Geotechnical Engineering Graduate Programs

Mar 09, 2019

Students wishing to pursue graduate study in geotechnical engineering can pursue a Master of Science, Master of Engineering, or Doctor of Philosophy in Civil Engineering. Students can then select a geotechnical engineering focus within the program.

Geotechnical engineers are specialists in the materials of the earth, such as soils and rock. These professionals provide the foundational engineering for most building projects. Some individuals involved in this field may wish to earn a graduate degree to enhance their knowledge and career prospects. In this article, prospective graduate students can learn about three program options in geotechnical engineering, and about some courses that are common to any of these programs.

Graduate Degree Options in Geotechnical Engineering

M.Eng. in Civil Engineering

Those who wish to pursue graduate study in geotechnical engineering may consider earning the Master of Engineering (M.Eng.) in Civil Engineering with a Geotechnical Engineering emphasis. This professional degree is typically completed in one year of study. Students enrolled in this program could take core and elective courses focused on their particular area of interest. Those pursuing admission may be required to provide transcripts, GRE scores, a statement of purpose, and recommendations.

M.S. in Civil Engineering

Another degree option is to earn a Master of Science (M.S.) in Civil Engineering with a focus in Geotechnical Engineering. Students typically complete the degree in one to two years, and research and non-research tracks may be available. Students completing a research track may complete a thesis; while those electing a non-research track may take additional coursework. Applicants should expect to provide transcripts, GRE scores, recommendations, and a personal statement. An undergraduate 3.0 GPA minimum may also be required.

Ph.D. in Civil Engineering

Students who wish to pursue careers in research or college-level teaching could opt to pursue a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Civil Engineering with an emphasis on Geotechnical Engineering. This emphasis allows students to research areas like how vehicles interact with pavement surfaces, soil remediation, or construction of retaining structures. Ph.D. programs also typically include qualifying and/or comprehensive examinations and a dissertation with a defense. Applicants may be required to hold the M.S. prior to admission.

Geotechnical Engineering Courses

Within any of these program options, graduate students will be required to take a range of courses designed to hone their expertise in geotechnical engineering. Here, learn more about some common courses graduate students in this field may encounter.

Pavement Materials and Design

Within a pavement materials and design course, students may spend time understanding the behavior of pavement materials and conduct tests to interpret different substances. They'll also look at types of pavement designs, including flexible and rigid designs, used in construction. The course may also cover rehabilitation of faulty pavements.

Soil Dynamics

A soil dynamics course may provide a review of various topics related to how the soil interacts with structures. Specific topics may include single and multiple degree-of-freedom systems, cyclic soil behavior, shear moduli, and shear strain. Students may use computer programs to model soil behavior.

Earthquake Design

An understanding of how to design structures to withstand earthquakes is important for geotechnical engineers. Within a course on earthquake design, students may come to understand how to optimize the design of buildings to withstand seismic activity. Seismic source modeling and travel path effects may be considered. Students may use shake tables to test structures.


Geosynthetics introduces students to materials that may be used in the engineering design of reinforced walls, roads, dams, and other structures. Specific topics may include geotextiles, geogrids, and geomembranes. The use of these materials for erosion control may also be reviewed.

Retaining Structures

Geotechnical engineers must understand the theories and applications of the construction of retaining structures. In this course, students may learn about earth pressures, and how to use this information to construct retaining walls, bulkheads, slurry trenches, and excavation bracings. Students may also learn how to stabilize soils during such projects.

Earning a graduate degree at the master's or doctoral level can provide geotechnical engineers with a wealth of knowledge concerning their field. This information can help their careers to progress.

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