition fee in the first year, along with one of the three options of either a teaching assistantship, graduate research assistantship, or a fellowship. Either option includes full tuition fee coverage and a competitive stipend.
The University of Utah[12]The University of Utah offers its full-time Ph.D. students fellowships, research assistantships, and teaching assistantships. Research and teaching assistants receive a stipend of around $9,639 each semester. They have a tuition benefit program that covers the tuition and mandatory fees.

Career Opportunities and Salaries
After Graduating

There are many career opportunities for online Ph.D. in geology students. Since a doctorate is an advanced level program, one can be assured of getting in-depth knowledge and expertise in geology and its related topics. Consequently, Ph.D. holders are set for various high-paying positions within the environmental or engineering sectors, energy, and associated industries. Career opportunities include engineering geologists, geochemists, geophysicists, geoscientists, environmental consultants, hydrogeologists, mudloggers, wellsite geologists, and more. Here is an overview of a few (note that the salaries mentioned are typically for those with lower-level degrees):

OccupationJob DescriptionSkills RequiredMedian Annual Salary Job Growth (up to 2030)
Geoscientists[13]Geoscientists are involved in searching for and developing natural resources like petroleum. They take up environmental protection and preservation projects and specialize in particular aspects of Earth, like its formations, oceans, etc.Problem-solving skills, communication skills, outdoor skills, critical-thinking skills, physical stamina$83,6805% (as fast as average)
Atmospheric Scientists, including Meteorologists[14]Atmospheric scientists conduct research that helps understand weather phenomena and generate climate graphics. They report short- and long-term forecasts using satellites, local station data, radar, mathematical models, and computers.Analytical skills, communication skills, critical-thinking skills, math skills$94,5704% (as fast as average)
Hydrologists[15]Hydrologists evaluate water-related projects like irrigation systems, hydroelectric power plants, and treatment facilities of wastewater. They also analyze data about environmental pollution impacts, droughts, erosions, etc.Analytical skills, interpersonal skills, critical-thinking skills, communication skills, physical stamina$84,0300% (little or no change)
Natural Sciences Managers[16]Natural sciences managers monitor and review research, draft operational reports, and oversee the progress of projects. They ensure that laboratories are stocked and assist technicians, support staff, and scientists. They also supervise the work of scientists, biologists, and physicists.Interpersonal skills, problem-solving skills, time-management skills, leadership skills$137,9006% (as fast as average)
Environmental Engineers[17]Environmental engineers advise corporations and governmental agencies on procedures for contaminated site cleaning. They analyze various scientific data to do quality-control checks and recommend environmental remediation projects.Imagination, interpersonal skills, problem-solving skills, reading skills, writing skills$96,8204% (as fast as average)
Geological and Hydrologic Technicians[18]Geological and hydrologic technicians prepare maps and reports to identify several geological characteristics of particular geographic areas and understand their natural resources.Analytical skills, communication skills, critical-thinking skills, interpersonal skills$50,0804% (as fast as average)

Certifications and Licensing for Online Ph.D.
Students in Geology

Geologists often work in related fields like environmental safety and protection and the mining and petroleum industry. Professional certifications added to one’s geology Ph.D. can significantly benefit them in the job market. Some popular certifications Ph.D. in geology students can consider are:

Certified Professional Geologist[19]

Professional geologists are certified by the American Institute of Professional Geologists (AIPG) based on their knowledge, moral character, and ethics. AIPG evaluates candidates who voluntarily apply for self-regulation through a rigorous and in-depth peer assessment process. Earning this certification adds credence to one’s professionalism and expertise as a geologist.

Certified Petroleum Geologists[20]

The American Association of Petroleum Geologists provides his certification. The certification increases recognition among fellow geology and governmental agency members working in petroleum-related settings. It ensures that individuals have the credibility to enforce ethical standards while collaborating on public service projects.

OSHA Safety Certificate[21]

The Delaware Technical Community College administers this certification to make professionals understand proactive safety and health procedures. Candidates are made aware of health issues in the work environment, recognize physical hazards related to violation of OSHO safety procedures, and study practical strategies to deal with safety and health issues.

Certified Environmental Systems Manager[22]

This certification is ideal for those who work or aspire to work in the implementation of environmental management systems at facilities that follow ISO 14001-type guidelines. Through the training in this certification, one specializes in environmental policy and the measuring, monitoring, controlling, and planning of facilities and processes.


The National Association of State Boards of Geology, or ASBOG, administers the Fundamentals of Geology Exam or FGE[23]. Even though a geologist does not need a license to work in private setups, it is critical for them to have licensure to work on public service projects. Therefore, one must apply to their specific state licensing board to acquire a license that is given based on one’s performance on the FGE.

Additional Resources for Ph.D.
Students in Geology

There are many nationally and internationally recognized organizations that can help their members make significant contributions to the field of geology. Through membership in such organizations, students pursuing a geology doctoral program can improve their chances of networking, advancing professionally, building a community with like-minded peers, and collaborating with experts. Some of the organizations one can join are:

The Geological Society of America[24]The Geological Society of America aims to link geoscience to society through public policy work and education. They wish to promote geoscience and the role they play by addressing the critical challenges affecting the earth and environment.
American Geosciences Institutes[25]The American Geosciences Institutes provides services to geoscientists who serve as voices of interest in the profession. They aim to strengthen education, public awareness, and resources in geoscience, along with fostering creative solutions that will benefit the Earth and humanity.
American Geophysical Union[26]The American Geophysical Union was founded to promote pure geophysics. They publish many useful scientific journals like Earth’s future, GeoHealth, Radio Science, Journal of Geophysical Research, and AGU advances.
Association for Women Geoscientists[27]The Association for Women Geoscientists aims to encourage women to pursue careers in geosciences and related jobs. Their activities include providing scholarships and outstanding educator awards, monthly newsletters, geology field trips, and more.
Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography[28]This Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography is committed to providing its members with various resources and tools that form effective communications with multiple professionals in the field for policy-related activities.

FAQs About Online Geology
Ph.D. Programs

Do I need a master’s in geology before joining a Ph.D. program?

Universities typically enroll those with a master’s in geology and related fields to the doctorate in geology degree. Although not a must, since this field is challenging and generally in demand, those with a master’s in geology might be preferred to join the doctorate program.

Is there any practical exposure given during a Ph.D. in geology?

Why should you do an online geology Ph.D. program?

Are geologists in high demand?

What can I do after a doctorate in geology?

Is an online Ph.D. in geology worth it?

Author Bio:

Brandon Mario D’Souza

Brandon is a registered social worker with Social Work England. He obtained his master’s in social work (personnel management & industrial relations) and used it in fields such as water treatment, construction, software, and education. Then he transitioned to the health and social care sector with an M.Sc. in health psychology. Brandon loves to write, cook, and play musical instruments (piano, guitar, melodica, ukulele, and kazoo) and enjoys the calmness and serenity of nature.


Master of Social Work, Master of Health Psychology

Areas of Expertise & Credentials

None to disclose in particular; the basics are covered in the short bio.


The average tuition (based on degree type for in-state students), average graduation rates, and rankings are based on data from various sources, including the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS), and are variable over time. All rankings and statistics are subject to change. The rankings are solely the opinion of Find Best Degrees (FBD) and are based on our proprietary methodology. They do not represent the views of the institutions or organizations mentioned, nor do they represent any official government census or survey. Furthermore, any views or opinions expressed on this page are of FBD’s researchers and teams. Unless otherwise specified, they do not represent the thoughts and opinions of the individuals, institutions, or organizations mentioned. This page’s content is provided solely for informational purposes, with data drawn from various sources, including IPEDS. FBD and its employees make no guarantees regarding the accuracy or completeness of any information found on this page or by following any link. FBD will not be held liable for any errors or omissions in this material nor any losses, injuries, or damages resulting from the exposure or use of this information. Although the information on this page is/was correct at the time of publication, readers should exercise caution because some or all of the provided information may have changed over time, potentially resulting in inaccuracies. For more information, please read our Terms of Service. Trademarks and logos are the property of their registered owners.