Geological Sciences Major, B.S.–Earth Science Concentration

Department of Geological Sciences

104 South Road, Mitchell Hall, CB# 3315

(919) 966-4516

Kevin Stewart, Director of Undergraduate Studies

Deborah Harris, Student Services Manager

The study of earth’s dynamic systems is a field that has seen major advances over the last few decades. Geologists investigate diverse systems that play a large role in controlling the environment at the earth’s surface.

Department Programs



Graduate Programs


In addition to the program requirements listed below, students must

  • attain a final cumulative GPA of at least 2.0
  • complete a minimum of 45 academic credit hours earned from UNC-Chapel Hill courses
  • take at least half of their major course requirements (courses and credit hours) at UNC-Chapel Hill
  • earn a minimum of 18 hours of C or better in the major core requirements (some majors require 21 hours).

For more information, please consult the degree requirements section of the catalog.

Core Requirements
All of the following courses:
GEOL 301Earth Materials: Minerals4
GEOL 401Structural Geology4
GEOL 402Sedimentology and Stratigraphy4
GEOL 404Petrology and Plate Tectonics4
GEOL 601Summer Field Course in Geology3
GEOL 602Summer Field Course in Geology3
Four geology courses numbered above 400 and not otherwise required for the major (GEOL 395 and GEOL 396 count if taken for two or three credit hours)12
Additional Requirements
One of the following courses: 14
Introductory Geology
and Introductory Geology Laboratory
The Marine Environment
and Introductory Geology Laboratory
Violent Earth
and Introductory Geology Laboratory
Earth, Climate, and Life through Time
and Introductory Geology Laboratory
Earth and Climate for Science Majors
and Introductory Geology Laboratory
CHEM 101
General Descriptive Chemistry I
and Quantitative Chemistry Laboratory I
CHEM 102
General Descriptive Chemistry II
and Quantitative Chemistry Laboratory II H
MATH 231Calculus of Functions of One Variable I3
MATH 232Calculus of Functions of One Variable II3
One of the following:3
Any COMP 110 or above, except COMP 380
Data Analysis in the Earth Sciences 2
Any MATH above MATH 232
Any STOR 155 or above
One of the following courses:4
General Physics I
General Physics I: For Students of the Life Sciences
Mechanics H
Introductory Calculus-based Mechanics and Relativity
One of the following courses:4
Principles of Biology
and Introductory Biology Laboratory H
Any CHEM above CHEM 102
General Physics II
General Physics II: For Students of the Life Sciences
Electromagnetism and Optics H
Introductory Calculus-based Electromagnetism and Quanta
At least five science electives not otherwise required for the major (see chart below)15
Total Hours78

Honors version available. An honors course fulfills the same requirements as the nonhonors version of that course. Enrollment and GPA restrictions may apply.


only one of GEOL 101, GEOL 105, GEOL 109, and GEOL 110 may be taken for course credit


this course may also be used to satisfy one of the required GEOL courses numbered above 400

Science Electives Not Otherwise Required for the Major

ANTH 143Human Evolution and Adaptation3
ANTH 220Principles of Archaeology3
ANTH 315Human Genetics and Evolution3
ANTH 317Evolutionary Perspectives on Human Adaptation and Behavior3
ANTH 412Paleoanthropology3
ANTH 414Laboratory Methods: Human Osteology3
ANTH 451Field School in North American Archaeology H6
any Astronomy (ASTR) except a first-year seminar
any Biochemistry (BIOC) except a first-year seminar, BIOC 107 and BIOC 108
any Biology (BIOL) above BIOL 113
any Chemistry (CHEM) above CHEM 102
any Computer Science (COMP) 110 or above, except COMP 380
any Environmental Health Sciences (ENVR) except a first-year seminar and ENVR 600
GEOG 370Introduction to Geographic Information3
GEOG 410Modeling of Environmental Systems3
GEOG 412Synoptic Meteorology3
GEOG 414Climate Change3
GEOG 416Applied Climatology: The Impacts of Climate and Weather on Environmental and Social Systems3
any Geography (GEOG) above GEOG 477
any Geological Sciences (GEOL) except GEOL 101, GEOL 105, GEOL 109, and GEOL 110
any Marine Sciences (MASC) 101 and above
any Mathematics (MATH) above MATH 232
any Physics (PHYS) except a first-year seminar, PHYS 101, PHYS 132, and PHYS 313
any Statistics and Operations Research (STOR) 155 and above

Honors version available. An honors course fulfills the same requirements as the nonhonors version of that course. Enrollment and GPA restrictions may apply.

Course descriptions for:

Special Opportunities in Geological Sciences

Honors in Geological Sciences

The honors program in the Department of Geological Sciences is open to undergraduates with an overall grade point average of 3.3 or better as of the beginning of the fall semester of the senior year. To participate in this program, the student chooses a research topic in consultation with his or her chosen faculty sponsor and conducts the research during the last two semesters in residence. The research project should represent the equivalent time expenditure of six hours of course credit and is taken as GEOL 691H (fall semester) and GEOL 692H (spring semester).

Upon recommendation of the faculty, students may be awarded the degree with honors or highest honors. Highest honors is reserved for students who have distinguished themselves in both coursework and independent research. In order to obtain this distinction the student must maintain a grade point average of 3.60 or higher and complete a research project that is worthy of peer-reviewed publication.

Departmental Involvement

The Department of Geological Sciences encourages the active participation of undergraduates in department research, teaching, and social life. In addition to opportunities for experiential education and teaching internships described below, the department has an active Geology Honor Fraternity and Geology Club and regularly sponsors field excursions, career information sessions, and social events. Dates, times, and locations for all events are posted on the Web site and in the main lobby on the first floor of Mitchell Hall.

Experiential Education

Many geology courses emphasize experiential learning through field and laboratory work. Most degree tracks include a field geology course (GEOL 601 and GEOL 602 or a similar course in another department) that fulfills the experiential education General Education requirement for the College of Arts and Sciences. Additionally, all students are encouraged to contact faculty members about conducting independent research, either as an honors thesis or a senior thesis project.


The UNC Baccalaureate Education in Science and Teaching (UNC–BEST) Program is a collaboration between the School of Education and the College of Arts and Sciences and is designed to allow undergraduate science majors interested in teaching high school science the opportunity to earn their science degree and obtain licensure as a North Carolina high school science teacher in four years. The program consists of core education classes (EDUC 516 or EDUC 689 or EDUC 690, EDUC 532, EDUC 615, EDUC 593, and EDUC 601) and a teaching methods class (GEOL 412) that is housed in the Department of Geological Sciences. For more details on admission requirements, application deadlines, and submitting an online application, visit the School of Education Web site.

Study Abroad

Although the department has no formalized study abroad program, many students participate in a study abroad program, and some receive credit for geology coursework completed abroad. Students interested in a study abroad program should contact the director of undergraduate studies. Students must receive approval from the director of undergraduate studies prior to taking courses abroad for geology credit.

Undergraduate Awards

The Op White Prize in Geology, established in 1966, consists of a cash prize and an engraved bronze plaque displayed in the geology office. The award is given annually to the outstanding senior in geology.

Field Camp Scholarships

Several scholarships for geology field camp are awarded each year from the Grover Murray and Anadarko funds.

Undergraduate Research

The Department of Geological Sciences encourages qualified undergraduate students to conduct independent research on an interesting geologic topic under the direction of a geological sciences faculty member. This research can be conducted as a one- to four-credit hour project (GEOL 395) or in conjunction with the geology honors program.