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Oceanography is the interdisciplinary science that focuses on the ocean, its contents and its boundaries. Whereas typical graduate programs lead to progressively greater amounts of specialization, oceanography as an interdisciplinary field admits graduates of specialized areas such as biology, chemistry, geology, geophysics, mathematics, physics or engineering and initially generalizes and broadens their education with a core of required courses. These core courses include the four specializations of the oceanography program — biological, chemical, geological and physical oceanography — as well as a seminar covering the state of the science. After this exposure to the interdisciplinary nature of oceanography, the graduate student refocuses in their particular subject area to pursue research at the leading edge of the science.

Required prerequisites are the equivalent of a Bachelor of Science degree and basic courses in the fields mentioned above. All students are expected to have had mathematics through integral calculus, at least one year of calculus-based physics, and one year of chemistry. These are in addition to the usual amount of coursework in their major field of science or engineering.

To qualify for an advanced degree in oceanography, the student must demonstrate an ability to apply basic science to the marine environment. This capability requires a combination of principles and methods and a certain body of knowledge unique to oceanography; a student of oceanography must become conversant in all of the marine sciences.