By Emmet Kyle McMahan
Mining is a dynamic industrial sector requiring highly sophisticated machinery and processes. It provides critical raw materials for a wide range of applications, so it’s a larger industry than many people realize. Mining operations produced around $98.2 billion in non-fuel minerals in 2022, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Aspiring engineers looking for compelling career options may want to consider geological engineering. This guide can help you learn more about the requirements for an online mining engineering degree so you can decide if geological engineering aligns with your career goals.
Overview for an Online Master’s Degree in Mining and Geological Engineering
A Master of Science (M.Sc.) degree in mining and geological engineering is a multidisciplinary program that covers broad subjects such as environmental studies, geology, chemistry, physics, mathematics and economics. By studying for a master’s degree in geological engineering, you’ll acquire theoretical and practical knowledge of the mining processes, including related environmental and management considerations. An online mining engineering degree can also help you understand the main subject areas of geology and mining, such as geomechanics, mine planning, mineral processing and ventilation.
As a mining engineering student, you’ll learn about minerals such as coal, oil, metal ores, semi-precious stones and diamonds. You’ll also deal with substances such as limestone, clay and granite. You’ll gain a thorough awareness of the nature of the minerals, rocks, and soil involved in mining, and you’ll also be trained to source recycled raw materials in cost-effective and ecologically-friendly ways.
Generally, you’ll learn the best practices for mining, air quality monitoring, equipment inspections and safety regulations, as your main objective is to ensure the safe removal of minerals by designing processes as efficiently as possible.
Why earn an online master’s degree in mining and geological engineering?
By enrolling in a master’s degree program in mining and geological engineering, you’ll be qualified to work in various fields. Opportunities encompass a wide range of professions involved in overcoming the challenges in resource processing and extraction. Additionally, completing an online mining and geological engineering degree equips you with extensive knowledge and practical experience needed to advance your career in the mining industry. Finally, mining organizations need geological and mining engineers to locate sites and establish the best practices to extract minerals while responsibly adhering to safety and sustainability regulations.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the top employers for a mining or geological engineer include the following:
- Engineering services
- Metal ore mining
- Coal mining
- Oil and gas extraction
Due to the multidisciplinary aspect of this degree, there are also sub-disciplines you can explore as a mining and geological engineer. You may opt for any of the following careers if you want to pursue a different specialization:
- Petroleum engineer
- Geothermal engineer
- Mining safety engineer
Master’s Degree in Mining and Geological Engineering Curriculum and Common Courses
A highly competitive mining engineering salary may convince you to pursue a master’s degree in mining and geological engineering. However, before deciding to enroll in an online program, there are still a few things that you need to consider. On top of the promising salary you may get after completing your degree, you still need to assess whether this program is aligned with your personal and professional interests.
Here are some common courses you need to take once you enroll in an online master’s degree in mining and geological engineering program:
- Hydrogeology and environmental geology. Hydrogeology is a branch of geology that deals with the distribution and movement of water through soil and rocks. Environmental geology deals with practical applications of geological principles in solving environmental problems.
- Economic geology of petroleum, coal and mineral resources. Courses in economic geology study the extraction of materials from the earth for economic and industrial purposes. They often focus on ways to make these processes more cost-effective.
- Sedimentology, stratigraphy and paleontology. Courses in sedimentology study sediments like sand, silt and clay, while stratigraphy focuses on the layering of rocks. Paleontology examines life as it existed at least 12,000 years ago, usually through the study of fossils.
- Geomorphology and glacial geology. Geomorphology is the study of the Earth’s topographic features and the processes that shape them. Glacial geology is a sub-discipline of geomorphology that specializes in the study of glaciers.
- Petrology and geochemistry. Petrology courses study rocks and the conditions that create them. Geochemistry applies the principles of chemistry to explain the formation of the Earth’s crust and its oceans.
- Geophysics and tectonics. Geophysics is the study of the Earth’s physical processes and properties through the practical application of physics. Tectonics is a branch of geophysics that studies the formation and movement of tectonic plates.
Accreditation for Master’s Programs in Mining and Geological Engineering
Accreditation is a review process by an independent party that ensures educational institutions meet established standards for providing a quality education. Two types of accreditation exist — regional and programmatic accreditation. In the U.S., regional accreditation is handled by dividing the country into six geographic regions, such that a council of accrediting bodies conducts accreditation reviews in its designated region.
Regional accreditation is a self-regulated, peer-reviewed process based on rigorous standards. In addition to the initial accreditation, follow-up reviews are performed at regular intervals to ensure the institution is maintaining the required standards. Major points of interest include the coursework, faculty and operations.
An education from an institution with regional accreditation provides students with eligibility for federal financial aid, employment and professional licensure. Transferring credits is also much easier when they’re from an accredited school. Students considering advanced degrees need to pay particular attention to a school’s accreditation status, as most graduate programs require the student to hold an undergraduate degree from a regionally accredited institution.
Programmatic accreditation applies to specific degree programs, rather than the institution. Specialized organizations such as an industry interest group or professional organization with expertise in particular disciplines typically perform programmatic accreditation reviews.
The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) accredits many geological engineering programs in the U.S. This organization is composed of many commissions, which accredits programs in their disciplines. For engineering programs, the Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC) is ABET’s accrediting body. Like regional accreditation, the EAC performs follow-up reviews at regular intervals to ensure its engineering programs maintain their standards.
The EAC uses standards that are common to all engineering programs, in addition to those that are specific to geological engineering. These include proficiency in topics such as geologic processes and the identification of rocks and minerals. Courses also need to provide students with the ability to solve geological problems in four dimensions and proficiency in geomechanics. In addition, they must teach theoretical principles of geology and elements of geophysics.
Online Master’s Degree Programs in Mining and Geological Engineering
Mining engineers ensure the safe removal of ore through efficient design. These engineers learn best practices in mining, equipment inspections, air quality monitoring and safety regulations. The following highly-ranked schools offer online master’s degree programs in mining engineering.
University of Southern California (Viterbi)
The University of Southern California (USC) at Viterbi is a private institution in Los Angeles that offers online labs and classes that are recorded and archived, allowing students to access this material at their convenience. Eighty-three percent of graduate students at USC Viterbi are already employed when they enroll for engineering programs. The admission criteria are the same for online and on-campus students, as are the faculty, course and degree requirements. Online and on-campus students are integrated into the same learning environment, and classes meet simultaneously. However, online classes have specific enrollment limits to ensure they receive proper academic support.
The enrollment at USC Viterbi is less than 1,000 and the tuition per credit cost is $2,309.
Missouri University of Science & Technology
Missouri University of Science & Technology (S&T) is a public institution in Rolla. It offers online labs, and all of the online classes are recorded and saved for later use. This school offers both synchronous and asynchronous classes, which have the same quality of instruction as the on-campus classes.
S&T provides administrative and technical support for its online students. The small class sizes and predominately full-time faculty help ensure a high quality education for its students. This school makes no distinction between online and on-campus courses, nor is there any difference in its transcripts and diplomas.
The enrollment at S&T is less than 300 and the tuition per credit cost is $1,200.
University of Arizona
The University of Arizona (UA) in Tucson is a public institution that offers online labs and records all online classes for later use. This school is highly-ranked in materials science and engineering, with a reputation for translating research into technology. Its mining program spans multiple fields, and UA also has deep ties to the mining industry, as well as geological and geophysical engineering.
The enrollment at UA is about 500 and the tuition per credit cost is $1,149.
Colorado School of Mines
Colorado School of Mines (CSM) in Golden is a public institution that offers online labs and online classes that are recorded and saved for later use. The online classes are much the same as students would experience in the classroom, with cutting-edge material for solving the world’s most pressing challenges in geological engineering. CSM’s world-class faculty builds, manages and supports its online programs by creating innovative and relevant content and exams.
The enrollment at CSM is less than 100 and the tuition per credit cost is $1,060.
What can I do with a master’s degree in mining and geological engineering?
Occupations that commonly require a master’s degree in mining and geological engineering include the following:
- Geological Engineer
- Geophysical Engineer
- Geotechnical Engineer
- Metallurgical Engineer
- Mining Superintendent
- Project Engineer
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) includes mining safety engineers with mining and geological engineers. The BLS expects the number of mining and geological engineers in the U.S. to grow by two percent between 2021 and 2031, as of May 2021. In comparison, the overall job growth for this period is predicted to be six percent.
About 500 openings in this field are expected to occur each year, primarily as the result of mining and geological engineers leaving for other occupations or exiting the workforce entirely. The total employment of mechanical engineers was about 7,500 in 2021, which is expected to increase by 200 during this decade to a total of 7,700.
The employment growth for this occupation primarily depends on the demand for coal, metals and minerals. Many products use these resources, so mining and geological engineers may be employed in a variety of industries, including construction, automotive manufacturing, cell phones and computers. These companies need mining engineers for exploration and production activities.
A mining engineer develops more efficient methods of locating and extracting natural resources from the earth. Typical duties include maintaining equipment, developing cost estimates, surveying mining sites, evaluating ore deposits, and managing safety issues. They also develop safe, efficient mining techniques. Experienced mining engineers often assume management duties that include working with workers and vendors, conducting explorations and overseeing transportation.
The average annual salary for mining engineers in the U.S. is $79,015 as of May 2023, according to ZipRecuiter. The full salary range for this occupation is from less than $28,000 to more than $105,000 per year, but most mining engineers earn annual salaries between $74,000 and $91,000.
A geological engineer looks for natural resources to extract from the earth, typically metals and minerals. Typically, job duties include designing mines and tunnels, and inspecting mining sites to ensure safety. A geological engineer may also have responsibility for minimizing the environmental impact of mining and exploration activities, including erosion control, water maintenance, and waste disposal.
The average annual salary for geological engineers in the U.S. is $91,158 as of March 2023, according to ZipRecruiter. The full salary range for this occupation is from less than $29,000 to more than $150,000 per year, but most geological engineers earn annual salaries between $63,000 and $112,500.
Mineral Processing Engineer
A mineral processing engineer prepares raw mineral products for use after they’ve been extracted from the earth. The overall goal of these processes is to increase the purity of minerals to the point that they’re economically useful. This occupation involves a variety of scientific disciplines, such as geology, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering, as well as business and management skills.
The average annual salary for a mineral processing engineer in the U.S. is $65,472 as of May 2023, according to glassdoor. The full salary range for this occupation is from $40,000 to more than $108,000 per year, but most mineral processing engineers earn annual salaries between $40,000 and $108,000.
Environmental Engineer for Mining
An environmental engineer for mining oversees the environmental aspect of mining operations. They develop and implement systems and strategies to minimize the impact of mining operations, which often includes adjusting engineering designs, approving designs and communicating environmental issues to upper management. These types of environmental engineers may have a primary background in environmental sciences or mining.
The average annual salary of an environmental engineer for mining in the U.S. is $75,367 as of May 2023, according to ZipRecruiter. The full salary range for this occupation is from less than $48,000 to more than $121,000 per year, but most automation engineers earn annual salaries between $59,000 and $97,000.
Geophysicists generally study features of the Earth, including water, the surface and internal composition. Exploration geophysicists use their skills to look for valuable materials on the earth, such as oil, gas, water, ore and minerals. Key disciplines for exploration geophysicists include geology, math and physics.
The average annual salary for an exploration geophysicist in the U.S. is $168,096 as of May 2023, according to ZipRecruiter. The full salary range for this occupation is from less than $99,000 to $292,000 per year, but most exploration geophysicists earn annual salaries between $127,000 and $227,000.
How much do mining and geological engineers make?
Starting Salary for Mining and Geological Engineers
OwlGuru.com reports that the average starting salary for a mining and geological engineer ranges from $54,550 to $70,290 per year. The bottom end of this range is the salary for the bottom 10 percent of mining and geological engineers, while the top end is the salary for the bottom 25 percent. These figures assume the mining and geological engineer has little to no professional experience in that occupation. In comparison, the average annual salary for this occupation is $98,420 and the maximum annual salary is over $122,020.
Average Salary for a Master’s Degree in Mining and Geological Engineering
Salary.com shows that the median annual salary for a geological engineer with a master’s degree is between $49,464 and $52,191, based entirely on reports from employers. In comparison, this source shows that a geological engineer with a bachelor’s degree has an average salary between $49,207 and $50,890. These figures vary greatly based on factors such as geographic location, experience and the number of direct reports. Many of these positions also offer significant performance bonuses, since geological engineering tends to be deadline-driven work.
What’s the most a mining and geological engineer makes?
The BLS reports that the highest-paid mining and geological engineers in the U.S. made more than $162,270 per year in May 2021, as compared to the median annual wage of $97,090 for this occupation. These figures are for all mining and geological engineers, although the industry significantly affects the pay they can expect to earn. The oil and gas sector provides the highest income for this occupation, at a median annual salary of $131,020. The government also pays these engineers above-average salaries, at $127,030 per year. In addition, positions in geographically remote areas pay more, due to the greater risk and work hours.
Tips for Increasing Salary Potential
The most certain way of increasing your salary potential as a mining and geological engineer is to increase the time that you’ve been in that occupation. These positions generally get regular pay increases that should at least keep up with cost-of-living increases. In addition, geological engineers often receive bonuses and raises based on performance, such as meeting deadlines or other metrics.
Specializing in a new mining or exploration technique is also highly likely to increase your salary over time, provided that technique is profitable for your employer. A master’s degree is another way to maximize your salary potential, as it can get you a position that you wouldn’t otherwise be qualified for. You should also look for ways to increase your direct reports, especially if they’re also mining and geological engineers.
Continuing Education after a Master’s Degree in Mining and Geological Engineering
Mining and geological engineers typically continue their education throughout their careers, like other engineering professions. The two most common types of continuing education in these occupations are professional certifications and a doctorate degree.
Many professions require additional accreditation beyond a degree to practice their profession. This requirement is most closely associated with doctors, lawyers, accountants and various trades, but it’s also becoming more common in engineering. The Society for Mining, Metallurgy and Exploration (SME) is one of the leading organizations in the U.S. for mining and geological engineers, which supports and encourages them in seeking professional certification and licensure.
The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) develops, administers and scores examinations on behalf of the SME. The engineering and surveying licensure boards from the states and territories of the U.S. all belong to the NCEES. Members of various professional organizations who are experts in their discipline actually develop these examinations, and they will be implementing significant changes to engineer exams in the near future.
For example, the Professional Engineer (PE) exam is scheduled to transition to computer-based testing within the next five years. This exam assesses the minimum competency of engineers, which is the lowest level of knowledge at which a person can safely practice professional engineering. Once mining or geological engineers obtain general PE certification, they may qualify for the more specific NCEES Mining and Mineral Processing PE examination. The exact qualifications for this exam depend on the state, but they generally include educational and professional requirements that ensure the applicant is a practicing mining or geological engineer.
Doctorate in Mining and Geological Engineering
A doctorate in mining or geological engineering typically requires at least two years of full-time study, including coursework and dissertation. Students and their advisory committees usually work together to develop a dissertation that will make a new contribution to their discipline. In addition, the coursework is highly customized for each student in most cases. A doctorate in mining and geological engineering is primarily beneficial for teaching these disciplines at the college level, where it’s usually required. Some positions in advanced research and development (R&D) may also require these engineers to hold a doctorate degree.
Mining and geological engineers usually need some type of financial aid, especially if they pursue their master’s degree immediately after earning their bachelor’s degree. Financial aid includes student loans, which you’ll have to repay at some point. Other forms of aid such as scholarships and tuition assistance don’t require repayment, so you should focus on obtaining these types. Financial aid can come from a variety of sources, such as the institution itself, industry interest groups, private individuals or employers. Eligibility requirements can include financial needs, academic performance and personal attributes.
Lenders generally don’t consider discipline or even academic performance when considering loan applications, as they’re more focused on the student’s financial situation. However, governments provide a number of incentives that make loans easier for engineers. For example, the Higher Education Opportunity (HEO) Act forgives up to $2,000 in student loans for every five years that an engineer works in that field. In addition, the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) can forgive up to $10,000 in loans for qualifying engineers. Many lenders also reduce the principal of the loan when a student earns a bachelor’s degree, which can be especially beneficial when you plan to pursue a master’s degree.
Many scholarships are available to geological engineering students, including general scholarships and those specific to that discipline. Scholarships are typically awarded based on academic performance, although some give preference to applicants with a particular personal attribute such as race or gender. Scholarships specific to geological engineers include the fund established by the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF) in 2004. The USGIF has awarded over $1.6 million to students studying geospatial science and related fields. Students at all levels of study are eligible for these scholarships, including master’s degrees.
The USGIF sponsors seven scholarships, ranging in amounts from $10,000 to $15,000. It also offers its own scholarship, which is worth between $1,000 and $3,000. USGIF distributes the awards through the regular semesters, allowing students to apply them towards tuition, housing, books and other resources. A multi-tiered panel reviews the awards, as they’re highly competitive and based on academic performance. Awardees also receive additional opportunities such as involvement in research, networking and other events.
Internships help students gain practical experience in their field, which is particularly helpful in applied disciplines like mining and geological engineering. These students often serve an internship, typically after the second year of undergraduate study. The most common activities that interns perform include observation of mining, analysis of mined materials and documenting procedures. Interns are closely supervised in most cases, especially for jobs involving field work. Prior work experience in mining or geological engineering isn’t required for internships, although candidates with soft skills like communication, problem-solving and time management may be more competitive.
How much does a master’s degree in mining and geological engineering cost?
The cost of acquiring an online master’s degree in mining and geological engineering can range from $10,000 to $30,000 and up, depending on where you enroll. In addition to your tuition, this cost may cover other fees, such as housing for residential students, supplies and other fees. Several factors may also affect your expenses, including the university ranking, on or off-campus living, and whether you’re a resident of the state where a state university is located.
Some universities may also include additional options that increase the cost, such as health plans, device purchases and the use of recreational facilities. One benefit of enrolling in online programs for master’s in engineering degrees is the reduced cost. You don’t have to pay for the use of physical facilities, nor do you need to pay for on-campus housing. On top of these benefits, you can also save on transportation costs and use the money for other essentials, such as food and learning materials.
Is a master’s degree in mining and geological engineering worth it?
One of the most certain ways of ensuring that your master’s degree in mining and geological engineering will be worth it is to arrange for your employer to fund it. This can occur when a company is unable to fill a position requiring such a degree, especially when that role is critical to the company’s success. In the case of mining or engineering, key roles for a mining or geological engineer could likely include a role in exploration. These jobs have both the specialization and urgency required for an employer to fully fund a master’s degree.
How long does it take to earn an online master’s degree in mining and geological engineering?
If you’re planning to become a mining and geological engineer, you’ll want to consider the typical time needed to finish a master’s degree in these disciplines. A master’s degree program typically requires one to two years to complete on its own, depending on the specializations you’re planning to take. Additional factors that will affect your completion time include the number of courses you’re able to take each semester.
Is a master’s degree required to advance as a mining and geological engineer?
The lack of a master’s degree is unlikely to hamper your mining or geological engineering career in the beginning. Most positions that require an advanced degree also require at least a few years of professional experience. Your best strategy is often to work for a few years to establish your value for your employer. At that point, you can look for ways to leverage that experience into at least partial funding for a master’s degree from your company.
Are mining and geological engineers in demand?
The overall demand for mining and geological engineers is currently below the average demand for all occupations. However, specific requirements for these engineers are highly dependent upon the materials that manufacturers need most. Specialists in new mining and ore-processing techniques are particularly likely to be in high demand.
What industries are hiring mining and geological engineers with a master’s degree?
The oil and gas sector generally has the greatest consistent need for mining and geological engineers. The federal government also has a steady need for these engineers, typically for conducting research, developing policies and documenting procedures.
Is an online master’s degree in mining and geological engineering the same as an on-campus degree?
Most educational institutions with online programs use the same curriculum and faculty as the corresponding on-campus program. In addition, most institutions don’t identify online degrees as such in either their transcripts or diplomas.