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Career Information for a Degree in Geography and Cartography

Degrees in cartography and geography typically cover the study of the surface of the earth. Find out about the requirements of these programs, and learn about career options, job growth and salary info for cartography and geography graduates.

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There's a good reason why early explorers brought mapmakers with them on their travels: it's important to know where things are in relation to other things. A bachelor's degree in cartography or geography opens up a variety of career paths related to maps, surveying, and geographic science.

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  • Cartography
  • Geography

Essential Information

Cartography and geography degree programs include the study and recording of the earth's surface. During the course of these programs, students learn through lectures and hands-on training. Upon graduation, an individual may find work in geography and cartography, or may pursue a career in land surveying.

Career Geographer Cartographer Surveyor
Education Requirements Bachelor's Degree Bachelor's Degree Bachelor's Degree
Other Requirements Surveyor licensure requirements vary by state Surveyor License
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) -2%* 29%* -2%*
Mean Salary (2015) $74,920 annually* $65,410 annually* $61,880 annually*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Careers Options

A number of career paths are open to cartography and geography graduates, including those as a geographer, cartographer, or surveyor. All of these careers require a bachelor's degree. The education, salary and career outlook for each job is detailed below.

Geographer

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), geographers study the features of land and are commonly grouped into two categories, physical and cultural (www.bls.gov). There are many specialties within these two categories, such as economic, political and medical geographers. The Association of American Geographers defines physical geography as the study of patterns in land formation and climates, while cultural or human geographers study spatial aspects related to humans (www.aag.org). These professionals may work for government organizations, non-profits or private business.

Career Outlook and Salary Information

The BLS indicates that employment opportunities for geographers were expected to decrease by 2% from 2014-2024, due to cuts in staffing within the federal public service, which employs most geographers. Professional certifications offered by nationally recognized organizations, such as the Geographic Information Systems Certification Institute (GISCI), may help with employment. The GISCI states that individuals who become certified will have their expertise documented and may earn a higher salary (www.gisci.org). In May 2015, the BLS reported that the mean annual salary for geographers was $74,920, with the highest paying positions in the federal government.

Cartographer

The BLS defines cartographers as the professionals who convert measurements and other data into maps. They make maps in a variety of formats, and increasingly use digital techniques to produce more technical and realistic representations. Photogrammetrists specialize in using aerial photographs to make maps. In addition to producing maps, cartographers may work in geographical, land use and demographic research. The BLS indicates that some states have professional licensing standards for cartographers and photogrammetrists.

Career Outlook and Salary Information

According to the BLS, employment opportunities for cartographers and photogrammetrists were expected to rise by 29% from 2014-2024. Many employment opportunities will be created in industries that need maps or images of land structures. In May 2015, the BLS reported that the mean salary of a cartographer or photogrammetrist was $65,410, with the federal government paying the highest mean wage at $86,740.

Surveyor

Surveyors are professionals who observe and record information about land, such as physical characteristics and dimensions. Their work isn't limited to just land, however, since they may also outline airspace or water boundaries. Surveyors often work with professionals in engineering and construction, and they may lead teams of surveying assistants and technicians. The BLS reports that all states have licensing standards for surveyors, which often include education, experience and completing a qualifying exam.

Career Outlook and Salary Information

The BLS indicates that employment opportunities for surveyors were expected to decrease by 2% from 2014-2024. Among the reasons for the projected decline is increased industry reliance on robotics. Employment opportunities may vary by the type of surveying. In May 2015, the BLS reported that the mean annual salary of a surveyor was $61,880, with the highest paying positions in the federal government.

Geography and Cartography Degree Information

Most jobs for geographers, cartographers or surveyors require a minimum of a bachelor's degree. While degree programs specific to cartography are rare, some geography programs offer courses or a concentration in cartography. Students may also consider majoring in mapping science, geomatics or surveying, which have similar coursework requirements.

Students learn the major concepts and procedures through coursework in physical and cultural geography, as well as geographic information systems (GIS) and other technologies. Laboratory sessions allow students to gain hands-on experience with technology, such as map printers and computer software. Some programs offer field experience opportunities to study regional land formations or develop practical skills. Students may also participate in internships to gain work experience.

Students who wish to become licensed professionals may consider programs that are approved by ABET, Inc., formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. According to ABET, many employers and state licensing boards require or prefer individuals who have graduated from an accredited program (www.abet.org).

Whatever career path you pursue in geography and cartography, you'll be observing, recording, and analyzing data about the world around you. Technology plays a large role in all of these jobs, and many require hands-on experience in the field, so internships are a good idea. Optional certifications can help boost your chances of employment.

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