Online degree programs in geography or geographic information systems (GIS) are available at a limited number of colleges and universities. These include associate and bachelor's programs in general studies with a concentration in geography. However, master's programs are more prevalent and easier to find. While most programs can be completed entirely online, individual schools may provide opportunities for internships. Hybrid programs are also available to students.
Graduate level programs require an undergraduate degree and GRE scores for admission. Work experience is sometimes required as well.
Associate Degree in Geography
In most cases, a program leading to an Associate of Arts in Geography serves as an introduction to the field and can help students prepare for transfer to a bachelor's degree program. In addition to a high school diploma, admission requirements include competency in basic mathematics and computer technology.
Program Information and Requirements
Associate programs typically require 60-64 credits or two years to complete. In addition to a computer and online access, software requirements may include Adobe Acrobat Reader, a current version of Microsoft Office Suite, RealPlayer and Windows Media Player. Lectures and assignments can be found on school websites, and students communicate with their instructors and peers through chat rooms and discussion boards. Learning outcomes include the ability to recognize and understand the mutual reliance and interdependence between human populations and the physical world.
An online associate degree program typically includes most of the general education requirements found in any undergraduate curriculum. The remainder of the program consists of geography-related courses, such as those described below.
With an emphasis on the economic, cultural and physical aspects of the world's prominent nations, this course focuses on how the natural environment, transportation and population growth influence an area's development.
This is usually offered as a survey course and is designed to help students understand the relationship between geography and economic development. Areas discussed include international trade, agriculture, manufacturing and transportation, among other topics.
Students learn how maps are used to study the physical characteristics of the Earth. Course emphasis is on the forces that affect the planet's surface, including atmospheric patterns, land and water masses, climate, soils and vegetation.
In this course, students learn about the relationship between the earth and human populations. Factors associated with culture, evolution, language and religion are covered, including how they relate to the use of land and natural resources. Students also pursue topics in migration and population density.
Bachelor's Degree in Geography
Some schools allow for specializations in meteorology or weather broadcasting within a geography major. Students might also be able to minor in geography. In these programs, aspiring geographers can become acquainted with the different subfields associated with the discipline, which can help them to make informed career decisions. Some online bachelor's degree programs in general studies include 21-30 credit concentrations in geography.
Program Information and Requirements
Students who pursue a bachelor's degree program in geography or general studies usually complete 120-124 credits of coursework, which can include a 20-45 credit general education core. Prior coursework from accredited colleges and universities, as well as documented military or professional training experiences may be accepted for transfer credit. In addition to the basic technical requirements, individual courses include the use of CDs, DVDs and digital library resources.
Undergraduate geography programs are interdisciplinary by nature and usually cover topics related to climate change, ethnic conflicts, economic development and sustainability. Some programs also provide training in GIS and remote sensing technology. A sampling of courses can be found below.
Students examine the concept of political geography at the local, national and international levels. Topics include electoral geography, global ecopolitics and imperialism, among other related subjects.
Remote Sensing Concepts
This course is offered as part of a concentration in geography and GIS and introduces students to the aircraft and satellite technology used to take pictures of the Earth. It may also include the opportunity for some hands-on training in image interpretation and manipulation.
United States Geography
This upper-level survey course approaches the United States as an integrated system of related regions. Course emphasis is on the environmental, natural resource and quality of life aspects associated with national geography.
Undergraduates conduct an interdisciplinary and comparative study of city geography. Both internal and external relations will be covered, along with the historical and site-based aspects of urban environments.
Master's Degree in Geography
At this level, students can earn a Master of Geographic Information Systems or a Master of Science in Geographic Information Systems. In addition to a bachelor's degree, admission requirements and prerequisites can include GRE scores and letters of recommendation. Approximately two years of professional experience may also be required. These programs can help students fulfill the education requirements of the GSI Certification Institute, which can lead to designation as a geographic information systems professional.
Program Information and Requirements
A master's degree program in geographic information science or systems typically takes 32-35 credit hours and 3-4 years to complete. As with the undergraduate programs, students and teachers utilize course management systems, such as Blackboard, with real-time web confluence programs for discussion and the exchange of ideas.
A graduate-level GIS program can include interdisciplinary coursework in computer science, natural science and urban planning. Students also learn how to use GIS techniques and methods in the most effective manner.
Fundamentals of GIS are examined in detail. Topics include the study of raster and vector models, GIS analysis and the nature of spatial data.
In this course, aspiring professionals become familiar with conceptual and physical database design while learning how to use GIS software to accumulate, process and integrate data from numerous sources. Content emphasis is on the spatial aspect of GIS data and the importance of user-need assessments.
Using GIS software, students design, interpret and analyze maps and graphics relating geographic information. Course emphasis is on the theory and practice of cartographic principles as they apply to the visual communication of spatial data.
Students acquire advanced analytical skills through this in-depth study of data structures, algorithms and geographic information systems theories. They also complete an independent research project.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), completion of a bachelor's degree program in a relevant field of study is the minimum educational requirement for obtaining an entry-level position as a geographer. Professional experience is strongly suggested. Students who are interested in working for the federal government will most likely need a master's degree.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), opportunities for geographers nationwide are projected to decrease 2% from 2014 to 2024, which is slower than the average when compared to all other occupations. By comparison, the BLS anticipated a 29% increase in employment for cartographers and photogrammetrists during the same period, which is faster than average.
In May 2015, geographers earned a median annual wage of $74,260, as reported by the BLS. In the same month, cartographers and photogrammetrists received median yearly salaries of $61,880.
Continuing Education Information
Individual schools may offer non-credit, continuing education courses in geography or a related subject. Students who successfully complete a bachelor's program can also supplement their education with a graduate certificate in another area of interest.
Voluntary certifications for photogrammetrists and surveyors are available through the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing or the National Society of Professional Surveyors. Professionals who have completed the education and experience requirements may obtain their Geographic Information Systems Professional (GISP) credential from the GSI Certification Institute.
While requirements can vary from state to state, all surveyors must be licensed, and requirements include a series of written exams and supervised work experience. Photogrammetrists and cartographers in some states must be licensed surveyors, while other states require individual licenses.
Membership in a professional organization, such as the Association of American Geographers, can provide graduate students with opportunities for further education. Courses and programs are also available through the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association and the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science.
Undergraduate and graduate degree programs in geography are offered entirely online or in hybrid formats. Students may have to complete an internship in addition to their coursework.