How do I Become a Soil Scientist?

V. Saxena

Social scientists are tasked with carefully analyzing the top layers of the Earth’s crust, known as soil, and then interpreting that data so as to better understand how soil functions as a resource. In particular, they want to know how soil affects agricultural production and environmental quality. To become a soil scientist, one must therefore have a thorough understanding of soil biology, chemistry, and physics that can often only be obtained via a bachelor's degree from an agricultural university.

Some scientists study soil.
Some scientists study soil.

To become a soil scientist, one should pursue a degree either in soil science or a closely related field, such as earth science or natural resources. If pursuing soil science, the two specialties from which to choose are Soil Science and Environmental Soil Science. Although closely related, they do differ in skills learned.

Doing research and acquiring field experience are part of becoming a soil scientist.
Doing research and acquiring field experience are part of becoming a soil scientist.

Soil Science provides students with the knowledge needed to evaluate soil resources and then act on it by land-use planning and other learned skills. Students who choose this option typically go on to work as farm advisers, crop consultants, or soil conservationists. Environmental Soil Science is more focused on the skill-set needed to handle soil quality concerns, such as soil decontamination, nutrient management, and soil degradation. Students of this program go on to obtain environmental positions related to removing contaminants, handling waste disposal, or dealing with water quality.

Students who want to become a soil scientist that either conducts research or teaches at a university must go on to obtain a master or doctorate degree as well. They should also pursue internships and work-study programs so that they can acquire direct field experience. Students also have the additional option of obtaining a certificate from the Soil Science Society of America (SSSA).

After finishing school, students who want to become a soil scientist should work with their college placement office to locate a job. Keep in mind that entry-level soil scientists typically start as assistants to a more experienced soil scientist. In due time, a young soil scientist can move on to become a team leader or supervisor. Management opportunities are often limited to those with a graduate degree.

Another thing to keep in mind is that some regions require a potential soil scientist to be licensed. Without a license, the individual cannot practice his or her craft. The process entails registering at the local licensing board and then completing one or more exams. Proper completion of the process earns one an official license or certificate.

Soil scientists may work on plant science or hydrology.
Soil scientists may work on plant science or hydrology.

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Discussion Comments


@heavanet- I know someone who is a soil scientist, and it definitely isn't the right job for everyone. A person who does not have a passion for the land may find a position in this field to be boring.

On the other hand, individuals who love the land, have a background in farming, or have a strong desire to improve their natural environments would probably thrive in this field. It sounds like your relative has a good foundation for considering this field.


I have a relative who is thinking about becoming a scientist, and she also loves the earth. After reading this article, I'm wondering if becoming a soil scientist would be a good career path for her.

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