Geology is a hands-on field of study; consequently, online degree programs in this field are very rarely available. But, at least one associate's degree program in geology designed to transfer to a 4-year university can be completed through distance learning. Also, several on-campus degree programs in geology offer a selection of courses that can be completed online.
Students wishing to study geology online may want to consider a closely related field instead. For example, a few geological or geotechnical engineering degree programs are available fully online at the master's degree level. These programs are discussed in the article below since they offer the most relevant coursework, including areas like subsurface hydrology, rock mechanics, erosion control and slope stability. Some programs offer a thesis track or a practical final project, although residency work is not necessarily required. Applicants need to hold a bachelor's degree in a related area of study and have completed prerequisite courses, like structural geology and engineering mechanics.
Geotechnical Engineering Master's Degree Program
Acceptance into the master's program requires a bachelor's degree, often in a related field. Students without an appropriate undergraduate background are generally asked to take additional classes prior to acceptance. Students should expect a heavy mix of math and science courses with a focus on geology and engineering.
Program Information and Requirements
The master's degree usually takes about two full-time years of study to complete. The online program does not normally require a thesis. Students need access to a computer with an Internet connection, as coursework is delivered online via the school's distance learning website. Students can communicate with both fellow classmates as well as the instructors via e-mail, online chat sessions or message boards.
Common Course Descriptions
Students take a variety of classes with either a mathematics or science core. Emphases are placed on engineering design, engineering management, control systems and computer applications coursework.
Control Systems Engineering
This introductory course teaches the basic principles behind developing a practical control system or PLC. Coursework discusses topics in basic electronic parts recognition, including sensors and fractional horsepower motors. Programming methods for PLCs and microprocessors are discussed as well.
Structural Steel Design
A structural mechanics class is a prerequisite for this course. The class focuses on designing steel structures, including beams and connections. Students learn the load and resistance factor design method and utilize it in a group project, which involves designing a low-rise office building.
The course is designed to equip students with the knowledge needed to apply appropriate geosynthetics alternatives to engineering projects. Students learn methods of controlling erosion and sediment. Additional course topics include applying geosynthetics to pavement systems, embankments, steep slope stability and landfill bases and covers.
Career Outlook and Job Statistics
Graduates tend to seek employment as geotechnical engineers. Per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, geotechnical engineers, who are considered a type of civil engineer, earned a median annual income of $82,220 in 2015. Civil engineers held approximately 275,210 jobs in 2015. Job opportunities are expected to be good; employment is expected to grow 8% between 2014 and 2024. The growing population and investment in renewable energy contribute to the growth of the civil engineering field (www.bls.gov).
Students should know that online geology degree programs are rarely available due to the hands-on nature of the field. Instead, there are a few geological or geotechnical engineering degree programs offered fully online at the master's degree level that include geology-related coursework.