Hydrology Degrees: Bachelor's, Master's & Online Course Info

About this article
What kind of job can you get with a bachelor's or master's degree in hydrology? Find out degree program requirements, online options and info on courses.
View available schools

Studying Hydrology: Degrees at a Glance

Hydrology is the study of water's function in the global ecosystem and the examination of issues regarding the distribution and behavior of water in the environment. You will find that this subject integrates elements of chemistry, biology, ecology, physics, mathematics, and engineering. Population growth and the demands on natural resources, including water, have made hydrology an important field of study.

A degree in hydrology can lead to a number of different careers. Graduates with a bachelor's degree may find themselves working as environmental scientists. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that this field would increase by 19% from 2010-2020, about the average across all occupations. With a master's degree, you are eligible to work as a hydrologist, a career area that was projected to grow by 18% for the same time period (www.bls.gov).

Bachelor's Master's
Who is this degree for? Students who want to prepare for careers in related fields or graduate study Students who wish to pursue careers as hydrologists or related professions
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Atmospheric Scientist ($90,000)*
- Environmental Scientist ($63,000)*
- Geoscientist ($84,000)*
- Hydrologist ($76,000)*
Time to Completion 4 years of full-time study 2 years of full-time study, possible maximum of about 5 years
Common Graduation Requirements - Required and elective coursework
- Laboratory work
- Field work
- Research projects
- Internships
- Required and elective coursework
- Laboratory work
- Field research
- Research projects
- Master's thesis
Prerequisites High school diploma Bachelor's degree; major in science or engineering or preparatory coursework in mathematics, physics and chemistry may be required
Online Availability None available as of June 2012 None available as of June 2012

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Bachelor's in Hydrology

A bachelor's degree program in hydrology will provide solid qualifications for entry-level jobs in the field or graduate study of hydrological science. You can expect to take a number of required courses in hydrology and related subjects while working toward your bachelor's degree. You may also work on research or work in the field. Graduates typically go on to work in areas such as water resource development or gain employment in consulting firms, environmental interest groups, and government agencies.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • You will take a variety of courses in the subject while completing a bachelor's degree program, giving you a well-rounded education in hydrology
  • Some programs will allow you to specialize in a specific area as you advance in your studies
  • Programs can offer internships, which can allow you to gain real-world experience and make connections in the field

Cons

  • Students who wish to work as hydrologists will have to advance to graduate study in the subject
  • Online bachelor's degree programs in hydrology may be very difficult to find at this time
  • Fieldwork can be very demanding, since it requires long and irregular hours

Common Courses

In a bachelor's degree program in hydrology, you will generally have both general education requirements and required core courses. Some programs offer the opportunity to select an area of concentration - some specialty tracks that may be offered are hydrology agriculture, hydrogeology, and hydrology chemistry. Your coursework may vary depending on your area of concentration. Some courses you may take include:

  • Soil mechanics
  • Groundwater hydrology
  • Modeling in hydrology
  • Environmental science and policy
  • Mechanics of fluids

In addition to coursework, you may also have requirements in laboratory work and fieldwork. Some programs may require you to complete an internship in the field.

Online Degree Options

At this time, it would appear that online bachelor's degree programs in hydrology do not exist. If you do find an online program, you should consider it very carefully - it may not be from an accredited institution. Lab work and fieldwork are important components in many programs, so a campus-based program is your best option at this time.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Some programs offer the chance to select a minor field in another area of interest. It may be to your advantage to select a related subject of study - environmental studies, geography or meteorology may be good choices to help expand your knowledge and marketability for your future career.

You may find it helpful to take certain courses if you plan to enter a career as an atmospheric or environmental scientist. The federal government and other employers require coursework in advanced physics and mathematics for atmospheric scientists. If you are considering a career as an environmental scientist, you may consider taking courses in environment policy and regulation.

Master's in Hydrology

Master's degree programs in hydrology emphasize both learning in the classroom and research, so you will build on your existing knowledge in the subject, as well as examine research areas of interest. Some programs are interdisciplinary in approach and allow you to increase your knowledge in areas like chemistry and engineering while studying hydrology. Graduates of master's degree programs are qualified to become hydrologists and go on to careers in areas like contamination characterization and remediation, watershed modeling, and water resources assessment.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Some master's degree programs in hydrology promote an interdisciplinary approach, allowing students to explore their interests and strengths
  • While many master's degree programs require students to write a thesis, some allow a master's research project as an alternative
  • Continued population growth and environmental concerns should increase demand for qualified hydrologists

Cons

  • Some states require licensure to work as a hydrologist, which could require work experience in addition to a master's degree
  • A PhD is generally required to teach hydrology or a related subject at the college level
  • A bachelor's degree in a related subject may be required to enroll in a master's degree program at certain schools

Courses and Requirements

Master's degree programs in hydrology have a strong coursework component that is very similar to bachelor's degree programs in hydrology. You will take required courses in subjects like groundwater engineering, fluid dynamics, and contaminant transport, as well as electives in a variety of topics. Courses that you may take in a master's degree program in hydrology include:

  • Soil gas geochemistry
  • Microbiology
  • Environmental pollution
  • Aqueous geochemistry
  • Snow hydrology
  • Water quality modeling
  • Wetlands ecology
  • Dynamic meteorology
  • Environmental toxicology

Research activities are another key part of a master's degree program in hydrology, and you can expect to do laboratory work, fieldwork, and independent research. Some programs require a master's thesis, while others ask students to complete a master's research project.

Online Degree Options

Online master's degree programs in hydrology are not available at this time, and any programs that you find in your research should be closely examined. An on-campus program is your best option as of June 2012. Traditional programs allow you to interact with students and faculty, collaborate on research projects, and work in laboratory settings - these all provide valuable experience for future employment.

Stand Out with This Degree

For students interested in pursuing a career as a hydrologist, computer skills are absolutely essential. Hydrologists typically do work including computer modeling and data analysis. Skills with computers are important to be able to do this work, and a solid amount of experience in this area will help you to stand out to potential employers. You may wish to take computer science courses while earning your master's degree to gain proficiency in this area. Placing an emphasis on lab work may also be a good way to get ahead, since many jobs in hydrology will require you to work with sophisticated lab equipment.

Popular Schools

Featured Schools

Johns Hopkins University

  • Master of Science in Environmental Sciences and Policy

What is your highest level of education?

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology

Colorado School of Mines