Soil Scientists


Education and Training Requirements

High School

If you're interested in pursuing a career in agronomy, you should take college preparatory courses covering subjects such as math, science, English, and public speaking. Science courses, such as earth science, biology, and chemistry, are particularly important. Since much of your future work will involve calculations, you should take four years of high school math. You can learn a lot about farming methods and conditions by taking agriculture classes if your high school offers them. Computer science courses are also a good choice to familiarize yourself with using databases, statistical analytical tools, and other software programs. You should also take English and speech courses, since soil scientists must write reports and make presentations about their findings.

Postsecondary Training

A bachelor's degree in agriculture or soil science is the minimum educational requirement to become a soil scientist. Typical courses include physics, geology, bacteriology, botany, chemistry, soil chemistry, plant pathology, soil chemistry, soil and plant morphology, soil fertility, soil classification, and soil genesis.

Research and teaching positions usually require higher levels of education. Most colleges of agriculture also offer master's and doctoral degrees. In addition to studying agriculture or soil science, students can specialize in biology, chemistry, physics, or engineering.

Soil science students should also complete at least one internship as part of their training. Government and private agencies offer a variety of internships to college students who are interested in soil science and conservation. Contact agencies such as the Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Bureau of Land Management for details. 

Other Education or Training

The Soil Science Society of America offers professional development opportunities via online courses and webinars and at its annual meeting. Its Fundamentals in Soil Science course features the following breakout sessions: Fundamentals in Soil Genesis, Classification and Morphology, Fundamentals in Soil Chemistry and Mineralogy, Fundamentals in Soil Fertility and Nutrient Management, Fundamentals in Soil Biology and Ecology, Influences and Management of Soil Physical Properties, and Fundamentals in Soil and Land Use Management. The American Society of Agronomy also provides continuing education opportunities. Contact these organizations for more information.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

Though not required, many soil scientists may seek certification to enhance their careers. The American Society of Agronomy and the Soil Science Society of America offer the following certification designations: certified professional soil scientist, certified crop adviser, and certified professional agronomist. In order to be accepted into a program, applicants must meet certain levels of education and experience.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Those wishing to enter the field of soil science should obtain as much experience as possible in college by participating in internships, volunteering, or working at a part-time job at a state or federal department of agriculture.

Soil scientists must be able to work effectively both on their own and with others on projects, either outdoors or in the lab. Technology is increasingly used in this profession; an understanding of word processing, the Internet, multimedia software, databases, and even computer programming can be useful. Soil scientists spend many hours outdoors in all kinds of weather, so they must be able to endure sometimes difficult and uncomfortable physical conditions. They must be detail-oriented to do accurate research, and they should enjoy solving puzzles—figuring out, for example, why a crop isn't flourishing and what fertilizers should be used.