Oceanography Graduate Programs

Feb 15, 2018

Multiple graduate programs in oceanography are available at both the master's and doctoral levels. Explore the general characteristics of these programs and requirements for admittance.

Oceanography is the scientific study of the ocean's physical and biological features. Depending on your background, you could pursue either a master's degree or PhD in this wide field.

Information about Graduate Programs in Oceanography

A master's degree program in oceanography often spans about 3 years and usually requires a thesis for program completion. Doctoral programs may take up to 6 years, with the length of programs often being affected by whether the student already has a master's degree in the field. Graduates of these programs may secure employment in academics, industry, or in governmental positions. The following are examples of what you can expect to find as characteristics of graduate programs in oceanography.

Lab and Field Work

Students are often given the opportunity as part of their program to get out of the classroom and into an applied environment. As part of their research, graduate students in oceanography will often be afforded time to spend in the laboratory or working on projects in the field. This allows students the opportunity to get hands-on experience applying their learning in a real world context.


Often during a program, students are given the chance to interact with experts in the field. These opportunities allow students to interact with professionals in areas such as biological, geological, and physical oceanography. Students may even get the opportunity to engage with professionals operating from other countries and gain a better understanding of the profession around the globe.


There are a variety of specializations from which graduate students in oceanography may typically choose. Biological oceanography is focused on the study of life in the oceans, and students in this field are given the chance to study all forms of aquatic life, from phytoplankton to sharks and killer whales. Chemical oceanography is a study of how elements are distributed between the ocean, surrounding waterways, and the ocean floor. Physical oceanography is a study of how the world is shaped by the ocean's impact on the atmosphere. There are also other specializations you may be able to choose from, such as coastal zone management or ocean energy.

Admittance Requirements

Students who wish to join a graduate program in oceanography will typically be asked not only to have a bachelor's degree but a degree that is focused in science, math, or engineering. Individuals applying to a PhD program may be urged to first complete a master's in the field, if they have not already done so. Programs may give preference to students with a minimum GPA of between 3.0 and 4.0. Before admission, students will need to submit their transcripts and possibly their scores from a graduate admission test, such as the GRE. Letters of recommendation and a personal statement may also be requested during the application process.

Depending on their backgrounds, graduate students might pursue oceanography degrees at the master's or doctoral levels. Programs typically offer many areas of specialization from which to choose and are research intensive, with many opportunities to work both in the field and laboratory.

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