Information for Undergraduate Majors and Prospective Majors

Geobadgers in the field
Undergraduate Geobadgers excavate for Pennsylvanian fossilized plants in Oklahoma.

Do you like being outside, thinking about the Earth and your relationship to it?  Do interdisciplinary approaches to scientific understanding excite you? If so, consider exploring a major in Geoscience.  Our undergraduate program offers unique opportunities to interweave knowledge from many disciplines in the study of Earth and its history.   A natural capacity for historical and sequential thought, inductive reasoning, and three-dimensional perception is helpful, and these skills will be further developed as a geoscience student.  Geological investigations are becoming increasingly quantitative, integrative and experimental, and thus require some computer experience and a strong foundation in chemistry, physics, and mathematics.  Of course, most Geobadgers also spend a great deal of time studying the Earth outside, in the field, and there are many opportunities to get involved.

Geophysics students are interested in developing a quantitative understanding of the structure and dynamics of the Earth’s interior from the shallow crust to deep core.  Courses in geophysics apply basic physical laws and processes, such as those governing gravity, magnetism, heat flow, and seismic wave propagation, to the study of the Earth.  An undergraduate may choose to concentrate in geophysics, but professional employment in the field often requires an advanced degree.  Most students who pursue advanced study and careers in geophysics major in geology, physics, mathematics, or engineering as undergraduates. Questions? Get in touch with us here:

Motivational Video:


Most professional geologists and geophysicists work in hydrogeology or the petroleum and mining industries.  Such jobs involve an unusual breadth of training and personal adaptability, and an M.S. degree is generally required.  About one fifth of all geoscientists work in state and federal geological surveys, as well as government research activities such as oceanographic programs.  These positions largely involve problems in geologic mapping, mineral resources, groundwater, and engineering.  Geophysics offers opportunities in earthquake studies, seismic verification of nuclear test bans, and crustal rock characterization techniques for waste disposal and groundwater modeling.  Many geology students continue on to obtain a Ph.D. degree and become faculty members at a college or university.  A geology major is also appropriate for those interested in careers in elementary or secondary education, environmental policy, or environmental law.

Preparation for Graduate Study

field instruction
Geoscience majors prepare for a full day in the field at White Lake, an annual field-based mapping course for upper-level majors.

An advanced degree is normally required for professional activity in geological and geophysical sciences; a student who contemplates such a degree should satisfy both departmental and Graduate School requirements for admission to graduate study.

Minimum requirements for admission to graduate work in geology or geophysics at most universities in the United States, including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, are:

  • A bachelor’s degree in geology/geophysics or a related science
  • One year of college chemistry (1 Year High School plus Chemistry 109 recommended)
  • One year of college physics (Physics 207-208 recommended)
  • One year of calculus (Mathematics 221-222 recommended)
  • A summer field mapping course equivalent to Geology 459 (Park City, Utah)

Our Undergraduate Advisor and Faculty Advisors are here to assist you in beginning your studies in geoscience and choosing an emphasis that is appropriate for your interests and career goals.  Please feel free to contact them, or our current majors, for more information about our program.  We also have a very active and enthusiastic group of alumni, and our students can take advantage of our  alumni mentoring program.

Geoscience Undergraduate Advisor:
Eric Schueffner – Undergraduate Advisor, Geoscience, 230 Weeks Hall; 608-890-3231;

Faculty Advisors (2020-2021):

Requirements in the major:

  • A one-year course sequence in calculus (Mathematics 221-222 recommended; Mathematics 211-213, or any combination of calculus courses, including transfer credits, that totals a least 8 credits at the intermediate level, is acceptable).
  • The equivalent of a one-year course sequence in General Chemistry (Chemistry 109 recommended; Chemistry 103-104, or any combination of general chemistry courses, including transfer credits, that totals at least 8 credits, is acceptable).
  • An equivalent of a one-year course sequence in General Physics that totals at least 8 credits (Physics 207-208 recommended; Physics 103-104, Physics 201-202, Physics 247-248, or any combination of general physics courses, including transfer credits, that totals at least 8 credits, is acceptable).
  • Exceptions to these background requirements for Geophysics and the Engineering Geology Track are noted below.

CORE COURSES: required for all tracks (Download PDF)

  • GEOSCI 100, 106, or 109, an Introduction to Geoscience
  • GEOSCI 202 Introduction to Geologic Structures
  • GEOSCI 204 Geologic Evolution of the Earth
  • GEOSCI 360 Principles of Mineralogy
  • GEOSCI 370 Elementary Petrology


  • GEOSCI 350 Introduction to Geophysics:  The Dynamic Earth
  • GEOSCI 375 Principles of Geochemistry
  • GEOSCI 430 Sedimentology and Stratigraphy
  • GEOSCI 455 Structural Geology
  • In addition to the above, 4 credits of geoscience electives numbered 300 and above (except GEOSCI 331)


  • GEOSCI 431 Sedimentary and Stratigraphy Lab
  • GEOSCI 455 Structural Geology
  • GEOSCI/GLE 474 Rock Mechanics
  • GEOSCI/GLE 594 Introduction to Applied Geophysics
  • GEOSCI/GLE 595 Field Methods in Applied and Engineering Geophysics
  • GEOSCI/GLE 627 Hydrogeology

Students choosing this emphasis may NOT take Physics 103 & 104.  A student may substitute EMA 201 & 202 for Physics 201, 207 or 247, and complete the major Physics requirement with Physics 202, 208 or 248.  Additional semesters of Physics and Math are also required.

  • EMA 303 or ME 306 or Physics 311 or Physics 322
  • Math 234 or Math 319 or Math 320 or Math 340

Students who are not GLE majors may substitute GEOSCI 350 for either GEOSCI 474 or GEOSCI 627


Directed Electives: take one from each of the following four categories:

1. Surface Environments

  • GEOSCI 420 Glacial and Pleistocene Geology
  • GEOSCI 430 Sedimentology and Stratigraphy
  • GEOSCI/GLE 627 Hydrogeology
  • GEOSCI/GEOG 320 Geomorphology

2. Geochemistry

  • GEOSCI 375 Principles of Geochemistry
  • GEOSCI 610 Geochronology, Timescales, and Rates of Geologic Processes
  • GEOSCI 629 Contaminant Hydrogeology

3. Geobiology

  • GEOSCI 304 Geobiology
  • GEOSCI 541 Paleobiology
  • GEOSCI 542 Invertebrate Paleontology
  • GEOSCI 110 Evolution & Extinction: This is not a requirement for the track but this course does fulfill a college bioscience requirement and is a good introduction to this topic for many students.

4. Earth Resources

  • GEOSCI 410 Minerals as a Public Problem
  • GEOSCI 411 Energy Resources
  • GEOSCI 455 Structural Geology
  • GEOSCI 515 Principles of Economic Geology
  • GEOSCI/GLE 594 Introduction to Applied Geophysics
  • In addition to the above, 3 to 5 credits of geoscience electives numbered 300 and above (except GEOSCI 331)


Choose 17 credit hours of geoscience electives numbered 300 and above (excluding GEOSCI 331)


Students preparing to specialize in paleontology may, with approval of the Undergraduate Studies Committee, substitute Zoology 151-152 or other appropriate courses in biological sciences for the physics requirement, though it is generally recommended that all students take physics as part of the major.


Declaring a Major

To declare a major in geology or geophysics, students must have have taken one of the following geoscience courses:  202, 204, or 360. Students must meet with an Undergraduate Advisor and complete a Major Declaration Form.


Students interested in earning Honors in the Major should consult with the departmental Honors Adviser about requirements.  Students should declare to the department their intention to graduate with departmental Honors by the end of their sophomore year or the start of their junior year. They must receive permission from the departmental Honors Adviser before being admitted to the departmental Honors track.

Honors students are expected to complete a Senior Honors Thesis*.  Appropriate background courses for the thesis should be chosen in consultation with the student’s thesis adviser.  To graduate with Honors in the Major, a student must maintain a GPA of 3.4 in all geology and geophysics courses.

*Note: It is possible to write a senior thesis without being in the honors program.

Discuss this issue with a faculty member, if you are interested.

Considering Geoscience?

Further resources:

Prospective majors are strongly encouraged to seek assistance from a faculty adviser in order to choose courses appropriate to their interests and career plans.

Once a semester, immediately prior to registration, the undergraduate advisors will hold an advising day.  For this entire day, a faculty member will be available for consultation.  This will allow students to discuss next semester’s schedule, as well as any other questions.  Advisers will also be available by appointment at other times.  Students are additionally encouraged to take advantage of orientation sessions, public lectures, and social events within the department.

Rev. 10/24/19