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The Geology & Geophysics Graduate Program

Deciding on whether or not to go to grad school is already a big decision; and one that you need to make for yourself. Choosing where to study for a Master's or PhD is an equally big decision and the information below will hopefully help convince you that Utah is the place to be.  In addition to have world class research and analytical facilities, the campus is located just minutes away from world class recreation localities that often double as field sites.

For Questions/Concerns Contact:

Dr. Lauren Birgenheier
Director of Graduate Studies and Professor, Geology & Geophysics

Why an advanced degree at the U?

Utah is one of the very few states that can boast of having rocks of every geologic period exposed, extending our state’s history back beyond two billion years into the past.  Every major rock type, fossil group, precious metal, economic metal, fossil fuel, and type of geologic structure and landform can be found in our state.  Our five national parks and seven national monuments attract more than three million visitors per year to enjoy and appreciate the world-class geology in our state.

The University of Utah and the Department of Geology & Geophysics offer outstanding opportunities for an excellent scientific education, and the State of Utah offers an exceptional quality of outdoor life with its abundance of mountains, rivers and lakes.  Skiing is as close as a thirty-minute drive from campus.

An afternoon or weekend hike or rock climb is just moments away.  You can be on your way to kayaking in no time.  The geologic and scenic diversity ranges from our beautiful Rocky Mountains to the spectacular red rocks of Utah’s canyon country to the stark desert landscapes of the Great Basin.

In addition to the formal course work required for a degree, there are numerous other opportunities for students to become involved in pre-professional and social activities in the department.  GEO Club is an important departmental committee that is organized to provide student input to the faculty in matters of new faculty appointments and tenure and promotion deliberations.  GEO Club also participates with other student groups in organizing various social events on and off campus throughout the school year.  Several professional geoscience organizations have very active student chapters in our department, including the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG), Association of Engineering Geologists (AEG) and Society of Economic Geologists (SEG).  These student chapters offer some great experiences for undergraduates, such as interesting guest speakers, exciting field trips, and fun social activities of one sort or another.  Undergraduate research opportunities on campus and pre-professional internships off campus are available to interested students, usually in the junior or senior year.  If you wish to learn more about such opportunities, speak with your faculty mentor/advisor.

We have some the most diverse subject experts around, and the interdisciplinary list of collaborations never stops growing. The research possibilities are truly endless and range from the innermost workings of our planet to the outermost reaches of it's atmosphere.  For a broad look at what our faculty and researchers do, take a look at the research themes and programs section of our website.

All of our graduate student are provided with several semesters of tuition benefit, the number of semesters depends on the degree level being sought.  For more information about this and other benefits, visit the Graduate School website.

As part of a long-term focus on providing opportunities for an increasingly diverse graduate student pool, the Department of Geology and Geophysics at the University of Utah is removing GRE scores as a requirement for new applicants.  Submission of GRE scores will no longer be accepted.

There is widespread evidence that GRE scores are strongly correlated with various demographic and socioeconomic factors, and that the test represents an unequal barrier to graduate recruitment for students of different backgrounds.  As a department, we value diversity and inclusion and are taking this step to show support for potential applicants from all backgrounds and of all identities.


Ready to apply?

Graduate Application Deadline: January 15 for Fall Semester Admission and September 15 for Spring Semester Admission

Application for Graduate Admission

All applicants are required to submit their application using the Apply Yourself system. Below is a list of materials you will need to complete the process.

  • Academic Transcripts. A copy of your transcript from each college or university you have attended should be uploaded in the Apply Yourself system. If you are selected for admission to the graduate program, official, sealed copies of transcripts from all colleges and universities attended should be sent at that time to the university admissions office. More information can be found here.
  • GRE Scores. Submission of GRE scores will no longer be accepted. (Previously the requirement was: Applicants should self-report their test scores in Apply Yourself. An official report of GRE test scores should be sent directly by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) to the Admissions Office. Use the institutional code for the University of Utah, 4853.)  
  • TOEFL scores (For international students only). An official report of scores from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) is required and should be directly sent to the Admissions Office. You will need to use code 4853 for the International Admissions Office.
  • Letters of Reference. Names and contact information for three references will be requested in Apply Yourself. At least three letters of personal reference are required, preferably from current or former professors and research supervisors who are directly familiar with your abilities and performance. The recommenders will be contacted by email and may upload their recommendations using the Apply Yourself online system.
  • CV or resume
  • Statement of Purpose. A two-page personal statement outlining your background, research interests (including possible faculty research advisors), goals, and reasons for applying to our graduate program.
  • Payment. Credit card for application fee

Application materials will be reviewed by the Department’s Graduate Affairs Committee, who makes recommendations for admission to the University. The final decision on admission is made by the University Admissions Office. All applicants will be notified of their acceptance or non-acceptance into the program after the review process is complete.

Financial Assistance

Qualified full-time graduate students are eligible for financial aid in the form of Teaching Assistantships, Research Assistantships and Graduate Fellowships. The stipends for Teaching and Research Assistants are approximately $9,639 per semester for 2020-2021. Applicants who have indicated in ApplyYourself that they require financial support will automatically be considered for support by the Graduate Affairs committee. No separate application is required.

Tuition Benefit

The Tuition Benefit Program (TBP) provides tuition payment for eligible graduate students. A graduate tuition benefit is available only to matriculated graduate students compensated through the University of Utah. The TBP covers general graduate tuition and mandatory fees. More information is available here.

Health Insurance

A Subsidized Student Health Insurance Policy is offered to Teaching Assistants (TAs) and Research Assistants (RAs). More information is available here.

Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action

The University of Utah is fully committed to policies of nondiscrimination and equal opportunity, and vigorously pursues affirmative action in all programs, activities, and employment with regard to race, color, national origin, sex, age, status as a handicapped individual. Religion, sexual orientation, and status as a disabled veteran or veteran of the Vietnam era also are protected under nondiscrimination and equal opportunity employment policies. Evidence of practices not consistent with these policies should be reported to the Office of the President of the University, 581-8365.


Already decided to join us?

A. Mark your calendar with these important dates: 

You should meet research advisor to discuss your course preparation and requirements (See details in Section IV below). It is very important to do this early so that you can enroll in the appropriate fall semester courses.

Department Graduate Student Orientation (mandatory for all new students)  

The Geology and Geophysics Department Graduate Student Orientation in mid August is an opportunity to meet faculty, staff, and new students, learn about program requirements and resources, and ask questions of faculty and staff to ease your transition to the U. Our orientation this year will be held outside where we can maintain social distance as we review information provided to you beforehand. Please review these videos and pdf files before orientation.

To see when classes begin, check out the U's academic calendar.

Your research advisor may have plans for you in addition to the above dates. Some students will begin research over the summer. PLEASE BE SURE TO CONTACT YOUR ADVISOR AS SOON AS POSSIBLE TO CONFIRM YOUR ARRIVAL DATES.


B. Housing

You should have received information from the Graduate Division describing on-campus housing options for both single students and those with families. Most students opt to live off-campus in a shared house or condo. More information on graduate housing options can be found at the U’s Housing & Residential Program.   Or you can check Craigslist or for rentals. You may also email other grads in our department at, if you are looking for a housemate. You can also drop the department a note if you would like your contact information circulated to the other new graduate students as a potential housemate.

When you are looking at housing, be sure to think through the transportation options to and from campus. The U’s commuter services website has all your transportation information if you are living on or near campus. For off campus housing transportation information Utah’s UTA website will give you an idea of the alternative transportation options Salt Lake City has to offer.  Salt Lake City is a very bike friendly community and it's a common commute method among our graduate students.  To get information on your portfolio of commuting options you can also check out this short video produced by students in our department.

The Salt Lake City valley is very unique in that if you take a stroll around any city block in downtown Salt Lake, expect that the trip will take much longer than it would to circle a block in any other state. This is due to the fact that Salt Lake City has the largest city blocks in the United States. The early pioneer settlers in the valley were planning ahead to accommodate for their agricultural and lifestyle needs and due to this wonderful forethought the valley is very easy to navigate because it is laid out in a grid system. Most major streets run very nearly north-south and east-west. The grid's origin is the southeast corner of Temple Square, the north-south axis is Main Street; and the east-west axis is South Temple Street.  Addresses are coordinates with the system (very similar to latitude & longitude). For example, in the neighborhood layout picture below you will see a neighborhood named 9th and 9th, this means the intersection of 9th and 9th is located 9 blocks east of Main St. and 9 blocks south of South Temple St.

Most graduate students opt to live in the neighborhoods from Sugarhouse, north toward the Avenues, while most students don’t live west past the Gateway neighborhood.


      Figure 1: Salt Lake City neighborhoods surrounding the University of Utah

C. Enrollment for classes

Open enrollment for new graduate students is available as of mid/late July and is done online via your student portal.  Take a look at the instructions on the Graduate Division web site and the Fall Schedule of Classes. Discuss your course load with your primary advisor and don’t be afraid to consider several courses during the first week of class before finalizing your schedule. If you are doing research, you will also want to enroll in an independent study (research course). Please contact the department for the class number specific to your advisor, which changes every semester.

You should be aware of who your research advisor is from the recruitment process. If you are at all unclear, please drop a note to the department. Please check in with your research advisor as soon as you get to campus so that you can start doing science. As mentioned above, please keep your advisor apprised of your summer plans and contact information and be sure that he/she knows when you plan to arrive.

When you arrive in Salt Lake City please check in the departmental office, FASB 383, to get a key for your office and building access. Thea can also help you with numerous general questions or problems. If you cannot find Thea, any of the departmental office staff will be able to assist you.

Many departmental communications and reminders are sent via email, so you will want to establish your University of Utah email account soon, if you have not already.  You should have a pre-assigned UMail account, the default address for which is your university ID (e.g.,  Information on accessing and using campus IT resources is available from the Campus Help Desk.

If you need computer assistance such as networking your Macintosh or Windows machine, having virus software installed, setting up a Linux account on research Linux machines, etc., please contact Computer Services.

You will also have a mailbox in the department office, FASB 383. Please check your box for other information when you arrive. You may also call, email or stop by the office of our Graduate Committee Chair, Jeff Moore (, with questions or concerns before or after your arrival on campus.

After you have sorted out your keys, office and paperwork, you should arrange to meet with your faculty advisor(s) to discuss appropriate fall quarter classes. 

If you will be employed as a TA or Graduate Student Researcher (GSR) during Fall Semester you will need to visit with Thea Hatfield, in the departmental offices, by August 25 to set up your payroll account. You will receive your first paycheck September 7.  Fellowship funds are generally available in a lump sum by the start of the semester.   If you have any questions or concerns about payroll issues please contact Thea. 


You will find much more detailed information concerning course enrollment in various university and departmental documents, but here is a brief overview. Many first-year graduate students enroll during each semester in one or more traditional courses, seminars, or independent study (research) courses.  As soon as you arrive on campus, you will arrange a meeting with your advisor to develop an individualized course plan that meets your educational goals and background. You will then be expected to meet the requirements of this plan during your tenure at the U.

Note that TAs and GSRs are expected to complete their work in addition to regular classes. TA and GSR work is a form of student employment for which students do not receive academic credit. 

All first year Masters students and PhD students who have not received a Master’s degree in the Earth or Geosciences are required to take GEO 6950, Reviews in Earth Sciences, during their first semester in the department. This course is highly encouraged for other graduate students, as well, and will provide an opportunity to get to know the faculty and survey the range of research fields represented within the department.

 Much of the information provided here can be found throughout the departmental website. Follow the links on the top navigation bar for a preliminary listing of courses being offered next year, faculty web pages, seminar schedules, and more. I encourage you to review the Geology and Geophysics Grad Handbook. You should have been contacted already by the University of Utah Division of Graduate Studies with referrals to their website, which contains other resources such as financial and registration/enrollment information.


Last Updated: 9/28/23