How to Become a Geographer
Geographers use maps and global positioning systems in their work.
Candidates with a bachelor’s degree may qualify for some entry-level jobs, but these jobs often require previous geography experience or training in geographic information systems (GIS). Geographers need at least a master’s degree for most positions outside of the federal government.
Geographers outside of the federal government typically need a master’s degree in geography. However, those with a bachelor’s degree may qualify for some entry-level jobs in government or nonprofits. Some positions allow candidates to substitute work experience or GIS proficiency for an advanced degree. Top research positions usually require a Ph.D. or a master’s degree and several years of relevant work experience.
Most geography programs include courses in both physical and human geography, statistics or mathematics, remote sensing, and GIS. In addition, courses in a specialized area of expertise are increasingly important because the geography field is broad and interdisciplinary. For example, business, economics, or real estate courses are increasingly important for geographers working in private industry.
Positions for geography professors require a Ph.D. For more information, see the profile on postsecondary teachers.
Students and new graduates often gain experience through internships or part-time jobs. These positions allow workers to develop new skills, explore their interests, and become familiar with the industry. Internships and part-time jobs can be useful for job seekers, because some employers prefer workers who have practical experience.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Most positions require geographers to be proficient in GIS. Geographers can become certified as a GIS professional (GISP) through the GIS Certification Institute. Although certification is not mandatory, it can demonstrate a level of professional expertise. Candidates may qualify for certification through a combination of education, professional experience, and contributions to the profession, such as publications or conference participation. GISP certification can often help those without a master’s degree or Ph.D. qualify for jobs.
Analytical skills. Geographers commonly analyze information and spatial data from a variety of sources, such as maps, photographs, and censuses. They must then be able to draw conclusions from analysis of different sets of data.
Communication skills. Geographers often work closely with workers in related fields. They must be able to communicate with coworkers; present, explain, and defend their research; and work well on teams.
Computer skills. Geographers who use GIS technology need strong computer skills. They must be proficient in GIS programming and database management and should be comfortable creating and manipulating digital images in the software.
Critical-thinking skills. Geographers need critical-thinking skills when doing research because they must choose the appropriate data, methods, and scale of analysis for projects. For example, after reviewing a set of population data, they may determine the implications of a particular development plan.
Writing skills. Writing skills are important for geographers because they often write reports or articles detailing their research findings. Some geographers also must write proposals so that they can receive funding for their research or projects.