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First Year Students

Are you fascinated by the immensity of galaxies, as well as the intricacy of microscopic shell structures seen under a scanning electron microscope? Do you seek that "CSI Miami" experience of reconstructing billion-year old landscapes long turned to dust and pressed into stone? Is your secret mission to solve the world's energy problems? Are you eager to support both human and environmental health and safety as climate change increases the stakes? Does your breadth of scientific interests make it hard to choose a career within just one field: chemistry, math, biology or physics? Perhaps you are most intrigued by an interdisciplinary synthesis of them all.

If so...Earth and Planetary Sciences might be for you!

Visit our major page to learn how the major requirements are organized into different sub-disciplines and skills areas.  Sub-disciplines: Earth Materials, Geochemistry, Seismology, Geology, Climate/Paleoclimate, Geophysics, Geobiology, Planetary.  Skills areas: Quantitative, Spatial Reasoning, Analytical/Instrumentation/Field. We also invite you to visit our minor page.

As a Major or Minor you will have opportunities to participate in a wide range of departmental activities beyond the classroom, including research, seminars, field trips, and social events. Many undergraduates conduct research projects with faculty and graduate students that lead to honors theses and scientific publications.

To get started in the Major, take the prerequisite courses as soon as possible:

Earth Systems Revealed (EARTH 201) is one of our core courses and is taught each year during the spring quarter. No prerequisites are required to take the course. EARTH 201 combines aspects of physical and historical geology. Physical geology examines Earth materials (rocks and minerals) and the processes that create, modify, and destroy them. Historical geology examines the origin of Earth and its development through time. The course culminates with a required weekend field trip to Baraboo, WI, usually during the third weekend in May. As the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department has led the Baraboo field trip for over 90 years, taking EARTH 201 presents an excellent opportunity to participate in one of Northwestern’s best-kept secret traditions. Have you ever wondered about the origin of the “The Rock”? Come to Baraboo to find out!

As an Earth and Planetary Sciences Major, this sample four-year plan is a good starting place for planning your plan of study. Your actual plan of study will be shaped by the WCAS degree requirements and modified by advanced standing earned through placement tests and AP credits.


Sample plan for year 1
Fall    Math and Science Prerequisites
Winter Math and Science Prerequisites
Spring Math and Science Prerequisites + EARTH 201

Consider EARTH First Year Seminars towards your WCAS Writing Requirement, with topics such as: Death of the Dinosaurs, Sustainability and Social Justice, and Global Warming: The Scientific Evidence.


Sample plan for year 2
Fall Remaining Math and Science Prerequisites, + EARTH 203
Winter   Remaining Math and Science Prerequisites, + EARTH 202 and 204
Spring Remaining Math and Science Prerequisites

One or more EARTH 300 levels in any quarter.


Sample plan for year 3&4
Advanced Studies 300- level courses, up to eight
EARTH 399 - Independent Study


Sample plan for year 3&4
Advanced Studies 300- level courses, up to eight
EARTH 399 - Independent Study


Our advising page contains more information about declaring the major and other useful resources. If you have questions or need more information, contact the Program Assistant to set an appointment with the Director of Undergraduate Studies (DUS).

Learn More

There are several ways you can learn more about Earth and Planetary Sciences.

If you wish to keep current about social functions, department activities, research opportunities, and job openings, please contact us about being added to the Department’s undergraduate e-mail listserv.