Advertiser disclosure

Geography Major Overview

Geography is much more than memorizing the names of countries and reciting state capitols. As a geography major, you’ll actually study the intricate relationship between humans and the natural world. Read on to learn more about this fascinating field of study.

Also see: How to pick a college major

What is a geography major?

At first glance, geography is simply the study of the Earth’s physical features. However, this definition only scratches the surface of everything that geography involves. Depending on which area of the field you focus on, you could be studying anything from ocean currents to the effects of segregated housing. Because geography is such a broad field, it’s often divided into two main subfields – human geography and physical geography. Below are brief descriptions of each:

Human geography 

Human geography is concerned with the behavior of people and how they impact the physical world. For instance, students learn about how religion, language, government, and standards of living vary across the world. They may also study how populations grow in certain places and migrate over time. Much of human geography involves finding connections between varying fields such as economics, health, tourism, and politics. 

Physical geography 

Students concentrating in physical geography study the land itself, learning about topics such as climate, soil, water, natural hazards, and plants. They may specialize in a particular area of the field such as oceanography, glaciology, or biogeology. While physical geography is mainly concerned with the environment, it also explores the relationship between the natural world and the human world. For instance, professionals in this field may research the effects of economic development on the surrounding environment. 

Also see: What is a college major?

Coursework to expect

Students typically get introduced to both human and physical geography early on in their coursework. First-year classes usually cover earth system sciences, as well as human geography topics such as culture, politics, and globalization. After receiving this foundational knowledge, students can specialize in topics of their interest. Advanced coursework often focuses on more niche topics like urban geography or climatology. Students may also learn to work with GIS (Geographic Information System), which is used to collect and analyze geographic data. Geography majors often conduct research off-campus and may be required to complete an internship. 

Below are some examples of courses you may encounter as a geography major:

  • Environmental Systems
  • Culture, Politics, and Place
  • Our Digital Earth
  • Social Science Research and Inquiry
  • Neighborhoods and Health
  • Urban Political Geography 
  • Agriculture, Food, and Society
  • Weather and Climate
  • Global Environmental Justice 
  • Geographic Information Science 

Related: Top 15 college majors for the future

Opportunities after graduation

Geography majors gain valuable skills such as data collection, analysis, and research. With this knowledge and skill set, students can pursue a number of career paths within the wide field of geography. While there is a demand for geography majors, students should consider minoring in a related field – such as public health, urban planning, graphic design, or environmental science – to further expand their career prospects. 

Jobs you can get with a geography degree

A degree in geography can unlock job opportunities in various sectors. As you can imagine, the study of geography goes hand-in-hand with earth-related careers such as surveying, cartography, and geoscience. Graduates may also find that their degree applies to jobs outside the realm of traditional geography such as urban planning, teaching, and even graphic design. Top employers for geography professionals include the federal government, colleges and universities, state governments, and engineering and architectural services. 

1. Surveyor 

Surveyors mark and document legal property boundaries. When a house is bought or sold, for instance, surveyors mark the property lines in order to prevent legal disputes. They use measuring equipment to perform their job, including handheld GPS units and GIS technology. 

2020 Median Pay: $65,590 per year
Projected Growth (2020-2030): 2% (Slower than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

2. Cartographer 

Cartographers specialize in the production of maps. While the days of creating paper maps by hand are long gone, the need for cartographers still exists. These days, cartographers mainly create digital, mobile, and interactive maps using information from aerial cameras and satellites. 

2020 Median Pay: $68,380 per year
Projected Growth (2020-2030): 5% (Slower than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

3. Geoscientist 

There are many types of geoscientists, but they all study the physical aspects of the Earth in some way. Seismologists, for instance, collect data on natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis. Meanwhile, petroleum geologists search for oil and gas deposits suitable for commercial extraction. 

2020 Median Pay: $93,580 per year
Projected Growth (2020-2030): 7% (As fast as average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

4. Graphic designer

The graphic design skills gained by studying geography often translate well to a career in media. Graphic designers commonly create layouts for web pages, advertisements, brochures, and magazines. Their work is done through digital illustration and photo editing software. 

2020 Median Pay: $53,380 per year
Projected Growth (2019-2029): 3% (Slower than average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

5. Urban planner 

Urban planners consider the design of communities and regions. By working with public officials, they develop strategies for land use that best fit the needs and goals of an area. For instance, they may plan new parks, shelter the homeless, or improve transportation systems. A master’s degree is required to enter this field. 

2020 Median Pay: $75,950 per year
Projected Growth (2020-2030): 7% (As fast as average)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Don’t miss: Top majors and careers for introverts

How do I know if this major is right for me?

If you’re considering a major in geography, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Are you curious about the relationship between humans and the environment? 
  • Are you interested in addressing global threats like climate change and natural disaster?
  • Do you excel in science and computer-related work? 
  • Are you excited by the prospect of working both indoors and outdoors?

If you answered yes to most of these questions, then a geography major could be right for you!

Also see: Full list of Scholarships360’s college major guides