How to Become a


The complete career guide to be a Paleontologist: salary, job growth, employers, best schools, and education you may need to get started.

Why We Love It

  • $105,720
    Potential Avg. Salary
  • 10.4%
    Job Growth Rate
  • Growing Demand
    Job Outlook
  • Good Entry Level Salary
    Career Attribute

Paleontology deals with the fossils of plants and animals. It is a science of interdisciplinary fields that primarily incorporates biology and geology, along with anthropology, chemistry and archeology.

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What is a Paleontologist?

Paleontologists must be accomplished analysts, detail-oriented individuals with a strong aptitude for the natural sciences. They are logical thinkers capable of organizing the various facets of their work into cohesive arguments presented to their peers, employers and the public. Compensation is above average in comparison to the median for all occupations and job satisfaction is consistently rated highly. Paleontologists are strong in academics and are emotionally stable, as this is required to complete the years of schooling that are necessary to work in this field.

In the course of their work, paleontologists typically do the following:

  • Analyze data, including rock samples, aerial photographs and records of previous geologic formations uncovered in order to locate new, untapped natural resources and approximate their size and contents
  • Carry out studies in the field, collecting samples, photographs and conducting surveys
  • Laboratory testing of samples collected in the field
  • Research and create geologic charts and maps
  • Analyze available data to determine potential locations of fossils; excavate layers of rock to locate fossils; determine age and origin and time period

Paleontologists are concerned in the larger sense with studying fossils and geological formations to study and trace the evolution of all life on Earth. The practical application of such lofty scientific goals takes many forms, from computer programs, electron microscopes and remote sensing equipment to hand tools such as brushed, chisels and picks. It is as likely to spend the working day inside an office analyzing data as it is excavating a job site. Paleontologists must therefore be comfortable wearing different ‘hats’ as well as working in isolation or in teams.


There are numerous areas of study within the broader umbrella of paleontology that can be a particular focus in a career, depending on particular interests. These include vertebrate and invertebrate paleontogloy, paleobotany, taphonomy, micropaleontology and biostratigraphy.


Research and instruction in a college or university setting is the primary destinations for those interested in pursuing a career in paleontology. However, there are a few notable destinations outside of teaching in a university, such as consulting, museums, government at all levels and mining companies


Paleontology is a growing profession. It is projected to increase slightly faster than the national average for all occupations over the next ten years, spurred on by new technologies like hydraulic fracturing and a need for environmental protection and conservation balanced against inevitable energy demands.

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How To Become a Paleontologist

A doctorate in paleontology is usually required in order to enter the field, and an absolute necessity for a career in academia. Generally, a comprehensive background in geology and biology is necessitated and coursework at the undergraduate level will additionally focus intensively on mathematics, the natural science and statistics.

A small percentage of colleges will offer paleontology as a concentration within a larger field of study, such as biology, geology or anthropology. Upon entering graduate school, students will choose a specific path, such as paleoecology, palynology and vertebrate or invertebrate paleontology. Beyond academic coursework, publishing, laboratory time and field experience are crucial for advancement.

Paleontologist Salary Data

We’ve provided you the following to learn more about this career. The salary and growth data on this page comes from recently published Bureau of Labor Statistics data while the recommendations and editorial content are based on our research.

National Anual Salary

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High Range


National Hourly Wage

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High Range


How do Paleontologist salaries stack up to other jobs across the country? Based on the latest jobs data nationwide, Paleontologist's can make an average annual salary of $105,720, or $51 per hour. On the lower end, they can make $62,030 or $30 per hour, perhaps when just starting out or based on the state you live in.

Salary Rankings And Facts

  • #55 Nationally for All Careers

  • Above Average Salary Nationally

Programs and Degrees

Here are the most common degrees for becoming a Paleontologist. a is usually recommended and specifically a degree or coursework that prepares you for the particular field, see below.

Highest Education Among Paleontologists

  • 9.4%   Doctorate
  • 36.8%   Masters
  • 47.1%   Bachelors
  • 2.3%   Associates
  • 4.1%   College
  • 0%   High School
  • 0.3%   Less than High School

Job Growth Projections and Forecast

2014 Total Jobs


2024 Est. Jobs


Job Growth Rate


Est. New Jobs


How does Paleontologist job growth stack up to other jobs across the country? By 2024, there will be a change of 3,800 jobs for a total of 40,200 people employed in the career nationwide. This is a 10.4% change in growth over the next ten years, giving the career a growth rate nationwide of Above Average.

Growth Rankings And Facts

  • #176 Nationally for All Careers

  • Above Avg. Growth Nationally

What Companies Employ The Most Paleontologists

Industry Current Jobs New Jobs Needed % Increase
Oil and gas extraction 8,000 1,000 1%
Engineering services 6,200 800 1%
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 5,300 1,500 2%

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