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Become A Geographer

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Working As A Geographer

  • Getting Information
  • Analyzing Data or Information
  • Interpreting the Meaning of Information for Others
  • Interacting With Computers
  • Processing Information
  • Mostly Sitting

  • Make Decisions

  • $80,000

    Average Salary

What Does A Geographer Do

Geographers study the Earth and its land, features, and inhabitants. They also examine phenomena such as political or cultural structures and study the physical and human geographic characteristics of regions ranging in scale from local to global.

Duties

Geographers typically do the following:

  • Gather geographic data through field observations, maps, photographs, satellite imagery, and censuses
  • Conduct research, using methods such as surveys, interviews, and focus groups
  • Create and modify maps, graphs, diagrams, or other visual representations of geographic data
  • Analyze the geographic distribution of physical and cultural characteristics and occurrences
  • Use geographic information systems (GIS) to collect, analyze, and display geographic data
  • Write reports and present research findings
  • Assist, advise, or lead others in using GIS and geographic data
  • Combine geographic data with data pertaining to a particular specialty, such as economics, the environment, health, or politics

Geographers use several technologies in their work, such as GIS, remote sensing, and global positioning systems (GPS). Geographers use GIS to find relationships and trends in geographic data. These systems allow geographers to present data visually as maps, reports, and charts. For example, geographers can overlay aerial or satellite images with GIS data, such as population density in a given region, and create computerized maps. They then use the maps to guide governments, businesses, and the general public on a variety of issues, such as developing marketing strategies; planning homes, roads, and landfills; and responding to disasters.

Many people who study geography and who use GIS in their work are employed as surveyors, cartographers and photogrammetrists, surveying and mapping technicians, urban and regional planners, and geoscientists.

The following are examples of types of geographers:

Physical geographers examine the physical aspects of a region and how those aspects relate to humans. They study features of the natural environment, such as landforms, climates, soils, natural hazards, water, and plants. For example, physical geographers may map where a natural resource occurs in a country or study the implications of proposed economic development on the surrounding natural environment.

Human geographers analyze the organization of human activity and its relationships with the physical environment. Human geographers often combine issues from other disciplines into their research, which may include economic, social, or political topics. In their research, some human geographers rely primarily on statistical techniques and others rely on non-statistical sources, such as field observations and interviews.

Human geographers are often further classified by their area of specialty:

  • Cultural geographers examine the relationship between geography and culture, studying how features such as religion, language, and ethnicity relate to location.
  • Economic geographers study economic activities and the distribution of resources. They may research subjects such as regional employment and the location of industries. 
  • Environmental geographers research the impact humans have on the environment and how human activities affect natural processes. They combine aspects of both physical and human geography and commonly study issues such as climate change, desertification, and deforestation. 
  • Medical geographers investigate the distribution of health issues, healthcare, and disease. For example, a medical geographer may examine the incidence of disease in a certain region. 
  • Political geographers study the relationship between geography and political structures and processes. 
  • Regional geographers focus on the geographic factors in a particular region that ranges in size from a neighborhood to an entire continent. 
  • Urban geographers study cities and metropolitan areas. They may examine how certain geographic factors, such as climate, affect population density in cities. 

Geographers often work on projects with people in related fields. For example, economic geographers may work with urban planners, civil engineers, legislators, and real estate professionals to determine the best location for new public transportation infrastructure.

Some people with a geography degree become postsecondary teachers.

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How To Become A Geographer

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.

Education

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.

Other Experience

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.  

Important 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 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.

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Average Yearly Salary
$80,000
Show Salaries
$39,000
Min 10%
$80,000
Median 50%
$80,000
Median 50%
$80,000
Median 50%
$80,000
Median 50%
$80,000
Median 50%
$80,000
Median 50%
$80,000
Median 50%
$167,000
Max 90%
Best Paying Company
ConocoPhillips
Highest Paying City
Washington, DC
Highest Paying State
District of Columbia
Avg Experience Level
2.9 years
How much does a Geographer make at top companies?
The national average salary for a Geographer in the United States is $81,056 per year or $39 per hour. Those in the bottom 10 percent make under $39,000 a year, and the top 10 percent make over $168,000.

Real Geographer Salaries

Job Title Company Location Start Date Salary
Geoscientists, Except Hydologists and Geographers Conocophillips Company Anchorage, AK Mar 23, 2012 $142,875
Geoscientists, Except Hydologists and Geographers Conocophillips Company Houston, TX Dec 12, 2011 $138,362
Geoscientists, Except Hydologists and Geographers Conocophillips Company Houston, TX Aug 31, 2012 $135,471
Geoscientists, Except Hydologists and Geographers Conocophillips Company Houston, TX Sep 06, 2012 $117,708
Geoscientists, Except Hydologists and Geographers Conocophillips Company Houston, TX Aug 29, 2011 $117,600
Geoscientists, Except Hydologists and Geographers Conocophillips Company Houston, TX Oct 27, 2011 $108,202
Geoscientists, Except Hydologists and Geographers Conocophillips Company Houston, TX Sep 19, 2011 $108,202
Geographer Dataquick Information Systems, Inc. San Diego, CA Oct 01, 2014 $96,325
Geographer Dataquick Information Systems, Inc. San Diego, CA Jan 10, 2014 $96,325
Geographers Conservation International Arlington, VA Feb 28, 2014 $93,413
Geographer Dataquick Information Systems, Inc. San Diego, CA Oct 01, 2011 $92,500
Geographers CDM Smith Inc. Philadelphia, PA Sep 25, 2014 $90,376
Geographers MDA Dataquick Information Systems, Inc. San Diego, CA Jul 14, 2010 $90,000
Geographer Corelogic Solutions, LLC San Diego, CA May 03, 2015 $87,339 -
$96,325
Geographer Waterborne Environmental, Inc. Leesburg, VA Mar 02, 2010 $73,750
Geographer/GIS Editor Spatial Media LLC Windsor, CO Dec 01, 2009 $72,000
Geographers I-Cubed Fort Collins, CO May 15, 2008 $70,000
Geographers Woolpert, Inc. Arlington, VA Nov 22, 2010 $70,000
Geographers Sentinel USA, Incorporated Newark, OH May 05, 2009 $70,000
Senior GIS Geographer Sentinel USA, Inc. Newark, OH Oct 10, 2010 $70,000
Geographers Cambridge Systematics, Inc. New York, NY Mar 29, 2010 $70,000
Geographers Pima Association of Governments Tucson, AZ May 06, 2009 $69,784
Geographer Tetra Tech, Inc. Salt Lake City, UT Sep 17, 2009 $58,500
Geographers Epic Engineering & Consulting Group, LLC Orlando, FL Feb 07, 2014 $57,928
Geographers Valley Metro Rail Phoenix, AZ Feb 11, 2010 $57,866 -
$74,154
Geographers Wachs Valve and Hydrant Services, LLC Towson, MD May 18, 2010 $56,787
Geographers World Resources Institute Washington, DC Jun 04, 2013 $56,389 -
$65,000
Geographers University of Texas at Dallas Richardson, TX Jun 09, 2011 $56,100
Geographers GIS Workshop, Inc. Lincoln, NE Sep 21, 2010 $55,494
Geographers MDA Federal, Inc. Rockville, MD Feb 15, 2008 $55,453

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Top Skills for A Geographer

  1. Data Management
  2. Geographic Data
  3. Arcgis
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Help set guidelines and SOPs for roll out of Portal for ArcGIS for enterprise geospatial data management.
  • Introduced team to GIS applications to enhance representing geographic data.
  • Implemented process to geographically represent and spatially analyze worldwide large polygon and point sets in QGIS, ArcGIS and Google Earth/KML.
  • Received Special Achievement in GIS Award from ESRI.
  • Assisted with elements of USGS NAQWA program, including data analysis and fieldwork.

Rank:

Average Salary:

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Top 10 Best States for Geographers

  1. South Dakota
  2. Wyoming
  3. District of Columbia
  4. Colorado
  5. Maine
  6. North Dakota
  7. Tennessee
  8. Oklahoma
  9. Minnesota
  10. Vermont
  • (2 jobs)
  • (2 jobs)
  • (8 jobs)
  • (13 jobs)
  • (2 jobs)
  • (0 jobs)
  • (6 jobs)
  • (3 jobs)
  • (4 jobs)
  • (0 jobs)

Geographer Demographics

Gender

Male

65.6%

Female

23.7%

Unknown

10.7%
Ethnicity

White

62.0%

Hispanic or Latino

15.4%

Black or African American

9.8%

Asian

9.7%

Unknown

3.1%
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Foreign Languages Spoken

Spanish

42.1%

German

10.5%

French

10.5%

Portuguese

5.3%

Chinese

5.3%

Russian

5.3%

Tagalog

5.3%

Mandarin

5.3%

Uzbek

5.3%

Italian

5.3%
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Geographer Education

Schools

University of Washington

14.0%

University of Kansas

7.0%

Texas State University

7.0%

Florida Atlantic University

7.0%

George Mason University

7.0%

University of North Dakota

7.0%

Pennsylvania State University

5.3%

University of North Carolina at Greensboro

3.5%

Indiana University Bloomington

3.5%

Kansas State University

3.5%

North Dakota State University -

3.5%

Appalachian State University

3.5%

University of New Hampshire

3.5%

Marshall University

3.5%

University of Virginia

3.5%

University of Minnesota - Twin Cities

3.5%

Metro Technology Centers

3.5%

Western Michigan University

3.5%

Indiana University Southeast

3.5%

University of Florida

3.5%
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Majors

Geography

63.6%

Environmental Science

5.8%

Geology

5.0%

Business

4.1%

Interdisciplinary Studies

2.5%

Intelligence Operations

1.7%

Precision Metal Working

1.7%

Urban Planning

1.7%

Economics

1.7%

General Studies

1.7%

Project Management

1.7%

History

1.7%

Liberal Arts

1.7%

Sociology

0.8%

Information Sciences

0.8%

Computer Information Systems

0.8%

Mathematics

0.8%

Area Studies

0.8%

Social Sciences

0.8%

Biology

0.8%
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Degrees

Bachelors

40.7%

Masters

32.1%

Other

12.1%

Certificate

6.4%

Doctorate

5.7%

Associate

2.9%
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