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How to Become a Hydrologist

For most jobs, hydrologists need a master’s degree with a focus in the natural sciences. Hydrologists may need a license in some states.


Most hydrologists need a master’s degree, but a bachelor’s degree is adequate for some entry-level positions. Applicants for advanced research and university faculty positions typically need a Ph.D.

Few universities offer degrees in hydrology; instead, most universities offer hydrology concentrations in their geosciences, environmental science, or engineering programs. Students interested in becoming a hydrologist need extensive coursework in math, statistics, and physical, computer, and life sciences.

Students who have experience with computer modeling, data analysis, and digital mapping will be the most prepared to enter the job market. Also, hydrologists use geographic information systems (GIS), remote sensing, and global positioning system (GPS) equipment to do their jobs.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Hydrologists need to analyze data collected in the field and then examine the results of laboratory testing in their research.

Critical-thinking skills. Hydrologists assess risks posed to the water supply by pollution, floods, and other threats. They develop water management plans to handle these threats.

Interpersonal skills. Most hydrologists work as part of a diverse team with engineers, technicians, and other scientists.

Speaking skills. Hydrologists often have to present their findings in an understandable way to people who do not have a technical background, such as government officials or the general public.

Stamina. When they are in the field, hydrologists may need to hike to remote locations while carrying testing and sampling equipment.

Writing skills. Hydrologists prepare detailed reports documenting their research methods and findings.


In some states, hydrologists need a license to practice. Requirements vary by state, but they typically include minimum education and experience requirements and passing an exam.

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition