Geography involves the study of place, but it also covers a broader spectrum of knowledge. Individuals curious about how societies interact with Earth's natural landscape and physical resources should consider an online geography degree. Accredited bachelor's programs train students to find jobs as geographers or to apply for master's degrees. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that geography jobs will grow 7% over the next decade.
This guide summarizes how to earn an online geography bachelor's degree and find the right school for you.
Geography isn't all about memorizing countries and their capitals. Instead, geographers answer the question, "Why do people build civilizations where they do?" As such, geography encompasses several disciplines, including physical landscapes, human history, environmental sciences, and political and economic systems.
For example, online learners can study how natural resource supplies create tension between nations, or how a society's environment influences cultural trends. They may also focus on natural hazards, urban environments, or sustainable development. All of these subjects fall into the sphere of geography.
Geography students take courses in the natural and social sciences. Courses might include the geography of economic globalization, principles of cartography, geography of health and healthcare, watershed biochemistry, geographies of food and agriculture, or political ecology.
Geography graduates often work in government at the federal and government levels, or for architectural and engineering companies. They could also go into the nonprofit sector or work as freelance consultants.
When looking for potential programs, do not just search for the cheapest online geography degree. Even if a particular program seems out of your price range, scholarships and other financial aid opportunities can help you cover costs. It is more important to consider accreditation, faculty credentials, graduation rates, and post-graduation employment statistics — these factors can help you find the best online geography degree programs. It is best to choose an online geography degree accredited by a regional accrediting agency.
As a geography major, you might wonder whether your career options are limited. However, pursuing an online geography degree can lead to a range of careers, some of which might not seem so obvious.
This section explores what students can learn from their degrees and how those skills translate into the professional world. It also offers information about popular industries for geography majors, potential jobs, and salary figures.
An online geography bachelor's degree equips students with skills that can be used within or outside the geography field. Geography majors learn about Earth's physical features, but landscapes make up only a small part of the curriculum. Students also learn about how human behavior affects geographical and biological phenomena, and how these behaviors translate to geopolitics and what that means for domestic and foreign policy. Plus, students learn to analyze maps, primary and archival data, and technical documents.
Geography majors learn to use technological tools like geographic information systems (GIS) and geographic positioning systems (GPS). Students also learn about aerial photo interpretation, database handling, remote sensing, and computer-based cartography. With these skills, graduates can work in jobs that require environmental assessment, regional planning, and map production.
In addition to these geography-specific abilities, students learn about important political issues like economic inequality, urbanization, and environmental justice. The degree also teaches students research skills, including field measurement, observation, and interviewing.
Some students specialize in areas like environmental systems, GIS, or human geography. Choosing an emphasis area can help geography majors hone their skills for a specific industry. For example, an environmental systems track focuses on the science behind climate change, as well as how human behavior patterns exacerbate it. Graduates who choose a concentration like this may work at nonprofit organizations or educational institutions that wish to combat climate change.
Geography is a versatile degree that can lead to various potential professions. The most obvious job choices include geographers and geoscientists, but you can also find opportunities as a cartographer, surveyor, or high school teacher. If you hope to stay in academia and conduct research as a faculty member, you should apply to a Ph.D program. This section outlines the options available for bachelor's degree graduates.
Federal Government, Excluding Postal Service
Over half of geographers work for the federal government, according to BLS data. The government uses geographic research for many purposes, but especially for census data.
Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services
Architectural and engineering companies need to know the lay of the land before erecting buildings or engineering systems. Therefore, they hire geographers and geoscientists to study physical landscapes at potential building sites.
State Government, Excluding Education and Hospitals
State governments hire geographers, geoscientists, and cartographers for many of the same reasons as the federal government. Geography provides important data about a state, its physical landscape, and its natural resources.
Geographers and geoscientists can be freelance workers, contracting with government organizations or engineering companies to provide GIS analysis, consulting work, or fieldwork research.
Annual Median Salary: $80,300
Geographers can study Earth's physical forms and features, or they may study humans and how they interact with their natural environments. Geographers typically use GIS technology in their work to find geographical data patterns.
Annual Median Salary: $91,130
Geoscientists study Earth, but they focus more on the scientific processes behind its physical structures. For example, they might study Earth's gravitational fields, organic chemistry, fossils, and mineral composition.
Annual Median Salary: $64,430
Cartographers compile geographic information and data to create new maps or update existing maps. They often make these maps for educational, governmental, or environmental reasons. They also use GIS technology to put together digital maps.
Annual Median Salary: $60,320
Geography majors can find jobs as social studies teachers in high schools. In this case, they usually need to earn a teaching degree and teaching certification as well. Sometimes private schools do not require state-sponsored certification.
Annual Median Salary: $62,580
Surveyors need expert knowledge in Earth's physical qualities in order to measure and determine property boundaries. They use GIS and GPS technologies to carry out their work, which are both skills that can be acquired with an online geography degree.
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