What is a Geography Degree?

When most people think of geography, they think of maps, continents, countries, and capital cities. A geography degree program, though, covers much more than this, because geography is both a physical and a social science. It is made up of two main branches: physical geography and human geography.

Physical geography is concerned with the Earth’s natural components and processes, such as water, soil, climate, and plate tectonics – the motion of the plates of the Earth’s crust. In simple terms, its focus is the land. Human geography examines the relationship between people and the land. It looks at human existence, where we live and work, and how we use the space in our cities and communities.

Although students may choose to major in either physical or human geography, they do not study one or the other of the two branches of the field exclusively. This is because physical and human geography are interconnected. They intersect where people’s behavior impacts the environment. An example of this is how CO2 emissions are causing climate change.

Courses in math, science, and geographic information systems (GIS) form the foundation of any geography curriculum.

Program Options

Bachelor’s Degree in Geography – Four Year Duration
Holders of a Bachelor’s Degree in Geography may qualify for positions as geographers, surveyors, cartographers, environmental restoration planners, photogrammetrists, and geoscientists.

Some undergraduate programs in geography include an internship. Here is a sample bachelor’s level curriculum:

  • Climatology – the scientific study of the climate
  • Hydroclimatology
  • Air Pollution and Environmental Change
  • Landforms – the natural processes that causes landforms to change over time
  • Geographic Information Systems (GIS) – how to gather and use geographical data
  • Remote Sensing
  • Computer Cartography
  • Human Geographies – customs of peoples and cultures; migration flow; population growth; international development
  • World Political Geographies – how countries and governments are affected by their location
  • Globalization and Geography – the relationships between physical environments, cultural migration, and politics
  • Geography of a specific region of the world

Master’s Degree in Geography – Two Year Duration
With a Master’s Degree in Geography graduates qualify for senior-level roles in the areas listed in the Bachelor’s Degree section, above.

Possible areas of concentration for master’s students are:

  • Physical Geography – geomorphology, hydrology, glaciology, biogeography, climatology, pedology, paleogeography (how the continents have moved over time), coastal geography (how the ocean and land affect each other), oceanography, quaternary science, landscape ecology (how the landscape affects the distribution of plants and animals), geomatics
  • Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
  • Environmental Geography and Sustainability – the impact of human activity on environmental problems like climate change
  • Human Geography – cultural geography, development geography, historical geography, population geography, urban geography; the relationships between geography and economics, health, tourism, and politics
  • Globalization and Geography
  • Focus on a particular region of the world – example: Geographies of Developing Asia

Coursework depends on the chosen concentration and prepares students to write their thesis. Classes may include:

  • The Arctic Climate
  • Carbon Free Energy
  • Sustainability and Communities
  • Livelihood, Poverty, and Development
  • Declining Cities
  • Global Health and Environmental Change
  • Quantitative Methods

Doctoral Degree in Geography – Three to Five Year Duration
Most students who earn a Doctorate in Geography go on to conduct lifelong research in the field or to teach the subject at the university level.

Doctoral programs in geography are focused on independent research. These are common areas on research:

  • Biogeography
  • Climatology
  • Economic geography
  • Environment and Sustainability
  • Geographic Information Science
  • Geomorphology
  • Historical Geography
  • Hydrology and Glaciology
  • Political Geography
  • Social and Cultural Geography
  • Urban Geography

Degrees Similar to Geography

Anthropology is the study of the evolutionary history of people, how they interact, how they adapt to various environments, and how they communicate and socialize with one another. The field attempts to answer big questions on many of the fundamentals of human culture, from gender to political systems to violence, religion, race, and economics. Subfields of anthropology include sociocultural anthropology, biological/physical anthropology, archaeology, and linguistics.

Economics asks wide questions about world economies, how governments should respond to financial crises, how stock prices and exchange rates are set, and how to help people living in poverty. The connection between geography and economics lies in the fact that the geographic distribution of natural resources has a major effect on economies.

Geography degree programs are concerned with the study of the interaction of the physical, biological, and human/cultural features of the Earth’s surface. Geology is about the evolution and history of the Earth and the forces that act upon it. The geology curriculum covers subjects like geochemistry, geophysics, and mineralogy.

Geography and history are closely related. It has been said that history views human experience from the perspective of time, geography from the perspective of space. History majors may take courses in American, Canadian, Latin American, and European history, as well as in the history of science and the history of politics.

Sociology studies how being part of a social group affects individual behavior. It examines patterns in human behavior and how they impact human relationships. Classes cover social problems, criminology, minority groups, gender roles, and mass media.

Urban Planning
Degree programs in urban planning teach students how to design communities, towns, and cities; how to determine where housing and other buildings will go; and how to make decisions about the need for and placement of infrastructure like roads, highways, tunnels, bridges, airports, railroads, dams, utilities, parks, and other urban projects.

Urban Studies
Programs in urban studies are focused on the social, political, economic, environmental, and cultural processes that shape urban life. Topics include geography, the history of cities, government, and urban policy.

Skills You’ll Learn

The study of geography develops diverse skills and insights that can be applied in other fields as well:

  • Math
  • Research, data collection, and record keeping
  • Evaluating and presenting information both orally and in written form
  • Project design and planning
  • IT skills / computer modeling
  • Using statistical applications
  • Understanding of maps and graphs
  • Understanding of spatial relations
  • Ability to work both independently and as part of a team
  • Global perspective

What Can You Do with a Geography Degree?

Because geography is both a physical and a social science, job options for graduates with a degree in the field are wide. These are some potential employers:

  • Architectural Firms
  • Surveying Companies
  • Educational Institutions
  • Environmental, Forestry, and Mining Companies
  • Government Departments and Agencies
  • Insurance Companies
  • Media Organizations
  • Map Publishers and Mapping Software Companies
  • Museums
  • Non-profits and Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs)
  • Oil and Utility Companies
  • Real Estate Development Companies
  • Research Institutes and Think Tanks
  • Transportation Companies
  • Urban Planning Consulting Firms
  • Waste Management and Chemical Companies


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