A geography degree trains students to examine the Earth's physical features and its human inhabitants. Geography majors learn geographic information system (GIS) mapping technologies, conduct spatial analysis, and gain valuable skills for a variety of career paths. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), geographers earn a median salary of over $80,000, with a bachelor's degree meeting the entry-level educational requirement for the field.
The skills gained during a geography degree prepare graduates for careers like cartographer, GIS specialist, or surveyor. By earning a master's in geography, professionals pursue job titles with increased responsibility, such as GIS manager.
Geography students should begin their career planning and job search while earning their degree. Choosing an in-demand specialization or completing an internship to gain professional experience can help geography graduates on the job market. By planning ahead, geography majors may improve their chances of finding a rewarding job in their field.
Skills Gained in a Geography Program
During a geography degree, students learn how to analyze human and physical data, like census reports, survey data, and maps. They work with GIS programs to gather data, design maps, and create visual portrayals of data. In particular, the degree builds strong analytical and critical-thinking skills, as geography students analyze data and draw conclusions from their analysis. Geography students also strengthen their computer skills, writing abilities, and communication skills.
- Analytical Skills
Geography students analyze information about human and physical geography, including spatial data. They look at maps, census data, and other sources to understand geography. Analytical skills, including the ability to analyze data and draw conclusions from different kinds of data, benefit geography majors after graduation.
- Critical Thinking
When conducting research, geography students build critical-thinking skills. They learn how to select the appropriate data, choose a method of analysis, and design research questions. Critical-thinking and research skills prepare geography graduates for diverse careers, including in business or working for government agencies.
- Computer Skills
During a geography degree, students gain familiarity with GIS technologies, database management programs, and digital image creation software. Coursework training students in different geography software programs and applications strengthens their computer skills. These skills help geography majors pursue careers in GIS management, cartography, and surveying.
Geography students strengthen their writing skills by completing research projects, writing persuasive papers, and creating written work for group projects or presentations. They learn how to communicate the findings from their research in written form, preparing graduates to write reports or articles. Some programs also train geography students on grant writing or proposal writing.
Geography majors build strong communication skills during their degree. They communicate their research, findings, and ideas on research papers; work with fellow students on group projects; and deliver presentations in class. Communication skills help geographers promote their research, work on a team, and communicate with coworkers.
Why Pursue a Career in Geography?
Professionals with a geography degree pursue careers in many fields, including geography, cartography, GIS mapping, and surveying. These geography careers offer growth opportunities depending on a professional's work experience and degree level. While many geographer positions require a graduate degree, geography graduates with an associate degree qualify for entry-level roles such as surveying or mapping technician. As geography students complete higher degrees, their career opportunities expand. For example, GIS specialists can pursue roles as GIS managers.
Earning a geography degree also prepares graduates for careers in nontraditional areas, including conservation, urban planning, and environmental research. For example, a geography major who specializes in sustainability can become an environmental specialist. These career paths require strong analytical skills and an ability to work with geographic software programs, which many geography graduates possess. Geography professionals in many fields make a positive impact on their community through their work.
How Much Do Geography Majors Make?
Geography majors work in multiple industries, including for private businesses, nonprofit organizations, and government agencies. Many geography career paths offer above-average salaries, with geographers earning a median salary of over $80,000 according to the BLS. Several factors influence a geography graduate's salary, such as their job title and industry.
Additional factors, such as degrees earned, location, and experience level also affect salaries. Generally, as a geography professional gains work experience or completes a higher degree, their salary increases. The following table lists a small selection of possible careers for geography graduates, including the projected growth rate.
|Position||Median Annual Salary||Projected Growth Rate|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
How to Succeed in Geography
Most job postings include a minimum degree level for job applicants. In geography, as in other fields, degree level plays a central role in pursuing a career. Applicants with an associate degree in geography qualify for positions as surveying or mapping technicians, while those with a bachelor's degree in geography can pursue higher paying opportunities as a cartographer or surveyor. During a master's program, geography graduate students undergo the training required for most entry-level positions as a geographer or survey researcher. Geography students may also consider a doctorate to become a geography professor.
Graduates with a degree in geography may need to meet experience requirements for certain career paths. For example, cartographers and geographers benefit from professional experience in the job market. Students can gain experience through internships that help them develop new skills and add valuable practical experience to their resume.
A geography major interested in a GIS career, for instance, can pursue internship options with government agencies or private businesses. During a graduate program in geography, students often gain additional experience through research projects, teaching assistantships, or faculty research assistantships. Professional experience helps geography professionals demonstrate their practical knowledge.
Licensure and Certification
Geography careers do not typically require licensure or certification. However, pursuing certification can help professionals demonstrate their professional expertise.
GIS Professional Certificate
To earn the GISP credential, candidates must pass a four-hour exam that tests conceptual foundations, GIS analytical methods, data modeling, and geospatial data. Candidates need four years of full-time geospatial experience.
American Society of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing Certification in GIS
ASPRS certification requires a peer-review analysis of the candidate's experience and training plus a written examination within the specialty area, which includes an option in GIS.
Concentrations Available to Geography Majors
While earning a geography degree, undergraduates often specialize their degree through a concentration. Students who choose a geography concentration complete electives in a subfield of geography, providing advanced training in that subject.
For example, a concentration in GIS technology and mapping provides additional training with GIS tools, database management systems, and spatial analysis methods. The concentration prepares graduates for careers as GIS specialists or GIS managers. On the job market, a concentration shows a candidate's expertise to prospective employers. Geography programs set their own concentrations and the requirements for completing a concentration, which vary by school.
- Human Geography: Most geography programs offer coursework in physical and human geography. A human geography concentration provides additional coursework in the specialty, with classes on urbanization and human movement, labor and housing, and factors shaping where people live and work. The concentration examines migration patterns, immigration, and urban spaces.
- GIS and Mapping: A GIS and mapping concentration offers additional coursework in GIS technologies, other geospatial software applications, and database management systems for geographic information. Students study cartographic representation, spatial analysis, geovisualization, and geospatial technologies. The concentration prepares graduates for careers working with GIS technology.
- Sustainability: Geography majors who pursue a sustainability concentration study the relationships among economic activity, environmental policy, and sustainability. Students study key concepts in geography as they relate to sustainability, including land use, corporate location, and international trade. The concentration also covers environmental regulatory policy, resource use, and energy policy.
- Globalization: A globalization concentration applies the tools of geography to the phenomenon of globalization, examining global trade, global finance, and public health through the lens of geography. Students study social movements, national policies, global-local relations, and global financial reforms, connecting these broader themes to location, place, and space.
What Can You Do With a Geography Degree?
A geography degree provides valuable skills in data collection, analysis, and research. Geographers examine qualitative and quantitative information to understand the Earth, its land, and the distribution of populations. The skills gained during a geography degree prepare graduates for multiple geography careers depending on their degree level and interests.
Professionals with a bachelor's in geography pursue opportunities in cartography, surveying, and other geography major careers like researcher or data analyst. With a master's degree, graduates work as geographers or in related career options in geography like survey researcher or urban planner. Other geography careers include environmental specialist or GIS manager.
While earning their degree, students should consider their options for a career in geography after graduation, including in careers linked to geography. Pursuing a certification or minoring in a related area like environmental science, urban planning, or public health can help geography majors on the job market.
Associate Degree in Geography
During an associate program in geography, students gain foundational skills in human and physical geography. To earn their degree, students complete courses in GIS technology, learn about mapping sciences, and study geographic distribution. With an associate degree in geography, graduates pursue careers as surveying and mapping technicians, drafters, and geological technicians.
These fields require training in geographic techniques, including the software programs used for surveying and mapping. Graduates with an associate degree in geography can also transfer into a four-year program to complete their bachelor's degree in geography or a related field.
- Surveying and Mapping Technician
Surveying and mapping technicians collect data to make maps of the Earth's surface. They take measurements on site, create maps using geographic data, and use computer programs to turn surveying data into maps. Familiarity with GIS through a geography associate program helps surveying and mapping technicians.
Drafters convert the designs of engineers and architects into technical drawings with software applications. They may specialize in architectural, civil, electrical, or mechanical drafting. Drafters design products based on sketches from engineers, use computer-aided design software to create plans, and add details to architectural plans.
- Geological Technician
Geological technicians support scientists and engineers in exploring and extracting natural resources, including oil and natural gas. They maintain laboratory and field equipment, gather samples for analysis, and conduct scientific tests on samples. Geological technicians record data from these tests and create reports and maps to identify natural resources.
Bachelor's Degree in Geography
Professionals with a bachelor's degree in geography work in several growing fields, including as cartographers or surveyors. As a social science degree, geography majors apply their analytical, critical-thinking, and reasoning skills in many career paths. Geography majors measure and interpret geographic information to create maps or design survey plans, and geographers who specialize in sustainability pursue careers as environmental specialists.
During a bachelor's program in geography, majors study human and physical geography, build technical skills working with GIS technologies, and study mapping sciences. Prospective geography majors can learn more about the top online geography programs.
Cartographers collect, measure, and interpret geographic information to create maps. They also update current maps and charts used in regional planning, education, and other fields. Cartographers create visual representations of geographic data; compile data from ground surveys, aerial photographs, and other technologies; and design maps. A bachelor's in geography meets the entry-level requirements for cartographers.
Surveyors determine property boundaries by making precise measurements. They contribute to engineering, mapmaking, and construction projects by creating data on the shape and contour of the Earth's surface. Surveyors create plots, maps, and reports based on their surveying, applying detailed knowledge of geography, GIS technology, and mapmaking.
- Environmental Specialist
Environmental specialists study how environmental factors impact human health. They analyze environmental problems to develop solutions, while also educating the public about health risks. A bachelor's in geography with a focus on sustainability, human geography, or the environment prepares graduates for jobs as environmental specialists.
Master's Degree in Geography
With a master's degree in geography, graduates pursue specialized opportunities within the field, including positions at the management level. Many geographers hold a graduate degree in their field, as do most urban planners and survey researchers. During a master's program in geography, graduate students take advanced general classes and specialized courses in a concentration such as physical geography, GIS technology, or human geography. Most master's programs incorporate examinations or a master's thesis to demonstrate mastery of the field.
Geographers study the distribution of land, features, and populations. They examine political and cultural structures, study human geographic characteristics in different areas, and gather geographic data. Many geographers conduct research, design maps, and analyze geographic data. Geographers work in specialties like physical geographer and human geographer. Advanced positions as a geographer typically require a master's degree.
- Urban Planner
Urban planners develop land use plans to create communities, revitalize towns and cities, and accommodate population growth. They analyze data from censuses and studies, conduct field investigations, and review site plans. Urban planners also recommend projects and present them to communities and planning officials.
- Survey Researcher
Survey researchers conduct and design surveys and analyze data collected during a survey. Geography majors apply their research and analytical training in the position, which requires summarizing and evaluating survey data. Many positions for survey researchers require a master's degree, often in a social science field like geography.
Doctoral Degree in Geography
Earning a Ph.D. in geography prepares graduates for many of the highest-paying positions in the field, including positions in academia, research, and management. During a doctoral program in geography, graduate students complete coursework in their specialization. This training prepares doctoral students for qualifying examinations, which test their preparation for writing a dissertation.
Doctoral students who advance to Ph.D. candidacy conduct original research in their specialization, under the supervision of a faculty advisor. Doctoral students then write a dissertation, which they defend before their advisor and a faculty committee. The training during a doctoral program strengthens research skills and expertise in geography.
Several career paths in geography require or strongly prefer candidates with a doctorate. Academic positions, particularly tenure-track professors, often hold a Ph.D. in their field. Administrative roles in academia, which offer among the highest salaries, also typically prefer candidates with a doctorate and experience as a professor.
- Geography Professor
Geography professors teach courses in their specialization at community colleges, four-year colleges, and universities. They design syllabi to educate students on geography, assess student learning, and mentor undergraduate and graduate students studying geography. Many geography professors also conduct research and publish their work in academic journals.
- GIS Manager
GIS managers supervise the operation of GIS workers who produce geographical data using specialized computer systems. They coordinate and manage computer programs, create GIS applications, conduct training sessions for staff, and oversee the budget. GIS managers often hold a graduate degree in geography or a closely related field.
- Provost or Dean
Also known as postsecondary educational administrators, provosts and deans conduct academic business for a college or university. The provost supports the president by overseeing the budget, developing academic policies, and approving faculty appointments. Academic deans often head a division or college, managing faculty members and setting the budget for academic departments. Both positions typically require a Ph.D. and experience as a professor.
How Do You Find a Job as a Geography Graduate?
Geographers work in several different industries, including for the federal government, in the architectural or engineering sector, or for state governments. Some geographers also pursue self-employment. The BLS projects a 7% growth in geographer positions by 2026.
Geography degree career options also include roles in cartography, GIS mapping, surveying, and urban planning. Students earning a geography degree should begin their job search during their degree program. Pursuing a specialization or certification can help geography majors stand out on the job market, as can an internship to gain hands-on experience. Job seekers can use resources like the AAG Jobs in Geography Center or the GIS Jobs Clearinghouse to find job postings in the field. The University of Utah also offers a geography job board that boasts internship listings and resources for geography majors and graduates.
Professional Resources for Geography Majors
Professional organizations help geography students build a professional network and transition from their geography program into the workforce. Many professional organizations offer career centers with job boards, host conferences and events, and publish research that keeps professionals current in the field. Students also benefit from scholarship and fellowship opportunities.
A nonprofit scientific and educational society, AAG dates back to 1904. The association hosts an annual meeting with networking opportunities, publishes scholarly journals, and provides news through the AAG newsletter.
Founded in 1888, the National Geographic Society promotes science, education, exploration, and storytelling. National Geographic offers educational resources and professional development tools, including grants for educators and online courses.
Dating back to 1915, NCGE has promoted geography teaching. NCGE conducts research and publishes journals, creates resources for educators, and offers professional development opportunities.
SWG offers fellowships for graduate students in geography and related fields. The society grants awards and hosts events with networking opportunities.
An international professional organization dedicated to geography, the IGU promotes geographical research and teaching. The IGU publishes journals, hosts events, and promotes opportunities for geography students and professionals.