How to Become a Geographer
Geographers use maps and global positioning systems in their work.
Geographers need a bachelor’s degree for most entry-level positions and for positions within the federal government. Work experience and a master’s degree are typically required for more advanced positions.
Geographers with a bachelor’s degree qualify for most entry-level jobs and for positions with the federal government. Geographers outside of the federal government may need a master’s degree in geography or in geographic information systems (GIS). Some positions allow candidates to substitute work experience or GIS proficiency for an advanced degree. Top research positions usually require a Ph.D. or a master’s degree and several years of relevant work experience.
Most geography programs include courses in both physical and human geography, statistics or math, remote sensing, and GIS. In addition, courses in a specialized area of expertise are becoming increasingly important because the geography field is broad and interdisciplinary. For example, business, economics, or real estate courses are becoming increasingly important for geographers working in private industry.
Positions for geography professors require a Ph.D. For more information, see the profile on postsecondary teachers.
Students and new graduates often gain experience through internships. This type of practical experience allows students to develop new skills, explore their interests, and become familiar with the industry. Internships can be useful for jobseekers, because some employers prefer workers who have practical experience.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Although certification is not required, most positions require geographers to be proficient in GIS, and certification can demonstrate a level of professional expertise. The GIS Certification Institute offers the GIS professional (GISP) certification for geographers. Candidates may qualify for certification through a combination of education, professional experience, and contributions to the profession, such as publications or participation in conferences. The American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing also offers certification in GIS. Candidates may qualify for certification with 3 years of experience in GIS, four references, and the completion of a written exam.
Analytical skills. Geographers commonly analyze information and spatial data from a variety of sources, such as maps, photographs, and censuses. They must then be able to draw conclusions from their analyses of different sets of data.
Communication skills. Geographers must be able to communicate with coworkers; present, explain, and defend their research; and work well on teams.
Computer skills. Geographers must be proficient in GIS programming and database management and should be comfortable creating and manipulating digital images in the software.
Critical-thinking skills. Geographers need critical-thinking skills when doing research because they must choose the appropriate data, methods, and scale of analysis for projects. For example, after reviewing a set of population data, they may determine the implications of a particular development plan.
Writing skills. Geographers often write reports or articles detailing their research findings. They also may need to write proposals so that they can receive funding for their research or projects.