This post was written in February 2012. Since then I’ve posted 2013 Geography Program Rankings, 2014 GIS Graduate Program Rankings and, more recently, 2015 Top Graduate Programs for Spatial Careers . Please check out these newer rankings!
I love lists and, especially, ranked lists. Even though I never seriously considered going to medical school or engineering school I was always very interested to find out which programs were ranked at the top. I routinely read the US News & World Report annual rankings of top colleges and graduate programs and I’ve since followed the Wall Street Journal and Economist MBA rankings. When I became interested in pursuing a graduate degree in geography, I was disappointed to find that there were no publications that ranked graduate geography programs. So, I’ve decided to create my own rankings and post them here.
The only available basis for developing rankings of graduate geography programs (that I’m aware of – please comment if you can suggest another good source) comes from the U.S. National Research Council’s survey of doctoral programs. Although some have been critical of the methodology used to develop the rankings, this is as good as it gets for small disciplines like geography. [If you don’t like the rankings below, take my survey and let your opinion be counted!]
Unfortunately, because these rankings were produced by academic types who are masters of creating difficult-to-understand prose for publication in peer review journals, you almost need a PhD to interpret their rankings. So, I’ve tried to clarify these rankings by simply aggregating them together to form a single ranking. So, without further ado, here are my top 20 geography programs in the United States:
- Boston University http://geography.bu.edu/
- University of Colorado http://www.colorado.edu/geography/
- University of Maryland College Park http://www.geog.umd.edu/
- University of California – Los Angeles http://www.geog.ucla.edu/
- Penn State University http://www.geog.psu.edu/grad/
- University of Oregon http://geography.uoregon.edu/
- Clark University http://www.clarku.edu/departments/geography/
- University of South Carolina – Columbia http://www.cas.sc.edu/geog/
- University of California – Santa Barbara http://www.geog.ucsb.edu/
- University of Wisconsin – Madison http://www.geography.wisc.edu
- Ohio State University http://www.geography.ohio-state.edu/
- Arizona State University http://geography.asu.edu/
- University of California – Davis http://ggg.ucdavis.edu
- University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign http://www.geog.uiuc.edu
- University of Kentucky http://www.uky.edu/AS/Geography/
- University of Southern California http://www.usc.edu/dept/geography/
- University of Arizona http://geog.arizona.edu
- Oregon State University http://www.geo.oregonstate.edu
- Syracuse University http://www.maxwell.syr.edu/geo
- State University of New York at Buffalo http://www.geog.buffalo.edu/
Warning to prospective graduate students, selecting a graduate program is an individual decision and the top programs listed here may not be the best program for you. There are many factors to take into consideration and this decision process is probably worthy of its own blog post, or a series of several blog posts. At the very least, you should take a look at a recent copy of the AAG’s Guide to Geography Programs.
As I said, my methodology was very simple. I summed the rankings from each of the categories where rankings were provided. The ranked categories include R Rankings 5th percentile, R Rankings 95th percentile, S Rankings 5th percentile, S Rankings 95th percentile, Research Activity 5th percentile, Research Activity 95th percentile, Student Support and Outcomes 5th percentile, Student Support and Outcomes 95th percentile, Diversity 5th percentile and Diversity 95th percentile. The program with the lowest sum was ranked first and the program with the highest sum was ranked last. I used the S Rankings 5th percentile as a tie-breaker.
Full disclosure: I hold a PhD from the University of Oregon’s Department of Geography. I tried to select a methodology that would prevent my bias from having an impact on the rankings but it’s probably impossible for me to avoid some bias in hopes of benefiting the good people associated with Oregon Geography. Go Ducks!