Geographers held about 1,700 jobs in 2012, of which 49 percent were in the federal government. Most others worked in architectural, engineering, and related services; colleges, universities, and professional schools; or were self-employed.
Many geographers do fieldwork to gather information and data. For example, geographers often make site visits to observe geographic features, such as the landscape and environment. Some geographers travel to the region they are studying, and sometimes that means working in foreign countries and remote locations.
Most geographers work full time during regular business hours.
Candidates with a bachelor’s degree may qualify for some entry-level jobs, but these jobs 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.
Geographers outside of the federal government typically need a master’s degree in geography. However, those with a bachelor’s degree may qualify for some entry-level jobs in government or nonprofits. 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 mathematics, remote sensing, and GIS. In addition, courses in a specialized area of expertise are increasingly important because the geography field is broad and interdisciplinary. For example, business, economics, or real estate courses are 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 or part-time jobs. These positions allow workers to develop new skills, explore their interests, and become familiar with the industry. Internships and part-time jobs can be useful for job seekers, because some employers prefer workers who have practical experience.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Most positions require geographers to be proficient in GIS. 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.
Geographers typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking and Creating interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Creating interest area indicates a focus on being original and imaginative, and working with artistic media.
If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking or Creating interest which might fit with a career as a geographer, you can take a career test to measure your interests.
Geographers should also possess the following specific qualities:
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 analysis of different sets of data.
Communication skills. Geographers often work closely with workers in related fields. They must be able to communicate with coworkers; present, explain, and defend their research; and work well on teams.
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 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. Writing skills are important for geographers because they often write reports or articles detailing their research findings. Some geographers also must write proposals so that they can receive funding for their research or projects.
The median annual wage for geographers was $74,760 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $41,910, and the top 10 percent earned more than $103,870.
In May 2012, the median annual wages for geographers in the top three industries employing geographers were as follows:
|Professional, scientific, and technical services||65,150|
|Educational services; state, local, and private||53,150|
Many geographers work full time during regular business hours. Some do fieldwork that may include travel to foreign countries or remote locations.
Employment of geographers is projected to grow 29 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 500 new jobs over the 10-year period.
More widespread use of geographic technologies, including geographic information systems (GIS), should drive job growth. These technologies allow government agencies, businesses, and nonprofits to use geographic data to make better business and planning decisions. Specifically, governments, businesses, and developers will need geographers to analyze information and offer advice on topics such as land use, building or infrastructure location, or environmental impact.
Due to greater focus on environmental and sustainable practices, geographers are increasingly needed to understand environmental changes and human impacts on the environment. Therefore, geographic analyses will be used to inform developers and policymakers of sustainable business practices and ensure adherence to increased regulations.
Governments and businesses also rely on geographers to research topics such as resource use, natural hazards, and climate change.
Despite faster-than-average employment growth, the small size of the occupation will result in a limited number of positions—a scenario in which applicants can expect strong competition for jobs. Those with advanced degrees, specialized subject matter expertise, and experience working with geographic technologies, such as GIS, should have the best job prospects. Workers who have used geographic technologies to complete projects and solve problems within their specialized subfield should have better job opportunities.
Many workers with a background in geography find geography-related jobs, but most of these positions do not have the title of geographer. Some of these occupations include surveyors, cartographers and photogrammetrists, surveying and mapping technicians, urban and regional planners, and geoscientists.
For more information about geographers, visit
For more information about geographic information systems (GIS) certification, visit
For information on federal government education requirements for geographer positions, visit
To find job openings for geographers in the federal government, visit