The academic discipline of geology is the study of Earth -- what it’s made of, the processes that affect it and how it’s changed over time -- and encompasses a broad range of subfields. Earning a doctorate in geology will prepare you for a variety of jobs in academia, government and industry. While every state has at least one doctoral program in geology, several of them stand out as the best in the nation.

Northwestern Schools

Penn State University's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences Department of Geosciences ranks third in the nation for geology, according to the 2010 rankings by “U.S. News & World Report.” Students often choose to work with two advisers, giving their dissertation projects greater breadth. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is ranked seventh for its doctoral program in Geology, Geochemistry, and Geobiology in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences. Students at MIT pursue one of five focuses: tectonics, geochemistry and petrology, sedimentary geology, geobiology or surface processes, but their research often touches on two or more of these subfields.

Southern and Southwestern Universities

The University of Texas at Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences ties with Penn State for third place in geology, according to “U.S. News,” and offers one of the best doctoral student support packages in the country. In the southwest, the University of Arizona’s Department of Geosciences ties with Michigan for first place in geology, offering a four-year doctorate. Arizona boasts 12 cutting-edge laboratory facilities for experimental and observational work in various subfields of geology.

Midwestern Programs

“U.S. News” ranks the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor first in the nation for geology. Students can join faculty research groups whose ongoing investigations cover all seven continents as well as the oceans. The University of Wisconsin at Madison’s Department of Geoscience holds eighth place, and the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus takes 12th place for its newly renamed Department of Earth Sciences, which offers a doctorate in earth science with a formal track in geology.

The West Coast

In California, Stanford University’s Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences holds fifth place for geology, according to “U.S. News.” Students in the doctoral program have access to eight world-class research facilities at Stanford, and they frequently collaborate with students and faculty from the three other departments in the School of Earth Sciences: geophysics, energy resources engineering, and environmental earth systems science. The Department of Geological and Planetary Sciences at the California Institute of Technology ranks sixth on the “U.S. News” list. Caltech has seven on-campus research labs for geology students and encourages students to collaborate with researchers at nearby facilities such as the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the Southern California Earthquake Data Center and, for planetary geologists, the worldwide Deep Space Network.