man with map

A geographer could...

Define the terrain of another planet, so that engineers can design an exploration vehicle. rover Determine how and why the boundaries of a neighborhood are changing. neighborhood
Create up-to-the-minute fire maps to help firefighters combat a wildfire. firefighters Create topographical maps to show how the coastline has changed over time. map
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Key Facts & Information

Overview When you hear the word geography, you might think of maps and names of state capitals, but the work of geographers is much more than creating maps and identifying places. Geographers look at how people, places, and Earth are connected. They study the economy, social conditions, climate, and topography of a region to help answer questions in urban and regional planning, business, agriculture, and medicine.
Key Requirements Logical, methodical, observant, with excellent oral and written skills, and curiosity about how the lives of people and the places they live in are connected
Minimum Degree Bachelor's degree
Subjects to Study in High School Chemistry, physics, computer science, geometry, algebra II, pre-calculus, calculus; if available, statistics, environmental science, applied technology
Median Salary
U.S. Mean Annual Wage
Min Wage
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) Little or No Change (-2% to 2%)
  • Read about teenage health geographer Megan Blewett who did geostatistical research from a computer in her living room. She used software to map the distributions of diseases like multiple sclerosis, Lou Gehrig's disease, and Lyme disease, and then presented her surprising results to a congressional research caucus.
  • Read this interview with a leading geographer, Dr. Joseph Kerski, who works as an education manager at the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI), a company that designs and develops the world's leading geographic information system (GIS) technology.
Related Occupations
Source: O*Net

Training, Other Qualifications

To obtain a job as a geographer, students must have a college education.

Education and Training

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.

Other Qualifications

Geographers, like other social scientists, need excellent written and oral communication skills to report research findings and to collaborate on research. Successful geographers also need intellectual curiosity and creativity because they constantly seek new information about people, things, and ideas. The ability to think logically and methodically is also essential to analyze complicated issues, such as the relative merits of various forms of government. Objectivity, an open mind, and systematic work habits are important in all kinds of social science research. Perseverance, too, is often necessary.

Wesley Catanzaro describes what he does during a typical day and talks about how maps are used to convey real-world phenomena. Wesley Catanzaro is a geographic information systems analyst with the Department of Public Health in San Francisco.

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.

Geographers analyze distributions of physical and cultural phenomena on local, regional, continental, and global scales. Most geographers specialize in a particular aspect or method of geographic study. Economic geographers study the distribution of resources and economic activities. Political geographers are concerned with the relationship of geography to political phenomena, and cultural geographers study the geography of cultural phenomena. Physical geographers examine variations in climate, vegetation, soil, and landforms and their implications for human activity. Urban and transportation geographers study cities and metropolitan areas. Climatologists study weather patterns. Regional geographers or area specialists do research on a particular geographic region, ranging in size from a congressional district to entire continents. They use research methods from many aspects of geography to study all facets of an area, including its climate, economy, physical features, and culture. Medical geographers investigate health-care delivery systems, epidemiology (the study of the causes and control of epidemics), and the effect of the environment on health. 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.

Most geographers use GIS technology to assist with their work. For example, they may use GIS to create computerized maps that can track information such as population growth, traffic patterns, environmental hazards, natural resources, and weather patterns, after which they use the information to advise governments on the development of houses, roads, or landfills.

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.

Work Environment

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.

On the Job

  • Write and present reports of research findings.
  • Create and modify maps, graphs, or diagrams, using geographical information software and related equipment, and principles of cartography such as coordinate systems, longitude, latitude, elevation, topography, and map scales.
  • Gather and compile geographic data from sources, including censuses, field observations, satellite imagery, aerial photographs, and existing maps.
  • Analyze geographic distributions of physical and cultural phenomena on local, regional, continental, or global scales.
  • Develop, operate, and maintain geographical information (GIS) computer systems, including hardware, software, plotters, digitizers, printers, and video cameras.
  • Provide consulting services in fields including resource development and management, business location and market area analysis, environmental hazards, regional cultural history, and urban social planning.
  • Teach geography.
  • Provide geographical information systems support to the private and public sectors.
  • Study the economic, political, and cultural characteristics of a specific region's population.
  • Locate and obtain existing geographic information databases.
  • Conduct fieldwork at outdoor sites.
  • Collect data on physical characteristics of specified areas, such as geological formations, climates, and vegetation, using surveying or meteorological equipment.

Source: BLS

Companies That Hire Geographers

Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...

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Science Fair Project Idea
Have you ever heard someone say that the moon is made of cheese? Even though the craters on the surface of the moon resemble holes in Swiss cheese, we know that this common myth is not true. Find out how craters are formed and why they are different sizes by doing this simple science project. Read more
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Landslides are powerful geological events that happen suddenly, causing fear in people who live in areas with unstable hills, slopes, and cliff sides. Landslides damage the surrounding habitat and can destroy homes in their path. But what causes landslides? Can slides happen on any slope, or do slopes have to have certain characteristics, such as a steep angle and a specific material mass? In this geology science project, you will learn about the different types of landslides and the… Read more
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When an earthquake happens, how are scientists able to determine the original location of the quake? In this project, you'll use archived data from a network of seismometers to find out for yourself. You'll create your own seismograms from the comfort of your own computer with an easy-to-use webpage interface. Then you'll analyze your seismograms to determine the distance of the quake from each seismometer station. By mapping your analyzed data, you will be able to determine the location of the… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
On a rainy day, do you ever wonder what the weather is like on the other side of the planet? Different regions around the globe can have very different seasonal weather patterns. In this experiment, you can test if these seasonal variations are related to which hemisphere each region is located in. Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
The Ring of Fire is a region of volcanic and earthquake activity that surrounds the Pacific Ocean. In this project you can explore the connection between plate tectonics and volcanic activity by mapping historical data. Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
You can investigate how the geography of an area makes it prone to severe flash floods. Some areas, typically gullies or canyons, can flood extremely rapidly making it impossible to escape a flash flood. Compare the topography, or geographical shape, or these areas. What makes them prone to flash floods? Can you do an experiment showing how the flow of water increases as a channel narrows? Can you use topological maps of your region to identify areas at risk for flash floods? (NCAR, 2006;… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Many continents contain large mountain ranges that divide the continent into different regions. In the U.S. the Rocky Mountains mark the continental divide. The presence of a large mountain range can have a big effect on seasonal weather patterns. Also, the weather and climate on one side of a mountain range may be very different from weather and climate on the other side of the range. In the case of the Rocky Mountains, the western slope and eastern slope each have very different climates… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Get good photographs of the Moon showing lots of craters and count how many craters you find in a range of diameter classes. One useful source is the Consolidated Lunar Atlas (Kuiper et al, 2006). Make a histogram that shows the distribution of diameters. Most of these craters were formed during the first billion years of the Moon's formation, but you should confirm that this is true for the the Moon areas you've selected in your photographs by doing background research. Is cratering uniform… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
Today it is widely accepted that the Earth's crust consists of a series of huge plates that slowly move. The low parts of the plates are beneath the world's oceans, and the high parts of the plates are landmasses. New plate material is generated at deep sea ocean ridges in a process called sea-floor spreading. Material from plates is also recycled at trenches, where dense, oceanic crust dives back (subducts) underneath an adjacent plate towards the upper mantle. Figure 1 shows a map of the… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
When an earthquake happens, how are scientists able to determine the original location of the quake? In this project, you'll use archived data from a global network of seismometers to find out for yourself. You will make your own seismograms using the Global Earthquake Explorer program, and then use the seismograms to determine the location of earthquake epicenters. Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
How does temperature vary with latitude? What happens as you move away from the equator? Test this by comparing weather data from weather stations at different latitudes. (FI, 2006; GLOBE, 2006; NCAR, 2006; NOAA, 2006; Unisys, 2006; Weather Underground, 2006; WMO, 2006) Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
How is geology important for our energy resources? Coal, oil, and natural gas are formed by geological processes over millions of years. Certain geological formations can indicate a reservoir of coal, oil, or natural gas. Also, geothermal processes can be used as an energy resource. How are these formations identified? How are the resources extracted? You can use the National Geospatial Program to access, view, and download information from geospatial databases containing a broad spectrum… Read more
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Science Fair Project Idea
What do knots, maps, mazes, driving directions, and doughnuts have in common? The answer is topology, a branch of mathematics that studies the spatial properties and connections of an object. Topology has sometimes been called rubber-sheet geometry because it does not distinguish between a circle and a square (a circle made out of a rubber band can be stretched into a square) but does distinguish between a circle and a figure eight (you cannot stretch a figure eight into a circle without… Read more

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