Geography Careers: 2022 Guide to Career Paths, Options & Salary

Geography Careers: 2022 Guide to Career Paths, Options & Salary
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

Between the years 1948 and 2015, the number of people graduating from bachelor’s programs in geography increased by 1,077.31%, while the number of people graduating from master’s programs increased by 394.9%, and the number of people graduating with doctorates increased by 1,629.41%, as reported by the American Association of Geographers (2017). It should not come as a surprise that students have such a strong interest in pursuing careers in geography, when one considers the benefits the field provides to humanity and the vast array of information, experiences, and opportunities it provides to individuals who are willing to devote their time to it.

This guide will provide prospective geographers with an understanding of what to anticipate when they pursue jobs in geography, such as earning degrees at a higher education institution that will open up possibilities in the field and what you can do to succeed in your profession. They will also be able to get an understanding of the rewards that come with taking this route, as well as the technical and non-technical abilities that they will need along the road, if they do this.

Geography Careers Table of Contents

  1. Why pursue a career in Geography?
  2. Geography Career Outlook
  3. Required Skills for Geography
  4. How to Start Your Career in Geography
  5. How can I advance my career in Geography?
  6. Alternative Career Options for Geography

Why pursue a career in Geography?

There are two aspects to geography: humans and places. The liberal arts aspect focuses on the cultural, social, and political aspects of human lives in relation to their environment. The latter, on the other hand, centers on the spatial and temporal narratives of physical spaces.

The scope and technical skill requirements of geography make it a challenging field. Perhaps this is one reason why many students are drawn to it. Here are nine others:

1. Geography jobs will take you places, literally.

Geography jobs will not tie you to an office desk; most of your workdays will be spent working in the field. A degree in geography will allow you to travel and reach places that no other people have. This is the perfect career for you if you love adventure, nature, and the outdoors.

2. Geography will give you a different perspective about your place in the world.

With an education in geography, you will be able to look at the world through the lens of spatial thinking. It will change the way you interact with physical space and think about your place in the world. Having a theoretical background on concepts like patterns, movements, and relationships will allow you to understand your experiences better.

3. Geography will allow you to be an active participant in solving local and global environmental problems.

Geography graduates can obtain top executive positions in environment protection organizations. They have a chance to make a big impact on spreading environmental consciousness, stopping deforestation, and leading restoration and sustainability projects, to name but a few.

4. Geography will educate you about today’s climate crisis.

One in three Americans still cannot quite wrap their head around human-caused climate change (The Economist, 2021). Further, a survey by the Yale Program on Climate Change shows that three in ten still do not believe that climate change is happening. An education in geography will equip you with scientific information regarding climate change and give you the credibility among your peers or even a broader audience to spread this information. As a result, it is one of the popular entry-point to sustainability careers.

5. Geography will allow you to save human lives.

Geographers have extensive knowledge about disaster management. They are trained to respond to calamities and lead people through them. In fact, as we are now witnessing, geography is a key part of fighting the COVID-19.

6. Geography will allow you to save the lives of endangered species.

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (2021) records more than 37,000 species nearing extinction. As conscious and thinking beings, it is a shared duty among humans to allow these species to survive and thrive in time. A huge part of that will depend on us creating a safe place for them. This is where geographers come in and take the lead. It is their job, especially those who specialize in natural resources and conservation, to protect the habitat of endangered species.

7. Geography will enhance your visual-spatial and naturalistic intelligence.

Courses in geography will allow you to strengthen and expand your visual and spatial knowledge and skills. These will also allow you to easily identify elements in your surrounding.

8. Geography will open many possible career paths for you to explore.

Experts say that career exploration matters. In this regard, the scope of geography is advantageous. It will allow for the development of your personal and professional life. You may be able to expand the number of fields you can work in by continuing to take on higher degrees in geography.

9. Geography will allow you to gain economic stability.

The geography career salary can be competitive. Industries are willing to pay a huge amount for the expertise of geographers. The federal executive branch in the U.S., for instance, pays geographers an average of $92,390 yearly.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021

Geography Career Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected a decrease in employment for geographers between the years 2019 and 2029, however, the COVID-19 pandemic might just turn the tables. An invisible enemy has made us all think in terms of space and proximity. Here and now and in the after, geographic concepts populate our minds and will continue to reside therein. Geography will have its place in the world, for sure. Further, other geography careers will turn out quite well according to BLS projections. Below is a closer look.

Job TitleAnnual Median SalaryProjected Growth (2019-2029)
Surveying and Mapping Technicians$46,200
1%
Environmental Science and Protection Technicians$46,8508%
Geological and Hydrologic Technicians$50,6305%
Conservation Scientist$64,0105%
Cartographer$68,3804%
Environmental Scientists and Specialist$73,2308%
Urban and Regional Planners$75,95011%
Emergency Management Directors$76,2504%
Geopolitical Analyst$76,3046%
Geoscientists$93,5805%
Natural Sciences Managers$137,9405%

Required Skills for Geography

In a study published in The Professional Geographer, Solem, Cheung, and Schlemper (2008) came up with a list of skills most demanded in the workplace according to professional geographers. Below are the top 5 technical and non-technical skills according to that study.

Essential Skills for Geographers

  • Spatial Thinking. This is the cornerstone of geography. Students must possess this skill to pass classes, get a degree, and be successful in this field.
  • Interdisciplinary Perspective. Students must be able to recognize how humans shape space and vice versa. They must be able to determine, analyze, and manage the factors involved in this process.
  • Geographic Information System. Geography students must be thoroughly acquainted with this technology, given its extensive use in their field.
  • Cartography. All geographers must have a basic understanding of mapping, whether or not they intend to specialize in cartography. This is a foundational course, which they are expected to take and excel at.
  • Field Methods. Both in school and the workplace, geographers will experience working in the field. To get the best out of this experience, they must know how to use field-based data collection methods, such as sampling, measurement, and surveying.

Source: Solem, Cheung, & Schlemper, 2008

General Skills for Geographers

  • Time Management. In a survey by O*NET Online, half of the geographers reported working 40 hours a week and the other half reported working more hours than that. Time management is essential to maintaining a work-life balance in this field.
  • Writing. Geographers will need to write many technical reports throughout their careers. They also need to publish their research in academic journals and so they must know how to write really well.
  • Critical Thinking. Professionals in geography must be critical thinkers. They must know what questions to ask and how to lay out a step-by-step plan to solve the problem.
  • Problem-solving. Geographers must be able to identify and solve problems quickly, especially during emergencies that they may be in charge of. They must be able to determine the available options, weigh them, and decide based on the probable consequences.
  • Computer and Technology. Geographers will work with software programs and technological equipment in acquiring, analyzing, and encoding data. They keep themselves up-to-date with emerging technologies to remain relevant in the job market.

Source: Solem, Cheung, & Schlemper, 2008

How to Start Your Career in Geography

An associate or bachelor’s degree is the ideal first step if you are interested in geography careers. In the following sections, the best geography jobs that one may be able to take on with these degree types will be discussed.

What can I do with an Associate’s Degree in Geography?

Surveying and Mapping Technicians

Fifty-nine percent of surveying and mapping technicians work in architectural, engineering, and related services (BLS, 2021). Under the supervision of surveyors, they go to sites to help conduct a survey. They are expected to know how to operate surveying instruments and work with computers for data entry.

Median Annual Salary: $46,200

Environmental Science and Protection Technicians

Majority of environmental science and protection technicians (24%) work in the industry of management, scientific, and technical consulting services (BLS, 2021). Their job involves mostly fieldwork. They collect samples and prepare reports for scientists and specialists.

Medial Annual Salary: $46,850

Geological and Hydrologic Technicians

Employment for geological and hydraulic technicians is expected to grow faster than average at 5% (BLS, 2021). They work with engineers and scientists in laboratories and fields. Their tasks involve mainly operating equipment, gathering and analyzing samples, and recording data.

Median Annual Salary: 50,630

What can I do with a Bachelor’s Degree in Geography?

Conservation Scientist

Conservation scientists are protectors of the environment. They observe, monitor, and collect data about natural resources. They also help in developing and maintaining policies that help the environment thrive.

Median Annual Salary: $64,010

Cartographer

Cartographers collect and examine data for map-making. They also analyze and update existing maps and charts for accuracy. Their job allows us to understand and make sense of the physical space around us. It allows us to plan around these spaces for inhabitation, emergency response, and national security, among others.

Medial Annual Salary: $68,380

Environmental Scientists and Specialist

Environmental scientists and specialists are heavily involved in saving our dying world. They are the ones who point and teach us about the existing problems and offer solutions for fixing them. Given the enormity of environmental issues we are facing today, it is not surprising that we will need 7,100 more people to handle this job between the years 2019 and 2029 (BLS, 2021).

Medial Annual Salary: $73,230

Can you get a Geography job with just a certificate?

Unfortunately, no. Geographers typically hold at least a bachelor’s degree. Further, more than 4 in 10 geographers hold a master’s degree (BLS, 2021). Getting only a certificate will put you at a serious disadvantage in the job market. Many employers will look only among degree holders for this position due to its technicality. However, a certificate in geography can help you during the admission process in postsecondary degree-granting institutions. It will also hold a level of credit in your curriculum vitae when accompanied by a degree.

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021

How can I advance my career in Geography?

Advancing one’s career in geography typically involves taking a master’s or doctorate. As will be illustrated below, continuing higher education definitely pays off for geographers.

What can I do with a Master’s in Geography?

Urban and Regional Planners

A large percentage of urban and regional planners (72%) are local government employees (BLS, 2021). Together with public officials, they come up with plans for land use and development. They help make possible affordable housing, public transport improvements, and sustainable community development, to name a few.

Median Annual Salary: $75,950

Emergency Management Directors

Emergency management directors see to the administration of natural calamities, from preparatory stages to actual emergency response. They ensure that all equipment, resources, people, and facilities are ready to effectively and efficiently respond to calamities and other disasters. They are essential workers for the survival of communities during uncertain times. In 2019-2029, their employment is seen to grow by 5% (BLS, 2021).

Median Annual Salary: $76,250

Geopolitical Analyst

The main task of geopolitical analysts is to interpret how geopolitical factors affect different regions in a country and on a global scale. Given this data, they come up with strategies that serve the organizations or institutions where they belong. They are involved in creating local and especially international policies that have to do with territorial power.

Medial Annual Salary: $76,304

What kind of job can I get with a Doctorate in Geography?

Geoscientists

Geoscientists find themselves in a wide field, studying every physical aspect of the Earth. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021) enumerates the following types of geoscientists: (1) geologists, (2) geochemists, (3) geophysicists, (4) oceanographers, (5) paleontologists, (6) petroleum geologists, and (7) seismologists (BLS, 2021). The growth of employment in these job positions is faster than average at 5% (BLS, 2021).

Median Annual Salary: $93,580

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Manager

GIS managers direct all aspects of GIS activities and projects. They manage several employees, coordinate with other department heads and stakeholders, and report to top executives. Their job requires extensive knowledge of GIS equipment and software programs.

Median Annual Salary: $95,568

Natural Sciences Managers

Natural sciences managers lead a team of scientists in research and development projects. They manage resources, direct the production of products, oversee experiments, and communicate findings with top executives. By 2029, 3,400 more natural sciences manager positions will be open (BLS, 2021).

Medial Annual Salary: $137,940

Which certification is best for Geography?

Certifications are a great addition to one’s list of achievements and credentials. In this section, three of the best certification programs for geographers will be discussed.

The Certified GIS Professional (GISP) Certification

To get this certification you must take and pass The GISCI Geospatial Core Technical Knowledge Exam, which will measure your knowledge in the following areas:

  • Conceptual Foundations
  • Geospatial Data Fundamentals
  • Cartography and Visualization
  • Data Acquisition
  • Data Manipulation
  • Analytical Methods
  • Database Design and Management
  • Application Development
  • Systems Design and Management
  • Professional Practice.

A practice exam is available at the website of the GIS Certification Institute. Details of the application process, testing locations, and fees are also detailed on their website.

American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) Certification

This certification program offered by ASPRS is accredited by the Council of Scientific and Engineering Specialty Boards (CESB). It consists of several professional certification exams including:

  • ASPRS Mapping Scientist
  • ASPRS Mapping Technologist
  • Certified Photogrammetrist
  • Certified Mapping Scientist, Remote Sensing
  • Certified Mapping Scientist, GIS/LIS
  • Certified Mapping Scientist, Lidar

The Insights Professional Certification

This certification offered by the Insights Association is perfect for survey researchers. There are varying levels of examination that candidates may be eligible for depending on years of experience:

  • IPC Principal (Three years)
  • IPC Master (10 years)
  • IPC Laureate (by invitation)

Geography Career Image 1

Alternative Career Options for Geography

Having an education in geography means having several transferrable skills. You may opt to take the following career paths if traditional geography careers do not work for you.

What else can a Geographer Do?

Market Research Analysts

Human geographers may take market research as a career option. Analysts in this field collect and interpret data to create or improve company products and services. BLS (2021) reports an 18% increase in employment in this job position between the years 2019 and 2029.

Medial Annual Salary: $65,810

Atmospheric Scientists

One great way to expand one’s realm of expertise is to move from geography to atmospheric science, from earth to sky. Given already existing knowledge on different regions of the Earth, geographers can certainly take it to this next level. They will be wise to do so as there is a projected growth of 6% in the employment of atmospheric scientists (BLS, 2021).

Annual Median Salary: $99,740

Postsecondary Teachers

Postsecondary teachers design and implement lesson plans, instructional materials, and assessments for their students. Geographers may choose this path for full-time or part-time employment to share their expertise with future professionals in their field. As of 2019, there are 4,800 geography teachers in America (BLS, 2021).

Median Annual Salary: $80,790

Geography Career Image 2

Map Your Future in Geography

In an issue of The Geography Teacher, Helen Hazen notes in her study “Teaching COVID-19 Topics in a Geographic Framework” that “Geographic methods were integral to improving our understanding of the HIV pandemic, the origins and spread of avian flu and Ebola, and the potential role of the global airline network in the spread of SARS, among numerous other examples.” As such, the field can also be instrumental in contextualizing unprecedented situations in the future. One such example is the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Geography is ideally placed to help students make sense of the pandemic, sitting as it does at a critical point of intersection between the physical and social world,” the author concluded.  This statement is true not only for students but for every one of us, as we face the seemingly unending distances that need to be put up to keep us safe. Geographic concepts guide our thinking as we ruminate where we are and when we are.

If you are still asking yourself what degree you should do, geography might just be one of your best options. Today and in the aftermath of the crisis, we need people who know how to map our relationships and our spaces.

 

References:

  1. American Association of Geographers (2017). Long-term Trends in Degrees Conferred in Geography. Retrieved from http://www.aag.org/galleries/disciplinary-data/Longterm_trends_in_degrees_conferred_in_geography.pdf
  2. The Economist (2021). A third of Americans deny human-caused climate change exists. Retrieved from https://www.economist.com/graphic-detail/2021/07/08/a-third-of-americans-deny-human-caused-climate-change-exists
  3. Hazen, H. (2020). Teaching COVID-19 Topics in a Geographic Framework. The Geography Teacher, (17)2, 33-43. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1080/19338341.2020.1764375
  4. O*NET Online (n.d.). Geographers. Retrieved from https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/19-3092.00
  5. Payscale (n.d.). Average Geographer Salary. Retrieved from https://www.payscale.com/research/US/Job=Geographer/Salary
  6. Solem, Cheung, & Schlemper (2008). Skills in Professional Geography: An Assessment of Workplace Needs and Expectations. The Professional Geographer (60)3: 356-373. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1080/00330120802013620
  7. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021). Occupational Employment and Wages. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/oes/
  8. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021). Occupational Handbook Outlook. Retrieved from https://www.bls.gov/ooh/

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