Those with a bachelor’s degree may qualify for some entry-level jobs, but these often require previous geography experience or training in geographic information systems (GIS). Geographers need at least a master’s degree for most positions outside of the federal government.
Those with a bachelor’s degree may qualify for jobs in government, businesses, or nonprofits; some mid-level positions allow candidates to substitute 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 geographers outside of the federal government typically need a master’s degree in geography. Students usually choose to concentrate their courses in physical, human, or regional geography. Most programs include courses in both physical and human geography, statistics or mathematics, remote sensing, and GIS. In addition, courses in business, economics, or real estate are increasingly important as more geographers are employed in private industry.
Positions for geography professors require a Ph.D. For more information, see the profile on postsecondary teachers.
Most positions require geographers to be proficient in GIS technology. Geographers can become certified as a GIS professional (GISP) through the GIS Certification Institute. Although certification is not mandatory, it can demonstrate a level of professional expertise. Candidates may qualify for certification through a combination of education, professional experience, and contributions to the profession, such as publications or conference participation. GISP certification can often help those without a master’s degree or Ph.D. qualify for jobs.
Analytical skills. Geographers commonly analyze information and spatial data from a variety of sources, such as maps, photographs, and censuses. They must then be able to draw conclusions from sets of data.
Computer skills. Geographers who use GIS technology need strong computer skills. They must be proficient in GIS programming and database management and should be comfortable creating and manipulating digital images. Most geographers benefit from having some familiarity with GIS to enable them to collaborate and communicate effectively with technical staff.
Critical-thinking skills. Geographers need critical thinking skills when doing research, as 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.
Presentation skills. Geographers often present their research, typically using visual representations of data. They must describe their findings and explain how the findings are represented.
Writing skills. Writing skills are important for geographers, who often write reports or articles detailing their research findings, communicating with diverse stakeholders, and justifying proposed projects. Some geographers also must write proposals for funding.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition