Geography Degree: Good, Worth It, Job Prospects?

A geography degree allows college students to learn about the earth’s physical features and how people on the planet relate to them.

In other words, it’s a combination of physical and social sciences.

The total number of geography degrees conferred by colleges and universities in the US amounts to more than 4,900 per year, data says.

Geography majors have many other options than working as geographers.

Some other career opportunities available for them include high school or college teachers, environmental consultants, urban planners and travel agents.

The number of available job openings in the US for individuals with a geography degree is 1,600.

Thinking about declaring geography as your major, but is 50/50 on the matter?

In this post, I will answer some of the most pressing questions a lot of prospective and current college students may have in their minds about working on a geography degree. Keep reading on to learn more about it!

geography degree

Is a Geography Degree Worth It

Consider adding geography to your list of college majors if you exhibit not only a fondness for the discipline of study but also some of the skills necessary to complete a geography program and have a career in a related field.

Some of them include critical thinking, team playing and problem-solving skills.

Deciding on the right major can contribute to a successful college experience and a satisfying career.

Before you finalize your decision to earn a bachelor’s in geography, it’s a definite must to be 100% certain that it’s really what you want.

However, there is no need to make the college application process even more stressful and traumatic than it already is — you can enter college undecided.

As a matter of fact, it is said that up to 50% of all first-time, first-year college students are undecided, and they have their freshman and sophomore years of college to make up their minds.

To help you have an idea as early as now, check which of the following qualities or traits you possess:

  • Adaptability
  • Analytical thinking
  • Creativity
  • Critical thinking
  • Good communication
  • Good reporting skills
  • Excellent planning skills
  • Experimental
  • Observant
  • Problem-solving
  • Self-motivation
  • Self-reliance
  • Teamwork

If you have most or all of the following, then chances are you might find majoring in geography a satisfying and rewarding college experience.

Needless to say, you might also find one of the many career opportunities available for geography degree holders fulfilling and enjoyable.

Is Geography Hard Major?

At most colleges and universities, geography is a liberal arts component, mainly because it’s not an exact hard science. Due to this, geography can be challenging but not as difficult as STEM majors.

Still, it requires degree-seeking students to have enough interest, dedication and discipline to pass a geography program.

Some colleges and universities offer both a bachelor’s of arts (BA or AB) in geography and a bachelor’s of science (BS) and in geography.

But then, there are also some that offer only one of the two.

In any case, the fact remains that both degrees are bachelor’s in geography.

A BA in geography is more liberal-arts based, incorporating foreign languages and lower-division courses outside the major in combination with elective and core courses in geography. If you are on the hunt for a tighter grasp of the human experience as well as human and environmental interactions, then a BA in geography might be for you.

Meanwhile, a BS in geography focuses on the environmental and technical aspects of the discipline of study, highlighting the acquisition of technical skills in preparation for the concentration’s physical and human scope.

geography class

Course requirements in order for geography majors to graduate with a bachelor’s degree can vary either slightly or vastly from one program to the next, depending on which school is offering it.

Lower-division courses, which aim to introduce degree-seeking students to the major, typically consist of:

  • World regional geography
  • Cultural or human geography
  • Physical geography (which, in many instances, includes a lab)

On the other hand, upper-division courses, which aim to provide junior and senior college students with a more solid foundation in geography, are usually made up of:

  • Geographic techniques
  • Cartography
  • Geographic information systems
  • History of geographic thought
  • Quantitative geography
  • Capstone project
  • Fieldwork

It’s not unlikely for some lower-division courses to have upper-division counterparts.

Best Minors for Geography Major

Because an undergraduate degree in geography has wide-ranging applications and thus can provide many different career paths, it’s generally a good idea to choose a minor that can help narrow the major.

With a complementary minor to boot, employers will be able to see right away what skills you can bring to the table.

Here are some minors that complement geography as a major very well:

  • Anthropology
  • Border studies
  • Business
  • Communication
  • Computer science
  • Ecology
  • Economics
  • Fine arts
  • History
  • Information technology
  • International affairs
  • Philosophy
  • Political science
  • Psychology
  • Public administration
  • Sociology
  • Urban and regional planning

But there is no need to opt for a minor that goes very well with a geography minor all the time — you can choose one that you are interested in or has something to do with what you are passionate about.

By choosing to go this route, you can have a more well-rounded college experience and a geography degree, too.

What Can You Do With a Geography Degree: 12 Jobs

Since a bachelor’s in geography can pave the way for numerous career paths, students who hold the said degree can apply for an assortment of jobs.

Some are directly related to the discipline of study, while others are just closely related to it. Currently, geography majors get an average salary of $58,000 per year.

After earning your undergraduate degree in geography, you can choose from a couple of steps: go to graduate school to further your education or apply for a job.

If the latter is your choice, the next step would then be choosing from an array of job options.

Fortunately, there are plenty of career choices available for geography majors, some of which are entry-level kinds.

Some of the jobs you may apply for wielding a bachelor’s in geography include:

1. Park ranger

  • Median annual salary: $30,550
  • Job outlook in 10 years: -8%

In a nutshell, park rangers are the ones who are tasked with protecting national parks and various other national treasures. Although it’s true that the job outlook for park rangers is on a decline, which is -8% for the next 10 years, every year, on average, there are around 1,800 openings available for them.

travel writer

2. Travel writer

  • Median annual salary: $69,510
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 9%

The job title makes it obvious what travel writers do: they go to various destinations, usually far away ones, in order to come up with articles or stories, usually for tourism-related purposes. It goes without saying that travel writers should love to go from place to place and have good research and writing skills, too.

3. Cartographer

  • Median annual salary: $68,900
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 5%

What cartographers do is collect, measure and interpret geographic data necessary in order to be able to create maps and charts, as well as update currently existing ones, for various purposes, such as education and regional planning. Most employers prefer cartographers with a bachelor’s in cartography, surveying or geography.

4. Urban planner

  • Median annual salary: $78,500
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 7%

The primary role of urban planners is to come up with land use plans and programs in order to help with the creation of communities, update physical facilities and accommodate population growth. Most urban planner job positions available for geography majors are entry-level — other positions require at least a master’s degree.

5. Surveyor

  • Median annual salary: $61,600
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 2%

Simply put, surveyors are responsible for making accurate measurements in order to determine property boundaries. These professionals can be seen doing both office work and fieldwork. But before geography majors working as surveyors can offer their services to the public and certify documents, they must apply for a license.

6. Environmental consultant

  • Median annual salary: $76,530
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 8%

Providing expert assessments and recommendations for their clients associated with matters on the management of environmental issues is what environmental consultants do.

So, in other words, they help in the reduction of the unfavorable effects of industrial, commercial and even governmental initiatives on the environment.

7. Conservation officer

  • Median annual salary: $58,190
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 8%

Based on the job title alone, it’s clear that the duty of conservation officers is to secure and protect natural resources.

They also partake in research projects on providing sustained production of wildlife, livestock and forage. Industries with the highest levels of employment among conservation officers include state and local governmental agencies.

8. High school teacher

  • Median annual salary: $61,820
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 8%

In order to prepare teens for attending college or entering the workforce, high school teachers teaching geography or related subjects are tasked with administering academic lessons and teaching various skills.

In the US, public high school teachers must have either a certification or a license issued by the state.

9. Forestry technician

  • Median annual salary: $43,420
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 8%

Providing technical assistance in the conservation of natural resources such as forests, soil and water — such is what forestry technicians do. In most instances, they also collate data pertaining to the condition, size and other characteristics of forests. States with the highest level of employment for forestry technicians include California, Oregon and Idaho.

10. Hazardous waste planner

  • Median annual salary: $46,300
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 7%

Basically, hazardous waste planners design strategies for disposing of harmful substances such as lead, asbestos and radioactive waste materials.

Chances are that geography majors who wish to work as hazardous waste planners will have to complete training that follows the standards of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

11. Map librarian

  • Median annual salary: $61,190
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 9%

Map librarians are professionals who are responsible for providing consultations about research and recommendation for print and digital maps as well as other cartographic resources, including atlases and aerial photographs.

Some employers, however, may prefer to hire map librarians with a master’s in library science.

12. Travel agent

  • Median annual salary: $43,810
  • Job outlook in 10 years: 5%

Everyone knows what travel agents do: sell transportation, lodging and a few other travel-related services to individuals and groups planning on traveling.

In order to succeed as travel agents, geography majors must have good communication and customer service skills. Some travel agents work for travel agencies, while others are self-employed.

As mentioned earlier, the applications for a degree in geography can be quite broad.

It’s for this reason exactly why there is no need to limit yourself to the jobs mentioned above after majoring in geography.

Whether you would like to enter the workforce armed with a bachelor’s degree or attend graduate school in order to get your hands first on a master’s degree, the career possibilities can be staggering.

For instance, according to the University of Colorado – Boulder, the following are some examples of the careers of recent graduates of its geography program:

  • Account manager
  • Army officer
  • Banker
  • Construction company owner
  • Counselor
  • Educational program director
  • Environmental consultant
  • Environmental coordinator
  • Environmental scientist
  • Financial advisor
  • Geoprocessing specialist
  • Geospatial analyst
  • Graphic design
  • International tax specialist
  • Investor
  • Librarian
  • Management consultant
  • Marketing
  • Municipal government professional
  • Operations manager
  • Paralegal
  • Professor of geography
  • Real estate appraiser
  • Renewable energy storage developer
  • Social worker
  • Software account specialist
  • Software engineer
  • Spatial epidemiologist
  • Transportation engineering technologist
  • Water resources technician
geography class

Which Famous People Majored in Geography?

Up to 75% of geography majors have full-time jobs in either a direct or a related field.

Due to this, not a lot of people with a bachelor’s in geography can be seen in popular media.

Two very recognizable geography degree holders include an NBA player and a member of the British royal family.

Let’s take a look at two of the most famous individuals with a degree in geography under their belt who are doing something else:

Michael Jordan

Considered one of the greatest NBA players ever, Jordan was named Most Valuable Player (MVP) five times — in 1988, 1991, 1992, 1996 and 1998. He also led the Chicago Bulls to a total of six NBA championships.

One year before graduating from the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, Jordan left the institution, which is ranked #28 in National Universities by US News, in order to enter the 1984 NBA draft.

In 1986, he went back to school and graduated with a bachelor’s in geography.

Prince William

Prince William is the eldest child of King Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales.

He is considered one of the most popular figures of the royal family.

Initially, Prince William attended St. Andrew’s University, which is located in Scotland and where he also met his wife, Kate Middleton, in order to obtain an art history degree.

However, it didn’t take long before he switched to geography.

He graduated from St. Andrew’s University in 2005 with a geography degree.

Best Schools for Geography Majors

Many of the best undergraduate geography programs come from top-notch liberal arts schools or colleges and universities offering liberal arts education.

Besides elite private institutions, degree-seeking students who are on a budget may also major at prestigious and highly ranked public schools.

As they say, it’s not really where you go to college that counts — it’s what you do in college.

But if you are looking to earn a bachelor’s in geography from an institution many college ranking sites consider the cream of the crop, you have plenty of options.

For instance, the following are some of US News’ recommendations:

University of Chicago#6 in National Universities
Johns Hopkins University#9 in National Universities
Dartmouth College#13 in National Universities
University of California – Los Angeles#20 in National Universities
University of Southern California#27 in National Universities
University of California – Santa Barbara#28 in National Universities
University of Florida#28 in National Universities
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill#28 in National Universities
University of Texas at Austin#38 in National Universities
University of Wisconsin – Madison#42 in National Universities
University of Illinois – Urbana-Champaign#47 in National Universities
University of Georgia#48 in National Universities
Ohio State University#49 in National Universities
Florida State University#55 in National Universities
University of Miami#55 in National Universities
Syracuse University#59 in National Universities
University of Maryland#59 in National Universities
University of Washington#59 in National Universities
George Washington University#63 in National Universities
Pennsylvania State University#63 in National Universities
Rutgers University – New Brunswick#63 in National Universities
University of Connecticut#63 in National Universities
Indiana University – Bloomington#68 in National Universities
Texas A&M University#68 in National Universities
University of Massachusetts – Amherst#68 in National Universities
Best Schools for Geography Majors

Besides a traditional degree in geography, you may also consider going for the online kind, which is a more convenient and cost-effective way for non-traditional students to become bachelor’s holders.

Top 5 Online Schools for Geography Majors

So, without further ado, here are some accredited online schools with online geography programs:

University of Florida

  • Location: Gainesville, Florida
  • Cost: $11.92 per credit hour
  • Accreditor: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Acceptance rate: 31%
  • Graduation rate: 87%
  • Population: 53,372
  • Average starting salary: $47,000
  • College ranking: #28 in National Universities (US News)

South Dakota State University

  • Location: Brookings, South Dakota
  • Cost: $225.20 per credit hour
  • Accreditor: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Acceptance rate: 89%
  • Graduation rate: 55%
  • Population: 11,405
  • Average starting salary: $39,800
  • College ranking: #2 in Best Public Colleges in South Dakota (College Simply)

Marshall University

  • Location: Huntington, West Virginia
  • Cost: $268.50 per credit hour
  • Accreditor: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Acceptance rate: 89%
  • Graduation rate: 45%
  • Population: 11,958
  • Average starting salary: $32,200
  • College ranking: #4 in Most Liberal Colleges in West Virginia (Niche)

Fort Hays State University

  • Location: Hays, Kansas
  • Cost: $226.88
  • Accreditor: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Acceptance rate: 91%
  • Graduation rate: 43%
  • Population: 15,033
  • Average starting salary: $34,900
  • College ranking: #108 in Regional Universities Midwest (US News)

Learn more about Fort Hays State University.

Florida Atlantic University

  • Location: Boca Raton, Florida
  • Cost: $203.20 per credit hour
  • Accreditor: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Acceptance rate: 75%
  • Graduation rate: 48%
  • Population: 30,805
  • Average starting salary: $36,700
  • College ranking: #7 in Best Public Colleges in Florida (College Simply)

Is Geography a Good Degree

Geography is a good degree for students who are passionate about it and would like to have a job in the government or academia someday.

It’s also suitable for degree-seekers who are considering having an international career, especially if the program provides an option to do fieldwork outside the country.

If you are passionate about places as well as the people-environment relationships, then it may be a good major for you.

Although it’s not as hard as STEM majors, geography will still require more than enough passion and discipline on your part if you want to succeed in college.

Read Next: Is Environmental Science a Good Degree

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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