An online geography degree combines science and humanities to equip students with the skills needed for careers in environmental, engineering, and educational fields. Online bachelor’s degrees in geography may emphasize either physical or human geography, but include information on both so students can explore the discipline. Learners interested in interactions with their surroundings, technical aspects of climatology and cartography, and spatial patterns of natural features and resources can pursue an online degree in geography while simultaneously developing research and critical-thinking skills applicable to the field.
Overview of Geography Degrees
Geography incorporates the study of physical features of earth and the relationships humans have with those locations. Physical geography focuses on landforms, natural features, and their distribution across the planet. Often called physiography, the field also investigates the presence and movement of flora and fauna, water, and other natural resources in the atmosphere or in a specific biosphere, geosphere, or hydrosphere.
Human geography focuses on the historical and cultural development of a location by looking closely at communities, economics, group interaction, and social features. In contrast to physical geography, which explores the impact humans have on the land, sea, and environment, human geography investigates the effects land and other geographic features have on humans.
Physical and human geographers enter careers in climatology, engineering, education, and urban planning. Students interested in environmental policy, urban planning, and geotechnology gain the skills to work in government, business, and industrial sectors. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), cartographers and photogrammetrists will experience a projected 19% rise in employment by 2026. Surveyors and urban planners will also see higher than average growth, with predicted increases of 11% and 13%, respectively.
Most schools require applicants to submit a formal application and transcript information. Applications often include statements of purpose or a prompted essay. Application fees for colleges and universities vary, but many schools provide waivers for students who demonstrate financial need.
Students entering an online undergraduate program straight out of high school should submit high school transcripts, while transfer students and adult learners should include information about prior postsecondary coursework. Transfer students must make sure previous coursework meets program requirements. Many schools limit the number of transfer credits they accept.
Most undergraduate programs do not require students to submit letters of recommendation, but many have ACT and SAT requirements. Students can have their ACT or SAT scores sent directly to potential schools at the time of testing or through the testing agency’s website.
What Will I Learn?
Most online geography degrees include 120 credit hours of general education and degree-specific coursework. Bachelor of arts degrees in geography require 60 credit hours of general education classes, with roughly 30 credit hours of electives and 30 credit hours of courses that emphasize human geography. Students study the fundamentals of physical geography and the geosciences, but closely assess topics including historical geography, folklore and cultural geography, and economic or business geography. A bachelor of science degree in geography includes comparable credit requirements, but students study advanced aspects of physical geography including climatology, remote sensing, geographic information systems, and civil engineering.
In both bachelor of arts and bachelor of science geography programs, students study theories, practices, and principles of geography. Learners develop analytical and research skills as they explore physical and human geographical fundamentals. Online bachelor’s degrees in geography often include a capstone project or field research course during their final term to apply degree knowledge.
A cultural geography course includes information on the factors that influence how humans use their environments. Students look at topics including settlement patterns, resource usage, folklore and popular culture, political geography, and landscape modification. Additional topics include the role of religion, language, and migration in geography.
World geography courses look at the physical and human geography of Earth. Students learn about landforms, flora and fauna, resources, and physical characteristics of world regions in addition to exploring history, cultural developments, community formation, and economic practices. Coursework also includes information on demography, migration, political structures, and language.
Coursework in natural disasters presents information on natural phenomena including volcanic eruptions, tornadoes, hurricanes, and earthquakes to assess and analyze their processes. Students learn about triggers for natural disasters as they explore regional variations in disaster types. Natural disaster classes also assess potential risks, hazards, and dangers to human populations. Learners investigate reactions to natural disasters, prevention, and prediction of catastrophic events.
Geographic Information Systems
Geographic information systems coursework introduces students to technologies related to geographic information including remote sensing, global positioning, and statistical analysis. Students learn to use, apply, and assess geographic information system technologies. Coursework may include information on developing and designing geographic information systems.
Urban planning coursework focuses on the design and development of cities, suburbs, and metropolitan areas. Students explore physical, social, political, and economic aspects of human settlements and how they shape where people live while learning how to shape and reshape settlements using geographic features.
Cartography classes familiarize students with the terminology and symbols of map making, map design, and tools used to make maps. Learners explore the history of maps and map production as they develop an understanding of the form and function of maps in society. Cartography classes also provide students with information about types of maps and the latest technology in mapping and map use.
What Can I Do with an Online Bachelor’s Degree in Geography?
Online geography programs provide students with fundamental information on the discipline. Students participate in lectures, labs, and research projects to build analytical and critical-thinking skills as they develop competencies to apply and assess geographic principles and practices. Online programs in geography introduce students to advanced technologies; give insight into the future of geoscience; and prepare students for careers in public service, business, education, and scientific research.
In an online geography program, students study the foundations of geographic science. Learners complete coursework on the natural sciences applicable to land, water, and the atmospheric features of Earth. Through lectures and labs, students learn about the spatial and functional connections among landforms, plants, soil, and climate as they take part in experiments and field trips to gain hands-on knowledge. Similarly, human geography courses look at the way people around the world live, interact, and change their environments. Online undergraduate programs in geography prepare students for continued study in the field by providing research skills and experience.
Undergraduate geography students learn to assess physical surroundings and data to better understand the relationships among geographical features and the humans who inhabit them. Students interested in surveying, civil engineering, and cartography gain competencies in gathering geographic information for practical use. Learners who seek to work in public policy, urban planning, and environmental science also gain analytical and critical-thinking skills applicable to working with people and their environments to promote efficiency, safety, and sustainability.
Potential Careers and Salaries
Geography students can pursue careers in state and local government, laboratory sciences, environmental advocacy, and geographic technology. With knowledge of mapping techniques and design, learners with an online geography degree develop the skills needed to analyze existing infrastructure, such as highways and railroads, and provide new options for resource and human movement.
Learners can also apply their knowledge to urban planning and policy, working with administrators and public officials to benefit populations and places alike. Through analysis of geographic information systems, geography professionals can study trends in the interactions between people and their physical environments. Geographers also play a role in educating the public about their responsibilities to their surroundings, the history of people and places, and the potential changes that impact daily life.
Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Analyst
Annual Median Salary: $52,780
Geographers who work with geographic information systems analyze data to assess the distribution of physical and cultural geographic occurrences. GIS analysts study Earth features and humans through maps, field observations, surveys, photographs, and demographic information, often writing reports and presenting their findings to colleagues.
Annual Median Salary: $69,400
Environmental scientists work in offices and laboratories alike, using information about natural sciences to study and protect the environment. They gather data to analyze threats to the environment in the soil, air, or water. They also prepare reports on their findings and work with policy officials, communities, and the general public to establish environmental guidelines and protections.
Annual Median Salary: $57,908
Geospatial analysts develop methods to gather data from geographic information systems and other mapping technologies applicable to specific fields. They create maps using the data they collect. Geospatial analysts may work with logistics managers, construction companies, and civil engineers to geomap and geocode an area.
Will I Need a Graduate Degree for a Career in Geography?
Geographers do not need a graduate degree to work in the field. Careers in geography vary; with an online bachelor’s degree, learners can enter governmental, business, and educational sectors. A master’s or doctoral degree in geography provides students with more advanced information applicable to leadership and specialized geography careers. Learners who want to teach at a college or university, research scientists who hope to work with state and federal government agencies, and urban planners in major metropolitan areas may need a graduate degree in geography.
The experience gained in an undergraduate program through research, internship, and fieldwork prepares geographers for entry- and mid-level careers. Individuals who hope to advance within the field have options outside of pursuing a graduate degree. Geographic information systems analysts, cartographers, environmental specialists, and other professionals can complete continuing education opportunities through professional associations in lieu of continued academic study.
Accreditation for Geography Bachelor’s Programs
When looking for a geography program, students should take accreditation into consideration. Accrediting bodies work with schools to maintain educational standards, policies, and overall academic integrity. Most colleges and universities in the U.S. hold either regional or national accreditation. Regional accreditation implies an institution offers more research-oriented programs, while nationally accredited schools provide vocational and career-focused certificates and degrees. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the United States Department of Education oversee accrediting bodies.
Geography programs hold the accreditation of their college or university. No programmatic accreditation exists for online geography programs, but the accreditation status of an institution impacts financial aid and credit transfers. Students attending regionally accredited schools generally have more access to loans, grants, and scholarships. Regionally accredited colleges and universities may not accept credits from nationally accredited schools.
Geography Professional Organizations
Geography professionals may want to join an organization or association in the field to network, find jobs, and explore continuing education options. Professional organizations provide members with newsletters and updates in the field of geography while providing resources for collaboration, communication, and community building. Many professional organizations also hold conferences for researchers and practitioners to present their research and exchange ideas. Scholarships, publications, and advocacy initiatives also make geography professional organizations ideal for individuals at any stage of their career.
Association of American Geographers:
Founded in 1904, the AAG brings together geography practitioners and researchers from around the country. The AAG has regional divisions and 60 specialty groups for geographers who work in areas including education, nonprofit, and entrepreneurship. The AAG offers job information, grants and awards, policy updates, and events for members. The AAG also provides extensive resources for instructors and students at all levels.
American Geographical Society:
The AGS encourages collaboration and conversation among geographers to promote understanding of physical systems, human interactions with them, and their connections to politics and culture. The AGS facilitates knowledge exchange by providing articles, information about geographic discoveries and developments, and content on global geographical trends.
American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing:
The ASPRS serves more than 7,000 photogrammetry and remote sensing professionals around the world through certification programs, publications, events, and news updates. With a mission to promote understanding of mapping sciences, the ASPRS also provides students and professionals with job information and projections for the field. Members enjoy discounts on conferences, events, and publications.