How to Become an Oceanographer

Oceanographer Key Stats
Avg. Salary / year $83,980
Avg. Pay / hour $40.37
Education 4+ Years
Job Outlook 6%

Oceanographers are geoscientists who are specialized in the study of oceans and their coastal waters.

In addition, they are also highly experienced in studying marine life living within oceans as well as climate and weather.

These professionals use their knowledge in these areas in order to protect marine wildlife and to predict the earth’s activities such as weather patterns and plate tectonic movements.

Individuals who want to become an Oceanographer will need a passion for wildlife and protecting the environment.

Oceanographers may specialize in an area and work remotely in the field gathering samples for laboratory review or work in a laboratory analyzing samples taken from the ocean.

Education Requirements to Become an Oceanographer

Individuals who want to become an Oceanographer will need a combination of personal characteristics and a postsecondary degree in order to enter this profession.

In addition, individuals who complete a master’s degree have better job prospects.

Individuals will need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in order to become an Oceanographer.

Individuals with a bachelor’s degree most commonly qualify for entry level positions.

A focus in geosciences is highly recommended, however, employers will also seek candidates with a bachelor’s degree in the following areas and some coursework in geology: mathematics, computer science, biology, chemistry or engineering.

The majority of individuals who become an Oceanographer pursue a master’s degree.

These individuals also tend to have better job prospects in this field because of their graduate degrees.

Typical Geoscience programs include coursework in geology and its specializations such as: structural geology, petrology and mineralogy.

In addition to a focus in geology, individuals will also gain an understanding of physical sciences, engineering, mathematics and computer science.

Individuals must have an in depth understanding of specific software that enables to document laboratory research.

Individuals pursuing a bachelor’s or a master’s degree are highly encouraged to gain laboratory and field experience in the geosciences field while they are attending their programs.

This type of experience will help students have better job prospects once they are finished with their programs.

A special focus in computer software will help individuals stand out amongst other candidates.

Individuals may also pursue a graduate PhD degree in geosciences.

A graduate degree in this focus will allow individuals to apply for more advanced opportunities such as researching and college instruction positions.

Individuals with a PhD in geosciences will be able to apply for teaching positions at the college level and for research positions in oceanography.

The analysis will be used to write scientific reports for other professionals in the field.

Oceanographer Job Description

Oceanographers are experienced in studying the ocean, its coastal waters and living organisms within.

Some individuals focus their work in the field gathering data and samples from the ocean while others may focus their work on studying the samples and data gathered from field workers.

Some individuals may also do a combination of both laboratory and field work.

Field work includes the planning and collecting of samples, data and surveys from observational work done out in the field.

Some data collection may include gathering images of the environment from the ocean.

Once enough data has been collected, it will be taken to a laboratory for analysis.

Oceanographer Salary and Career Path

In 2012, the median salary for Geoscientists, which includes the Oceanography profession, was approximately $90,890 per year.

Exact annual wages will depend on a variety of factors including level of experience and the industry an individual works in.

For example, individuals who work for the federal government should expect a median salary of approximately $94,830 per year while those who work for a state government can expect a median annual wage of approximately $62,030.

The job outlook for all geoscientists, which includes Oceanographers, is expected to grow at a faster than average rate.

Job opportunities in these professions are predicted to grow by 16 percent through the year 2022, a much faster than average growth when compared to other professions.

This growth is attributed to the demand by individuals to focus on environmental protection and responsible use of the earth’s resources.

Individuals who have attained a master’s degree have better job prospects due to their level of education and experience researching.

Individuals pursuing a career as an Oceanographer will have an interest in the sciences, especially the geosciences in which their work may be used to improve the quality of life for oceanic species.

Their work may also help the public understand how a normal ocean should perform and help raise awareness for its preservation.

BLSThe below information is based on the 2021 BLS national averages.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary


Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
District of Columbia$134,580
Maine- NA -
New Jersey$114,110
New York- NA -

The top earning state in the field is District of Columbia, where the average salary is $134,580.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

District of Columbia - $134,580
Maryland - $121,280
New Jersey - $114,110
California - $114,090
Massachusetts - $111,450
* Salary information based on the May 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Marine Engineers and Naval Architects, OCC Code 17-2121, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does an oceanographer do?

An oceanographer is a specialist who studies sea life, water, climates, and weather of the ocean.

With the help of oceanographers, other professionals are able to predict weather patterns, care for wildlife, and preserve the oceans and coastal waters.

There are different types of oceanographers.

Biological oceanographers, for example, study animals and plants in the marine environment; chemical oceanographers study the composition of seawater, its cycles and processes and its chemical interaction with the seafloor and atmosphere; geological oceanographers explore the ocean floors; physical oceanographers study physical conditions and processes within the ocean (currents, waves, tides, and so on).

Certainly, the job duties of an oceanographer will vary depending on the specialization.

However, the typical tasks include researching and studying different information; performing computer duties; communicating with other scientists; explaining research results to other professionals, etc.

How much do oceanographers make?

On average, an oceanographer can make a little more than $67.000 per year in the United States.

In case you decide to follow this career path, you can expect to earn anywhere between $36.000 and $111.000 annually.

The salary would certainly depend on a variety of factors – your education and experience level, the employer, the location and so on.

The oceanographers that work in the District of Columbia, for example, have the highest average salaries.

An entry-level oceanographer can earn $23 per hour, while a specialist with plenty of experience will make $37 and more.

How much does it cost to become an oceanographer?

You would, in most cases, need at least a bachelor’s degree in ocean science, biology, geology, chemistry, environmental science, or a related field, in order to apply for an entry-level position.

A year in a university can cost you anywhere between $8.000 and $45.000 (and more); the cost depends on a variety of factors (the books, supplies, and accommodation expenses are not included).

However, most employers would require you to have a master’s degree (over $11.000) or a doctorate degree, in case you want to become a professor or focus on independent research in oceanography (a Ph.D. will cost you around $20.000 per year).

What is the demand for oceanographers?

Between 2018 and 2028, the oceanographer job market is expected to grow by 6%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

That is pretty much as fast as the national average for all occupations in the United States.

Oceanographers will be in high demand in the oil and gas industry and consulting firms.

The competition will be tougher for the government and teaching positions.

How long does it take to become an oceanographer?

It will take you 4 years to obtain a bachelor’s degree and another 2 years to earn a master’s degree.

A doctorate degree typically takes 4-6 years to acquire.

You should consider seeking internships in marine research centers and laboratories or pick a degree that includes a year in industry with a research organization.

Jamie Willis
Career Specialist at BecomeopediaHi, my name is Jamie Willis, and I have been helping students find their perfect internships and education paths for the last ten years. It is a passion of mine, and there really is nothing better than seeing students of mine succeed with further studies.

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