Geology Advising Guide

Department of Earth Sciences

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What is Geology?

Geology is quite simply the scientific study of the Earth, and geologists work to better understand our planet. More specifically, geologists are interested in the structure and composition of the Earth, the processes that shape and mold the Earth, and the many changes that have occurred throughout the history of the Earth. For instance, a geologist may study the development and structure of mountain ranges or the processes leading to earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. Additionally, geologists may study fossils of prehistoric organisms that once roamed the Earth.

As professionals, many geologists study the occurrence and distribution of important natural resources including petroleum (e.g. oil and natural gas), drinking water resources, and valuable elements and minerals (e.g. gold and diamonds). Geologists may also provide guidance to communities regarding natural hazards including earthquakes, landslides, and volcanos. Geologists work in a variety of settings including environmental consultant firms, government agencies, non-profit organizations, petroleum and mining companies, and universities.   

Our rich curriculum provides students with a thorough understanding of Earth history and the physical processes that mold and shape the Earth. We offer a wide range of courses that address all aspects of geology, including Mineralogy, Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology, Sedimentology, Paleontology, Petroleum Geology, Geophysics, Field Geology, and Hydrology. In addition, we encourage geology majors to conduct impactful directed research projects that focus on a number of local and national topics.


Career Opportunities in Geology

Most geologists choose an area of focus, such as mineralogy, hydrology, or sedimentology, and seek employment opportunities in the petroleum and mineral exploration, environment, government, or education sectors. Geologists working in the oil and gas or mineral industries help mining companies locate valuable natural resources. Environmental geologists may work for private companies or consulting firms to help manage water resources, for instance. State or federal government agencies, such as the U.S. Geological Survey or Department of Energy, employ geologists for research and problem-solving assignments. Other geologists teach and perform research at the college level. Many of our recent graduates have gone onto prestigious graduate schools to enhance their experience and employment opportunities.

According to the American Geological Institute, job prospects for new geologists are good, as the number of retirees in the workforce exceeds the number of geology graduates ( Job openings in the geosciences field are expected to grow by 16% in the period from 2012-2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (


Salary Trends in Geology

Salaries for geologists vary by sector. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistic (, the median salary for geoscientists, including geologists, was around $91,920 in 2013. Professionals in the oil and gas extraction industry earned the highest wages, at an average of $154,230; however, demand for petroleum geology jobs fluctuates with the economy and the prices of oil and natural gas.

Unlike more vocationally-oriented majors, such as majors in business, engineering, or the health professions, A&S majors tend to study a greater range of topics outside of their immediate major area. This greater breadth provides an interdisciplinary perspective that complements the more linear education in the student’s major area. 

As a result, A&S majors are compatible with a wide-range of career options. A large 2012 survey of employers found that 81% of employers will consider any degree, so most employers do not require a specific degree. So A&S majors typically find post-graduate employment at rates comparable to more vocationally-specific degrees, Furthermore, longitudinal studies which have followed college graduates over time have shown that Arts and Sciences graduates' rates of salary growth often exceed those of more vocationally-specific majors. For example, a 2010 longitudinal survey of college majors after graduation found that:

“Occupationally specific degrees are beneficial at the point of entry into the labor market but have the lowest growth in occupational status over time. Students earning credentials focusing on general skills, in contrast, begin in jobs with low occupational status but subsequently report the greatest growth.

Another longitudinal study concluded that:

"Employment across educational fields is almost identical for individuals aged 35-44, and beyond age 45, humanities graduates actually have higher rates of employment than those in other fields. After age 45, humanities and social science majors’ salaries overtake those of counterparts in other fields."

Finally, A&S majors have on average the highest rates of increase from starting to mid-career salary, with Math, Philosophy, International Studies, Physics, Political Science, Chemistry, and Journalism all scoring in the top 10 among all majors in rate of salary growth to mid-career.


High School Preparation

Prospective majors are encouraged to develop a broad base in physical and life science courses, including physics, chemistry, and biology. College-level AP or IB science classes are particularly encouraged for students wishing to excel in geology. Additionally, while science courses are especially important, math, writing, and other disciplines are used by every geologist during every working day. 


How to Major in Geology

Geology majors must complete 40 hours of required core geology coursework and an additional 6 hours of geology elective coursework. In addition to the general requirements for a degree in the College of Arts and Sciences, geology majors must complete a year of Physics (PH114/PH115 or PH201/202), a year of Chemistry (CH131/CH132), and a year of Calculus (MA125/MA126). All students must also chose a minor concentration, and typically, natural or physical science minors are recommended (e.g. Biology, Chemistry, Geographic Information Technology, Geography, etc.).


Geology Core Requirements
Class Number   Sem. Hours
GY 111/111L Earth Materials 4
GY 112/112L Earth Processes 4
GY 301 Geomorphology 3
GY 302 Crystallography & Mineralogy 4
GY 303 Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology 4
GY 304 Stratigraphy (W) 3
GY 401 Invertebrate Paleontology 3
GY 402 Sedimentary Petrology (W) 3
GY 403 Structural Geology 4
GY 480 Field Geology (W) 6
6-8 Hours of Geology Electives  6-8
Total Hours: 44-46
Additional Requirements from Other Disciplines
CH 131 General Chemistry I 3
CH 132 General Chemistry II 3
PH 114 Non-Calculus Based General Physics I 4
PH 115 Non-Calculus Based General Physics II ** 4
PH 201 Calculus Based General Physics I 4
PH 202 Calculus Based General Physics II ** 4
MA 125 Calculus I 4
MA 126 Calculus II 4

(W) - Denotes a writing-intensive course.
* - The Geology degree requires a minimum of 8 hours of Physics (algebra/ trigonometry-based; PH 114 and PH 115), or calculus-based ; PH 201 and PH 202).

** - Students can elect to substitute GY 305 for PH 115/PH 202.
*** - Students can elect to substitute GY 420 for MA 126.
Those intending on pursuing graduate study are encouraged to complete a full year of calculus and physics at the University of South Alabama.


Study Abroad Opportunities 

Studying abroad is an exciting and meaningful experience that will contribute to your academic and personal development.  Participating on a study abroad program can be one of the most profound decisions of your college life, and can lead to many new and interesting opportunities.  It can help develop your critical thinking skills, sense of independence, and confidence.  When you depart on your study abroad program, you will go with excitement, trepidation, and uncertainty about the world and your place in it.  When you return home, your deep connection and affection for your host culture will be overwhelming, and will only be matched by a newfound respect and appreciation for your home.

Study abroad is the opportunity for USA students to spend time in a different country while earning credit towards your degree through taking classes, interning, volunteering, and more.  There are many different types of study abroad available to you at USA. They include faculty-led programs, international exchange programs, and direct-enroll and affiliate programs. 

Students on faculty-led programs will travel as a group led by USA professors and take classes in various locations. All courses taken on these programs are USA courses and offer USA credits that will apply to your degree. International Exchange programs are partnerships with specific universities around the world with which USA has a special, reciprocal relationship. Students enroll directly at the host university, and students from the host university attend USA. USA affiliate programs allow students to enroll at a partner university or program through a third-party provider. GPA requirements vary by program.

You should think of the Study Abroad Office as a one-stop shop for information related to your study abroad experience. The Study Abroad ( team is excited to assist you as you navigate through the process of choosing a program, and will help you from the advising stage until you return from your program.  You can get started by coming to meet with an advisor during Walk-In Advising hours. During an advising session, you can gain general information about the many programs available, how the application process works at USA and general guidance on where to begin.

Be sure to visit the OIE Study Abroad website at to begin your research.  The website contains information on how to get started, financing your program, and a comprehensive list of pre-approved study abroad programs and partners. While researching a passport or visa programs, consider the following: eligibility requirements, location, course offerings, and costs.  You should also meet with your faculty advisor for assistance in selecting a program based on courses related to your degree.

Studying abroad can be one of the highlights of your university career, giving you wonderful and challenging experiences that will allow you to grow both academically and professionally. Where will you study abroad?


Academic Plan

It can be helpful to following an academic plan.

To access a sample academic plan for this major, click here. This is a SUGGESTED schedule and it is important to always meet with your advisor for additional help. 

For additional degree information please click here to visit the department website.


For More Information

For more information on this program, click here to visit the department's website

You can find us on campus at:

Department of Earth Sciences
Life Sciences Building (LSCB), Room 136
Mobile, AL 36688
(251) 460-6381