How Long Does Geography School Take?

We have learned a lot about the earth and its physical features as well as the people living on it because of the work of geographers. Through observation and the use of various technologies, physical geographers study the features of the natural environment and determine how this affects the people living in that area. There are also human geographers who look more closely on the dynamics between the environment and culture, human processes, populations, politics, disease and the distribution of wealth and resources, among others. Geographers work together with other professionals like engineers and urban planners in various projects.

If this sounds like the career for you then you need to go to geography school to get the necessary education and training. A bachelor’s degree in geography is the entry point for a profession as a geographer. This usually takes four years to complete and covers courses on geographic information systems, physical geography and world regional geography, just to name a few. An undergraduate degree in geography will make you eligible for entry-level positions in the federal government.

For those who prefer to work outside the federal government, the minimum educational requirement would be a master’s degree. There are two ways to get this postgraduate degree. The first is through a combined bachelor’s and master’s program which lasts for five years and awards the student both a bachelor’s and master’s degree upon completion. For example, Northern Arizona University students enrolled in the Bachelor of Science in Geographic Science and Community Planning can enroll in their BS-MS Integrated Program to receive their Master of Science in Applied Geospatial Sciences after five years.

The second method of obtaining a master’s degree is to enroll in a master’s program in geography or related course. Depending on the school, these programs can last anywhere from one year to two years. At the University of Washington, for instance, the Master of Arts in Geography program takes two years to complete while a Master of Arts in Geography at Marshall University takes one year to finish.

If you want to do independent research or teach geography in colleges or universities, it is highly recommended that you work towards obtaining your PhD in Geography. Although some institutions accept those with master’s degrees, having a doctoral degree will give you an edge. On the average, a doctoral degree takes anywhere from five to six years to complete although there are some who are able to earn their PhD in just three years. Those who run into problems with funding their dissertations—a requirement for doctoral degree programs—or other personal issues may take longer than six years to earn their degree.

It’s also important to understand that many jobs require proficiency in geographic information systems (GIS). Getting certification from the GIS Certification Institute as a GIS Professional will enhance the fresh graduate’s chances of getting hired. The certification indicates professionalism but for a geographer to qualify, they must meet education, experience and publication requirements.

Career Spotlight: Geographer

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