If you pursue a degree in geography, you can expect to learn about everything from climate variability and urban development to deforestation and emerging infectious diseases. Many geography degrees have a geographic information system (GIS) component, which equips students to analyze mapping and spatial data.
If you want a career that takes you outside the walls of an office, or allows you to solve global problems, you should consider studying geography.
A degree in geography covers problems such as world hunger, water management, and urban housing. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 7% job growth rate for geographers and a 14% growth rate for geoscientists from 2016 to 2026.
Should I Get a Bachelor's in Geography?
If you want a career that takes you outside the walls of an office, or allows you to solve global problems, you should consider studying geography. Whether your interest lies in the effects of globalization, socioeconomic concerns, or the environmental consequences of resource allocation, degrees in geography offer concentrations that prepare graduates for multiple career paths.
Many programs require students to complete internships or professional projects, so students can begin to build a career network while in school. Some schools provide funding for students to attend conferences or workshops where they can make professional connections in the field.
First-time college students may prefer conventional on-campus programs, while non-traditional students may prefer online geography degrees. Distance learning programs allow students to complete classes at their own speed, which is ideal for working professionals or those with family commitments. While online students must meet deadlines, the pacing of the degree remains flexible.
What Can I Do With a Bachelor’s in Geography?
Geography majors can become cartographers, mapping topology for a government project, or work as a surveyor, scanning the landscape below the Earth’s surface for companies to build mines.
Geographers study landscapes, bodies of water, and geomorphic processes, as well as human impact on geographic elements. Geographers commonly conduct research for the government or scientific institutes.
Median Annual Salary: $76,860
Projected Growth Rate: 7%
- Cartographers and photogrammetrists
Cartographers compile geographic information to prepare, update, and revise maps. Photogrammetrists organize aerial surveys and generate elevation and distance maps with spatial data.
Median Annual Salary: $63,990
Projected Growth Rate: 19%
Geoscientists often work for agriculture and engineering organizations, or for oil companies. They conduct field studies, and examine soil composition and geomorphic mechanisms. Like cartographers, these professionals also build maps, but often with the purpose of uncovering natural resources.
Median Annual Salary: $89,850
Projected Growth Rate: 14%
Surveyors collect and analyze information about the Earth’s surface. They provide information to engineers to design safe basal structures or mines. Surveyors use global positioning systems (GPS) and GIS to draw maps and draft reports.
Median Annual Salary: $61,140
Projected Growth Rate: 11%
Geography students may choose to earn their master’s and doctoral degrees. A doctorate prepares students for a lifetime of research and teaching. Professors conduct research to add new knowledge to the field.
Median Annual Salary: $76,000
Projected Growth Rate: 15%
How to Choose a Bachelor's Program in Geography
When choosing a geography program, consider the school’s location. If you plan to attend an on-campus program, location influences your cost of living. With online geography programs, physical location generally does not matter. Some online programs expect students to participate in an internship regardless of online enrollment.
When looking at programs, consider courses and concentrations as well. You may be more interested in studying political boundaries and resource availability or you may prefer to study landforms and naturally occurring structures. These options constitute different concentrations within geography programs; check that your potential school offers coursework in your interest area.
Like most bachelor’s degrees, geography degrees take about four years. This may last longer if you enroll part-time, or shorter if you enroll in an accelerated track. Always check tuition costs; students should also consider scholarships, loans, or program-specific financial aid opportunities.
Programmatic Accreditation for Bachelor’s Programs in Geography
Accreditation essentially certifies that schools give students a quality education. Employers and graduate schools prefer candidates who graduated from accredited schools, and admissions departments may feel less likely to hire or accept applicants with unaccredited degrees.
Most geography degrees hold regional accreditation or accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission. If you cannot find whether a program holds accreditation, call and ask the admissions department. Some interdisciplinary geography degrees might hold certification from other agencies: for instance, a geography and environment degree could have accreditation from the National Environmental Health Service and Protection Accreditation Council.
Bachelor's in Geography Program Admissions
You should spend a considerable amount of time applying to colleges, especially if you want to impress your potential schools with essays and credentials. You should apply to at least five colleges. Many students apply to one dream school, one safety school, and a few in between.
- Minimum GPA: Many colleges require students to have a 2.0 GPA, at minimum, in previous general education coursework before declaring geography as a major.
- Application: Prospective students submit their applications online. Applications usually require additional components, including essays.
- Transcripts: Transcripts show the grades you earned in previous classes. You can submit your high school transcripts with the help of your college admissions counselor. If you apply as a nontraditional student with some college experience, you will need to call the registrar’s office at your previous college. Transcripts usually cost a small fee.
- Letters of Recommendation: Most schools ask for letters of recommendation. Consider asking past teachers. You should give your recommenders at least three weeks notice.
- Test Scores: Check with your future college for the minimum ACT or SAT test score requirements. Schools often set a minimum ACT score of 21 and a minimum SAT score of 1060.
- Application Fee: You can expect applications fees to be about $50. If you hold veteran status, military experience, or demonstrate financial need, you may qualify for a fee waiver.
What Else Can I Expect From a Bachelor's Program in Geography?
Since geography contains such an array of subtopics, there is not one standard geography curriculum. Most programs require some variation of an internship, research project, or fieldwork before graduation. Details vary greatly, so choose a program with a concentration that suits your future career interests.
|Physical geography||Students in a physical geography track study landforms, water, climate, organic life, and other natural phenomena. Courses in this concentration examine why certain physical and biological processes occur.||Geographer, geoscientist|
|Geographic information systems||This specialization teaches students to gather and use geographical data. Students discover and investigate spatial trends, predict the future of certain geographical systems — such as sea level rise — and reconstruct past geological events.||Geographer, cartographer|
|Environmental geography and sustainability||This concentration examines how human activity accelerates climate change, and how societies can slow down or rectify environmental problems. Coursework covers issues like conservation, cultural ecology, and sustainable development.||Environmental advocate, conservationist, and urban planner|
|Human geography||Courses focus on ethnography, migration flows, regional character, population growth, and international development. This specialization examines how human actions and practices affect biological and physical processes.||Cartographer, commercial or residential surveyor, and environmental consultant|
|Globalization||A globalization concentration focuses on how the movement of societies affects geophysical processes. Students take classes in global environmental change, world environmental issues, urban issues, and the geography of development.||Cartographer, college professor|
Courses in a Bachelor’s in Geography Program
Geography programs allow students to choose from several electives. Some courses focus on physical geographic features, while others cover technology or human impact. Each geography program offers unique course options; a few common ones are described below.
- Landforms and landscapes
Students learn about how natural processes cause landforms to change over time. Societies that live in the mountains, for instance, develop different behaviors and habits than desert-based societies.
- Globalization and geographic diversity
This course examines world regions, and how physical environments, cultural diffusion, and political relationships intersect.
- GIS for environmental systems
Students learn to gather and store data, create geographic data models, and analyze information. This course requires students to complete a laboratory component.
- Human geographies
This course covers concepts like migration; population growth; economic fluctuations; globalization; and cultural exchange between regions, urbanity, and agricultural development. Students investigate how all of these factors affect geography through social, political, cultural, and economic perspectives.
- Geography of the United States
Geography majors often enroll in geographic survey courses that cover specific global regions.
How Long Does It Take to Get a Bachelor’s in Geography?
Students must complete 120 credits to earn a bachelor’s in geography. With full-time enrollment, students can graduate in four years. Accelerated degrees allow students to take on extra credits every year, so students can finish in three years or less. Incoming students can also transfer credits, either from an associate degree or dual credit courses in high school.
Other students may spend more time pursuing a degree, such as working professionals or students with family obligations. Other times, students may dedicate one year to an internship or study abroad experience, which can also elongate undergraduate programs.
How Much Is a Bachelor’s in Geography?
In-state geography majors can expect to see tuition rates ranging from $130 to $416 per credit hour. Out-of-state students, however, can pay anywhere from $550 to nearly $800. For total tuition, this adds up to anywhere from $15,600 to $50,000 for residents and $66,000 to $96,000 for nonresidents. You should consider additional fees as well, like technology costs, lab fees, and textbook prices.
Sometimes schools grant in-state tuition to nonresidents if they have a high GPA and standardized test scores. Schools offer scholarships, grants, and program-specific financial aid. You can also find scholarships from non-profit organizations and professional associations, or consider student loans.
Certifications and Licenses a Bachelor’s in Geography Prepares For
- GIS certification
The GIS Certification Institute tests students on conceptual foundations, such as calculating distance and direction and cartography skills. Test-takers should prepare for questions on data modeling and GIS software capabilities.
- Geospatial data management certification
Offered by the United States Geospatial Intelligence Organization (USGIO), this certification tests your skills in geography, technology, and data
- Remote sensing and imagery analysis certification
This certification, also run by the USGIO, tests professionals on technologies like platforms and sensors. To earn this certification professionals must synthesize geographic information and interpret geographic imagery.
Resources for Geography Students
Geographers, students, and non-professional geography enthusiasts alike can observe the entire world through Google Earth, a digital, three-dimensional representation of the globe made through satellite imagery and GIS data.
The National Council for Geographic Education offers free webinars to members. Webinars cover topics like ArcGIS technologies, the geography of food, and geocaching.
The American Association of Geographers has six modules available to undergraduates. These online modules provide educational resources, topics include migration, climate change, and national identity.
The AAG discloses datasets that students can use for research and coursework. The website grants users access to membership and workforce data.
Published by the NCGE, the Journal of Geography features articles on topics involving everything from rivers in urban environments to how Pokemon Go affects children’s spatial orientation skills. NCGE members receive a free one-year journal subscription.
Professional Organizations in Geography
Professional associations offer opportunities to connect with other students, faculty members, experts, and professionals in the field. These organizations provide resources for research or continuing education. Geography associations typically host at least one conference every year. Associations also offer scholarship and mentorship programs.
The American Association of Geographers collects geographical data sets, promotes interdisciplinary collaborations between geographers and other professionals, and runs a mentorship program for geographic information systems.
The American Geographical Society conducts initiatives, including the Geography 2050 Annual Symposium. This event, held at Columbia University, invites geographers to bridge the gap between geography and the general public.
Professionals founded this group over a century ago to promote teaching geography. Today, K-12 teachers and higher education faculty alike can join. Members can access webinars and find other teaching resources online.
This society provides a forum to connect women in the geography industry. The association grants fellowships to students and awards to professionals.
A dedicated society for cartographers and map lovers alike, the North American Cartographic Information Society hosts an annual conference. The organization also publishes a volume called the Atlas of Design, which showcases the most impressive maps from the past two years.