M.S. and Ph.D. Programs in Geological Sciences

Our graduate program in geological sciences is designed to give students broad training in the basic sciences as well as field, theoretical, and practical experience through research in their specialty. The program has particular strengths in geophysics, geochemistry and petrology, structural geology, sedimentology, marine ecology, and energy resources. However, the exceptional flexibility of Cornell's graduate program provides ample opportunity for students to work across disciplinary areas. For example, arrangements exist for study of marine ecology, water resources, and various branches of applied geological science. Faculty members in other fields or divisions offer interdisciplinary courses including planetology and extraterrestrial geology, paleobotany, ecology and systematics, biogeochemistry, limnology, soil genesis, soil mineralogy, soil and rock mechanics, remote sensing, environmental fluid mechanics and hydrology, fluid dynamics, elasticity, geotechnical and earthquake engineering, regional planning, hydraulics and hydrology, and materials science and engineering. 

At least one minor subject outside the field is required for the doctoral degree. Before the end of their third semester in residence, all students must take a qualifying examination. This exam, an addition to those required by the Graduate School, determines the candidate's fitness for undertaking advanced studies and enables the student's special committee to plan programs that will make the student familiar with the requisite knowledge in the chosen areas. 

Research and Study Opportunities: 

Research programs are being conducted by the field in such diverse areas as fluid cycling in subduction zones; space-based geodetic studies of faults, volcanoes, and anthropogenic deformation; interaction of tectonics, topography, and climate in major mountain systems; investigation of igneous rocks in arc systems; tectonics, seismology, sedimentation, and geomorphology of the central Andes; planetary science, comparative planetology, and solar system exploration; seismic reflection profiling of the deep crust and upper mantle; mechanics and properties of subduction zone megathrusts and other large faults; induced earthquakes; using seismic signals of earth noise to understand atmospheric and solid-earth phenomena; development and application of earth system models; response of marine ecosystems to climate variability and change; surface responses to extreme precipitation; dynamics and mechanics of the lithosphere and asthenosphere; application of geophysical techniques to environmental and archaeological problems; marine ecological and paleontological studies; sedimentology and diagenesis of mudstones; dynamics of marine ecosystems and organisms from plankton to whales using remote sensing and other tools; volcanic hazard assessment; biogeochemistry, soil development, and dynamics in young volcanic terrains; geochemistry and geophysics of oceanic islands, mid-ocean ridges and island arcs; and remote sensing of seismic and volcanic deformation of the crust.

The field maintains working agreements with institutions worldwide to facilitate research projects in those areas or to work on materials especially accessible there. Current and recent graduate students have carried out field investigations in such diverse places as Alaska, the Pacific Northwest, Honduras, Chile, Argentina, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, Monterey Bay (California), Papua New Guinea, Ethiopia, and Tibet. The Paleontological Research Institution, located near the campus, has world-renowned facilities and collections available to students interested in paleontology.

Major Concentrations:

economic geology
engineering geology
environmental geophysics
general geology
geochemistry and isotope geology
ocean science and technology
petroleum geology
planetary geology
Precambrian geology
Quaternary geology
rock mechanics
structural geology

Ph.D. students choose a major advisor representing one of the above concentrations and two or more minor advisors, one of which must represent a minor from a field outside of geological sciences. Astronomy, chemistry, ecology and evolutionary biology, education, and civil engineering are just a few of the examples of typical outside minors. Together, these advisors form the special committee that guides the student's program. The same is true for M.S. students, but they need choose only a single minor advisor. There are no specific course or credit requirements for the M.S. and Ph.D. degrees; rather, a student's coursework is determined by the special committee. Generally the last two to three years of the Ph.D. program and last year or more of the M.S. program are devoted entirely to dissertation or thesis research. 

Application and Admission

How to Apply

We strongly recommend that potential applicants contact faculty members with whom they are interesting in studying before applying.

We accept applications online via the Cornell Graduate School website. You should specify the "field of geological sciences" as there is no graduate field of earth and atmospheric sciences. In your essay, please indicate clearly the discipline(s) within geological sciences in which you are interested (e.g., "active tectonics," "low temperature geochemistry," "global change," etc.). Your essay, and indeed your entire application, will be stronger if you have carefully investigated Cornell's strengths via these webpages and individual faculty pages, the published literature, and have contacted individual faculty with whom you might be interested in working.

Please note that Cornell University expects all applicants to complete their application materials without the use of paid agents, credential services, or other paid professional assistance. The use of such services violates University policy, and may lead to the rejection of application materials, the revocation of an admissions offer, cancellation of admission, or involuntary withdrawal from the University.

Application deadlines

Fall: January 1st

Spring: Check with field (we typically don't admit students for the spring term)

Financial Aid

Information on tuition and fees can be found on the Cornell Graduate School website. There are a variety of forms of financial aid available to graduate students at Cornell. Nearly all our Ph.D. and M.S. students receive financial aid that provides tuition, academic-year stipend and health insurance. Summer support may also be available. This financial aid is generally available for up to five years for Ph.D. students and two years for M.S. students and is contingent upon satisfactory academic progress.

  • Department fellowships—the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences typically has available to it two fellowships, known as the Long Fellowship and the McMullen Fellowship.
  • Cornell Fellowships—the field of geological sciences typically has available to it two Cornell Fellowships, which are awarded to incoming Ph.D. students.
  • Teaching assistantships—students supported on teaching assistantships spend an average of 15 hours a week assisting with the teaching of courses in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. This teaching experience is vital to those wishing to go on to a teaching career and it is likely that many graduate students will be appointed as a teaching assistant at some point during their Cornell career.
  • Graduate research assistantships—most graduate students in geological sciences are supported as graduate research assistants through a faculty member's externally funded research project.
  • National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowships—we encourage all applicants and first-year graduate students to apply directly to NSF for these prestigious and competitive graduate fellowships.
  • NASA Fellowships—graduate students commonly apply for these fellowships after their first year, when their research project has become well-defined.
  • Fellowships from international governments, agencies, or companies—graduate students may be sponsored by an agency in their home nation.
  • Other fellowships—we occasionally have students supported on Department of Energy or Department of Defense fellowships.

Contact Information:

Director of Graduate Studies
Professor Matthew Pritchard

Assistant Director of Graduate Programs & Course Coordinator
Sierra Henry