Geography Graduate Programs and Career Information

Graduate programs in geography prepare students for advanced teaching and research positions in universities, the federal government, and the energy and environmental industries. Degrees are offered at both the master's and Ph.D. levels.

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Essential Information

A two-year master's degree program in geography increases students' knowledge of earth science and geographical information systems (GIS). Most programs offer a comprehensive curriculum that touches on all aspects of geography. Others concentrate on one of geography's main branches - physical, human or environmental geography - or offer specializations in hydrology or cartography. Geography graduate students have options for thesis and non-thesis programs. A bachelor's degree is usually required for admission.

A Ph.D. in Geography is often intended for geography specialists pursuing advanced research and postsecondary teaching positions. The program may also give geoscientists more opportunities for career advancement and increased salaries. Ph.D. programs focus on a doctoral dissertation, the culmination of a students' independent geographical research. Most geography Ph.D. programs require incoming students to have a master's degree and take at least three to five years of study or more to complete.

Master of Science in Geography

Graduate geography courses focus on geographical and environmental research studies. Students learn advanced surveying and geographical computation processes. Many courses allow students to participate in field assignments and work with geographical surveying and imaging equipment to analyze environmental and topographical characteristics. Most programs require a thesis project based on a specific area of geography, like water studies, environmental engineering or human-environment geography. Common courses include:

  • Mineralogy and paleontology
  • Geographic information systems
  • Environmental geography
  • Geocomputation
  • Geoprocessing
  • Advanced physical geography

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Ph.D. in Geography

The courses in a geography Ph.D. program focus on advanced research studies. Students conduct independent geographical research for a doctoral dissertation. In addition to the dissertation, students take courses in areas of human, environmental and physical geography. Courses teach students how to analyze and conduct accurate, reliable and valid geographical research. Typical courses include:

  • Human geography
  • Geospatial technology
  • Advanced cartography
  • Geographic research methods
  • Remote sensing geography

Employment Outlook and Career Information

There were approximately 1,400 geographers, 7,000 hydrologists and 36,400 geoscientists employed in 2014, reported the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In addition, about 5,400 geographers were employed as part-time or full-time instructors and researchers with universities. Opportunities for geoscientists in particular are expected to increase by 10% from 2014 to 2024, while 8% employment growth was projected for postsecondary geography teachers. For geography specialists with a Ph.D. in Geography, the most opportunity for advancement could be with environmental agencies, energy companies and government agencies.

Popular Career Options

A master's degree in geography allows students to pursue most geography-related careers. Students can find positions with federal government agencies, engineering and environmental organizations, universities and energy companies. Students with a specialized degree in water studies can become hydrologists with energy plants and research institutions. Common geography careers include:

  • Geoscientist
  • Hydrologist
  • Cartographer
  • Photogrammetrist
  • Geologist

Continuing Education Information

While a master's degree in geography is sufficient for most geography careers, a Ph.D. in geography or environmental sciences can lead to advanced postsecondary teaching and research positions with universities, geographical research organizations and government agencies like the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) or the U.S. Department of Defense. A Ph.D. in geography also allows geoscientists to conduct independent research with university and government resources.

For individuals interested in geography, a Master of Science in Geography may open the door for a number of career opportunities in the field. Following a master's degree, students wanting to engage in advanced research or post-secondary teaching may want to enroll in a Ph.D. program in geography.

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