How do I find a Graduate Program?
You will need to do some research. There are flyers describing graduate programs in geological sciences from all over the country posted on the Graduate School bulletin board in the Geological Sciences Department. The American Geological Institute also has a list of Graduate Programs in Geology with links to their web sites. It is very important that you discuss your options with the Geological Sciences Faculty. They have a lot of knowledge about the strengths and weaknesses of different graduate programs. Based on your academic record, they can also help you determine which programs will likely accept you.
How many Graduate Schools should I apply to?
There is no hard and fast rule here. However, five schools is probably a reasonable number. Each school should have a program that interests you and ideally the five schools will include some that, in all probability, will accept you. In other words, do not just apply to 2 or 3 of the most highly selective and competitive programs in the country.
When should I apply?
In general, application deadlines range from December 1st to February 1st for admission in the fall of the next academic year. That means you should begin your research during the summer before your senior year and certainly no later than October 1st during the Fall semester of your senior year.
Is my GPA high enough to be accepted into a decent Graduate School?
Gaining admission to graduate school in geological sciences/geology is not solely dependent on your GPA. Other factors are critical and arguably more important. These include your involvement in other activities, particularly undergraduate research, and letters of reference from your Geological Sciences faculty. Your GRE test score will also be considered but not all graduate programs require them. The letters of reference from your BSU professors are an extremely important part of your application. As an example, if your overall GPA is on the low side because of poor grades during your first one or two years in college but you greatly improved during your third and fourth years and you completed an undergraduate research project, then positive letters can make the difference!
What can I do to make sure I will have a strong letters?
Well, earning exceptional grades is great, but it is not an absolute requirement and earning an A does not necessarily mean that you will receive great letters. That being said, flunking a course will not endear you to the faculty either. The most important consideration is the level of professionalism you put on display in the classroom, your overall attitude and motivation to learn, the quality of your work, and your involvement outside of the classroom (research, field trips, etc.). Ask yourself these questions: Do I miss class often? Do I show up for class late on a regular basis? Do I hand in sloppy or incomplete work? If you answer "yes" to these questions, then you need to improve your professionalism. Doing research is a great way to develop a relationship with one of your professors, who can then write you an informed and positive letter of recommendation. Overall, you should think of your earth science courses as the first "job" in your new career. Impress your boss!
Will I have to pay to go to Graduate School?
Probably not. In fact, if your academic record is decent, you will probably be paid to go to graduate school. In all fields of science, graduate students typically have all tuition waived by the University and you are given either a Research Assistantship (RA) or a Teaching Assistantship (TA). Both of these "jobs" will typically pay you $10,000-$20,000 per year, depending on the Graduate Program (some are richer than others). If you are given an RA position, you will perform research that may or may not be directly related to your thesis project. If you are given a TA, your job will be to assist the faculty in teaching various courses, or you may be assigned to teach a full blown undergraduate course yourself, typically an introductory geology lab section. Some graduate programs will not accept you unless they are able to offer you the financial package described above. Other programs may accept you with no monetary support, but in our experience, that is the exception and not the rule if you have a solid academic record.
What is the workload in Graduate School?
Graduate school is different from your undergraduate experience. You will take courses in graduate school, but the focus is more on research. For the M.S. degree, most graduate programs in geology require formal course work and a written thesis. The thesis is the written result of the research you conducted to complete your degree. Your research topic is often defined by the faculty member you want to work with (your advisor) or you may define your own project. The last step is to give a public presentation of your research in your department (also called the thesis "defense"). At the end of your presentation, your thesis committee (a group of about 5 faculty) will ask you questions and assuming that everything goes well, you have completed your degree! It usually takes 2-3 years to complete an M.S. degree. The process to obtain a Ph.D. is pretty much the same except that more courses are required and your research project is much larger in scope. There are also preliminary written and oral exams that you must pass to complete the Ph.D. It usually takes 4-5 years to complete the Ph.D.
Do I need to get an M.S. degree before I obtain a Ph.D.?
No. Some undergraduates move directly into Ph.D programs after college. Others choose to do an M.S. degree first. In general, unless you already have some research experience as an undergraduate and you are confident that you want a research career, we highly recommend that you work toward an M.S. degree first. The course work you completed for your M.S. degree can be counted toward the course requirements for your Ph.D.
Do graduates from BSU in Geological Sciences/Geology typically gain admission to good graduate programs?
Yes. Each year we have a group of students who receive good offers from excellent graduate programs. Over the last five years these schools include the University of New Hampshire, Boston College, University of Minnesota, Colorado School of Mines, Rensselaer, University of California-Santa Barbara, State University of New York-Stony Brook, and others.
Last Modified: June 19, 2012