How to Begin a Professional Career as a Geographer

How to Begin a Professional Career as a Geographer

How to Begin a Professional Career as a Geographer

Geographer: A Quick Look
Median Salary $74,760 per year
$35.94 per hour
Entry-level Education University level (bachelor degree level)
On-the-job training No
Primary employers Federal government, educational institutions, architecture, engineering, self-employed
Number of positions (U.S.) 1,700
Job Growth (2012-2022) 29 percent (far faster than the U.S. national average)
New positions (2012-2022) 500

What Does A Geographer Do? A Geographer examines the entire planet. This study includes everything from the physical features of the land to the dynamics of its human inhabitants. Read more.

Salary As of May 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the median yearly salary of professional Geographers stood at an impressive $74,760. That figure makes this career track far more lucrative than others. Read more.

Becoming A Geographer An interested candidate who desires a career as a Geographer must complete a lot of studying and formal training. Find out more about How to Begin a Professional Career as a Geographer in our new post. Read more.


Job Outlook The field of geography is rather narrow. The U.S. government predicts that only 1,700 geographers are currently employed in the country. However, the field is expected to grow at an impressive rate. The projected rate of growth for this profession through the next decade (2012 – 2022) stands at a massive 29 percent. Read more.

Geographer In May 2012, the median yearly salary for a professional Geographer stood at an impressive rate of $74,760. That high salary makes this career track far more lucrative and financially rewarding than most other careers. By comparison, the average median salary in the U.S. sits a little over $34,000 per year. Geographers employed in social sciences generally earn some of the highest median salaries. Their median yearly salary stands at $69,290. Surprisingly enough, the bottom 10 percent of professional Geographer earners still earned more than the national average with a yearly average of $41,190. The top 10 percent of earners among Geographers earned over $103,870 per year on average. As is usually the case, the level of yearly earnings for a professional Geographer widely fluctuates depending on the industry the employee works in. On average, professionals employed by the federal government earn more than the median for all Geographers. On average, a federal Geographer earns roughly $78,720 per year. At the same time, geographers in the services field (professional, technical, and scientific) also earn high median salaries at $65,150. Finally, Geographers employed by educational institutions (be they state-funded, local schools, or private institutions) earned the smallest amount of money per year with a median yearly wage of $53,150. This exciting profession presents numerous opportunities for traveling abroad. Though a lot of geographers work regular business hours in an office, many also work out in the field for their research. They typically travel to far off countries and places that are otherwise tough to reach for other people.

How to Become a Geographer In order to become a Geographer, you will have to complete a lot of studying and school work. Those employed through the federal government must usually hold a bachelor’s degree. These employees also need some relevant professional experience. Additionally, they need at least some level of training in the use of GIS (or geographic information systems). For other employers, the Geographer may need further secondary education. In the case of the later, you’ll need a master’s degree. Educational Requirements Can you still become a professional Geographer even if you only hold a bachelor’s degree? Yes, it is feasible through federal employers or a not-for-profit organization. Most other employers require advanced degrees. Some employers may allow very experienced candidates to substitute work experience for a master's degree. However, these instances tend to happen pretty infrequently. If you want to get into research or obtain a college teaching tenure, you’ll need a Ph.D. Geography majors must know all about geography pertaining to both human and physical elements. The curriculum includes training in math, statistics, remote tracking systems, and GIS. A career in Geography requires specialized 'know-how'. Geographers in training can also take an inter-disciplinary approach to their studies by learning about business, economics, or even real estate. This knowledge could prove particularly useful if the student wishes to work for private employers. Professional Experience In this line of work, formal training and educational degrees hold more weight than professional experience. However, a student studying Geography should take up an internship or part-time job while in college in order to gain a competitive edge on the job market. Such professional outlets allow you to hone your skills, figure out what branch of geography you’re most interested in, and experience the inner workings of the industry. In some cases, you may become better suited for employment from an internship. Some hiring companies specifically seek out professionals with previous hands-on experience. Most professional Geographers hold a certification in the use of GIS. These certifications grant you the title of certified GIS professional. They also attest to your advanced knowledge of GIS systems which geographers use on a daily basis. A Geographer can obtain this certificate from the GIS Certification Institute.

Geographer Job Description Those of you who remember geography class in high school can probably guess what a Geographer does. They study the entirety of our planet. This study includes the both the physical features of the land and the dynamics of its human inhabitants. A Geographer chooses to research a particular local area or analyzes global data sets. Depending on the type of research performed, we classify them as either physical or human Geographers (cultural, economic, political, environmental, etc.).


Geographers’ duties vary widely depending on both their specialization and the industry they work in. By and large, most Geographers fulfill the following job duties:
  • Observing phenomena in the field, taking photographs, analyzing maps, census results, and geo data in order to amass information
  • Analyze said information through the use of quantitative research methods (such as statistics)
  • Analyze information through qualitative research including interviews, focus groups, case studies, and surveys
  • Produce diagrams, graphs, maps, and other types of visual materials to represent the data they gathered
  • Collect, analyze, and represent data through the use of GIS (geographic information systems)
  • Produce written reports and oral presentations of their research results
As you can probably see, GIS systems serve as perhaps the most important tool used by Geographers. Irrespective of their specialization and line of work, all Geographers use these systems in order to visually represent data. Employers also place Geographers in charge of teaching others to use GIS systems. They also provide GIS data analyses results to companies, government officials, and other employees.

Job Outlook The field of geography remains rather narrow in its employment in the U.S. In fact, the Bureau's data shows that only 1,700 Geographers are employed at the moment. However, their data also shows the potential for growth in this field is impressive. They project a massive 29 percent rate of growth through the next decade (or 2012 through 2022). That rate sits far higher than that of general social scientists careers (11 percent). Geography is obviously a small field. So, its rate of growth only translates into about 500 new jobs. The Bureau accredits this high rate of positive job growth to several factors. On the one hand, more and more entities in the work field make use of GIS and other technologies for geography. In turn, this will lead to greater efficiency at making plans, deciding how to use land, building infrastructure, and determining the environmental impact of building in certain areas. As eco-consciousness gains worldwide prominence, geographers continue to remain in high demand with companies and governments. These entities look to Geographers to reduce their carbon footprint.


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