Geography (from Greek γεωγραφία, geographia, literally “earth description”) is a field of science devoted to the study of the lands, the features, the inhabitants, and the phenomena of Earth. The first person to use the word “γεωγραφία” was Eratosthenes (276–194 BC). In addition to being a Greek mathematician, poet, music theorist, and astronomer, he was also a geographer. He is best known for being the first person to calculate the circumference of the Earth, which he did by applying a measuring system using stadia. This standard unit of measure used during that time period resulted in a remarkably accurate calculation. We do not know if Eratosthenes was paid for his services as a geographer, but today there are several promising careers in this scientific field.
To be consistent, we have used the salary and job outlook data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Where the profession is not listed by the BLS, we have chosen a similar one. The job changes refer to the percentage and number of anticipated jobs changing or growing through attrition and expansion through 2024.
Those interested in an online degree in Geography are encouraged to read our article on the Top 10 Online Bachelor Degree Programs in Geography.
1. Emergency Management
A natural disaster is a serious disruption of the functioning of a community or a society often involving widespread human, material, economic, and environmental impacts. These disasters affect the two main branches of geography: human and physical geography. Catastrophic events caused by nature tragically impact humanity and the physical world. These calamitous events conjoin the study of geography with emergency management. Geography is a field of science dedicated to the study of the lands and its features, inclusive of the inhabitants. By engaging technology like GIS, as mentioned in this article, scientists can capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present all types of spatial or geographical data. The study of the spatial data helps predict the occurrence and severity of events, as in the case of flash floods.
Students nearing the completion of their degree program in geography and are interested in emergency management (EM), should consider a certificate. Not all graduate certificates in EM require work experience in a related field. A graduate certificate is a quick (16-20 hours) and inexpensive way to learn more about EM. The Associate in Emergency Management does not require experience or a degree in EM. FEMA also offers free independent study in EM free for those who qualify. Further information may be read in our report: Should I be Certified with an Emergency Management degree?
Students interested in pursuing a degree in this field are invited to read about the Top 25 Online Bachelor’s Degree Programs in Emergency Management.
Median Salary: $70,500 (Emergency Management Director)
Job Outlook: 6% or 700 job changes
2. Urban Planning/Community Development
Urban planners work with community members, public officials, and other groups to identify community issues, goals, or needs. Using research, data analysis, and collaboration techniques, planners then develop plans to create, grow, or revitalize a community or area. Community development deals with issues of building affordable housing, revitalizing old neighborhoods, planning, rebuilding communities after disasters. This often entails working out the design and implementation particulars of compact urban centers. While also considering the environmental, social and economic benefits of living smaller, driving less, lowering energy costs, strengthening the social connection, and fostering networks of economic interdependence.
We stated in the opening paragraph that geography is comprised of the lands or physical aspect and the inhabitants or the people who occupy the earth. Therefore, this science is the interdisciplinary study of the environment and the interaction of people with it. This duality generates a bridge connecting the natural sciences with the social sciences. With respect to urban planning, geography is the study of the theories and methods that focus on solving social and environmental problems. While it is common for urban planners to hold positions within the local, state, and federal governments, additional employment opportunities are available with urban and environmental planning firms, real estate development companies, and community-based non-profit organizations. Other jobs may be found at local, state, and national parks; architecture firms; zoning administration; historical preservation agencies, and institutions of higher education.
Additional details on the educational path for this profession may be found in our article: What degree do I need to become an Urban Planner?
Median Salary: $70,020
Job Outlook: 6% or 2,440 employment changes
3. Environmental Planner
The best way to describe this profession is to look at job postings to gain a perspective of the duties required of this position. As of this report, an international engineering and consulting services organization seeks an environmental planner to collect and compile a variety of quantitative and qualitative data to prepare reports and maps. The person hired will also coordinate the preparation of drawings, illustrations, maps, and graphics, and conduct database records reviews and research. Applicants need to have a four-year degree in Planning, Environmental Sciences, Physical Geography, or a related discipline and a minimum of 3 years of related work experience.
Another global leader in the engineering and technical services is looking for a junior environmental planner for their renewable energy sector. The same educational requirements are required in this job posting. The responsibilities in this junior-level position are to prepare and process county, state and federal permit applications; conduct studies and resource analysis; and consult with county, state, and federal governmental bodies and agencies. Therefore, a graduate in physical geography would be a candidate for these particular jobs. Another point of emphasis for both these positions is the necessity to have excellent interpersonal skills. The ability to participate and lead within a team is paramount to success as an environmental planner.
Median Salary: Same as Urban Planner as the BLS does not have this occupation listed
4. Environmental Management
Environmental science is the study of diverse scientific fields. At the bachelor’s degree level, you can expect to have courses in biology, chemistry, geography, ecology, and even biotechnology. Colleges and universities refer to the program as a generalist degree, due to the span of topics covered during your undergraduate years. However, there is a correlation between geography and environmental science which is why some schools combine the two disciplines. For example, the University of Colorado, Denver, offers geography and environmental sciences programs within their aptly named- Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences.
For geography graduates who have an interest in protecting the environment, your degree is applicable to a career in environmental management. Generally, one of the primary roles is to oversee the interaction between humans and their natural surroundings. More specifically, you ensure that human element and the natural surroundings are as harmonious as possible. Since you are working in a supervisory capacity, you manage people much more than you do the actual environment. In this endeavor, you work with companies or governments to implement programs and regulations aimed at global sustainability. There are employment opportunities with federal, state, or local governments to implement public policies. However, the private sector is abundant with job postings, as listed on sites like indeed.com. There are several postings seeking Environmental Health and Safety Managers requiring a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Science, Management or related field.
For information on schools offering Environmental Science, please check our piece on the Top 10 Online Bachelor’s Degree Programs in Environmental Science.
Median Salary: $68,910 (Environmental Scientist)
Job Outlook: 11% or 10,200 job changes
Cartographer is the study and practice of making maps. By effectively combining science, aesthetics, and technique reality can be modeled in ways that communicate spatial information. It is possible the world’s first map is a wall painting dated to the late 7th Millennium BCE. These days most commercial-quality maps are made using software that falls into one of three main types: Computer-aided Design (CAD), Geographic Information System (GIS), and specialized illustration software. These professionals use information from geodetic surveys and remote sensing systems, including aerial cameras, satellites, and technologies such as light-imaging detection and ranging (LIDAR). Cartographers spend much of their time in offices using computers with large monitors, so they can easily study and extract information from aerial photographs and other sources. However, certain jobs require extensive fieldwork to acquire data and verify results. (See our article in outdoor occupations).
To make this your career, most cartographers-to-be start with a bachelor’s degree in cartography, geography, civil engineering or another similar field. Students should develop a familiarity and be comfortable with GIS (geographic information system) technology, but not to the detriment of a comprehensive cartography education. Having earned your degree, the majority of cartographers seek employment in architectural and engineering firms and local government agencies, but there are also opportunities in federal agencies and consulting firms. In addition, it may be comforting to know that U.S. News & World Report has listed cartography as #3 in the Best Engineering Jobs category in 2015.
Median Salary: $62, 750
Job Outlook: 29% or 3,600 job changes
Photogrammetry is the science of making measurements from photographs, especially for recovering the exact positions of surface points. It has been defined by the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) as the art, science, and technology of obtaining reliable information about physical objects and the environment. This is achieved through the processes of recording, measuring and interpreting photographic images and patterns of recorded radiant electromagnetic energy and other phenomena. A remote sensing analyst is another term for a photogrammetrist because they use aerial photographs and other images to produce detailed geographical information, such as maps and 3-dimensional computer images.
Some individuals begin their career before attending college by working as an apprentice after completing high school. Currently, however, most companies require photogrammetrists seeking entry-level positions to hold a bachelor’s degree in physical science, engineering, geography, cartography, or a related area. As a scientific discipline, courses involve mathematics, geography, topography, drafting, and computer science are the educational norm. As a graduate, you can expect to find jobs in federal agencies, such as the Department of Defense, as well as state agencies and private consulting firms in the engineering field, for example. Most geospatial and land surveying firms employ photogrammetrists, as well as companies that provide planning, environmental, energy, and construction management services.
Median Salary and Job Outlook: Same as cartographers
7. Economic Geography
There are other aspects to geography than the physical or natural study. The specialty of economic geography applies the spatial perspective of geography to economic activities. These professionals analyze and explain the factors affecting the location and movements of markets, goods, labor, capital investment, ideas, and their interaction. Hence, the human and physical landscape influences are a subject of emphasis in the marriage of economics and geography. The profession is a reflection of urban and rural economic development, transportation planning, and the tourism industry. It entails the analysis of the effects of supply chains, plan logistics, and the determination of the optimal locations for various economic activities.
A graduate with a Bachelor or Master’s in Economic Geography has these job opportunities:
- Location Expert: Businesses need to know which products will sell, where they will sell best, to whom they will sell, and why.
- Traffic Manager: Selects the mode of transportation (usually rail, truck, or air) and arrange for all aspects of the delivery of goods.
- Real Estate Sales: Assess the impact on the value of zoning, available municipal services, transportation, environmental features, and potential return on the investment.
- Real Estate Investment: Bring a spatial perspective, including GIS, to the processes of applying economics and business and spatial analytics to determine favorable real estate markets.
Median Salary: No category for economic geographer in the BLS; PayScale: $59,476 (Economic Analyst)
8. Land Surveyor
There are Bachelor degrees in Surveying Engineering for those seeking to enter this profession. However, a degree in geography can also be applied to surveying jobs provided you have taken AutoCAD (computer-aided design) courses. Architects, project managers, engineers, graphic designers, surveyors, geographers, and many other professionals embrace CAD. Land surveying firms use this technology for client’s land planning and GPS surveying. A job in this type of company requires a college degree in surveying or geography with expertise in CAD work. Other employment prospects are in the surveying of land, which has to do with the planning of construction sites and building projects. Surveyors also work with transportation agencies like with railroads, highways, and major roads. Surveyors work with urban planning, which is the surveying of cities and major metropolitan areas.
In the education process, it is difficult to find colleges offering CAD courses in geography degree programs. However, there are schools who offer online diplomas and associate’s degrees in CAD drafting technologies. One example is Minnesota State College-Southeast, a Technical and Community College. Their highly experienced CAD drafting faculty will teach you the tools of the trade and help you find an internship to gain real-world experience.
Median Salary: $59,390
Job Outlook: -2% or 900 fewer jobs
9. Geography Teacher
It is a documented fact that students in the United States are horrible at geography. A government study in 1994 revealed that 29% of 8th-grade students were below basic mastery on the subject. Twenty years later, a follow-up study concluded that the below basic category had decreased to only 25%. This lack of education in geography is because the majority of states do not require geography courses in middle school or high school. As of 2013, only 17 states required a geography course in middle school and only 10 states required a geography course for students to graduate from high school. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded that there was a lack of teacher preparation and professional development in the subject. This is the result of poor quality of geography instructional materials, and limited use of geographic technology in the classroom.
As this article has referenced, some of these geography-related jobs are expected to grow at a rate of up to 29% per the BLS. In order to accommodate this employment growth, more states need to teach the subject of geography starting in middle school. How can students develop an interest in the subject if there is limited exposure to it throughout their k-12th- grade years? The pathway begins for future teachers to obtain a bachelor’s degree in geography, and then proceed to obtain a teaching degree or certificate. Most states require a state-approved teacher preparation program, pass the exams, and then submit a teaching credential application. Getting a teaching certificate usually involves the completion of an accredited certification course with both pedagogical theory and classroom practice components. The requirements vary by state, so check with the state where you plan to work.
Individuals who want more exposition on teaching, may like to read our report: Do I have to Have a Teaching Degree to Become a Teacher?
Median Salary: $53,030 (High School Teacher)
Job Outlook: 6% or 55,900 job changes
10. Geographic Information System (GIS)
Another specialty within the field of geography is GIS. It is a system designed to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present spatial or geographic data. Engineering, planning, management, transport/logistics, insurance, telecommunications, and business are where GIS is prevalent. The application of GIS ranges from disaster-response to city routing systems for city-operated vehicles. When a catastrophic earthquake occurs, the Central United States Earthquake Consortium relies on GIS mapping to coordinate response efforts.
Looking at the job prospects, according to a 2012 report at gislounge.com, the job postings at that time were isolated to specific areas across the nation. GIS Lounge stated that California and Texas each have 178 job postings, followed by Virginia with 170. Researching current postings through indeed.com reveals multitudes of jobs when searching for GIS positions. Unfortunately, the search also keys on information systems itself, which skews the number of openings strictly in the GIS field. However, it appears that similar to other geography-related occupations, the same local, state, and federal agencies are hiring. In addition, sectors of the military, real estate and investment firms, and consulting firms in the technology and engineering seek individuals with GIS proficiency.
Median Salary: No BLS data for this occupation; PayScale: $52,589 for a GIS Analyst