Oceanography is a multidisciplinary field with four different but related
branches of study: physical oceanography, chemical oceanography, marine geology
and marine ecology. And students in the field are exposed to each one before
The number of universities in the U.S. that offer oceanography degrees
is relatively small. Most schools only offer graduate-level degrees.
So most students who enter the field already have an undergraduate degree.
You will likely take a range of courses. You may also have to spend
some time at sea collecting data.
That means you may get to handle some fairly sophisticated equipment. Consider
students in geological oceanography. They work with powerful drills to collect
core samples of the ocean floor.
You may also get to use some pretty powerful computers to analyze
and model any data you might have collected.
Since some programs require you to spend time at sea, you must learn how
to live in less than pleasant circumstances. You may have to endure bad weather,
cramped living quarters and long periods of isolation.
Entrance requirements vary, but you will likely need an undergraduate
degree before you can go into oceanography. Your bachelor's degree should
be in biology, chemistry or physics. Some students also come from math
Competition for spots is pretty stiff. Only students with strong marks
in the sciences and in math get in.
"I would really encourage students to focus on the traditional science
areas -- chemistry, physics and biology, along with geology. Those are
the four major areas of oceanography," says Meredith Clark. She is the admissions
advisor for the graduate school of oceanography at the University of Rhode
You should also hone your math skills, she adds.
Strong communication skills are also important. They are absolutely necessary
if you want to do serious scientific research and publish the results. They
are also crucial in securing funding for your research.
Spend as much time around the ocean as possible when you are outside
John Merrill is the associate dean of the graduate school of oceanography
at the University of Rhode Island. He says that since most oceanography degrees
are graduate-level programs, most students are likely to get some financial
support to cover their tuition and research expenses.
Occupational Outlook Handbook
For more information related to this field of study, see: Environmental
Scientists and Geoscientists
A general guide to the field of oceanography
A general guide to the oceans and the issues facing them