Hydrology Graduate Programs

Students interested in studying hydrology can find two main degree programs at the graduate level. Find out about the degree options and program details, including common coursework and admissions requirements.

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Master's and doctoral degree programs in hydrology are available at a variety of institutions in the U.S. These programs involve hands-on learning experiences and research opportunities in many different areas, such as global climate change, surface water hydrology, water resources engineering, aqueous geochemistry and more. Explore some of the common core courses and admissions requirements for these programs below.

Information for Graduate Degree Programs in Hydrology

Graduate degree programs in hydrology are typically available as Master of Science or Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) programs and usually require a thesis at the master's level and a dissertation at the doctoral level. Although electives and even core coursework at the doctoral level vary based on research interests and faculty input, here we look at a few common courses for these programs.

Hydrologic Modeling

Courses in hydrologic modeling usually utilize computer-based software modeling to allow students to explore various analytic methods. Students also examine the language and different modeling techniques used in hydrology and engineering. Students often apply these concepts to solve practical practice problems in areas of risk assessment, water resources planning, water management and more.

Field Methods

Students in hydrology field methods courses learn the practical skills needed to perform the field and lab work often required when studying bodies of water. Students learn about experimental design and data analysis, but also participate in field trips and field work to learn hands-on skills, like water sampling and stream gaging, and how to use various tools, such as micrometeorological instruments. These skills may be applied to solve practice problems in the course that cover topics in aqueous geochemistry, hydrology and biogeochemistry.

Environmental Policy

Courses in environmental policy may include a range of courses examining specific topics in subject, such as regulatory policy and administration, economic evaluation of water, land and resource policy and issues in natural resource policy. They often involve case studies at various levels of the government to allow students to examine current topics in the field. These courses typically cover topics in pollution policy, politics of regulation, how to evaluate current laws and regulations and benefit/cost analysis.


Graduate programs in hydrology may require multiple courses in hydrology that may examine specific areas of the field, such as subsurface hydrology and surface water hydrology. These courses explore the hydrologic processes in these areas, including streamflow, runoff events, snowmelt, evaporation and more. Students learn how to analyze these processes and apply their findings to real-world water resource issues.

Water Quality

Water quality is an important issue that students get to explore in these courses through research, data analysis and case studies. Students examine the various chemical processes that occur in aquatic environments and how different solutes may enter sources of groundwater. Some of these courses may require students to examine data from contaminated water sites, give presentations on various water quality issues and/or study environmental litigation concerning the topic.

Common Entrance Requirements

Like other graduate degree programs, master's and doctoral degree programs in hydrology typically require applicants to submit the proper applications, official transcripts, GRE scores, letters of reference, a statement of purpose and/or a resume. Some master's degree programs may require students to hold a bachelor's degree in hydrology or a hydrology-related field, such as geology, physics, chemistry, engineering, geophysics or mathematics, as well as have prior coursework in chemistry, math, physics and other science areas. Master's degree programs also generally encourage students to have prior research experience. PhD programs in hydrology may require the same kinds of prerequisite coursework and ask that applicants find a faculty advisor to oversee their studies.

Students can study hydrology in a master's or doctoral degree program that usually involves research and field work. These programs provide a lot of flexibility to allow students to focus their studies in their particular area of interest, but culminate in a thesis or dissertation.

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