Top 20 Graduate Geography Programs in the U.S.
February 25, 2012
[highlight color=”options: yellow, black”]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! [/highlight]
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!
New rankings available! 2013 Geography Program Rankings, 2014 GIS Graduate Program Rankings and 2015 Top Graduate Programs for Spatial Careers.
[…] I posted my Top 20 Geography Department Rankings. There were some big changes since the last time that the NRC produced rankings and I thought it […]
One advantage of a smaller discipline such as geography is that we do not have to depend on such mechanistic manipulations to decide what are the better graduate programs for a particular student. Your criteria are unclear (why 5th and 95th percentiles, too?). But more importantly a student should decide on a program of study based on shared philosophies (in how to approach the study of geography), environmental compatibility with the student’s quality-of-life preferences preferences (e.g., urban vs. college town), alignment with research interests of one or more professors (who also is willing to advise and mentor the student), overall reputation of the university (as this image will clue those outside of geography how to regard your degree), and other criteria, depending on what is important to the student. My advice would be to pick a graduate program with the advice of your professors from your undergrad university and to visit the graduate programs before or during the application process to get a feel for the reality of the department, which can never be boiled down to mere statistics.
Steven – Thank you for the comment. I mostly agree with your approach to selecting a good grad program. There are a lot of variables to consider. For example, if you’re ultimately after a PhD then nothing is more important than your dissertation advisor and the program is less important than the individual. However, it is important to some people to know how different departments stack up against one another. As the blog post mentions, the criteria are those selected by the NRC – as to why the 5th and 95th percentile you’ll have to take that up with them. I suspect some statistics nerd was on the committee and felt the need to show off. All I’ve done is summed up their different measures and compiled a single ranking. When I was a clueless 23-yr old trying to figure out where to go to grad school I would have been very happy to know something, *anything* about how various departments stack up. I suspect there are others that feel the same way. Remember, the majority of college students don’t even have access to a geography department at their own undergrad institution. There needs to be some “mechanistic manipulation” to help introduce potential geographers to key programs within the discipline. If you ask them to go read Johnston to figure out what philosophy they subscribe to they’ll skip past geography and become economists or geologists instead. Thanks again for your thoughts.
I have a question to ask you as I saw ur profile through one of the Geospatial study. I am a B.E in Civil Engineering and want to know which career path will be best for me- either as a GIS analyst or GIS developer? I am very much confused.Just to let u knw, I dont have any training at all in any of computer programming language.
Vikash, this is a difficult question to answer without more information. Have you read my blog posts on these two career paths?
Once you’ve read these two, let me know which one sounds better. Also, are you good at math and statistics? If so, you might also consider becoming a “data scientist” and following the suggestions in one of these two posts:
I hope this helps. Please let me know if you have more specific follow up questions.
Best wishes, Justin
I think the University of South Florida in Tampa/St. Pete should have been one of the top 20…regardless of the stats.
Hi Susan – why should U South Florida make the cut? I’d love to see you make your case here. Thanks for the comment!
Greetings from a 2005 Ph.D. grad and current academic at a regional public university in MD.
My remarks here are framed by my positionality as a human geographer, but it seems to me that main issue here is the questionable focus on high dollar research grants, which inevitably favor departments heavy in physical and environmental expertise. This is the disease of trying to quantify everything and then declaring the quantified results as “scientific” and therefore above reproach. Alas, the social world is more complex than that…and our task here is to consider the full range of factors that make a department a great place to pursue geographical knowledge and confidently take a degree from that institution to march out into academe..likewise, the perception that matters-a murky and difficult notion to be sure-is BALANCE.
In the broader field, I can say unquivocally the Boston University and UMD College Park are not regarded as top ten geography departments. Being great in one section of the discipline-however lucrative- is not enough. Consequently, Wisconsin, UCLA and Ohio State are very highly regarded by hiring committees (I have served on three of these in the last few years). CLark is also considered first-rate, and Texas (Austin) and Colorado enjoy a good level of prestige (another concept hard to quantify!).
Where is U Washington and UC Berkeley?! These storied and balanced departments are superb and much better than SC, MD, BU. I find the East Coast emphasis a bit bizarre here, as the biggest and most well-endowed Geog. depts. tend to be in the Midwest, Southwest-Intermontaine and Pacific regions.
For the record, I would put WISC, Berkeley and Clark as in top five, with the order variable by individual preference. Washington and Ohio State should also rank high. SUNY Binghamton, Buffalo, OKla and Okla State are excellent 10-20 rank choices. Arizona State is also very strong in both environ. and human-social geog.
As for advice, find a smart and emotionally mature advisor who will take an interest in you, be willing to work with you, WHO ACTUALLY WANTS YOU TO FINISH THE DEGREE AND NOT USE YOU, and who works in a department where your research methods are respected and honored (this is especially vital for those of you who pursue qualitative research methods in human geography).
I think your advice to look at individual advisors and compatibility (personal and professional) is vital…I agree with this. But well-rounded departments are better than technocratic ones. In short, an ethnographic methodology should be used to complement rigid paradigms of grant winning, which narrowly focused but big Depts. like UMD seem to thrive upon…
Happy Hunting to my future colleagues in professional geography.
Kent State U. Dept. of Geography
Current: Associate Prof. Dept. of Geog. Towson Univ. (MD).
Jim – thank you for taking time to share your thoughts. I’m not sure we would see eye-to-eye on everything regarding quantification, “scientific” branches of geography and what constitutes balance in a department but I do agree with you that the NRC rankings represent just one perspective and shouldn’t constitute the final word. If and when I can find time, I’d like to conduct a separate survey to get a different perspective and set of rankings. My goal with all of this is to provide some useful information for prospective geography graduate students and I think your comments add significant value to the discussion. Thanks again!
[…] I compiled a ranking of the Top 20 Geography Departments in the US using the National Research Council’s assessment of doctoral programs. There were some big […]
I didn’t even know Oregon had a geography program. 😉 Go Beavs!
I guess with the merger of geography at Oregon State into the Geosciences Department, I have little room to tease…..
Interesting list. Kind of expected SUNY and Penn State (and of course OSU) to be higher.
Steve, thanks for the comment! All I can say is that 2 decades of government work must have taken a toll. 😉
Check my new survey and you can move SUNY, Penn State and Beaver State up on the list:
Nearly three decades of government work was taken most of what little sanity I started out with. I looked at your new survey, but didn’t feel I really new enough about the programs across the country anymore to provide more than a populartity contest biased by my feeling about the schools sports teams. We both know where Oregon and Oregon State would end up there.
Actually I can’t imagine any job better than my position as a geospatial liaison with USGS. I get to work closely with the GIS community across two states, plus have at least some involvement with the research acitivites at four USGS Science Centers. Hopefully the ride will continue.
Steve – your USGS gig does indeed sound like a good one. Having been a USGS employee for a brief stretch I know that you probably have to wade through a lot of bureaucracy to get things done. Keep up the good fight! Best wishes, J.
I was surprise in seen Oregon State University on the 18th place I think it should be higher
Yuritzy, thank you for your comments. Can you make a case for Oregon State? Why should the program be ranked higher?
Justin, Yuritzy is an award-winning student in our Oregon State program, so it was nice to see her post. If you’d like a full case for Oregon State, you can see on at http://dusk.geo.orst.edu/Pickup/OrSt_Program_CV.pdf . Thanks again for this effort!
Dawn, thank you for posting this link to the Oregon State Geography “Programmatic CV”. Very impressive indeed!
[…] are not terribly consistent with the NRC-based rankings. Penn State and Colorado make the top 5 in both lists (so far) but there are major differences, […]
[…] are not terribly consistent with the NRC-based rankings. Penn State and Colorado make the top 5 in both lists (so far) but there are major differences, […]
Hello, I would like to see all of the U.S. graduate geography programs ranked, or at least the top 100. I am curious to the ranking of Texas State University (one of the largest geography programs in the nation), the University of Texas at Austin, and the University of Texas at Dallas (M.S. & PhD degree there is Geospatial Information Science rather than Geography).
I’d love to see that too. My current rankings are based on the NRC review. I also have a survey but not many responses. I’ll work on it and see what I can do. In the meantime, please take my survey to share your thoughts:
I am looking to attend graduate school to try to branch out from my current position as a Sr. GIS Analyst at Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois. They recently notified me that they would pay for my continuing education but the problem is I have no idea which of these schools offer online programs for geography (which seems to be limited unless it is for GIS). I am looking to get a Master’s in Geography or something else that would build on my Bachelors degree in Geography and my minor in Environmental Science. Over the years, I have come to the realization that GIS is a merely a tool and the work in our division has not allowed growth in the analytical aspect. Our work has remained more about the technical aspects and map production rather than building upon our overall skill sets. What do you suggest in terms of programs in the Chicago area or online programs nationwide that may point me in the right direction? My online searches have come up mostly empty and it seems any of the better programs would require me to leave the state and my job to pursue them. It would be nice if there were guidance counselors later in life that could help us with this research like there were when looking at colleges during high school(although I suppose there are life coaches out there)! Thank you in advance for any help you can provide.
Hi Thomas – it’s terrific that your employer has agreed to pay for continuing education. I can try to make some suggestions but it would help tremendously if you could indicate what you’re *most* interested in studying. Don’t think about what would help your career; focus on what you’d enjoy. Thanks, Justin
Hi Thomas – you should post to the AAG LinkedIn group, it’s pretty active. However, I second Justin’s advice: find something you want to work on. Grad school is a TON of work and stress, but also can be the best time of your life. You are (or should be) pursuing something that intrigues you, and you’re encouraged from all sides to ask questions, think about what interests you, to push yourself, learn, and revel in knowledge. At least, that’s been my experience. I often say it’s like being 5 again – faculty and colleagues are always telling you your thoughts and interests are important and interesting. So find something you’re passionate about. Read some geography journals, revisit the things that excited you as an undergrad, and maybe google “online geography master’s.” Jim Smith makes some good points too – this is a BROAD field. You may find 5 schools that have amazing physical programs but really lack in the human, and vice versa. Anyone looking for a grad program needs to find the right fit, but I think because our discipline is particularly variable, well, honestly I think lists like this aren’t very useful. Maybe top 20 human/theoretical geog programs, top 20 physical might be more useful. But even then, you may find your perfect committee at a school that ranks at the “bottom” of all lists, but if they have the resources and knowledge and personalities that are the best fit for you, maybe that’s what you should go for. If you want to go for a PhD later, you might want a bigger name school? I don’t know this part of it, really, but my main point is only you can figure out what you want to study, what will be fascinating enough to pull you through the late nights, journal rejections, and other stresses. People can help you find information to help you make that decision, and help you find programs that fit, but we can’t make the initial choices for you. Sounds like you’re at the very beginning of your search. Good luck!
Hi Alanna – thanks for your suggestions for Thomas. I agree with everything you said other than “lists like this aren’t very useful”. If nothing else, this list is helping to facilitate a conversation about how to select a good geography program. Aside from that, I think rankings serve as a good starting point for people new to the discipline. Like it or not *perception* of program quality matters…quite a bit, in fact. It would be unfair to pretend that a Master’s degree in Geography from the University of South Florida will be held in the same regard as the same degree from UC Santa Barbara (or any one of the other programs on the list above). No disrespect meant toward U South Florida, a great university and probably a terrific geography program, but the faculty at UCSB happens to have some of the very top geographers in the world. Most organizations that hire geographers will be aware of the difference. Students entering these programs should be made aware of the same perceptions so they can go into the field with their eyes open.
Thank you for this article and all the comments. The replies are thought-provoking, insightful and useful to someone like me who wants to change careers but is unsure about returning to school. I’m curious about geography but have been out of the college environment for more than two decades and don’t have a clue how to evaluate an educational program, or even if I should pursue one.
I would like to know more about comments such as:
From Steven D: “a student should decide on a program of study based on shared philosophies (in how to approach the study of geography), environmental compatibility with the student’s quality-of-life preferences preferences (e.g., urban vs. college town), alignment with research interests of one or more professors (who also is willing to advise and mentor the student), overall reputation of the university (as this image will clue those outside of geography how to regard your degree), and other criteria, depending on what is important to the student.”
From Jim Smith: “consider the full range of factors that make a department a great place to pursue geographical knowledge … find a smart and emotionally mature advisor who will take an interest in you, be willing to work with you, WHO ACTUALLY WANTS YOU TO FINISH THE DEGREE AND NOT USE YOU, and who works in a department where your research methods are respected and honored (this is especially vital for those of you who pursue qualitative research methods in human geography).
I think your advice to look at individual advisors and compatibility (personal and professional) is vital”
From you/Justin: “indicate what you’re *most* interested in studying. Don’t think about what would help your career; focus on what you’d enjoy.” and also your entire response to Katy.
Is there some kind of fool-proof or systematic approach, before you enroll in a program, to find those shared philosophies, emotionally-mature and professionally-and-personally compatible advisors, enjoyable topics of study, etc. described by Steven and Jim? I would imagine advisors are busy people who don’t have time to be quizzed or courted by tire-kickers.
In my city, there seems to be a push to get professors, students and other evangelists out into the community to recruit for their schools and their programs. But how do you really know before you enroll that you’re not just getting a sales pitch or that the program is right for you? Are the professors and students obligated to go out and do this type of PR and marketing?
I need to know what to ask, whom to ask and how to find these people.
Is there a list of interview questions one should ask (and to whom) or some kind of matchmaking service, or is it all based on online searches, individual networking and personal judgment? I already have a 20-year-old B.A. (Art and English) but it never led me to either a job I loved or a livable wage. Consequently, ten years later I returned to school for advanced training. The second time around, I chased the money (got into software dev) and although it got me to a decent wage, the decision left me with an ill-fitting, high-stress and dissatisfying career.
I don’t want to give up on higher education because I had such a great time in undergrad school, but I don’t want to make another expensive mistake. How do I try before I buy?
Thanks for any further advice you can offer here. I feel rather silly asking such rudimentary questions, but as I stated in the beginning, I’m clueless.
Hi Pam – I’d be glad to try and help. But, before I respond, perhaps you could provide a few more details on your background, interests, ideas – what is your “vision” for your career change? That would enable me to provide appropriate context. Also, have you read my 6 spatial career paths series? If so, did you see one that is most appealing? Let me know. Thanks, Justin
In addition to the NRC survey of doctoral programs, another source of data is the Academic Analytics Faculty Scholarly Productivity Index, which is updated more regularly. An interesting aspect (deficiency?) of the NRC ranking is the fact that most of the data was collected in late Fall 2006 and Spring 2007 for the 2005-2006 academic year. While this is the most updated NRC information, the data is static and dated. For example, the University of Southern California’s geography program shows up in the NRC list and in your ranking, but the program itself does not exist anymore.
That being said, your blog entry and updates are very interesting and I will refer students here to get a better sense of how these sorts of lists “work”.
Hi Z – thanks for this comment and for the information regarding the scholarly productivity index and USC’s geography department. I see that USC’s department seems to have been replaced by a more technical Master’s degree and a “spatial” institute. Thanks again for reading and please let me know if you have any further suggestions. Best, Justin
Hello, I’m coming from outside the U.S., look for the PhD program in geographic information systems in America, I have no adequate language, will be joined a program for English language, I want to help me in the best universities in this area, what do you think the University of Cincinnati? sorry for the bad language .
thank u .
Hi Awatif – I’d be happy to try to help you but it may be a challenge given the language barrier. I don’t know much about the University of Cincinnati’s GIS program. The most important factor for a PhD program is the faculty advisor. Do you have a list of professors you’d like to work with? If not, that’s the best place to start. I will send an email directly to you with other ideas. Thanks and best of luck! -Justin
This information is invaluable. When can I find
What else are you looking for?
I’m an undergrad double majoring in economics and international trade at UB (University at Buffalo). This fall, the geo dept. made international trade a major…and a masters level degree. I’m pretty sure it’s the only program of its kind right now (I’ve tried looking for others without any success). The geo dept. at UB is absolutely fantastic. Hardcore research being done on earthquakes (we even have an earthquake lab where both geo and engineering students work together). UB can be underrated by its own students because, all being from mostly new York, don’t realize that it’s a fantastic university. I’m an out of stater…and the school has an international population of about 20-25%…which is large for a school that has 30,000 kids. I’m glad to see my department ranked very highly on this list (yeah it’s 20…but that still means we’re top 1% or higher in higher education)
David – congrats on finding yourself at an excellent University with one of the very best Departments of Geography in the US and the World. Thanks for the comment and best of luck! Cheers, Justin
I’m a junior right now studying geography at FSU. I tanked my GPA my first two years, but I’m really trying to turn it around. What do you think I could do to make up for this and hopefully have a shot at a program of this caliber? I’m not sure where to even start looking for internships that would be in this field.
Also, an earlier poster said they thought USF should be in the top 20, do you have any reason to agree?
Hi Katy – your GPA won’t dictate your future and it won’t prevent you from getting into a top geography program. But, you will need to really shine in some other way. I have 2 recommendations. (1) You *must* do well on the GRE. Plan to take it more than once. Plan to study a lot. Plan to take practice tests and, if you don’t get a great score on your own, pay for a course to help improve. (2) Find a professor at FSU who is willing to work with you and get involved in their research. Volunteer to do some data entry work or whatever to get started. Read the literature in the professor’s area of expertise. Try to do enough to justify getting your name on a paper or two as a co-author. This would certainly set you apart as an undergrad applying to a graduate program. It should also help you get a very solid letter of recommendation from the professor.
Even if you do everything you can you may not be able to attend a top program, for whatever reason. Don’t worry about it. You can get a great education and launch a successful career from programs that aren’t considered top tier. And, if you’re interested in a PhD you can improve your standing by doing solid work as a Master’s student and then apply to a top PhD program.
Re USF. I don’t really know much about the program. It may be a rising star and a future top program. However, I don’t think it would currently be considered a top 20 program by most people within the discipline. *But, that doesn’t matter* What matters is finding a great professor who can teach/mentor you so you’re ready to solve important problems and innovate once you graduate and begin your career. You can do that in many places. Best wishes! Let me know if there’s anything I can do to help. -J.
Thank you so much for your very informative response! I have a few questions if you don’t mind…
Testing happens to be an area that I can excel. What would you considering doing “well” on the GRE for a top program?
And I never thought of getting involved with a professor, that sounds like a great route!
Like you said, I will obviously face a lot of obstacles and may realistically not be eligible for top programs, do you know of any less competitive grad schools that may still have a great program?
Again thank you so much for all of your answers.
Hi Katy – I don’t really know what would be considered a good score. The format has changed since I took the test and what constitutes a good score will vary by program and applicant pool. The key with the GRE is to have a good enough score that you will make it past the first cut. An admissions committee has to review a lot of applications so they have to look for ways to limit the field. GRE scores are the easiest ranking criterion so a low score can remove you from the list of candidates that are given a more in-depth look. The flip side is that you don’t need the very top score, not that it would hurt, but you should be in the top third of the applicant pool or, with lower grades, you’ll be vulnerable.
Re less competitive grad schools. I think you’d probably be well served to talk to your professors and find out where they think you could gain admission. They will have a better handle on your chances. That said, I would consider the following 3-part strategy. (1) I would apply to several programs but only to research-oriented Universities that offer a PhD program. The reason to limit applications to research universities is because you are far more likely to find a professor with grant funds available to support graduate students. (2) I would look at Universities in locations that may not be as desirable to some applicants. UC Santa Barbara may be inundated with applicants who not only want to attend a top program but may also envision good times on the beach in Isla Vista. Same with U. Colorado, Washington, Boston, etc for different reasons (cool college town or urban environment). On the flip side, Buffalo also has an outstanding program but I would guess that the admission rate is higher because some people would shy away from the harsh winters. So, maybe focus on the upper Midwest, if you’re flexible? (3) As I’ve written elsewhere the number one key to grad school is identifying a great advisor who can serve as a research mentor. Your top priority should be finding the right advisor who has a vibrant research program. Ideally, your advisor would already be tenured (so you don’t have to worry about them being forced out or moving elsewhere before they go up for tenure review) but perhaps not yet a full Professor (so they’re still hungry and not globe trotting to give lectures and accept awards). Associate Professors are ideal, in my opinion.
If you pursue this diligently, and have a bit of luck along the way, I think you’ll land on your feet and find yourself with an exciting, satisfying career. But, you’ll need a lot of drive, both to get through a grad program and to land a position on a good career track after graduation. Again, check with your professors at FSU who have a better perspective on all this. Getting advice from an academic is particularly critical if you dream of a professor gig.
Hope this helps! Cheers, J.
Along with many others, I have enjoyed this post and following discussion. I have a bit of a different type of question. I am currently an undergraduate double-majoring in wildlife ecology and environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I am an older returning student and as a result of necessarily working primarily for money during the summer/semesters I have little experience in my desired field of conservation.
After I graduate in May, I have been considering enrolling in the one-year GIS graduate capstone program here at UW to add value to my education. I feel that added skill will aid me in getting a job and differentiate me from those simply with an undergraduate degree and help to make-up for my lack of experience.
I am interested in obtaining a master’s, potentially a Phd at some point in geography, conservation biology, or environmental sciences, but I would prefer to see what is out there to find what is the best fit for my interests before taking that leap.
My idea is that this capstone will help me get into the field by obtaining a job out west (maybe Oregon), establish residency and my interests and move on from there. Do you feel this is a sound plan? Would a graduate-level capstone in GIS at UW be a significant upgrade to simply taking a couple classes in GIS during my undergrad to employers? Is it worth the extra time and cost? My GPA is quite good and I have a number of well-respected professors and a couple researchers willing to be references and give positive recommendations.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Hi Jesse. Thanks for reading and for submitting this question. I suspect there are many others facing similar situations. Based on what you’ve told me here I would advise against the capstone program. Instead, I would recommend two things: (1) apply for jobs/internships/opportunities to break into your desired field of conservation and (2) apply to standard 2-yr Master’s programs in Geography (or other disciplines) where funding may be available. Here’s why. First, if you want a job in conservation why not go straight for it? The most relevant learning, GIS and otherwise, will be on-the-job so that would be the best possible education and you would be getting paid. Second, the capstone is a non-degree program. If you’re thinking grad school and possibly a PhD, I think your year would be better spent pursuing a legitimate Master’s degree rather than a certificate. A Master’s would open more opportunities, allow you to pursue your interests in GIS and may allow you to pay your own way with a teaching or research assistantship. Working as a graduate assistant in an academic department is the preferred way to go about grad school. It’s actually a job where, although you’ll live on a shoestring, you won’t be going into debt and you’ll have the opportunity to interact with professors as a colleague instead of as a student. That’s where the real learning takes place. In the current environment, obtaining a good job offer and/or admission to a graduate program with funding may be a big challenge but I think those are better avenues to pursue. If neither one works out, then I still think that working in whatever job you can find (restaurant, coffee shop, etc or, better yet, an on-campus job in computer support or whatever) and pursuing self-study aggressively while searching for a good job in conservation or re-applying to grad school would be a better path. All this depends of course on some assumptions I’ve made about your financial situation and your stated career objectives. There are always more complicating details in any individual situation. Feel free to email me directly if you’d like to discuss further. Best of luck! -Justin
Thanks for this post. Really informative. I want to ask a direct question and I want a direct answer based on your opinion.
Which career path in geography is the most profitable (financial-wise, wages & salary) and what is the annual salary range?
Also what are the chances of getting a scholarship for a graduate program in a geography related program?
Hi Jay. I enjoyed reading your question and I’ll do my best to provide a direct answer. All else being equal I think your best bet for a financially lucrative career in geography would be to pursue the spatial statistician path that I describe in this post: http://www.justinholman.com/2012/04/26/spatial-career-guide-spatial-statistician/. To maximize your earning potential I would suggest that you pursue geography and math or computer science as an undergrad – maybe a double major or major/minor combo and a Master’s degree in statistics where the program offers spatial statistics coursework at the grad level. And, of course, you should take coursework in GIS, programming and visualization. Coming out of the grad program I think you could reasonably expect a salary in the $50-60k range with opportunities to double that within 5-7 years after graduation if you’re good, hard-working and passionate about what you’re doing day-to-day. A bit of luck in finding a good organizational fit wouldn’t hurt. As with all private sector careers, long term earnings will depend more on your ability to work/communicate with people, to think like an entrepreneur and to negotiate compensation than on your technical abilities. Hope this helps! Best, Justin
My name is Letícia, I am from Brazil and recently applied to the PhD in Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My GPA and TOEFL scores were very good, I have strong recommendation letters and a good CV. However, my GRE scores were not so great. Does anyone knows what is the minimum score to get in? Is that a determinant? Thanks in advance for your attention. Best.
Hi Leticia – a good GRE score is important but it’s not a good indicator for all applicants due to cultural bias. As an applicant coming from Brazil a good admissions committee should be able to recognize that the GRE won’t do a very good job of predicting how likely you are to be successful in graduate school. So, I don’t think a low score will hurt you too much. That said, I’ve heard from faculty I know in a few geography departments that it’s very competitive admissions climate at the moment. A large number of applicants are competing for only a few spots so you won’t be guaranteed admission even if you have a truly outstanding GRE score and everything else is in great shape as well. Plus, Wisconsin is one of the best geography programs in the world so it won’t be easy. If you don’t get in this year don’t give up! A good strategy could be to attend a smaller, less well-known program to obtain a Master’s degree and then re-apply. The key is to have a faculty advisor who is well-established in the geography community and who is willing to advocate for your admission to a top PhD program. Good luck!
Hi Justin! Thanks for your reply! I understand that this program is one of the best and its very competitive! I am very anxious about the results. I already have a masters degree obtained from a Brazilian University, so in that case I don´t know if it would be very productive for me to obtain a second one. However, it could be a strategy. What I am hoping is that the advisor I have indicated will defend my admission! It definitely won´t be easy! Best.
Leticia – I don’t really know how your Master’s from Brazil will be viewed by a PhD admissions committee. I think it will depend on the University and department you attended and your Master’s thesis (if you completed a research project). Are you planning to do research in Brazil or involving Brazilian culture or physical geography? This would likely be viewed favorably and give you an advantage, especially if there’s a professor in the Wisconsin program with interests in Brazil or South America. Again, best wishes! -Justin
Hi! I could have sworn I’ve been to this website before but after going through some of the articles I realized it’s new to me.
Anyhow, I’m certainly delighted I discovered it and I’ll
be book-marking it and checking back often!
Helpful information. Lucky me I discovered your website by accident, and
I’m stunned why this twist of fate did not came about earlier! I bookmarked it.
Glad you found me!
BU is my alma mater so it is nice to see them as #1 (they were #27 I think when I was there). But then why did BU drop the word “geography” from the name of the department? It is now Earth and Environment after merging with geology…
Hi David, My understanding is that they are more or less focused on the physical side of geography but I see on their website that they offer graduate programs in “Geographical Sciences” and undergraduate majors in human geography and physical geography, among others: http://www.bu.edu/earth/about/ Cheers, J.
This site is absolutely awesome because it gives information one never learns in class and one never gets from one of the career publications out there.
In my case I studied geography at the undergrad level and had a GIS certificate. I then “bumped” into the systems analyst line of work immediately upon graduation and because it paid well, I stuck with it. When my employer paid 100% of my graduate tuition, I had no choice but to pick a program more aligned with the work (Software Eng). This also meant I never worked a single day in anything to do with geography.
But I have always been dying to get back into Geography. What is the best way to reach you if one needed to ask a question with perhaps more details?
Dan, thanks for the feedback! Glad you like the site. Please follow me on twitter: @justinholman and then send a Direct Message. Or, you can send email to justin DOT holman AT gmail DOT com. Thanks again! -J.
I am an undergraduate Geography student at Ohio University. This list seems to be a great reference tool as I apply for grad school. Ideally, I would like to live in Oregon or Washington. My GPA is currently a 3.2, I have about two semesters to improve it…. and I need funding from the university I attend. I understand that there are many different factors regarding admission. But I would love to know what you think my chances are of getting into U of O, Oregon State, or Washington. I’ve done quite a bit of research into the faculty members of each university and it looks like all three would be a great fit. Assuming that my GRE score is respectable… do you think a 3.2 GPA will qualify me for admission? Please let me know if you have any advice.
Steven, from what I can gather from my colleagues it is a very challenging time to gain admission to a good graduate program. This is primarily due to the huge number of applicants flooding many graduate programs. I know this is true at Oregon and I’m assuming it’s true at Oregon State and Washington as well. Your 3.2 GPA is not going to help you much but it shouldn’t preclude your chances of admission either. My advice is to (1) work hard to get an outstanding GRE score as this will help you float to the top of the long list of applicants; (2) work with one of your professors at Ohio U. on a research project and, ideally, get your name on a publication; and (3) know what you want to study and who you want to study with so you can craft a rock-solid personal statement articulating your plan for graduate study and why a particular program makes sense for you. To be honest, I doubt that Oregon, Oregon State and Washington would *all* be a good fit for any specific, well crafted research plan. I say this because Washington is really a different sort of geography program with a different approach and philosophy that isn’t terribly similar to what’s offered at Oregon and Oregon State. And I don’t mean to imply that any downside exists – all 3 are great universities with outstanding geography scholars – but I’d be a bit surprised if you have a research focus that is well represented in all 3 geography programs (unless you’re thinking of a different department at one or more of the schools). If you’d like, let me know what you’re interested in doing in grad school and beyond and I may be able to provide some more specific guidance.
Best wishes, Justin
[…] 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, […]
You made some decent points there. I looked on the net to find out
more about the issue and found most individuals will go along with your views on this web site.
Thanks for the comment!
Hi…am an undergraduate of Geography and environmental sciences in a Nigerian university,i intend pursuing a graduate programe in medical geography outside my country preferably in any european univ. And i need your advice on how to go about it.currently in my finals with a 3.86 GPA,got jst a few months to go.if possible i’d prefar any with a scholarship scheme to help assist myself.tnx.anticipating ur rply.
Hi David, I don’t know much about geography programs in Europe. If you are interested in studying Medical Geography in the U.S. I would recommend that you take a look at Buffalo, but only if you’re highly quantitative. North Carolina and Illinois also come to mind. Best wishes, Justin
Hi… my son is a rising senior in High School and just announced his intention to major in Geography. I think it’s a great fit for him. I’m on-line searching out undergrad programs in Geography because his announcement has made most of our college list obsolete. Any advice on undergrad programs? We are attacking this late in the game. Thanks!
Hi Barb – Dartmouth, Middlebury and Macalester are all cream of the crop undergrad programs if you prefer a liberal arts setting and can afford tuition. Any of the major Universities listed as a top program would be a good choice, exposing your son to research in the field. But, there are so many factors that go into selection of an undergraduate college or University. Where do you live? Your state University may be the best option, especially from a financial standpoint. At the undergrad level, in my opinion, it’s better to seek out an environment where your son will thrive and be successful academically rather than just looking for the best program. I can’t pass up the opportunity to recommend my home department at the University of Oregon. It’s relatively small and collegial but also provides exposure to top-notch researchers in a variety of sub-disciplines including environmental change, political geography, GIScience and Cartography, to name a few. Let me know if I can help further. All best, Justin
I am working as a postdoc in the University of Michigan in the Department of Human genetics as a J1 VISA. My wife is coming with dependent VISA (J2) this November. She has Master’s Degree in Geography from India. She has been working as a school teacher (Class: XI-XII level) for 11 years. I know my wife can work with J2 VISA in USA. Would you please tell me what types of jobs she can get with her degree (Master’s in Geography from India) or with her experience (11 year school teacher in India)?
I would be happy if you please give some suggestions regarding this matter.
Hi Mrinal, thanks for the note. Since your wife has a lot of teaching experience I think her best bet would be to search for teaching positions. Targeting private schools will likely be the best route since public school positions will require credentials issued by government agencies. There are a number of excellent private schools in Ann Arbor and Detroit Metro but I suspect that teaching positions in the area are relatively difficult to obtain. A great deal will depend upon her communication skills. Unless she has experience in applied geographic analysis techniques I’m not certain what other areas she might pursue. One possibility would be to attempt to break into the retail location analytics consulting industry. To do this she would need to demonstrate aptitude with demographic data, general mapping concepts and basic statistics. And she would need to become very familiar with the cultural geography of the U.S. There are a few companies in SE Michigan that provide these services and may have openings. Yet another possibility might involve creating and teaching a course on the Geography of South Asia. This could involve working with a local community college or University or simply developing an on-line curriculum using simple blogging software like WordPress. Maybe I’ll be her first student! I suspect it won’t be easy to make the transition but if she’s energetic, creative and flexible she will find something. Hope this helps! Best wishes, Justin
Thank you very much for your precious suggestion. I have another question, how easy to get Ph.D. position after clearing GRE/TOEFL, how about funding/financial support and how easy to get job after completing Ph.D.
Since I am from biological background, I know about these question in my field but I don’t have any idea about Geography.
Mrinal, it’s not too easy I’m afraid. Last I heard from active faculty they report a very high number of applicants for each spot in a graduate program so the competition is pretty tough. That said, if you are flexible on location and can demonstrate skills and interests in a sub-discipline (particularly one with good sources of grant funding) you should be able to find a fit. Funding, in exchange for teaching or research, typically comes along with admission to PhD programs. Jobs as a professor in a geography department aren’t easy to find either but if you’re committed and have built a nice cv during grad school there seem to be openings that come along. Again, you have to be flexible, at least short term, about where you’re willing to live. Hope this helps too! Best, JH
I am a PhD applicant and intend to apply at Kansas State University for Fall 2014. Please can you let me know whether all Geography PhD programs arrange interviews before admitting students ?
Hi Soma, I don’t know about interview requirements – I suspect that it varies by program. That said, I would recommend interviewing in person as a PhD would involve a major investment of your time and energy and you want to find a good fit. It is especially important to find a good advisor who will help you achieve your objectives. Hope this helps. Best, JH
Hi Dr. Justin,
My name is Levi Bonnell and I am a masters student at the Colorado School of Public Health at CU Denver concentrating in epidemiology. In my first year I took a GIS course and realized immediately the applicability to health research. I ended up doing some descriptive mapping over the summer in Tanzania for my practicum experience and TA-ing a course using Quantum. Anyway, I am fascinated with this field and am considering doing my PhD in Geography/GIS/Health Geography; however, I don’t plan on doing this immediately. What would you recommend as relevant experience during my interim period to help get into a top geography department? Also, would you recommend R as the most compliant software for spatial statistics? Would you recommend having python experience since it is the language of arc?
Thank you kindly,
p.s. Thanks for the post! I had no idea during my undergrad and masters at CU that my school was among the leaders in geography!
Wow, going through these queries and replies makes me nervous! I’m a Political Science master’s graduate specializing in international relations focusing on conflicts, peace, security and development, with six publications – academic journal and policy briefs. I did Geography at undergraduate and loved it. I want to go back to geography. I’m currently working on my PhD application in in this area. I want to specialize in GIS. I want to apply GIS technologies to help resolve conflicts and enhance security in Africa. I’m not particularly looking for the best of geography schools in the U.S., it should be a decent one with decent programs. All the schools I was targeting seem to be the worst in terms of high influx of applications. I’m looking for a school with decent programs in GIS and Political Geography/Geopolitics/Political Ecology, where I can work with faculty specializing in both GIS and resource-based conflicts such as the land, water, natural minerals, and etc. I have identified U. of Wisconsin and Oregon State U. It does not seem like I’m gonna make it though. Can you recommend other schools; they do not necessarily have to be the best. TJ in South Africa.
Hi TJ – thank you for the comment. Instead of searching for a geography program, you need to be looking for the right geography professor to become your advisor. Ideally, you would identify a professor in a PhD granting department who has expertise in GIS, political geography *and* Africa. No small task. My advice would be to do some research on your topic of interest – this will give you a taste of life as a PhD student and it should help you identify some of the key players in your area of research interest. Look up anyone who seems like they might be doing the sort of work you want to do and find out more about the programs offered in their home department. If you find a fit I would go ahead and email and/or phone the professor to inquire about admissions to the PhD program and possible funding opportunities. As I’ve mentioned here and elsewhere the choice of advisor is more important than just about anything else when it comes to PhD program selection. Hope this helps. Best wishes, Justin
[…] years I have produced rankings for the top graduate geography programs in the U.S. You can see my 2012 NRC-based rankings and my 2013 rankings in previous […]
The ranking is very problematic. Boston, UCD and Oregon State were ranked for earth/environmental sciences, not really geography. UCD does not even have a geog. dept. U Maryland cheated by adding temporary researchers as faculty.
Hi Kevin – The 2012 rankings were based on NRC data. Did you see my 2013 Rankings which included other factors?
I have a question for you, what happened to UNC at Chapel Hill, is still a good department for graduate studies? Especially those related to climatology, which has been good in the last 20 years or so?
I have seen that some departments require GRE while others not, for example UCLA does not, which is quite interesting.
Hello! Sorry I must have missed this comment a few days ago. Yes, UNC Chapel Hill seems to be an excellent department. I don’t know much about their climatology faculty but I’ve never heard anything bad about the department. I do know that Michael Emch, current Chair, has made some very nice contributions in the “geohealth” area and has produced some successful grad student outcomes along the way. Not sure about the GRE requirements and how they may have changed. I would plan to take the test very seriously as, in my limited experience, GRE scores are the only reasonable way to rank/sort applicants (whether it’s fair or not is a separate question) when you have far more applications than spots available. Hope this helps! Best wishes, Justin
Hello Mr. Holman
I am an undergrad student in Rural Surveying and Engineering at the National Technical University of Athens, Greece (N.T.U.A). When i was a freshman i wasn’t really happy with the school i ended up with because it wasn’t my top choice and i almost dropped the classes for like 2 years. Then i realized that i need to finish this school whether i liked it or not else id have no work future at all! I started attending classes until i reached a gis class which i really enjoyed and found very interesting. So now i am in the 6th year of the bachelor’s program (out of 5 minimum) and i think i will need one more to complete it. As i am searching on the web for rankings on gis- geography master’s degrees in the US but like you’ve mentioned, there are not any rankings on the geography discipline besides the one from NRC. So question number 1: if i pay to get full access on the usnews website to get full access to ranking data and statistics, will that maybe unlock geography as a discipline and provide separate ranking just for geography grad schools? Also, while surfing on various geography grad school sites, i have noticed that all of them require a minimum of 3 gpa. Here in Greece our grades range from 0-10. With simple math 3/4= 7,5/10 BUT my early college year slacking and lazyness has resulted to a 6,5/10 gpa. The good thing is that in the last semester students have to complete a project with a supervising professor (like a big thesis) which counts as 20% of the overall degree grade, which is quite a good boost. I must also note that in my school grades like 9 and 10 are considered a taboo for professors even if you study hard and never miss a class! So comparing grades from one country to another is not always fair in my humble opinion. Do you think admission committees share the same thought when it comes to International applicants like myself? And finally, do you think acing the GRE and the TOEFL, going to national geography congresses just for the certificate of attendance and having a strong letter of purpose can increase my chances of being accepted to a top 20 geography grad school?
P.S Sorry for the long post
Hi Stelios, thanks for submitting these questions. My guess is that many undergrads have similar questions.
Answer #1: Unless something has changed recently US News & World Report does not publish geography grad school rankings. So don’t waste money purchasing full access.
Answer #2: Yes, most admissions committees will take your individual circumstances into consideration but only if you make the first cut. GPAs are difficult to compare in general, even between US schools. So, for better or for worse, the GRE becomes the easiest way to rank applicants. Aside from GRE scores there may be key recommendations (e.g., a letter from a professor who is closely connected to a faculty member) or other unique qualifications (e.g., early publication in a key journal) that push someone’s name to the top of the queue. After that, an admissions committee would comb through personal statements and recommendation letters in an attempt to identify the best applicants. So, yes, acing the GRE (and the TOEFL) will most certainly improve your chances. I don’t know about the national geography congress certificate – my guess is that it won’t make any difference unless it’s a key factor for a recommendation letter.
One last note – don’t limit your focus to “top 20” programs. The best program for you may well be a department that’s not on the list. Think about your research interests and try to find a professor or faculty that will provide you with the appropriate expertise. Also, if you are shooting for a PhD you may be better off completing a Master’s at a smaller program where you will receive more attention and then look at top programs for your doctoral studies.
Hope this helps. Best wishes, Justin
Thanks for the quick response!
This is Hafiz from India. presently my daughter is studying 3rd year 2nd sem in GIS(Bachelor of Technology) from Andhra University, she like to pursue Ms in GIS from US and likes to do service in Remote sensing or satellite launching back in India. now she is taking classes for GRE and TOEFL. we are planning for 2015 August.
Could you please let us know the best universities where on campus full time courses in GIS & RS are offered.
Hi Mohammed, take a look at my recent post ranking/highlighting top graduate programs in GIS. Here’s the link: http://www.justinholman.com/2014/01/05/2014-top-10-gis/
Hope this helps! Best wishes to you and your daughter, Justin
I really appreciate your Top 20.
I have some questions and I hope that you can help me.
Let me tell you my situation.
I’m from Spain I hold a bachelor in Technical Engineering in Computer Systems ( I think, this is the most appropiate translate).
I’m currently collaborating with Spanish Red Cross as a GIS Technician and I’d like to improve my knowledge about the subject.
I’ve been looking in Spain but I didn’t find anything interesting.
I need a Online program. In my case the best chose is a Graduate Certificate.
Could you help me? Do you Know any graduate certifiate, course… from a well known University?
Hi Rafa! The first program I would investigate is Penn State. They have an excellent reputation within geography and GIS and they’ve been providing on-line education for some time. Probably your best bet.
Hi Justin, I am an undergraduate student studying economics, with a very strong math and computer programming background. I have taken a few geography classes at my university and really enjoyed them. I’m interested in pursuing an masters degree in geography after I graduate, but am concerned that because my undergraduate background is not in geography, I will not be considered. Is this true, or is economics a related enough field that I should not be concerned? Thanks so much for the great post and for your advice.
Hi Lina, Your undergrad preparation sounds great. I wouldn’t worry about not having a geography degree. That said, it’s good that you’ve taken a few geography classes. Before applying to grad programs I would recommend spending time in the library doing your own research on various sub-fields within geography that you might want to invesrigate. Economic geography is one such sub-field. Given your interest in math/programming and background in econ you might want to look into “spatial econometrics” and check out Arizona State’s geography program led by Luc Anselin. Hope this helps! Best wishes, Justin
I’m a geography major and just finished my junior year at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). I want to continue on to at least the masters level at a different school but I don’t know what exactly I want to focus on. If forced, I would have to say that I am most interested in geovisualization, cartography, society/environment interaction, and urban morphology. These interests do seem somewhat disparate, and after browsing many grad program websites, it seems that I need to have a really strong sense of exactly what I want when crafting my statement of purpose.
Also, I am not entirely sure how much I would enjoy/be good at research because I simply don’t have enough experience at it yet. Sure, I have done many papers and projects, but not very many of the sort where I’ve posed a question and found an answer that contributed to the body of knowledge. This makes deciding between the research degree or a professional degree rather difficult for me to make.
I am doing well gradewise and have a 3.7 gpa cumulative and 3.9+ in the major.
After looking at your lists and program websites, my highly preliminary shortlist is University of Washington, Portland State University, Indiana University, University of Minnesota, and University of Colorado at Boulder. Location is a major factor in most of these as well as the actual program.
My main dilemma is that I know I like the subject and I want to learn more, but I don’t exactly know what I want from it. Hopefully your input can help me figure this out.
Hi Ryan – I think your interests (visualization + human-environment + urban) can come together nicely in a research project. The key is to find a good mentor. I would add Wisconsin and Oregon to your list. Madison and Eugene seem to fit the mold location wise as well. Sounds like you have some exploring to do. I would try to decide what you think you’d like to do *after* grad school before you begin applying. A year in the “real” world might help clarify. Hope this helps. Best wishes, Justin
First of all, I appreciate your writings and integration of informations!
My name is Don, and I’m studying geography as a major in S.Korea. My english might not be good enough, but I hope you can catch the sense out of confusing sentences 🙂
Your lists kinda stimulated me to consider going graduate school. I’ll be graduating after next semester, but I still can’t make up my mind.
I’m interested in physical geography, and environmental science(not engineering) attracts me also. My major interest was Hydrology and Environmental geography. I’m also studying for Engineer Soil Environment. (ps. Not familiar with forestry or ecology but still bit interested.)
I think those kind of Studies seems to have little bit of difficulty standing alone by itself these days. However I also believe that when it becomes combined with other studies and applied with proper methodology, it’ll be prospective. These kind of idea keeps me to consider studying more at graduate school.
However one big problem for me is that, it is so hard for me to find out the trend of studies (in US or the other english using nations). In my country, climatology is leading the physical geography, but my concerned studies are quite quiet. And at my college, only one professor deals with hydrology, geomorphology, tour geography all by himself. Almost none of colleagues are interested in physical geography(except climatology). These kind of situation discourages my academic interest…
Is this kind of depression for physical geography common worldwide?(for research or job whatever) I would like to hear your opinion, whom will not have distorted view affected by situation which might be just regional.
If you don’t mind, can you aslo inform me which field is most active among my interests and which university are leading? (Hydrology, Environmental geography, Geoscience etc)
All your advises will be very helpful for me I suppose. Want to thank you in advance!
Hi Don, in the US climatology, biogeography and geomorphology are strong sub-disciplines. Climate research gets a lot of attention but there is good work being done across the board. I don’t think you’ll have trouble finding high quality faculty advisors in the US. The top schools for physical geography are more or less the same as those listed in this newer geography department ranking: http://www.justinholman.com/2013/03/18/2013-top-20-graduate-geography-programs-in-the-us/
Washington is one exception as they focus on human geography. Hope this helps! Best wishes, Justin
[…] Top 20 Graduate Geography Programs in the U.S … – This post was written in February 2012. Since then I’ve posted 2013 Geography Program Rankings using an updated methodology and, more recently, I’ve published …… […]
[…] Top 20 Graduate Geography Programs in the U.S … – This post was written in February 2012. Since then I’ve posted 2013 Geography Program Rankings using an updated methodology and, more recently, I’ve published …… […]
I apologize if this was already asked but curious if you are aware of any decent online Masters programs in Geography. I have an undergrad degree from Kutztown University of Pennsylvania and I am interested in pursuing my Masters but I cannot relocate out of Charlotte, NC where I currently reside. I have looked in state and haven’t found an online program.
Hi RJ – have you checked out UNC-Charlotte’s geography program? I’m not sure if it’s still true but UNCC at one time was considered among the very best programs for applied spatial analysis. Here’s a link: https://geoearth.uncc.edu/masters-programs/masters-geography. If you prefer on-line programs, check this blog post on the topic: http://www.justinholman.com/2014/05/16/top-10-on-line-gis-masters-degree-programs/ Hope this helps! Best, Justin
[…] Top 20 Graduate Geography Programs in the U.S … – This post was written in February 2012. Since then I’ve posted 2013 Geography Program Rankings using an updated methodology and, more recently, I’ve published …… […]
I am looking to apply for a masters program in Geography. Though I have a very good undergraduate and masters degrees, I have low GRE score. Can you please recommend me good schools that could accept me?
GRE scores are important but most admission committees are willing to overlook a low score if other elements of your application are compelling. One of the keys is to articulate why the program is just right for you. So try to find a good match between your interests and department strengths to maximize your chances. Hope this helps.
I am from India and completed my masters in GIS. I have 4 years of work experience in the field of Photogrammetry and GIS. Now i am planning to do MS in GIS. But i am bit confused of choosing universities in U S. Could you please guide me to choose universities, which suits for me based on my work experience.
Try this list: http://www.justinholman.com/2014/01/05/2014-top-10-gis/
[…] to believe it’s already been 3 years since 2012 when I published my first set of geography graduate program rankings, based on NRC data. I followed in 2013 with a survey-driven set of rankings. Last year I produced rankings of […]
[…] Top 20 Graduate Geography Programs in the U.S … – 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 …… […]
let me introduce myself, I write from turkey. ı want to come to usa for PHD but not now ı have time for 2 years for it. ı got education in geography and archeology( as a major) my GPA is 3.39 in geography and I have two master program in different universtys which are the best universty of turkey, THAT İS, ı will have two master program in different field. One of them are related to GIS another is about little ıce age. by the way my GPA is 3.83 in master but another is not certain. I hope that I would take high score on it. NOW my alternatives are berkeley, ucla, washinton at seatle, colarado at boulder . but sametimes ı think ı was not enoght to come there. What should ı do to be accepted them as different? Do you have suggestion for me?
You should find a US researcher with interests in climate history and contact them directly. At the PhD level finding the right advisor is more important than the reputation of the department or the University.
I will pay attantion to more what you said.
Hi, I’m an undergrad geography major and wondering about grad programs in same at UMN. Do you have an opinion on their grad programs both masters and doctorate? How do I find out what the department’s strengths are and whether they align withy interests? Can you explain that more?
Hi Wendy, I’ll assume you mean the University of Minnesota. When I was a grad student in the 90s Minnesota was considered one of the very best programs. But a decade later it had fallen significantly. I don’t really know why. I assume top people left for some reason. Even though Minnesota is no longer a Top Tier geography department it is still an outstanding University and, if you find a good fit with a faculty advisor, I wouldn’t hesitate to attend. That goes for a Masters and a PhD. To answer your second question, you can usually read the Department web page to better understand program emphasis areas. Here’s a link to research themes or “clusters” at Minnesota: http://www.geog.umn.edu/clusters/. I wouldn’t place *too* much weight on these department focus areas as they are almost always changing. The most important element in your search for a graduate program is the fit between your research interests and your faculty advisor’s research program. So, to properly search for a research advisor you would read their profile webpage, their CV (typically available for download) and then read some of their recent publications to more fully understand their work. Hope this helps. Best wishes, Justin
I am from Indian and I am currently pursuing graduation in Geography(honors). So, after I complete my graduation degree course can I join MS and PhD courses in Geomorphology in USA universities and do Geomorphology is a good career option there? Please let me know.
Hi Soumyadeep, I would assume you would be eligible but it may vary from program to program. Geomorphology is a great specialty but I don’t really know as much about the career options there might be (unless you combine with GIS-related skills). Sorry I can’t be more helpful. Best wishes, Justin
Thanks for the reply and I wanted to know whether full scholarship programs are available for geography students and what are the requirements to secure full scholarships from universities in USA ?
Yes, full scholarships are typically available for PhD students and sometimes Master’s students. The only requirement is whether or not the faculty wants you to join the department. Cheers, Justin
So, when does a faculty could want me to join the department and what they expect from foreign students ?
[…] out the top Geography Departments in the U.S. The U of O ranks number […]
Hi Justin So I was going through mostly all the comments and the post. I’m planning to relocate to FL after I finish undergrad at Hunter College NYC. Right now I am attending College Of Staten Island planning to transfer. I am interested in Sustainability, Climate change, and cleaning pollution focusing on new technologies that are environmental friendly. I want your opinion on which college program in FL or if not in FL, colleges general have programs that are very hands on in field work.
Hi Ayanna, field work component will vary by department and mostly depends on individual faculty who make an effort to get students in the field. You’ll need to visit University websites, find faculty who specialize in one of your areas of interest (which are too scattered at the moment – you’ll need to narrow down in grad school apps) and ask about field work. Sorry I can’t provide more specific guidance. Best wishes, Justin
I am looking for postdoc position in USA , I am from Iran and holding PhD degree from Iran. I also have some other experiences and publications. I am not familiar with the process to get a postdoc position. I am so thankful for any suggestion. I also interested in earth science.
I’ve never held a post-doc so I’m probably not qualified to answer. Ideally, your PhD advisor will help you identify and find a position. If that’s not a possibility, I think the process would be pretty similar to seeking out an appropriate PhD program. In that case, please read this recent post: http://www.justinholman.com/2015/08/12/seven-steps-to-finding-the-right-geography-phd-program/
Hope this helps!
Hi, Justin,I’m Dorothy and pursuing an udergraduate course in geography in education.Please help me with a master’s degree course to pursue in South florida or any university after my BED in geography.I love the course and thanks for your advice.
Hi Dorothy, does your program need to be in South Florida?
Hi Justin, I’m Dipal from India. I have recently become a Civil Engineering graduate. Despite lovinvg Geography, due to some reason I could not take up Geography at the undergraduate level. But now I want to pursue a career in Geography. Is there any way or any course that I can take up to dedicate my future to Geography ? Geology is a subject very close to my heart. So if there is any way I can switch my career from Engineerkng to Geography I would absolutely love to know. Thanks
Hi Dipal, there’s nothing stopping you from applying to graduate programs in geography. Maybe take a course or two online for free or do some self study before you commit to the long process of graduate study. Best to be certain before going all in. Cheers, Justin
Hey justin , Am sofia from india . I was persuing bsc . Geography hons but for some reason ive shifted to bsc general with geography , economics and political science as my subjects . Can i get admission in ms. In geography in any university in california . What are the criterias can u help me with . I want to persue GIS in future . Thank you !
Yes, a degree in geography, econ and politics would be looked upon favorably. There are a large number of strong Master’s degree programs in California. UC Santa Barbara, UCLA, Berkeley and San Diego State are top programs but you can also find great success at a number of “Cal State” programs. Check out San Francisco State, San Jose State, Chico, Humboldt, etc.
[…] I’ve cautioned in previous posts (see 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 rankings), the programs I consider to be the very best may not be the best for […]
Thanks for this thread Justin. Looking for a good undergrad program for geology and environmental sciences.
We have visited U of Utah and really liked it. Wondering your thoughts on this school as well as other recommendations. U of Minnesota?
Don’t think you can go wrong at either Utah or Minnesota. If it were me I’d head to Utah for better weather, skiing and proximity to a plethora of field study locations and natural wonders in the Western US. But Minnesota is a superb University.
Thanks for this very informative thread.
For some background information, I’m an International Affairs/Economics double major at FSU. My concentration for IA is geography (and I have taken courses in geography, just not GIS or environmental courses). My main concern is that my undergraduate background will not be suitable for graduate-level degrees in geography. I have no real interest in GIS or the environmental track of geography; rather, I would prefer to study economic or political geography. That being said, could you recommend any high-ranking human geography (and related) graduate programs?
Awesome information! I graduate from Texas State in GIS Spring of 2017 but am looking into Oregon and Washington for graduate schools since that’s where I’m originally from. Do you have any idea which is better for GIS?
I’m completely biased because I graduated from Oregon and I think it’s the best place in the world to study geography. If you’re interested in the Cartography and Data Visualization side of GIS, Oregon is indeed world class and second to none except possibly Wisconsin. Washington has strong GIS programs as well but their department has a different philosophy favoring Human Geography over Physical. You can see on their Research Fields page that one key area of emphasis is Critical Theory.
To me, Critical Theory is Sociology disguised as Geography and, as I’ve written elsewhere, I would avoid it. That said, I’m certain you can find an excellent graduate education at U. Washington especially if you were to combine your studies with offerings from the Departments of Computer Science and/or Statistics. If you’re interested in environmental/physical geography and GIS you should also consider Oregon State in Corvallis.
Pretty! This was a really wonderful article. Thanks for sharing.
there is availability of Scholarship to support African students to study in U.S.A?
Yes, if you can gain admission to a PhD program there will often be funding available in exchange for teaching and/or research.
Thanx Justin for sharing this. My sister wants to pursue GIS next year. Keep up the good work!
Yes, most PhD programs offer student financial support, typically by providing tuition and a small stipend in exchange for teaching or research duties. You would need to contact the graduate programs directly to inquire about admission and funding opportunities.
I’m exploring option for MS in Geo-Information science from Salem State university in Boston?
Would like to hear from you all about the course offered and how do you rate this university ?
I’ve heard good things about Salem State but I don’t know enough about the program to make a strong recommendation one way or the other.
Thank-you for being out there, answering questions and lighting the way.
I have been a full-time wildland firefighter/Ranger for 17 years. I have an old BFA in art/education and a GIS Professional Certification from UWSP 2016 – emergency mgmt. emphasis. Currently, I have been taking on-line coursework in information management at a community college. I have been also been taking Emergency Management professional development program coursework for All-Risk Hazards/Incident Management Team, on my own time, to work towards getting out of operations (boots on the ground) and into the infrastructure. I know first hand, from the number of weather/life-threatening events, that climate change is upon us and we need to prepare.
That all being said, I love GIS, especially making maps (I have a lot of applied experience in forest stand/structure/EMS events/plume modeling/etc) and I have found that (just like you have written above), a GIS certificate doesn’t really do that much for you. Are there GIS master programs that are known for emergency management and could use someone with extensive field experience on staff or perhaps internships/work-study public or private programs that would assist my making a non-traditional mid-career transition to GIS?
Penn State and South Carolina come to mind as schools where I’ve seen research activity in emergency management but it’s not something I’ve really tracked; I’m sure there are plenty of other solid programs out there. I suspect your “non-traditional” background would be welcome in most geography departments and I think if your objective is to work as a GIS Analyst for the forest service (or similar) you wouldn’t need to be terribly concerned about going to the most reputable program. With the huge wildfire activity in 2018 I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a round of new research grants that might fund your grad studies so that would be worth investigating. In any case, I would encourage you to pick-up Python and/or R as the most popular tech tool kits for processing and visualizing large data sets. Hope this helps.