Geography majors learn about the physical features of the earth — including climate, soil, and topography — and how people relate to the land. Learners study both physical and social science.
Geography careers include geoscientist, geographer, and cartographer. Below, readers will find more information about pursuing a career in this field, including salary potential and links to helpful resources.
Why Pursue a Career in Geography?
Careers with a geography degree offer the opportunity to work indoors or outdoors. Geographers and survey and mapping technicians spend time out in the field collecting data and studying the land. Careers like postsecondary teacher include more desk work and less time spent outdoors.
Geography students need excellent analytical thinking skills and attention to detail. Some geography professionals work alone, while others work as part of a team, meaning students should develop the ability to both work individually and compromise with others.
Careers for a geography major also require a deep understanding of the earth and how humans interact with it.
Geography Career Outlook
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found that the top industries for geographers include the federal government, colleges and universities, state governments, and engineering and architectural services. Maryland and Texas offer the most employment for geographers.
However, the states with the highest employment levels do not always offer the highest salaries. For example, the BLS reports that California and Colorado, not Maryland and Texas, paid geographers the highest mean annual wage in the nation.
The BLS projects 5% job growth for geoscientists between 2019 and 2029.
Below, readers can find more information about potential salaries for geography careers. This table takes into account how salaries grow along with experience.
|Job Title||Entry-Level (0-12 months)||Early Career (1-4 Years)||Mid Career (5-9 Years)||Experienced (10-19 Years)|
Skills Gained With a Geography Degree
Through earning a geography degree, students learn how to analyze human and physical data like census reports, survey data, and maps. They work with geographic information systems (GIS) to gather data, design maps, and create visual portrayals of data.
The degree builds strong analytical and critical thinking skills. Geography students analyze data and draw conclusions from their analysis. Learners also strengthen their computer skills, writing abilities, and communication 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.
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 in business and government agencies.
During a geography degree program, students gain familiarity with GIS technologies, database management programs, and digital image creation software. Learners master different geography software programs and applications and strengthen 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. Students learn how to communicate the findings from their research, preparing them to write reports or articles. Some programs also train geography students in grant and 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.
Geography Career Paths
While earning a geography degree, undergraduates often specialize their degree through a concentration. Concentrations prepare geography students for specific career paths after graduation.
Below are several common concentration options for geography majors.
Most geography programs offer coursework in physical and human geography. This concentration provides additional studies in human geography through classes such as urbanization and human movement, labor and housing, and human geography of specific regions. The concentration also analyzes factors that shape where people live and work. Students examine migration patterns, immigration, and urban spaces.
This concentration offers additional coursework in GIS technologies, other geospatial software applications, and database management systems for geographic information. Learners study cartographic representation, spatial analysis, geovisualization, and geospatial technologies. This concentration prepares graduates for careers working with GIS technology.
Geography majors who pursue a sustainability concentration study the relationships between economic activity, environmental policy, and sustainability. Learners study key sustainability-related geography concepts, including land use, corporate location, and international trade. The concentration also covers environmental regulatory policy, resource use, and energy policy.
This concentration examines global trade, global finance, and public health through the lens of geography. Learners study social movements, national policies, global-local relations, and global financial reforms, connecting these broader themes to location, place, and space.
How to Start Your Career in Geography
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 can pursue careers in cartography, surveying, research, and data analysis. With a master's degree, graduates can work as geographers, survey researchers, and urban planners.
Pursuing a certification or minoring in a related area — like environmental science, urban planning, or public health — can help geography majors expand their career opportunities.
Associate Degree in Geography
During an associate program in geography, students gain foundational skills in human and physical geography. Students complete courses in GIS technology, mapping sciences, geographic distribution. The program also includes broad education in other topics, including English and mathematics. Graduates can 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 can also transfer into a four-year program to complete a bachelor's degree in geography or a related field.
What Can You Do With an Associate in Geography?
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 can help 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 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 and surveyors. Geography majors apply their analytical, critical thinking, and reasoning skills in many career paths.
Geography majors measure and interpret geographic information to create maps and design survey plans. Geographers who specialize in sustainability can pursue careers as environmental specialists.
During a bachelor's program in geography, learners 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 at this link.
What Can You Do With a Bachelor's in Geography?
Cartographers collect, measure, and interpret geographic information to create maps. They also update current maps and charts used in regional planning and education. 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 specialists study how environmental factors impact human health. They analyze environmental problems to develop solutions. They also educate 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 can pursue specialized opportunities within the field, including managerial positions. 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.
What Can You Do With a Master's in Geography?
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. Advanced positions as a geographer typically require a master's degree.
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 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 most lucrative jobs in the field, including positions in academia, research, and management. During a doctoral program in geography, 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.
Several career paths in geography require or strongly prefer candidates with a doctorate. Academic professionals, particularly tenured professors, often hold a Ph.D. in their field. Administrative roles in academia also typically prefer candidates with a doctorate and experience as a professor.
What Can You Do With a Doctorate in Geography?
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 learners studying geography. Many geography professors also conduct research and publish their work in academic journals.
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.
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.
Sources: BLS & PayScale
How to Advance Your Career in Geography
Most careers for a geography major require either a bachelor's degree or a master's degree for entry-level work. Advancement can bring better job titles, better pay, and more responsibility in the workplace.
Below, readers can find more information about advancing their careers in geography. The following sections explain certification and licensure, continuing education opportunities, and benefits of joining a professional organization.
Certifications and/or Licensure
Some geography professionals advance their career through certification or licensure. Certification typically comes from a professional organization and is optional, while licensure typically comes from the government and is mandatory for certain positions. Geographers, for example, do not need licensure, but many geographers pursue certification from the GIS Certification Institute to demonstrate their proficiency.
Urban and regional planners can seek certification from the American Institute of Certified Planners. New Jersey requires these professionals to hold licensure, though most states do not.
Both certification and licensure may require candidates to pass a test and complete continuing education courses for renewal, as most licenses and certificates expire after a few years. Professionals may also need to pay a fee when they register for the first time or renew.
Geography professionals can consider several types of continuing education for career advancement, including earning a second degree, completing a certificate program, or taking an online course.
Geography professionals who work in entry-level positions that only require a bachelor's degree may choose to earn a graduate degree or certificate. Many colleges offer certificate programs, which typically take a year or less to complete. These programs can provide useful skills and knowledge about new theories and practices in geography.
Colleges also offer online courses on specific topics and issues. These short classes allow geography professionals to gain new skills and stay current in their field. See the resources section to learn more about these options.
Geography professionals can seek advice, resources, and jobs through professional organizations. These groups bring together professionals in geography-related fields to share ideas and resources. Both students and working professionals can become members.
Geography professionals can explore organizations like the American Association of Geographers, the American Geographical Society, and the Society of Women Geographers.
These organizations provide resources such as continuing education courses and workshops. They also offer online journals and research on emerging geography technology and techniques.
Professional organizations also host networking events such as conferences. Networking gives professionals the chance to meet with their peers, find solutions to common problems, and learn about new job opportunities.
How to Switch Your Career to Geography
Geography professionals seeking a career change to a different job within the same field do not typically need to earn another degree unless their new job requires more advanced education. In most cases, professionals changing careers within geography only need specialized training or certification for their new job.
Professionals coming from other fields may need to earn another degree. These individuals should especially consider going back to school if their new job requires a graduate degree. Professionals coming from other fields should also strongly consider earning certification from a geography-related professional organization.
Training and courses in practical skills, such as GIS, can also be helpful.
Where Can You Work as a Geography Professional?
Geography professionals can find jobs all across the country with employers such as the federal government or colleges and universities. Below, readers can learn about the top industries for careers with a geography degree.
According to the BLS, the federal government, colleges and universities, state governments, and architectural and engineering firms employ the most geography professionals. In the following section, readers can explore each of these industries in greater detail.
This industry provides jobs in urban planning and development. Surveyors can also find work with the federal government. Professionals interested in consulting or lobbying should consider this industry.
Geographers can find careers as postsecondary teachers at colleges, universities, and professional schools. These professionals plan curricula, teach classes, conduct research, and publish scholarly works.
State governments provide work for geographers as urban planning and development specialists or surveyors. Geographers help develop cities and survey tracts of land before construction commences.
Architectural and engineering organizations hire geographers to help them survey land for future building projects. Geography professionals can provide detailed maps of the land and point out any potential problem areas.
Professionals in this industry examine plots of land, provide consulting services to construction companies, and conduct scientific research to advance the field of geography. This industry includes both desk and field jobs.
Resources for Geography Majors
Geography students and professionals should make use of professional organizations and open courseware. These resources help geography professionals stay current on new theories and technology in the industry.
Below, readers can find more information about professional organizations, publications, and free courses in geography.
American Association of Geographers: This nonprofit organization includes members in more than 100 countries. Founded in 1908, the AAG focuses on networking and facilitating discussion between geography professionals. The association's website offers publications and an annual conference for members.
American Geographical Society: AGS promotes advancement in geographic knowledge across business, government, and academia. The organization focuses on education and research, especially research that creates sound public policy and national security. Members gain access to several online publications and a geography podcast.
National Council for Geographic Education: This national organization focuses on geographic education at all levels. NCGE offers professional development opportunities and advocates for more geography education in schools. The council offers annual conferences, educational programs, publications, and webinars.
The Association of Pacific Coast Geographers: The APCG provides conferences for geography professionals, along with grants and scholarships for marginalized groups of students studying geography. Members can access digital newsletters and scholarly publications.
Society of Women Geographers: SWG provides international membership for women in geography interested in exploration, research, and the intellectual exchange of ideas. The organization boasts about 500 members across 28 different countries and encourages regular meetings to support networking and idea sharing. The SWG offers fellowships for students writing dissertations and for minority groups. Members can also win awards for outstanding contributions to their field.
Maps and the Geospatial Revolution — Pennsylvania State University:This 20-hour course explores the advancement of geospatial technology and how it changed the world. Students learn to make maps and study geographic patterns using the latest tools and technology in the field. The course uses real-world examples to provide a fundamental understanding of geospatial technology and how it relates to geography.
Geodesign: Change Your World — Pennsylvania State University: This 12-hour course examines how geographers can use information to connect people and make designs that benefit the world. Throughout the course, students attend lectures from guest speakers to experience different viewpoints.
Fundamentals of GIS — University of California, Davis:This 31-hour course delves into the fundamentals of GIS and how they relate to spatial analysis and cartography. Students learn to use ArcGIS, a leading software in the industry. This course covers the history of GIS and how to design and create maps.
Frozen in the Ice: Exploring the Arctic — University of Colorado Boulder: This class features direct interactions with scientists from the Multidisciplinary Drifting Observatory for the Study of Arctic Climate (MOSAiC) research team. This 17-hour course explores the importance of researching the Arctic and the importance of the MOSAiC expedition in particular.
Yearbook of the Association of Pacific Coast Geographers: This digital journal publishes abstracts and peer-reviewed articles about geographical research. Readers can also find book reviews of geographical manuscripts. The journal accepts outside submissions of original research papers, provided they follow the publication's guidelines.
FOCUS on Geography: This peer-reviewed digital magazine features both articles and photo essays on geography-related topics. The publication covers current events from around the world, while also offering insights into the history of different cultures from a geographical perspective. Readers can explore topics such as the Arctic, conservation, transportation, and demography.
Annals of the American Association of Geographers:First published in 1911, this journal provides articles about four major areas in geography: earth and environmental sciences, geographic methods, physical geography, and nature and society. The publication features one issue each year with a special geography theme. In total, the journal publishes six issues per year.
The Professional Geographer: Published quarterly, this journal provides short articles about empirical studies and methodologies and seeks to advance new ideas and alternative viewpoints. Readers can also read research notes and commentaries.
Geographical Review: The oldest journal in the U.S. exclusively about geography, this publication accepts submissions about human geography, nature and science, physical geography, and GIS science. Readers can also find book reviews and forum articles commissioned by the editors.
GeoHumanities: Launched in 2015, this magazine features articles discussing both the theoretical and practical aspects of geography. Readers can learn about how geography intersects with different disciplines in the humanities. The journal publishes twice a year in December and June.
Frequently Asked Questions
It depends on your career goals and passion for the subject. Geography graduates can find work with the government or architectural and engineering firms, helping survey land for building projects and assist in urban planning. Geography majors can also become professors in the field.
A geography degree covers both physical and social science, allowing graduates to pursue fieldwork, research, and desk jobs. Professionals in this field can find work as geographers and urban and regional planners. They can also pursue careers as surveyors and researchers.
Demand for careers with a geography degree differs by field. The BLS projects 11% job growth for urban and regional planners between 2019 and 2029. During the same period, the BLS projects 4% job growth for cartographers and a 1% decline for geographers.
Careers for a geography major offer good pay. According to the BLS, geographers earn a median annual salary of $81,540.