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Top Paleontology Colleges

by Douglas Matus

A career in paleontology affords the opportunity to turn an interest in fossils and geology into a rewarding occupation. The majority of paleontologists are employed by universities and have advanced degrees. After you earn a Bachelor of Science degree, it is time to consider which college offers the best paleontology program to further your studies. The best paleontology colleges offer low faculty to student ratios, have world-class research facilities and exceptional instruction in the earth sciences.

Yale University

Students at Yale can specialize in the study of evolution in the fossil record.

Ranked as the "U.S. News & World Report" number one school for paleontology for 2014, Yale has provided a long tradition of excellence in the field. Members of this program have access to the extensive laboratories in the Department of Geology and the Environmental Science Center. The Yale Peabody Museum has one of the most important fossil collections in the world, with over 75,000 specimens in vertebrate paleontology alone. This interdisciplinary program has faculty with a wide range of specializations, including paleogeography, morphology, trace fossils and paleoecology.

University of Chicago

A paleontologist with specialization in biomechanics studies the biological processes of extinct lifeforms.

The University of Chicago earned the 2014 second best ranking from "U.S. News & World Report" in paleontology, and the number four ranking in ecology and evolutionary biology. Contained within the Department of the Geophysical Sciences, this program provides a rich opportunity for research in a wide variety of earth history topics, including physiology, macroevolution and biomechanics. The University of Chicago instructs in the methodology of both field research and laboratory experimentation. Students join semester-length projects and work with an advisor committee to develop a dissertation.

University of California, Berkeley

Paleontologists not employed by universities tend to serve as staff at large museums.

With a life sciences program ranked ninth in the U.S. by Times Higher Education, and a "U.S. News & World Report" third-ranked paleontology program, UC Berkeley centers its instruction on the renowned Berkeley Museum of Paleontology. Students study within the Departments of Integrative Biology, Geography, or Earth and Planetary Science. These specializations allow for full access to laboratory facilities and the expertise of world-class faculty. All paleontology faculty members are also curators, making this an ideal program for the student interested in museum employment.

Harvard University

Ranked by Times Higher Education as the best school in North America, Harvard can also boast a top-tier paleontology program. Research and instruction span multiple departments, so students are sure to graduate with advanced knowledge across a wide spectrum of the field. Harvard provides an interdisciplinary focus that combines invertebrate paleobiology, paleoentomology, vertebrate paleontology and geobiology. Students in the paleontology program are free to choose enrollment in either the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences or the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology.

University of Michigan at Ann Arbor

This university provides a top-ranked graduate education in paleontology centered on a partnership with the University of Michigan Museum of Paleontology. Through the museum, students are given the opportunity to work with experts in a wide variety of fields, including zoology and anthropology. This program provides a unique opportunity for students interested in conducting field-based research as the museum has exceptional field support, connections, laboratories and conservation materials.

About the Author

Douglas Matus is the travel writer for "West Fort Worth Lifestyle" magazine, and spent four years as the Director of Humanities for a college-prep school in Austin. Since 2005, he has published articles on education, travel and culture in such publications as "Nexus," "People's World" and "USA Today." Matus received an Education Pioneers fellowship in 2010 and an MFA from CalArts in 2011.

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