Astronomy & Geology Degrees: Associate, Bachelor & Online Course Info

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What kind of job can you get with an associate or bachelor's degree in geology or astronomy? Find out program requirements, online options and info on courses for an undergraduate degree in astronomy and geology.
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Study Astronomy or Geology: Degrees at a Glance

If you're interested in a career involving the earth's physical composition or the celestial objects of the universe, then consider studying geology or astronomy. However, keep in mind that although undergraduate degrees may qualify you for entry-level careers in these fields, the highest level positions that involve research typically require a PhD.

Careers with the government, private companies and education are available to those with a degree in astronomy or geology. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, careers in geosciences are growing faster than average against other occupations; however, careers in astronomy are expected to grow only as fast as average from 2010-2020. Some careers require you to obtain additional certification or licensure.

Associate in Geology or Astronomy Bachelor's in Geology Bachelor's in Astronomy
Who Should Apply for this Degree Program? Those seeking entry-level positions as planetarium technicians, observatory assistants, field technicians, etc. Those interested in pursuing earth sciences (geosciences, engineering, etc.) Those interested in pursuing space sciences (astrophysics, etc.
Common Career Paths (approximate median salary) - Environmental science and protection technician ($42,000)*
- Geological and petroleum technician ($50,000)*
- Geoscientist ($84,000)*
- Mining and geological engineer ($84,000)* - further certification required
- Secondary school science teacher ($54,000)* - further education and licensure required
- Entry-level physicist ($57,000)**
Time to Completion Average 2 years full time Average 4 years full time Average 4 years full time
Common Graduation Requirements Average 60 credits at a 2.5 minimum GPA On-site and field research/capstone projects (varies per program) Internship or capstone project
Prerequisites High school diploma High school diploma - High school diploma - Foundational courses in physics, mathematics, and astronomy
Online Class Availability Some classes may be offered online Some classes may be offered online Some classes may be offered online

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), Salary.com (July 2012 figures)

Associate Degree in Astronomy and Geology

Many schools offer associate degrees in astronomy or geology through their physical science departments. Since many careers in geology and astronomy require more schooling or certification beyond an associate degree, these programs are often designed to transfer to a 4-year institution.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A number of careers in earth and space sciences are currently growing
  • You have the chance to do hands-on work with field-specific equipment, such as high-powered telescopes and microscopes
  • Student organizations pertaining to these fields are common and provide additional learning opportunities

Cons

  • Most careers in earth and space sciences require advanced education
  • You may be required to take field trips off campus and provide your own transportation to/from the sites (for a geology emphasis)
  • You may be restricted in the times you can take classes/labs, such as in the evening (for an astronomy emphasis)

Courses and Requirements

Like most associate degree programs, you'll have to complete general education classes in addition to your core requirements that focus on either geology or astronomy. Common concepts taught in a geology program may include rock formation and origination, plate tectonics and landforms. Laboratory classes are common in geology programs.

In an astronomy program, you can expect to learn about theories of the solar system's history, planets, galaxies, cosmology and star evolution. You will also learn about telescopes and other observation devices while practicing observation methods.

Online Course Information

Online programs for an associate in geology or astronomy aren't typical, but you may be able to find a school that offers some classes online. Usually, a school that offers distance learning may include some general education classes and/or some introductory core classes online.

How Do I Stand Out with This Degree?

Look for ways to further enhance your knowledge by joining astronomy or geology clubs. In addition to socializing with like-minded individuals, you may have opportunities to attend field trips and participate in outreach programs. Clubs can also be a good way to gain leadership skills by holding an officer position or organizing activities.

Bachelor's Degrees in Geology

Several colleges and universities offer bachelor's programs in geology and geosciences; the degree can be awarded as either a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science. If you don't plan to actually work as a geologist or scientist, but in a in a field such as teaching or business, the BA may be the better option for you. Your core curriculum is typically grounded in physical science and mathematics; however, if you enroll in a BA program, you may take more liberal arts rather than technical classes.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • You'll gain hands-on experience studying in the field as well as in the classroom
  • A rapid employment growth rate is expected for geoscientists (21% from 2010-2020)*
  • As a geoscientist, you may have the opportunity to travel around the world

Cons

  • The best job opportunities may require a graduate degree
  • Mapping and documentation of landscapes requires ongoing technological knowledge
  • If working as a geoscientist, you may have to obtain licensure in certain states
  • Additional education is necessary to become a teacher

*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Courses and Requirements

Depending on your program, you can expect to earn between 110 and 124 credits in a geology bachelor's program. Chemistry and physics are common prerequisites before you begin the core curriculum. Your major courses may include mineralogy, petrology and structural geology. Field work is commonly required, and you may have opportunities to participate in summer field camp experiences in order to gain more hands-on training.

Online Course Information

You may be able to find a few schools offering online bachelor's programs in geology, but all of them may not be accredited. Even if you can't find an online program in your desired area, you may still be able to take some courses in a campus-based program online. Many schools offer flexibility by allowing students to complete certain classes online.

How Do I Stand Out with This Degree?

Like many community and junior colleges, there are plenty of universities that host geology clubs and honor societies. Through such organizations you can participate in geological surveys and activities while networking with peers and professionals. Additionally, you can learn more about research opportunities, internships and programs for further studies.

Because of the technology used to analyze and document the terrain, rock and soil samples, etc., having computer knowledge is a must. Taking computer courses in data processing and analysis, modeling, and mapping will give you an edge as you enter into the field.


Bachelor's Degrees in Astronomy

In an astronomy bachelor's degree program, you'll develop a strong foundation in both physics and mathematics. While astronomers in research or government observatories are required to have higher degrees (usually a PhD), there are opportunities for those graduating with a bachelor's in astronomy. Possible positions include an observatory technician, an entry-level physicist or a secondary school teacher (with additional training and licensure).

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Access to observatories and equipment
  • Schools commonly have astronomy clubs that provide additional learning and networking opportunities
  • Some schools allow undergrads to participate in graduate research

Cons

  • Limited career options available to bachelor's degree holders
  • Only the most qualified students are accepted into graduate-level classes
  • A physics degree program may be a better option to prepare for a graduate program

Courses and Requirements

If you're interested in an astronomy degree program, you'll need to pass a sequence of physics and math courses before gaining entry into the departmental program. Your core classes may cover planetary imaging, astronomical philosophy, cosmology and astrophysics. You will learn observational methods and study various types of observing equipment. Some programs may also allow you to take graduate-level classes and participate in graduate research projects.

Online Course Information

Online bachelor's programs in astronomy may be rare, but some schools offer online options for particular classes or labs in a campus-based astronomy program. Astronomy labs, however, often require the use of a high-powered telescope located on campus; therefore, upper-level classes are not likely to be found online.

How Do I Stand Out with This Degree?

Look for astronomy-related organizations at your school and within your community. You may be able to participate in research and outreach projects, read scholarly journals and access observatories. Some professional organizations include the American Astronomical Society and the American Association of Variable Star Observers.

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