Education and Training: College
Salary: Median—$58,970 per year
Employment Outlook: Fair
Definition and Nature of the Work
Geographers are social scientists who study countries, regions, and cities through their economy, social conditions, climate, and topography. Geographers use their findings to solve problems in urban and regional planning, business, and agriculture. While many geographers are involved in environmental planning, most teach and do research in colleges and universities. Geographers also teach in high schools or work for federal and state agencies, private companies, or as self-employed consultants.
Most geographers specialize in a particular aspect or method of geographic study. Economic geographers study the distribution of economic activities, such as the production and consumption of agricultural products. Climatologists study weather patterns. Area specialists do research on a particular geographic region. They use research methods from many aspects of geography to study all facets of an area, including its climate, economy, physical features, and culture. Cartographers collect information and develop maps from aerial photographs, surveys, and other sources. They usually work for companies that publish maps and for the defense and intelligence departments of the government. Geographical information systems specialists use computer-aided technology to compile and analyze large amounts of data for environmental planning and natural resource management.
In business, geographers help decide where to locate production facilities, find markets for goods and services, and do market analysis. Their advice is valued because they are trained to study physical features, such as natural resources, in tandem with cultural conditions, such as the availability of labor and transportation.
Education and Training Requirements
To get a job as a geographer, students must have a college education. Federal jobs require a bachelor's degree, but graduate study or experience is an advantage. Requirements for high school geography teachers vary by state. Be sure to check the certification requirements by state. Candidates interested in teaching positions in two-year colleges and specialized and managerial posts in government and private industry must obtain a master's degree. Top positions in government and industry go to those who have a doctoral degree. A doctoral degree is also generally required for teaching positions in four-year colleges and universities.
Cartographers must have a bachelor's degree in geography with course work in drawing, design, and mathematics. Some colleges offer special courses in cartography, and nearly all cartographers expand their skills on the job. Specialists in Geographical Information Systems (GIS) need a college degree in geography or engineering and familiarity with computers. Many colleges offer courses in GIS systems and methods.
Getting the Job
Professors and placement offices can offer assistance with job leads and openings. Professional journals and employment agencies that specialize in placing teachers may offer job leads. Employment agencies that specialize in technical fields may list openings in industry. Newspaper want ads may also list openings. To get a job with the government, apply to take the necessary civil service test.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Overall employment of geographers is expected to grow more slowly than average through 2014. Prospects are better for those with advanced degrees. Geographers may advance to top management positions in their companies. Those in government service may become agency directors. Experienced planners and market analysts can start their own consulting firms. Opportunities will be best in private industry and in government.
Geographers who teach work eight or ten months per year. However, college-level teachers may spend their summers working on research projects. Area specialists may travel to remote parts of the world. Graduate students often help professors with their research.
Geographers in government and business work in clean, comfortable offices. Those in top positions must often travel to attend meetings and to gather information for research.
Where to Go for More Information
American Congress on Surveying and Mapping
6 Montgomery Village Ave., Ste. 403
Gaithersburg, MD 20879
Association of American Geographers
1710 16th St., NW
Washington, DC 20009-3198
Earnings and Benefits
Geographers earn a median of $58,970 per year. Among geographers working for the federal government, those with a bachelor's degree may earn a starting salary between $24,677 and $30,567 per year. Those with a master's degree earn a starting salary of about $37,390. Geographers with a doctoral degree may earn a starting salary of about $45,239. Benefits include paid holidays and vacations, insurance, and pensions.