How Do I Get a Paleontology Degree?

Kenneth W. Michael Wills
Kenneth W. Michael Wills
Fossils are analyzed by paleontologists to discover more about the history of life on Earth.
Fossils are analyzed by paleontologists to discover more about the history of life on Earth.

Through the fossil records, paleontologists study the history of various life species and need to have a broad knowledge of many different scientific disciplines, such as geology, evolutionary biology, chemistry and even physics. Getting a paleontology degree will require several years of study if the prospective paleontologist plans to work in the field either in academics or in an industrial setting. In most cases a PhD is required, though in some circumstances a master’s degree is acceptable. Regardless of the student’s end-goal or career aspirations, education toward earning that degree will begin in secondary school, where foundational and advanced science and mathematics courses will be crucial to gaining acceptance into a paleotology program at the college level of study.

Prospective paleontologists in secondary school will need to take science courses in a variety of subjects. Those subjects will include chemistry, biology, geology, physics and evolution. Mathematics courses are also very important, with students needing to have a solid background in solving equations and using mathematics to quantify data. Courses students should take are algebra, calculus and even introductory statistics if available as an advanced class. Above all, students should strive to keep their grades high and achieve excellent academic performance, while demonstrating the ability to tackles tough challenges by taking advanced classes.

Many universities do not offer paleontology degree programs at the undergraduate level of study, and the few that do are often very competitive. Never-the-less students can still prepare to earn a graduate degree in the subject by double-majoring in geology and biology at the undergraduate level. Classes taken should consist of those taken in high school as well as evolutionary biology, mineralogy, foreign languages courses, zoology and ecology. If the university attended offers some courses in paleotology, students should take some of those courses as well. Just like in secondary school, students should aim for honors status upon graduation in order to meet minimum requirements for study at the graduate level.

Graduation with a bachelor’s degree will enable students to apply to graduate paleontology degree programs — both master’s and PhD programs. Master degree programs are relatively rare and are usually taken as preparation for PhD study or as a focus for industrial paleontology. Most often, however, prospective paleontologists will apply directly to a PhD program. Upon successfully completing the a paleontology degree program at the doctorate level along with having the accompanying research program approved, students will graduate with a PhD in paleontology and earn the qualifications to work in both research and academia.

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    • Fossils are analyzed by paleontologists to discover more about the history of life on Earth.
      Fossils are analyzed by paleontologists to discover more about the history of life on Earth.