Geology, Master of Science

School of Earth and Sustainability

College of the Environment, Forestry, and Natural Sciences

This research-and-thesis-based Master's degree attracts students who are interested in natural resources (including water and fuel sources) and the very structure of the earth. The degree offers flexibility in the design of the student's plan of study, created with guidance from an engaged research committee.

  • To receive a master’s degree at Northern Arizona University, you must complete a planned group of courses from one or more subject areas, consisting of at least 30 units of graduate-level courses. Many master’s degree programs require more than 30 units.

    You must additionally complete:

    • All requirements for your specific academic plan(s). This may include a thesis.
    • All graduate work with a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.0.
    • All work toward the master's degree must be completed within six consecutive years. The six years begins with the semester and year of admission to the program.

    Read the full policy here.

In addition to University Requirements:

  • Complete individual plan requirements.

Minimum Units for Completion 30
Additional Admission Requirements

Individual program admission requirements over and above admission to NAU are required.

Thesis Thesis is required.
Oral Defense Oral Defense is required.
Research Individualized research is required.
Progression Plan Link View Program of Study

This program may lead to licensure.

Purpose Statement

The Geology Program offers a thesis-based, multidisciplinary MS degree in Geology with the objective of educating students for success in the private sector, government employment, or further pursuit of graduate studies.  During the two-year program, students use geological, geobiological, geophysical, geochemical, and numerical-modeling techniques to examine geological problems and develop explanations for the processes that produced them.  Students learn to study what is known about a subject and then identify what is not yet understood.  Based upon observations, they develop testable hypotheses about a poorly understood geological  process, design a study to test these, and then carry this study out, learning new analytical techniques along the way. They then write this work into a thesis and present and defend their work in a public session.  In many cases, the thesis is then turned into a published journal article.
The program requires that students develop a breadth in their understanding of geology, taking MS-level courses in at least three of four major subdisciplines in earth sciences and 7-8 academic courses overall.  The breadth of the graduate-level course offerings is indicated by the four subdisciplines from which they choose, which are 1) “Hard-Rock” geology (primarily courses focusing on igneous and metamorphic rocks), 2) “Soft-Rock” geology (sedimentology and paleontology courses), 3) Geophysics, Structure, and Tectonics, and 4) Hydrogeology and Quaternary Geology.  Faculty members and the Geology Graduate Program Coordinator work closely with the student in designing a program of courses that is appropriate for that student’s thesis work and aspirations. The course work allows the student to expand his or her understanding of geology, both in breadth and in depth.  By the end of the first year, the student should have the geological base to begin work on a thesis.  The thesis advisor mentors the student in developing a thesis proposal for a mutually agreeable research project, and oversees the student’s research and academic progress. The thesis represents a significant contribution to the science and typically involves a year or more of concentrated effort.  Funding for the research primarily comes from external funding sources, through proposals written by the students and/or their advisors.  Students from the program have the opportunity to do internships with companies in the mining or petroleum industries and with government agencies.  Graduates have found employment in all aspects of geology, from extractive industries to environmental geology, government agencies, and academia. 

Student Learning Outcomes

  • Summarize current research questions and approaches in one or more subfields in Earth sciences.         
  • Write at least one research proposal that presents a testable hypothesis, outlines the types of data needed to test the hypothesis, and describes how the collected data will be used to test the hypothesis   
  • Demonstrate the ability to evaluate literature in three of the four sub-disciplines of hard rock, soft rock, geophysics, and quaternary geology. 
  • Demonstrate facility in a variety of research methods and subsequent data analysis related to their research.   
  • Demonstrate mastery of the material and an ability to communicate the results and significance by presenting their research orally or in poster format.         
  • Communicate the results of research carried out independently or as part of a team via publication of peer-reviewed articles, maps, meeting abstracts, technical reports and as a thesis.         
  • Critically evaluate the literature and place their scholarship into the broad context of subject knowledge in geology.      
  • Write a thesis in which the motivation for the research is outlined, methods are described, data and interpretations are clearly separated, prior work is appropriately referenced, and the significance of the work is articulated.

Additional Admission Requirements
  • Individual program admission requirements over and above admission to NAU are required.

  • The NAU graduate online application is required for all programs. Admission to many graduate programs is on a competitive basis, and programs may have higher standards than those established by the Graduate College.

    Admission requirements include the following:

    • Transcripts.
    • Undergraduate degree from a regionally accredited institution with a 3.0 GPA on a 4.0 scale ("A" = 4.0), or the equivalent.

    Visit the NAU Graduate Admissions website for additional information about graduate school application deadlines, eligibility for study, and admissions policies.

    Ready to apply? Begin your application now.

    International applicants have additional admission requirements. Please see the International Graduate Admissions Policy.

    • Three letters of recommendation
    • Personal statement or essay
    • Prerequisites (completed prior to enrolling in the program)
      • Physical Geology; Historical Geology; Mineralogy; Petrology; Stratigraphy and Sedimentation; Structural Geology; Field Camp; Calculus I; Calculus II; Physics I; Physics II; Chemistry I; Chemistry II
    • List of courses taken in the field
Master's Requirements
  • This Master’s degree requires 30 - 33 units distributed as follows:

    • Required Courses: 3 units
    • Breadth Courses: 21-24 units

    Take the following 30 - 33 units:

    • EES 605, EES 606 (2 units)
    • EES 698 School of Earth and Sustainability Seminar Series (1 unit)
    • Select coursework in consultation with your research committee to reflect breadth in 3 of the following 4 sub-disciplines of Geology (9-12 units):
    • Select coursework in consultation with your research committee to reflect breadth in subject matter. All of your coursework may be in geology, or you may include two courses from a related field. (9-12 units)
    • EES 699, for the research, writing, and oral defense of an approved thesis (6 units)
  • Please note that only 6 units of thesis credit count toward your degree. However, master's students in geology average 12-14 thesis units because they must register for EES 699 each semester during which they work on their thesis.

  • Be aware that some courses may have prerequisites that you must also successfully complete. For prerequisite information, click on the course or see your advisor.