Where's A Good School For Dinosaurs and Volcanos?

No, I’m not planning on sending the dinosaurs to college, thankyewverymuch! < g >

While Eldest Son is still only a high school freshman, he knows that he loves science and wants to go on to study vulcanology (no Spock jokes, guys), geology and paleontology, that sort of stuff. We’ve wandered through the website for Montana State University at Bozeman, but we were wondering where else might have a good program, or even how to find out who does.

Mind you – Eldest Son is the one who read voraciously, and who tests off the charts on IQ tests and standardized tests – and who hasn’t brought home a grade above a C in three years (except when we made him re-take 8th grade math last summer – then he brought home an A just to show me he could). In fact, I would have been HAPPY to see C’s on his end of the year report card last year. So I’m guessing he’s not going to be able to get in to any Ivy League type school, which is just as well as far as my wallet is concerned.

Any thoughts?


Labrea U?

Seriously, Penn State has an excellent Science school. Well-funded too. For a state university, you could do a lot worse.

Just say no.

Loverock used smilies, and see where it got him?

According to your profile, Melin, you live in California. It would be as reasonable for him to go to college at a California state university as any place else. Unless he completely turns around his grades immediately it doesn’t look very good for him going to a very selective private school anyway. Lots of state schools have reasonably good geology and biology departments and some have paleontology departments too. (I don’t believe any school does vulcanology as a separate department.) There’s no reason to send him to a state university in another state since that wouldn’t be much cheaper than sending him to a private college.

In any case, his real problem will be turning around his grades immediately. If he graduates from high school with just a C average, it doesn’t matter if he’s the smartest person in existence (well, the second smartest after Cecil, of course). No place will accept him except community colleges and some third-rate private colleges that are desperate for students. Even if he gets into such a school, it’s likely that he will still be unmotivated to get good grades, so he will be unlikely to get into grad school (and you do need a graduate degree for most things in geology or paleontology).

In fact, if he doesn’t turn around his attitude toward grades before he graduates high school, I think you should tell him to take some time off before he goes to college. If he’s not ready to start seriously studying by that point, it would be better for him to work at something - anything - rather than going to college. A top state university might be willing to overlook mediocre high school grades and accept for the last two years of college somebody who worked for a couple years after high school and then got straight A’s at a community college. A few years working at something boring might convince him that he would really prefer studying.

In any case, I think that you’re rushing things by even talking about what subject he should major in at college. First, between the ages of 15 (which your son is, I presume) and 22 (when they generally graduate from college), many people change their minds several times about what they want to do with their life. Second, in the next four years, your son has to decide whether he really wants to do the work that studying any subject requires. Third, it’s not going to damage his life if he doesn’t decide on a major till his second or third year of college.

Melin, the last time I was asked to find a good school for xxxx, I replied with the following suggestion: rather than look at the schools that promote subject xxxx, look at the current experts in the field and find out where they went to school. It is not foolproof, but it sometimes pays off.


Melin, I doubt I really need to tell you this, but don’t get too caught up in this science thing. Eldest Son is still a freshman. Who knows, in a couple years he could decide he wants to be a Creative Writing major.

That being said, I know that UCSC has an excellent Earth Sciences (geology) program - not too surprising when you consider its position on the faultlines. It’s a public CA school, too, but I don’t there’s any paleontology to be found. Which reminds me, it’s very likely that public schools in Montana could actually be cheaper than public schools in CA, even after you tack on out-of-state costs. California public schools are probably the most expensive in the country.


“Anger is what makes America great.”

Hey there, finally a subject close to my heart… Took a couple of Graduate Degrees in inv. Mico-Palaeontology at University of Toronto. Their school in earth sciences is really really good. The Royal Ontario Museum is close by and their collections are open to UofT students.

Also Univ. Alberta is exceptional…

Look under fossils in the internet and see which schools have a website. You might have to throw in a few more words. +fossils +university in Alta Vista for example.

Ah, the college process, my specialty.

I can’t reccomend any particular school’s geology department, although I imagine that the best ones would be out west by you (Montana is a good guess, Colorado too). I can, however, refute Mr. Wagner’s claims that your son is doomed due to his C average. Having just completed the process, I can tell you that if he throws down on a standardized test or two, he can cover up his GPA (worked for me). Basically, this is how the process works for bigtime schools (state & private U’s):
-There are two things that can “make” you…SAT’s and GPA. You only need to be big in one of them. The other one, obviously, has to be solid, but not spectacular (unless you’re applying to Harvard).
-There are many things that can “break” you…I call them the “tiebreakers.” There are a lot of kids who are statistically the same, so things like the essay(s), the “personal” part of the application, volunteer work, and other extracurriculars break the tie. These things can’t get you in, but they can get you out.

Of course, if you are really good at some sport or something like that, the rules change. But my point is, don’t let Wendell scare you. If your son posts a big SAT score (like you say he’s capable of), and maybe gets that GPA up to a high C or B, and gets involved in some extracurriculars, a state U is very, very attainable.

The IQ of a group is equal to the IQ of the dumbest member divided by the number of people in the group.


With a B- average and a fairly high SAT score (say, 1300), yes, he can probably get into a second-level state university. (As I understand it, he won’t be able to get into UC Berkeley, for instance). But that’s not the real problem. If this kid is capable of getting 1300 on his SAT scores and he’s getting less than a B+ average in school, there’s something major wrong. For God’s sake, you’re claiming that he’s barely getting a C average. At most high schools, you need a C average just to graduate. If he doesn’t learn to study by the time he graduates from high school, he’s in deep trouble. What makes you think that he’s going to magically starting working hard in college when he’s been goofing off all through elementary and high school?

I wrote:

> What makes you think that he’s going to
> magically starting working hard in college
> when he’s been goofing off all through
> elementary and high school?

“starting” should be “start”, of course.

There’s a reason why the bright kid’s failing out of school. Highschool sucks.

I myself managed to rack up something like a cumulative .3 GPA over two yrs of HS, transferring back and forth between different schools. My HS transcripts don’t actually exist. But that’s immaterial, because I have kickass college transcripts and testscores.

My advice? (Well, since everybody asked!) Pull his ass out of school the moment he turns sixteen, make him take the GED and send him to JC for a year. If he shows his potential there (which he well might, since college is about learning rather than subordinating to the proper authorities) he can go pretty much wherever he wants from there.

Melin, my brother-in-law is an administrator in the geophysics dept. at the U of Hawaii, Honolulu. From what I understand, they treat their geology dept. like Alabama treats its football team.

Iffen ya wants, I’ll e-mail my sis and try to get some literature for yez. I’m only a keystroke away.

The Dave-Guy
“since my daughter’s only half-Jewish, can she go in up to her knees?” J.H. Marx


Thanks! Check your email.

Hmmm – pull him out at 16, get a GED, and send him off to JC? This might actually work for him – he reads everything and anything in sight, and his teachers (well, except for the algebra one) tell me that he knows the stuff and aces the tests – he just doesn’t do the class assignments and homework, which count for half or more of his grade.

Thanks for all the suggestions!


Well… I’m actually on the Geology faculty of a small West Texas school that I’d LOVE to recommend! Our website is:

I’m only a “Visiting Lecturer” here, though, so I’m not likely to be around when your son is actually going to college anywhere. We’ve got an open admissions policy (i.e., who cares what your H.S. grades or S.A.T. scores looked like? Hey–a GRE is good enough!), we’re something like the second least expensive school in the state, in-state tuition waivers for out-of-state students are pretty easy to come by, and we get pretty good federal funding (being a Title III Hispanic-serving institution). Fantastic location for Geosciences, too: we’re located in the middle of the largest alkalic volcanic field in the US (long since dead, of course) and major dino digs (including a new, recently discovered and fully articulated skeleton of a previously undescribed species of Alamosaurus [sauropoda]) are also common. We’re only an hour and a half from Big Bend National Park and Big Bend Ranch State Park (over a million combined acres of fantastic geology) and only three hours from Guadalupe Mountains National Park (also some pretty great geology). And for the folks–we’re not that far from California: I once drove from Alpine to Needles in 15 hours!

We’re not the most prestigous school in the world (hell, most people in Texas don’t even know we exist), but we’ve got the backyard for geology, a pretty damn good lab, and a great department. And I don’t just work there: I also got my BA and MS from Sul Ross!

Of course, if what you’re looking for is the best schools in Geology, regardless of cost, the top three are (in roughly this order): California Institute of Technology, the University of Texas at Austin, MIT. New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, the Colorado School of Mines, the University of Nevada at Reno, and Washington State University are some other western universities that are hardly slouches, either. University of California, Santa Cruz, does have a pretty good volcano geologist on faculty.

With the degrees he will have, what are his chances for ultimate employment? I know of people with thoes degrees who sell cars. Please check out his employment chances!..God luck,Carl

Heh. CalTech is in my own backyard – I’m probably 15 minutes or so from it – and I never really thought of it. Used to go there for dances when I was at a small college in Los Angeles years and years ago. I’m inclined to think they won’t look twice at him without a long string of As, though.

This is great! Dave – I found the website for U of H at Manoa – maybe we should move there so he can get in-state tuition. :slight_smile: And the Texas stuff looks interesting, too.

I know it’s early, but he has had this love of the earth sciences since he was old enough to start naming the dinosaurs. Volcanos, too, but dinosaurs are his first love. I want to give him something to motivate him, something to work for. You guys are all the best – I KNEW I’d find answers on this board!

Keep 'em coming! And thanks!


When I was looking for a PhD school, I sent an inquiry to CalTech–nothing to lose, since they have no app. fee and. They sent me an “Application for an application” and a polite letter detailing the average grades and test scores of their “average” student and requesting that the potential applicant look these over before bothering to waste his/her time. Needless to say…

I’m not well-informed on the dino ends of things (being on the volcano ends)… But dinosaur-vertebrate paleontology is one of the most difficult fields in Geology to break into (read: the competition for funding at the graduate level is intense!) SMU in Dallas does a lot of good dino work, but are both snooty and expensive. And–which is the one in Boezman?–Montanta State (if that’s the one in Boezman) is affiliated with Jack Horner (a self-made dino-paleontologist, which is still one of the best ways to do it!)

Jesus, what a sloppy post I just blundered! Good night!

Pantellerite pretty much nailed the major programs, but for a kid with large potential and grades that don’t reflect, it might not hurt to look at some of the smaller schools – a bit of the personal touch might be just what’s needed to open yer son’s doors.

On this count I’d highly recommend looking into Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. It’s a long way from home (read: no easy lifeboats available); it’s a very small college (read: the faculty knows you and cares); its reputation, especially in geology, is first rate (read: nobody in the field will laugh at yer degree); and the admissions policy is personal, and weighted less towards grades than towards likelihood of success.

As an extra added benefit, I’m told they hand the kids rock hammers and send them out into the Pennsylvania hills in the dead of winter and tell them not to return without at least one Trilobite. I guess they figure that anybody who doesn’t change majors after that must be really, really serious about wanting to crack rocks for all eternity.

Dr. Watson
“Fossils? No thanks, I’ve already got one.”

BTW – Pantellerite – ye self-disparage unnecessarily – I’d not have bothered mentioning Franklin and Marshall in the same breath with Colorado School of Mines had ye not made (in yer “sloppy” post), the most important point about your field:

“. . . a self made dino-paleontologist, which is still the best way to do it!”

There are precious few fields left where raw intelligence, experience and determination count for more than yer pedigree and designer label, and you have neatly summarized yer entire profession for the benefit of a young man’s future in a single off-hand statement.

Dr. Watson
“A voice, and nothing more.”