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Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a geographer. Get a quick overview of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and average salary to find out if this is the career for you.
Geographers examine and document the physical and social properties of a location. Many conduct studies that examine how people use land for purposes such as urban development. Other geographers analyze how certain social factors relate to different physical locations. Some workers only focus on physical geography fields, such as ecology or climatology. A bachelor's degree program may prepare individuals for lower-level positions, but a master's degree in geography is needed for many geographer positions.
|Required Education||Master's degree; bachelor's degree acceptable for some entry-level positions|
|Other Requirements||Training in geographic information systems|
|Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)*||29%|
|Average Salary (2013)*||$75,070|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies geographers as a type of social scientist because geographic studies often focus on societal populations within physical locations (www.bls.gov). BLS records indicate that most social scientist careers required a graduate degree, although some lower-level positions, such as assistant researchers or analysts, may only require a bachelor's degree. Since the two main fields of geography include cultural and physical geography, students may want to choose graduate programs that focus on one of these areas.
The BLS reported in that jobs for geographers are expected to increase 29% between 2012 and 2022. BLS data from May 2013 shows that the salary for all U.S geographers averaged $75,070, with the highest-paid geographers working in scientific research and development.
Workers in the field of cultural geography examine cultural factors within specific geographic locations, such as economic growth, transportation, political affiliations and urban development. Coursework related to the cultural side of geography includes social systems, cultural ecology, global studies and population statistics. Geography graduate students often choose a specific focus area within their programs. For example, a student who wants to specialize in cultural geography related to healthcare may choose classes like medical geography, ethnic populations or community development.
Individuals in the physical geography field often focus on topics related to environmental issues, land formations, water resources and animal habitats. Graduate degree programs cover courses, such as regional changes, land development, sustainability and cartography. Some institutions provide students with concentration options that focus on physical geography subfields, including climatology, natural resource studies and geomorphology.
Although students can specialize in areas of physical and cultural geography, certain core classes are required by most geography graduate programs. Technology courses, for instance, have become more important for geography graduate students since most data is gathered remotely through global positioning systems and geographic information systems. Other core geography classes include qualitative research techniques, geographical statistics and geography analysis. Graduate-level programs in geography often require students to complete a thesis, project or dissertation, and some programs may require students to complete internships with experienced geography researchers.