2013 Geography Graduate Program Rankings

March 18, 2013 at 12:38 pm  •  Posted in Education, Featured, Geography by  •  91 Comments

About a year ago I posted a ranking of top geography programs based on the NRC survey of U.S. doctoral programs.  There were some complaints about the rankings, which I suppose is inevitable.  Some expressed concern simply because their program of choice wasn’t included.  But, a more legitimate thread of concern came from those who worried that programs focused heavily on Physical Geography were given greater weight by the NRC due to some advantages with grant funding.  In response, I created a survey and collected responses through 2012.  In addition, I collected data on the PhD granting institution of current tenure-track professors and normalized by size of program in terms of number of full-time faculty.  Then, I combined these three criteria and compiled a new set of program rankings.

I have now produced 2014 GIS Graduate Program Rankings and, more recently, 2015 Top Graduate Programs for Spatial Careers . Please check out these newer rankings! 

Unlike the previous rankings, for which I could blame the NRC for any problems, these rankings are all my own and I take full responsibility for leaving your favorite program off the list.  You can post your displeasure in the comments section below.  Note, however, that programs that do not offer a PhD in geography were excluded from consideration.  Also, please note the following caution for prospective graduate students copied from the 2012 rankings post: selecting a graduate program is an individual decision and the top programs listed here may not be the best program for you.

So, without further ado, here are my 2013 rankings of top Geography Graduate Programs.

  1. UC Santa Barbara  http://www.geog.ucsb.edu/
  2. Colorado  http://www.colorado.edu/geography/
  3. Penn State  http://www.geog.psu.edu/grad/
  4. Ohio State  http://www.geography.ohio-state.edu/
  5. Wisconsin  http://www.geography.wisc.edu
  6. UCLA  http://www.geog.ucla.edu/
  7. Clark  http://www.clarku.edu/departments/geography/
  8. Boston University http://geography.bu.edu/
  9. Oregon http://geography.uoregon.edu/
  10. UC Berkeley http://geography.berkeley.edu
  11. Arizona State http://geography.asu.edu/
  12. Washington http://depts.washington.edu/geog
  13. Maryland http://www.geog.umd.edu/
  14. Illinois http://www.geog.uiuc.edu
  15. Minnesota http://www.geog.umn.edu
  16. SUNY Buffalo http://www.geog.buffalo.edu/
  17. Arizona http://geog.arizona.edu
  18. North Carolina http://www.unc.edu/depts/geog/
  19. South Carolina http://www.cas.sc.edu/geog/
  20. Syracuse http://www.maxwell.syr.edu/geo

Honorable mention: Iowa, Georgia, Oregon State, Michigan State, Indiana, Kentucky, Texas, Kansas

I look forward to hearing your thoughts and comments.  If you would like to have your opinion on top programs included in future rankings please complete this survey: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/SG75772


  1. Pingback: Top 20 Graduate Geography Programs in the U.S. | Geographical Perspectives

  2. Heather / March 27, 2013 at 10:15 am / Reply

    I want to point out that this is looking at the top GEOGRAPHY departments, not GIS. I graduated from a college on that list with a geography degree. They only offered a BA, and as a result, I cannot get a GIS job with engineering firms as they want to see a BS. I have quit giving money to that school as a result.

    • Justin / March 27, 2013 at 10:58 am / Reply

      Heather, yes indeed. This is a ranking of graduate geography programs, not graduate GIS programs. The engineering firm who says they won’t hire you because you hold a BA instead of a BS is full of BS. It’s a justification but not the real reason; and, if it is the real reason, do you really want to work for such an anal organization? In any case, I don’t think you can blame your alma mater. In 20 years you’ll be thankful that you studied geography and learned about the human and physical processes that shape the planet instead of only learning how to push the correct buttons so you can convert raster to vector in ArcGIS. Best wishes on your job search. I know it’s a challenge but persistence and creativity will be rewarded over time. Cheers, Justin

  3. Paul / May 13, 2013 at 11:17 pm / Reply

    I appreciate the information in this post, as it differs from the monotonous information on other sites regarding credentials and employment in the field of Geography. I graduated three years ago with a Bachelor’s in Geography and a minor in GIS. My interests fall primarily within the borders of environmental impact assessment/risk management, but not so much urban planning. I have always dreamed of using GIS in a “health management” sense; think GIS Specialist with the Center for Disease Control. Visually representing the spread of viruses like Ebola in central and Sub-Saharan Africa, not to mention the recent outbreak of Bird Flu in China, would be extremely interesting and fulfilling. The utilization of GIS in tracking the concentration and extent of viruses could actually help save lives by assisting in determining the source of the outbreak.

    Despite my enthusiasm and recently acquired skill sets, I am finding it virtually impossible to find work related to Geography here in the South Bay area of California. Far too often I find job postings that require a minimum of 5 years of directly-related experience, knowledge and mastery of several programming languages, and several other hoops to jump through….for an entry-level position paying $35,000 or so. It seems that a Master’s and several internships are probably necessary for this kind of entry-level work. Where else can one master Python, SQL, etc. and gain many internship opportunities? I’m finding it in the Planning sector, Environmental Sciences, government, several private companies. In the classroom, I feel that there should be more of an emphasis on the real-world, hands-on implementation of Geography and GIS in today’s markets. Don’t just focus on the theory. And with new versions of ArcGIS coming out now that I’m no longer a student, how can I obtain a student edition to stay frosty? Unemployed and poor, I cannot afford to purchase it. Would a Master’s in GIS from SUNY Buffalo provide me with the skills I need to succeed in Silicon Valley? After reviewing the curriculum in depth, it would seem so….Thank you for your time and insight.

    • Justin / May 14, 2013 at 11:14 am / Reply

      Paul, thank you for the feedback! I completely agree that there should be more emphasis on applied geography in the undergrad classroom. Yes, a Master’s at Buffalo would certainly help in many ways as it’s a top notch program, but it may not be the best choice if your goal is to find tech work in Silicon Valley. I would recommend that you first just find a way to get your foot in the door at a company, any company, in Silicon Valley. Work for peanuts, do whatever it takes to get something going, learn everything you can, and then keep your eyes open for something better. There’s a good chance that you’d be in the same boat after a Master’s degree. Forget about ArcGIS – like you said it’s too expensive, not just for the unemployed and poor, but also for most companies and local government agencies. Download QGIS for free and see what you can do with it. Build your own application using Python, PHP, Leaflet, whatever. Start creating a portfolio to demonstrate your capabilities and potential. Take a job waiting tables at night to pay the bills and do your geography thing all day, every day, until you land that first solid gig that will help launch your career. It would be nice if there were an easier way but this is what it takes in 2013. Best wishes, Justin

  4. Pingback: HOW LUCRATIVE IS THIS: BA/MA in International Trade with an Associate Degree in Accounting?? - Higher education - Page 4 - City-Data Forum

  5. Giorgos / May 23, 2013 at 6:23 pm / Reply

    Paul, even if I live thousands miles (kilometers for me!!) away- I am from Greece- the problems you face in the real world are the same with mine. I studied Urbal Planning and now at the age of 30 I went back to study Cartography at a postgraduate level with the hope that I will reach a higher level of expertise in GIS too. Needless to say that 90% of my professors don’t have a clue on real world and what companies ask and mostly we spend our time studying theory… Justin is right- professors are people that have may things to do to follow the evolution in technology/GIS etc. And even if they know things are reluctant to teach them to you. Unfortunately internet appears to be the best teacher in our field and the list is endless to follow all the aspects. My next goal is to finish my postgraduate as soon as possible- as it doesn’t offer something new- and to start learning some python (and these !@#$$@ german language I hate so much)… If you think you have unemployment try to visit Greece in the middle of a crisis. But even here people that are devoted to their goals and good to their job appear to overcome much more easier the difficulties. Unfortunately I’m not one of them. Thank you Justin for your blog- it helped me a lot. Keep writing new ideas!!

  6. Grad Student Perspective / May 24, 2013 at 2:11 am / Reply

    Here is the ranking from PhD.org if you select the survey and grad student outcomes (Placement). Notice how there is quite a difference in the rankings, this is the problem with rankings.

    Oklahoma State University-Main Campus
    University of Arizona
    University of Kentucky
    1-18 Kansas State University
    2-16 Arizona State University
    2-17 University of Colorado at Boulder
    1-26 The University of Texas at Austin
    3-20 University of South Carolina-Columbia
    3-22 Ohio State University-Main Campus
    4-22 The University of Tennessee
    3-22 University of Minnesota-Twin Cities
    2-28 University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
    4-26 University of Georgia
    4-30 University of Cincinnati-Main Campus
    3-30 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    4-32 Texas A & M University
    6-28 University of Kansas
    8-29 Clark University
    4-36 Syracuse University
    9-32 San Diego State University

    • Justin / September 10, 2013 at 9:22 am / Reply

      Rankings provide a starting point in a search for a good program but it’s just one small piece in a very large complex puzzle. So the problem that you point out has more to do with the interpretation of rankings rather than with the rankings themselves. Cheers, J.

  7. Melissa Maynard / May 29, 2013 at 12:04 am / Reply

    It’s nice to see these rankings not be based off of GIS alone. I just graduated this semester with my B.A. in Geography with an emphasis in Global Analysis (I love me some human geography!) from San Jose State University and I feel I have a lot to offer a company or organization despite not being a GIS-oriented person. Justin, because of these rankings I have been able to get started compiling a list of M.A. programs with U. of Oregon being my first choice. Wish me luck! 🙂

    • Justin / May 29, 2013 at 1:05 pm / Reply

      Hi Melissa – thanks for your comment! Good luck with your grad school applications and GO DUCKS! Best, Justin

  8. Jenny / November 21, 2013 at 6:42 pm / Reply

    Hi Justin,

    Thanks for compiling this list! There’s so much information to wade through as I finalize my list of schools. I’m interested in Human Geography and Political Economy. What would be your top picks in those subfields? Would Georgia make it into the top 20? I know I can eliminate several of your top 20 programs (including UCSB) because they’re heavily skewed toward physical geography and climate sciences. I’m doing this research on my own of course too but any additional insights would be appreciated.


    • Justin / November 21, 2013 at 11:12 pm / Reply

      Hi Jenny, lots of variables to consider. Are you applying for Master’s or PhD programs? Also, do you have a regional interest? For example, if you want to study poltical geography in Europe then Alec Murphy at Oregon is a rock star. But if you have a different regional focus that changes the equation. Let me know if you’d prefer an email exchange. Cheers, JH

      • Taylor / December 3, 2015 at 1:14 pm / Reply

        Hi Justin,

        First of all, thank you for this. I’m finding it very helpful. I have some specific interest areas and am hoping you may be able to help me out. Similarly to Jenny, I’m interested in human geography and the way it intersects with political economy. In terms of region, my interest is kind of both broad AND specific — I’d like to look at post-industrial and/or post-colonial areas (U.S. and elsewhere) … mostly cities, though the rust belt is close to my heart. I would also really like to find a program whose pedagogy supports creativity and offers some flexibility, as my background is in oral history/creative writing. This trumps notoriety for me, though it would be great to have some measure of both. Lately I have been immersing myself in place-based writing and am fascinated with psychogeography, so this may give you some idea of where I’m coming from.

        It’s totally possible that I’m looking for a needle in a haystack here (I have talked briefly with John Agnew at UCLA — who is great — and have yet to find a just-right fit), but I would greatly appreciate any leads you may have. I’d prefer option for PhD, but am also open to masters programs.

        Please feel free to email and thanks again for your insights!

  9. Pingback: 2014 Rankings – Top 10 Graduate GIS Programs | Geographical Perspectives

  10. Nicole / January 6, 2014 at 3:23 am / Reply

    What is your opinion in regards to Portland State? I was thinking of going there for my Masters in Geography so I can specialize in air pollution and how it affects in an urban environment. I know grad school is super important, but I went to a school for undergrad that nobody on the west coast knows about and I am fearful that I won’t ever be able to find a job within research or education if I don’t go to a school that has high praises.

    • Justin / January 6, 2014 at 11:54 am / Reply

      Hi Nicole, Portland State is a great University but you won’t find too much research activity there, especially compared to Oregon or Oregon State. If you tell me more about your career objectives I could probably provide better guidance. Best wishes, Justin

  11. Mike / January 6, 2014 at 4:02 pm / Reply

    Good list, I largely agree with some exceptions. I may be biased, but the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities Master of Geographic Information Science program pumps out some great work, and some great students.

    • Justin / January 6, 2014 at 4:23 pm / Reply

      Hi Mike. Thanks for the comment. Yes, Minnesota is an interesting case. It was one of the very best geography departments in the 90s but seems to have fallen dramatically in the past decade. I don’t know enough to comment further but I will see what I can find and report back. By the way, when will MIT begin offering geography? I hate to think of all those genius engineering types suffering from a lack of spatial perspective. 😉
      Thanks and best wishes, Justin

  12. Mike / January 6, 2014 at 4:58 pm / Reply

    Good question! I’m fighting the good fight of course! I’m preparing to launch a Carto/GIS/Geography Users Group this spring (perhaps called MITgeo), but it looks like the movement will be all grassroots for a while 🙂

  13. John / January 17, 2014 at 11:14 am / Reply

    I have two comments regarding the rankings.

    Five schools ranked in your top twenty including a program you rank very highly, are generally considered to be fall back options for students applying to the heavy hitters, which based on my experience includes Penn State, Wisconsin, Colorado, Illinois, UCLA and Berkeley.

    I am unfamiliar with one program on the list. I don’t know anything about it and nobody in my network of contacts talk about it which gives me pause.

    • Justin / January 17, 2014 at 4:58 pm / Reply

      Hi John, thank you for your comments. I think what qualifies as a heavy hitter depends largely on the target sub-field within geography. My guess is that your network is biased toward a particular sub-field, probably within human geography. In any case, I stand by my list of top departments and apologize for having given you pause. I hope you are able to make a speedy recovery. Best, Justin

  14. Masha / January 30, 2014 at 12:59 pm / Reply

    Justin, thanks a lot for your blog and for the rankings!
    What do you think of geography at Texas State U? It’s ranking by the US News is 51 (Regional universities). But what about its geography dept?
    Thank you.

    • Justin / January 30, 2014 at 3:27 pm / Reply

      Hi Masha – My impression of Texas State is very positive. I see it as an up and coming program that has been aggressively growing over the past decade or so. That said, I don’t know too much about the quality of the faculty and how they compare to other top programs so I would recommend doing some homework within your given area of interest. Hope that helps. Best wishes, Justin

  15. Jeremy / February 4, 2014 at 11:32 pm / Reply

    Hi Justin,

    Thank you for compiling this list. I do not have the minimum GPA that most of these programs require (just under 3.0 cumulative) and have not yet taken the GRE, but since being diagnosed and treated for ADD and transferring to a new GIS program earlier this year, I have maintained a 4.0 while completing 36 credit hour. My overall major concentration GPA is well over 3.0 as well, but my problem is my pathetic attempt at college 15 years ago when I was 18 and failed almost every class I attempted. I have tried to put all that behind me and have become a really good student in my older age. I am currently doing a research project that relates to sports and geostatistics, and several of my professors think that I have a strong chance of getting the results published in an academic journal. They are recommending that I apply to some of the programs on your list despite not meeting the minimum GPA requirements, and use the personal statement to describe the difficulties that I have overcome since I was diagnosed and the success I have achieved since then. My advisor told me that it is quite rare for undergraduate students to get published, and if it happens she thinks most places would likely overlook the other weak areas in my application.

    Do you have any insight into this or opinions/advice? I have seen some advice for marginally qualified candidates on a couple of other websites, but none of them specifically addressed a situation like mine. Also, could you recommend programs that are strong in Geospatial Intelligence?

    • Justin / February 4, 2014 at 11:49 pm / Reply

      Hi Jeremy, thank you for sharing your story – intriguing. I don’t think your GPA will prevent you from gaining admission. A bigger obstacle may be volume of competition. Last I heard, the number of applicants coming in was enormous. Hopefully it’s a little less crazy now. It would help a lot to really do well on the GRE but, at the end of the day, if you have a professor who wants to bring you in to the program you’ll get in. Your advisor sounds like a good one. Perhaps she could put you in direct contact with a few professors at good programs who might be willing to take advantage of your geostatistical and GIS skill set? As far as strong geospatial intelligence programs, I guess my suggestion would be to take a look at all of the programs I mention in my most recent rankings, just out last month, focused on GIS related grad programs. Check it out: http://www.justinholman.com/2014/01/05/2014-top-10-gis/
      I’m intrigued by your sports + geostats research. I’ve been tinkering with a few ideas in the same ballpark, pun intended. Let me know if you have something you’d be willing to share. I’d be curious to see what you’re doing.
      Hope this helps. Feel free to get in contact directly, maybe a DM to @justinholman on Twitter, if you have more questions. I’d be glad to try and assist. Best wishes on your applications. Remember that grad school is all about finding the right intellectual mentor(s). What I mean by that is it’s often more important to find the right advisor than it is to select the right program or University.
      Cheers, Justin

  16. Jeremy / February 5, 2014 at 12:16 am / Reply


    Thank you for the feedback. I have been reading faculty profiles for the programs I am most interested in, and seem to have found a few that may be a good fit for my research interests, including a professor at UCB.

    I am having such a difficult time not blabbing away about my research project, but have been warned so many times to keep it under wraps until I can get my results published. I would love to discuss it further at some point with you though, as I am also very intrigued by your areas of expertise (I was briefly pursuing an industrial engineering degree with the hopes of getting into supply chains/logistics, and have kept that in the back of my mind while studying GIS).

    If you email me I may divulge a little more of my research – no promises though. 🙂

  17. doris / February 7, 2014 at 9:48 pm / Reply

    Hi Justin,

    Thank you for the list. I am from China and I graduated four years ago with a Master’s in GIS. Through the work of these years, I found myself interested in the business strategy and marketing analysis by using GIS. Now, I am considering to apply for Master’s or PhD programs in these sub-field and collecting related information for a time.Can you give me some advice in these sub-fields? And is there any program you recommanded?

    • Justin / February 9, 2014 at 12:43 am / Reply

      Hi Doris,
      If you mean what GIS programs would I recommend for a PhD, then you should check out my latest rankings focusing on GIS related subfields. Here’s a link: http://www.justinholman.com/2014/01/05/2014-top-10-gis/
      If you have developed strong business skills you might also consider a Business School PhD using your GIS training to narrow in on a spatial research focus.
      Hope this helps!
      Best wishes,

  18. Pingback: How to get into Graduate School: 3 Secrets to Success | Geographical Perspectives

  19. Joseph / March 16, 2014 at 2:31 pm / Reply

    Hi Justin,

    I’m currently looking at two colleges I’ve been accepted to, but I’m having trouble choosing between them. Do you believe there is a big gap between Ohio State and the University of Alabama, in regards to their GIS program?

    • Justin / March 16, 2014 at 8:20 pm / Reply

      Hi Joseph. Yes, Ohio State offers one of the very best GIS and geography programs in the world. The University of Alabama is a first class University and I’m sure they offer a good program but it won’t be in the same league as Ohio State. All that said, if you’re an undergrad there are other factors that are likely more important. Columbus and Tuscaloosa are light years apart culturally so I would look for a good fit that will enable you to thrive in general. A top program would be a more important consideration if you’re applying to grad school. If you’re not sure where you’d really like to be you might call both geography departments (or visit if you can) and try to talk to a few professors. Hope this helps! Best of luck to you. Feel free to send me a note if you would like more information before making your decision. Best, Justin

      • Joseph / May 2, 2014 at 11:11 pm / Reply

        Hello again Justin,

        Thank you for the information. I’m currently applying for undergrad at the moment. Are you saying in your statement that rank doesn’t matter as much if you are seeking a job straight from undergraduate? I’ve been favoring Ohio State because of the ranking, but I believe I may fit in better at Alabama.

        • Justin / May 3, 2014 at 12:56 pm / Reply

          Hi Joseph. No, I don’t think ranking will make much of a difference as an undergrad. If you have a lousy time at Ohio State and struggle academically the quality of the geography program won’t make up for it. Likewise, if you really excel at Alabama nothing will prevent you from achieving career success, especially not my list of top programs. You should select the college/university where you believe you’ll be most successful. If your gut tells you you’ll be happier or more successful at Alabama then I would advise you to follow your instincts and go to Alabama. As an Oregon Ducks fan it pains me to say this but, Roll Tide! 🙂
          You’re fortunate to have the opportunity to select between two outstanding Universities with great tradition. Make the most of it!
          Best wishes, Justin

          • Joseph Fields / May 4, 2014 at 2:03 pm /

            Thank you for the help Justice, it really helped out a lot. I thank that clears things up for me a lot. Once again, Thank you!

          • Justin / May 4, 2014 at 2:05 pm /

            You’re welcome Joseph! Wishing you the very best!

          • Joseph Fields / May 4, 2014 at 2:16 pm /

            Think, sorry about that.

  20. Rushing Marchette / March 25, 2014 at 12:05 pm / Reply

    I’m just starting the process of looking for masters programs that would fit me. I’m leaning towards cultural or political geography with a focus on the middle east/north africa. Do you have any out of country schools that you would suggest, preferably within my region of focus? If not, then what in country schools?

    • Justin / March 25, 2014 at 12:21 pm / Reply

      Hi Rushing, I’m not familiar with programs outside the US so I can’t really make any recommendations. For cultural/political geography with a focus on the middle east you might check out Shaul Cohen at the University of Oregon. He would be terrific and, of course, I’m quite partial to the geography department at U. of Oregon. If you’re lucky you would also get to interact with Alec Murphy who is perhaps the greatest political geographer anywhere (but focuses primarily on Europe). I’m sure there are many other professors with a similar combination of academic expertise but I don’t know any off the top of my head. One way to find them would be look up some of Professor Cohen’s articles and find other related articles/journals/authors/researchers who are doing similar work. Does this help? Best wishes, Justin

      • Rushing Marchette / March 25, 2014 at 2:25 pm / Reply

        It does thank you very much. I’ll try to shoot him an email just to see if I’m going in the right direction with geography. I’m graduating with a ba in international affairs with a concentration in the middle east, so there’s no telling how it could go.

  21. Adrian / March 29, 2014 at 4:44 pm / Reply

    Hi Justin,

    thanks for compiling this list. I graduated with a B.A. in Geography and a minor in GIS from UC Berkeley and I’m stumped on choosing a grad school.

    The thing is, I’m interested in doing field research and collecting my own GIS data. Brazil and South America are my regions of interest. McGill University, in Quebec, has a really neat graduate Neotropics programs that crosses over multiple fields from geography to biology. I’d rather work on a Master than a PhD, at least for now.

    My plan is to explore, even travel to Brazil, to come up with a research proposal before applying to grad schools. Also maybe going back to community college for a while to take some programming and statistics classes so that I can improve my practical knowledge of GIS.

    My question to you is: 1) are you aware of community colleges in CA known for a strong program in geography and/or GIS and 2) of a geography graduate program in the US focused on Brazil?

    My goal is to use GIS to address social and environmental/climate issues in Latin America.

    All the best,

    • Justin / March 29, 2014 at 7:30 pm / Reply

      Hi H. I would start by learning about David Lopez-Carr’s work at UC Santa Barbara: http://geog.ucsb.edu/~carr/wordpress/. If he’s not doing something that interests you ask him to point you in the right direction. I would probably look online for classes on programming and stats. Python is the way to go – and then use NumPy and PySAL for stats. If you prefer in-person studies I would just find a conveniently located community college that offers the courses you’re looking to take. I took a few classes at Santa Rosa way back when and was very pleased. Best wishes, Justin

      • Adrian / May 19, 2014 at 10:37 am / Reply

        Thank you for your advice, I greatly appreciate it!

  22. Bullet / April 15, 2014 at 2:45 pm / Reply

    Hi Justin! I’m moving to Eugene this fall to do my MS in Geography. I am interested in cartography and spatial cognition. Do you have anything to share about cartography program at UO? Go Ducks!

    • Justin / April 15, 2014 at 2:53 pm / Reply

      Congrats Bullet! Oregon has one of the best cartography programs in the country and a long history of producing top cartographers for both old-school hand-made mapping and digital, interactive, web, etc. Try to get a foot in the door at the InfoGraphics Lab so you might have opportunities to participate in one of their many projects. For GISci/spatial cognition, Dr. Amy Lobben is top notch. I think you’ll love Oregon Geography. Go Ducks! Cheers, Justin

  23. Diane / April 28, 2014 at 10:56 pm / Reply

    Hi Justin,

    My name is Diane. I am going to get my masters in Latin American/Caribbean studies this year( i have an undergrad degree in African Diaspora studies and govenment), and I would like to do my PHD in human geography, focused more on political economy. I am really invested in the theoretical aspects- I love the work within Antipode, I would also love to further theorize within a legal framework. I have been looking toward jd/phd programs, but I have yet to see any that market themselves in particular as jd/phd in geography. Do you have any suggestions for programs that are a bit radical kind of like the ones in europe like oxford? Id like if possible to find a school that has a top law program as well so I can embark on such a project


    • Justin / April 29, 2014 at 11:11 am / Reply

      Hi Diane, the person who comes to mind is Alec Murphy. He went to Columbia for a JD and then U. Chicago for a PhD in human geography with an emphasis on Political Geography. He was one of my professors at U. Oregon and he’s still there. His regional focus is Europe but he would be the best source of information I can think of re combining Law and Geography. In fact, I think he taught a course with the same title. A JD + PhD would be a huge time commitment. Very ambitious! Go get ’em, champ! Best wishes, Justin

      • Diane / April 29, 2014 at 9:13 pm / Reply

        Thank You Justin, I appreciate the advice!

  24. Zach / May 15, 2014 at 3:11 pm / Reply

    Hey Justin,

    I am currently an undergraduate fourth-year senior with one year remaining. I am an environmental geographer with particular interests in fluvial geomorphology and soil analysis. I am looking for good grad schools that allow me to pursue these interests, that also allow me to enter into a strong job market. I would be very interested in conducting field research with my advising professor and would want to try for a fellowship or assistantship to help expand my own experience and help pay for schooling. The trouble I seem to be having is narrowing down what I really want to focus on, not because I am unsure of what I like, but rather the opposite. Oregon State and Oregon are two schools that seem to be sticking out to me a bit and I was wondering if these schools, or which schools, have a program potentially in watershed/land management, and if this is a good career to go into. When I graduate I will also have a certificate in GIS through the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, where I am currently attending my undergrad. Thank you for any help and thank you for posting these wonderful resources for us to use!


    • Justin / May 15, 2014 at 4:05 pm / Reply

      Hi Zach – I don’t know too much about career prospects in watershed/land management and I don’t know where the very best grad programs are for fluvial geomorphology. I do know Andrew Marcus and Pat McDowell are outstanding geomorphologists at the University of Oregon and I hear great things about Mark Fonstad as well. I would recommend reaching out to Pat McDowell and/or Mark Fonstad to see what they think. Andrew Marcus is too busy being Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. I don’t know who to contact at Oregon State but you should be able to find out by browsing their department faculty page. As far as other programs to consider I would check all the top programs on my 2013 Geography Dept Ranking list and see who has geomorphology faculty, especially at the Associate Professor level (i.e., tenured but still making a name for themselves). You might also search separately for programs in watershed management. The ideal might be to find a University with both geography and water resources grad programs so you can benefit from faculty in both programs. After a quick search I see that Oregon State U. fits the bill: http://oregonstate.edu/gradwater/. Hope this helps. Best of luck! -Justin

      • Zach / May 15, 2014 at 4:43 pm / Reply

        It does! Thank you very much for you help and your extremely quick response time!

  25. Pingback: Top 10 On-line GIS Master’s Degree Programs | Geographical Perspectives

  26. Pingback: 2013 Geography Graduate Program Rankings | Geospatial Technology Blog

  27. Florin-Daniel Cioloboc / June 4, 2014 at 12:59 pm / Reply

    Dear Justin Holman,

    I’m very close to graduating a BSc in Geography and I am interested in doing a Masters/PhD in the US. Which are the ones who are particularly strong on health geography/epidemiology with an emphasis on GIS. I have taken a look at John Hopkins University to see if they have something similar, to my surprise they have a Geography and Environmental Engineering Department but no geography degrees offered, that was odd.
    For now, it is most likely too late to apply for the US, and most likely I am going to study my master’s at Leeds, Glasgow, Edinburgh or Aberdeen next year.

    Kind regards,

    • Justin / June 4, 2014 at 3:37 pm / Reply

      Hi Florin! I’ve been asked the same question before. Probably ought to do a post on the topic. Here’s what I said last time:
      “The following programs come to mind: Buffalo, Iowa, Illinois, North Carolina, Colorado. There are probably others that I’m overlooking but if you check out the top medical geography researchers in each of those departments and review some of their publications that would be a great start.”
      Hope that helps! Best wishes, Justin

      • Florin-Daniel Cioloboc / June 29, 2014 at 2:11 pm / Reply

        Hi Justin! Thank you so much for answering, although my response quite some time after it. Hmm, Illinois proves to be a very strong geography department, well-placed in world rankings and generally through their research. Although, what I mostly know them for is CyberGIS. Anyhow, since you received several comments regarding European or other departments from various places around the world, I can give you a few insights about Europe, especially about Germany, Austria. If you are curious there is a excellent Geography-GIS blog http://www.digital-geography.com/, at which shortly I shall contribute with a few articles (Just as soon as finish my final exam and presenting my thesis).
        Indeed, reading what each department’s papers related to a certain branch is probably the more professional means of getting an idea of how strong its research is.

        • Justin / June 30, 2014 at 10:55 am / Reply

          Thanks for your comments! I will check out the digital-geography blog. Best, Justin

  28. Lee / June 29, 2014 at 2:33 pm / Reply

    Dear Justin:

    I am currently in a masters program in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, but I don’t think that I want to continue on in sociology for a PhD. I’m really interested in human geography (specifically Urban Studies) as it relates to urban sexualities, feminist studies, and cultural geography (I’m really interested in looking at the geographical forces that play a role in determining urban sexualities). What programs or faculty would you recommend for someone interested in those things? Additionally, do you have an opinion on the geography program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee? Thank you so much!

    • Justin / June 30, 2014 at 11:07 am / Reply

      Hi Lee, I’m not too familiar with this niche within geography but the program that comes to mind is the Maxwell School at Syracuse. This might work well for you since they offer both Sociology and Geography PhDs along with an interdisciplinary Social Science PhD. In any case, I would look at faculty to see if you can find a fit and then make contact to learn about opportunities for funding, key scholars, and other worthy programs to consider. Hope this helps! Best, Justin

  29. Oviya / July 1, 2014 at 2:08 pm / Reply

    Hi, I am just starting out with my universities’ search. I am a Development Studies graduate from India. I am interested in political geography, dealing with ideas of property, land acquisition, urbanism in the 3rd world. I found Cornell’s rural sociology program interesting but am coming up dry with regard to rankings or universities for political geography. Any suggestions would be great!

    • Justin / July 1, 2014 at 4:39 pm / Reply

      Hi Oviya, just browse the top programs (in this post) faculty list and see who lists political geography or political economy/ecology as a research specialty. Check out their publications and see who they cite. Once you spend some time doing this you’ll begin to assemble a who’s who list of political geographers. Send a few emails and see what happens! Best wishes, Justin

  30. Nick / July 7, 2014 at 5:38 pm / Reply

    Hi Justin,

    I’m just beginning my search for a MA/MS program in Geography and stumbled across your site. Wow, what a great resource you are! I was wondering if you could help me narrow my search a little bit as you have done for so many others here in the comments.

    I come from a stronger GIS background (B.A. in Geography w/ GIS Focus from the University of St. Thomas, St. Paul, MN – a highly underrated program in my opinion) but have a passion for the geography side of the work. I would much rather USE a really cool tool than BUILD it. I chose to focus on GIS in undergrad to provide a solid foundation on which I can rely to perform research in Graduate School. I am particularly interested in field data collection and remote sensing using GPS and Drones for ecosystems management and urban planning. I like mapping natural phenomenon with high degrees of accuracy and then analyzing it for patterns. For example, I really enjoy doing impact assessments (i.e. as climate change continues and we see more extreme heat events, which areas of this city will be more at risk based on their demography? If we put up a new solar farm, what parts of the ecosystem will be impacted?).

    Can you offer an suggestion of programs that would fit well with my interests? Thank you so much for your help!


    • Justin / July 8, 2014 at 11:02 am / Reply

      Hi Nick – your interests are broad enough that you should find almost any geography program well equipped to help you along the way. You may want to decide whether you’re more inclined toward “ecosystem management” or “urban planning” in order to narrow your search. At a broader level this means choosing either Physical or Human geography. Choosing one doesn’t preclude you from research involving the other but it’s a choice that must be made in terms of selecting a research advisor as any tenure-track faculty will have sort of self-categorized themselves into one of the two main branches of geography. In addition, there are some programs that really only focus on one side. For example, Maryland and Boston are both top Physical geography programs with limited faculty research involving Human geography. Likewise, Washington (Seattle) is focused almost entirely on Human geography. Narrowing your research interests will help you better identify the right Professors and programs. Hope this helps! Best, Justin

  31. Jessica / July 15, 2014 at 10:42 pm / Reply

    Hello Justin,

    I really appreciate the list (and seeing one of the schools I’m near on it!), though am looking at getting a Master’s only, and so the PhD provision doesn’t apply for me. I don’t know if you’ve ever reviewed/looked into Arizona State University’s Master GIS program, but I am hoping you could help me with a decision between the University of Arizona in Tuscon (which made your list), and Arizona State University, Tempe. The programs seem similar, with more described about the coding/technical use of technology provided in course descriptions of UofA, but more ‘application of technology’ stressed in course descriptions by ASU. I have a BS but not in GIS or geography, though worked as a geographical tech for a year and loved the work.

    I want a Masters degree that will teach me the ArcGIS compliment of programs, and I want to be able to create maps utilizing collected data from various sources for a variety of possible uses (from species-specific location mapping, to government land mineral rights to area-income versus public space provisions). I also want to be guided by the program to make myself as employable as possible by what I study. Both programs have stressed how they work hard to place students upon graduation and teach the ArcGIS program, but there is a $10,000 difference in their cost. I am trying to figure out what makes the one more expensive of a program. If it is an educational/training difference, it may be worth it, but if it is just ‘student life’ programming and extras, at 30 years old, I’m not needing that. Any un-biased info or helpful insight to help make this decision would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!

    • Justin / July 18, 2014 at 11:02 am / Reply

      Hi Jessica,
      The best possible option would be to gain admissions to Arizona State’s PhD program and get funding for 2 years, leave with a Master’s degree and no debt. You would learn more because you’d be working directly with key faculty and ASU has some of the very best minds in the field. But, if that’s not feasible and the two applied programs are the only alternatives, I don’t think it will matter too much either way. As a student in the applied program you’ll probably cover, more or less, the same material and receive a very good education. So, if UA costs less than ASU I would go there. But, don’t expect ArcGIS to sustain you for an entire career. Hope this helps. Best, Justin

  32. Teri / July 23, 2014 at 9:47 am / Reply


    Thanks for all the great information. It’s been extremely helpful. With that said, I have been working in the GIS industry for over 20 years. I received a BA in Geography from the University of North Texas when all they offered was a BA and one Intro to GIS course. In the 20 years that I have been using/doing GIS, I have worked for city government (planning, water/wastewater utilities), civil engineering firms (stormwater utilities) and contracted to the federal government (facility asset management, location/allocation analysis). I am also a jack-of-all-trades (master of none) when it comes to programming (AML, Avenue, MapObjects with VB, Javascript, SQL and Python). As you have probably guessed, all of my experience is with ESRI products.

    So here’s my dilemma – I want to go back to school and earn my Masters (possibly a PhD) in a program that focuses on spatial analysis, spatial statistics, traditional statistics, econometrics, computational science, modeling, etc. I am currently taking (and will be taking in the Fall and Spring) undergraduate courses in economics/econometrics, statistics, calculus and object-oriented programming. Since I have no experience (other than online tutorials) using ESRI’s Spatial Analyst or 3D Analyst nor any experience working with raster data, I am trying to decide what course of action would give me the biggest bang for the buck. I like the Computation Spatial Science focus (PhD) at ASU and the Spatial Analysis and Modeling track (PhD) at UTD but there’s a part of me that wonders if I should pursue a Masters in Statistics or Economics first and/or maybe get a Graduate Certificate in GIS (that focuses on spatial analysis and products other than ESRI.) And since it might not be obvious, one of the other reasons I am taking undergraduate courses now (and considering pursuing a Masters in a complementary field) is to fulfill deficiencies, have recent academic success (4.0 in 9 credit hours so far) and develop relationships with professors so that my application does not rely on my effort and academic relationships from 20 years ago. Any thoughts or advice would be most appreciated. I am open to moving anywhere where the word “blizzard” is never used and/or studying online (which I enjoy).



    • Justin / July 23, 2014 at 11:37 am / Reply

      Hi Teri – sounds exciting! I think you’ve honed in on the best programs for you. Arizona State and UT-Dallas fit your needs with milder weather than Ohio State, Buffalo, Illinois and other contenders. You should also check out UC Santa Barbara and San Diego State. You might also consider Washington. No blizzards but not much sun. If you’re considering a PhD in geography I would not start with an Econ/Stats masters. You can take all the Econ and Stats you’ll need on the side as electives or get a concurrent Master’s. Hope this helps! Best wishes, Justin

  33. Oliver Sanders / September 2, 2014 at 8:43 am / Reply

    I majored in Human Geography at Miami University in Ohio. Having graduated in May of 2014, I find it nearly impossible to find work at age (soon to be) 45 without a master’s degree and experience. The jobs I found in my field are few and far in between; overwhelmed by GIS and environmental geography jobs. I could use all the help I can get in trying to make a living and finding work that I can use my experiences in. It looks like I must go back to get a masters just to compete. One question I have is, what schools offer the best financial aid for geography grads? I already owe over $34,000, adding more isn’t going to help 🙂

    • Justin / September 2, 2014 at 9:23 am / Reply

      Hi Oliver, the job market is challenging but keep plugging away. You might want to read this post I wrote on how to launch a GIS career http://www.justinholman.com/2012/02/05/how-to-launch-a-gis-career/

      Or check out my spatial career series: http://www.justinholman.com/2012/03/28/spatial-career-guide-for-undergrads-currently-studying-gis/

      If you decide to pursue grad school: Rather than thinking about financial aid look into teaching assistant (TA) and research assistant (RA) opportunities available at most large Universities. This is the best way to get a graduate degree. The stipend is typically very modest (maybe $1k/month) but typically tuition is fully covered so you can avoid debt. All of the top programs on this list offer some type of funding system like this to grad students.

      Hope this helps!

      Best wishes, Justin

  34. Brian / October 27, 2014 at 9:10 pm / Reply

    Hey Justin,

    Great work putting together a quality list. I have a question not unlike most others on here. I will be finishing my B.S. in Geography next fall and I am starting to look at graduate programs. My interests include historical geography, cultural geography, geoeducation, and Europe. I plan to teach once finishing my graduate studies at the PhD level. With those interests in mind, do you know of a few programs that might hit a home run for me?

    Thanks for your time and great insight.



    • Justin / October 27, 2014 at 10:12 pm / Reply

      Hi Brian,
      The home run would be to work with Alexander B. Murphy at the University of Oregon. Yes, I’m biased because I went to Oregon but if you ask people in the know you’ll hear the same thing. Another home run option would be to spend a couple years across the pond living in Europe and studying geography, probably in the UK. You should also look at Berkeley, North Carolina and any other major University you can find offering both geography and European studies programs.
      Hope this helps!
      Best wishes,

  35. Cyndhia / November 11, 2014 at 5:26 pm / Reply

    Hello Justin,
    I’m contemplating applying for a PhD in Geography in some near future (in 2ish years). I have a Masters in Earth and Environmental Sciences. I was wondering if you know whether the programs you mention (or Geography Depts in general) require applicants to re-take the GREs if we have already done so for a Masters.

    • Justin / November 11, 2014 at 5:31 pm / Reply

      Hi Cyndhia, If I remember correctly, GRE scores are valid for 5 years after taking the exam. After that window, you would likely need to retake. I think some programs have more relaxed GRE test requirements than others but if you’re applying to a handful of programs you’ll probably need an up-to-date score. Hope this helps. Best wishes, Justin

  36. JSh / November 29, 2014 at 10:55 am / Reply

    I’m finding these rankings long after they were published, so I hope this comment doesn’t go into a black hole.

    I’m a human geographer, and the rankings here immediately jump out at me as weird and unfamiliar-looking. Some of the departments I’ve certainly come to perceive as “prestigious.” Others I have never thought about once in my (8 year) career. I am learning for the first time, looking at these rankings, that U Md, U South Carolina, and SUNY Buffalo have Geography departments at all. This is news to me! I’m somewhat vaguely aware of the BU and UCSB departments — but I’ve always understood those departments as somewhat peripheral — at least to the discipline as I was trained into it. I wouldn’t expect grad students to be reading a lot of Harvey and Cronon at those departments — is that fair? Several departments here — Minnesota, Clark, Syracuse, Washington — I’d be inclined to rank higher.

    This stuff is subjective, of course, especially in a discipline like Geography, which is almost a kind of alternative microcosm of a university, combining humanists, quantitative social scientists and hard scientists within a single “discipline” where scholars are bound simply by a shared interest in “space,” “landscape,” “environment,” and so on.

    I suspect that what many prospective graduate students in human geography really want to know is this: which departments offer both generous funding packages (hugely important, and I wonder if you’re undervaluing this consideration) and a prestigious human geography faculty for grad students to draw on? The former is something which is easily measured. The latter is trickier: books, articles, citations, grants and prizes can be “tallied,” within limits. However, the prestige game is much more slippery and complex than such tallies. It’s quite possible for a faculty-member to have all of those things and still be relatively undistinguished — meaning a letter from that person will carry relatively little weight. On the other hand, a faculty member can win an ultra-fancy prize on the basis of a monograph which has a very narrow focus and which is probably not very widely cited at all.

    Mind you, I do think lists like this can be valuable. I remember when I applied to Geography grad programs in 2005 I found the AAG’s human geography rankings and thought these were instructive. But I think a bit more nuance is needed here. Perhaps three lists would be useful: one for Physical/Climate, one for Human/Qualitative, one for GIS/Spatial-Analysis. Or perhaps even more nuance than this is required, I’m not sure.

    • Justin / November 30, 2014 at 1:25 pm / Reply

      Hi Jacob,

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I like your idea of creating separate rankings for Human vs Physical geography. Earlier this year I posted rankings for GIS/Spatial grad programs and it would be nice to do the same for other sub-disciplines but it’s time consuming to do it well so I can’t promise such rankings anytime soon.

      If you’ve been a geographer for 8 years and never heard of Buffalo or UCSB I think you should expand your professional network beyond the David Harvey worshiping crowd. UCSB has been one of the top geography programs for the past 2 decades, at least, and Buffalo isn’t too far behind. I think the real divide for you is methodology. UCSB and Buffalo are both programs with an emphasis on quantitative methods whereas you seem inclined toward the qualitative side of the discipline.

      In my view, the very best Geography Departments are those that are home to outstanding physical, human and applied/technical geographers where ideas and approaches, both quantitative and qualitative, are shared and valued. I’m so grateful that I was able to learn from world class quantitative physical geographers (Pat Bartlein et al), world class qualitative human geographers (Alec Murphy et al) and world class cartography/GIS pros (Jim Meacham et al) from within one department. I suspect the balance, collegiality and resulting cross-pollination at U. Oregon is one of the reasons it’s gained recognition as a top program in recent years. In parallel a few of the programs you mention above have fallen precipitously within the discipline, perhaps due to their failure to provide a similarly balanced environment.

      Young geographers would do well to read Harvey. But if they don’t also know something about Tobler, Goodchild, Anselin, Strahler and others their professional opportunities will be far more limited. Worse yet, the discipline will continue to suffer when geography graduates from one-sided departments enter the workforce with a complete understanding of post-modernism but no ability to make a map. Or, vice-versa.

      Best wishes,

      • JSh / December 3, 2014 at 10:33 am / Reply

        Hi Justin-
        I agree that a human/qual-heavy program which provides its grad students with little if any instruction in cartography and physical geography is dropping the ball. It’s unacceptable for a new generation of human geographers to have no idea what loess soil is, or a distributary channel is, or a barchan dune is. Not everyone can be a cartographic specialist, but I think that the ability to map a geovisualizable argument ought to be a core communication skill within the discipline.

        However, I would say the same thing about a GIS-heavy or physical-heavy department which provides its grad students with few if any humanist or historical perspectives. I worry about physical geographers who’ve never read (or heard of) Bill Cronon; or GISers who only know how to make data-centric maps and have never heard of a hachure line.

        At any rate, the point I was getting at in my original comment was this: if a young prospective grad student came to me and seemed to want to be the next Pred or Cronon or Cosgrove or Domosh or Tuan, I’d be thrilled, but I also wouldn’t fully know what to suggest. This is why I think a separate human/qual rankings would be useful.

        • Justin / December 3, 2014 at 10:42 am / Reply

          Hi Jacob – I think we’re in agreement! Thanks again for weighing in and bringing the human/qual perspective forward. I will see what I can do about providing a set of rankings that would be useful to the next would-be Tuan. All the best, Justin

  37. Sherry Young / January 5, 2015 at 4:07 am / Reply

    Hello, I am in the process of applying to graduate MS programs. I have a BS in both geology and geography and an undergrad certificate in GIS and remote sensing. I was wondering what you thought of George Mason’s program?

  38. Pingback: 2015 Rankings – Top Graduate Geography Programs for Spatial Careers | Geographical Perspectives

  39. Yiwei Jin / June 10, 2015 at 9:10 am / Reply

    Hi, Justin, I’m from China. I’ve got a Master’s degree in Human Geography in my homeland and I’ve been working in a Chinese urban planning institute for some years. I like my major and job because they interest me and do solve problems, and my major is helpful with my job on the theoretical and macro level. Presently, I’m thinking about pursuing further studies in the U.S. I’m wondering which to choose, a graduate program of urban and regional planninng, or one more focusing on geograhical study and approaches, in order to promote my career. It seems to me they’re a bit different even under the same name. Thanks for any suggestions.

  40. Katie M / October 31, 2015 at 2:54 am / Reply

    Hi Justin,
    Thank you for sharing your ratings, they’re very helpful. I was wondering if you had any opinions on what the best private undergrad colleges are for geography.

    • Justin / November 1, 2015 at 1:07 pm / Reply

      Hi Katie,
      In no particular order: Dartmouth, Macalester, Middlebury, Clark.

  41. Shelly / February 23, 2016 at 4:55 pm / Reply

    Hey Justin,

    Big fan of your graduate rankings! I just had a quick question regarding Rutger’s master’s program, specifically their political geography and GIS sections. What is your opinion of their program?


    • Justin / February 23, 2016 at 7:58 pm / Reply

      Hi Shelly,
      Thanks for being a fan! I’m not very familiar with the Geography Department at Rutgers but I like what I see among the faculty ranks. Quite a few Berkeley & Clark PhDs. Could be heavy on theory. Are you interested in a PhD? Or are you hoping to do applied work once armed with GIS skills and a Master’s degree? Either way Rutgers could fit the bill nicely. But, if you want to do applied work you may want to go outside the “Core” faculty to gain a balance of applied/theoretical perspectives. Or maybe learn technical skills from the heavy-duty climate science or RS folks. Good luck!
      Best wishes,

      • Shelly / February 24, 2016 at 7:24 pm / Reply

        Hey Justin,

        Thanks for the quick response and more importantly, taking the time to go through the faculty’s background! I’m potentially interested in becoming a PhD and have decided to make this decision once I begin my graduate studies. Regardless of my final decision, I am determined to do a mixture of GIS and political geography. Thank you for the advice! Their interdisciplinary geography department is one of the main reasons I applied to their program. However, their lack of a national or international ranking is a bit concerning. Even though rankings are subjective, I would’ve thought Rutgers would have appeared on a list or two…


        • Justin / February 28, 2016 at 10:29 am / Reply

          Most important element of a research-oriented grad school experience is your faculty advisor. If the right advisor for you is at Timbuktu State, go there. Rutgers is a great University. I wouldn’t let perceived prestige or lack of ranking status enter the picture too much. This is especially true for you given your commitment to finding a good combination of political and gis. Good luck!

  42. Louise / April 11, 2016 at 4:07 am / Reply

    Hi Justin!

    This list is so great for someone outside the states thinking about college in the states. I just started to look in to what schools that offers good grad programmes and after seeing this list I’m thinking about physical geography at Colorado since it seems to focus a lot on field work. Do you have any thoughts on that? Would you say I’m right about the field focus? Or du you consider any other school beeing a better fit? It’s so difficult to look into all theese colleges from the other side of the globe so I would be great if anyone wanted to comment :)))

    • Justin / April 11, 2016 at 10:52 am / Reply

      Hi Louise,
      Yes, studying physical geography at Colorado would be a great way to go – terrific program and Boulder would be a great place to live. Not sure about the field focus. You might check a few other programs in the Western US and ask them the question directly. I would check with Oregon, UC Santa Barbara, Utah, Arizona. Maybe others.
      Best wishes,

Leave a Reply