What Can You Do With a Geography Degree?
If you studied geography, other students at university may have joked about your degree consisting of ‘coloring in’ – but your degree will have actually provided you with strong research and analytical skills, which are highly regarded by many employers.
Plus, if you want to make a difference to the world, studying geography is a good place to start. Geography careers offer opportunities to develop solutions to some of the most pressing issues for modern society, including climate change, natural disasters, overpopulation, urban expansion, and multicultural integration.
The career path you choose may depend on whether you have studied physical geography or human geography. The former is a natural science, focusing on the Earth’s physical materials and processes, while the latter is a social science, focusing on issues relating to human communities and cultures.
Whatever career path you pursue, it’s advisable to try and get work experience in your chosen field, to gain an awareness of the roles available and to form contacts. Fieldwork is a useful way of developing your practical skills and gaining hands-on experience. Your university may also provide you with opportunities to complete work placements.
Read on to find out more about which careers in geography would best suit you, and how to increase your employability in these areas.
Typical careers in geography
Careers in cartography involve developing and producing different types of maps, as well as producing related diagrams, charts, spreadsheets and travel guides. Your role as a cartographer may also include the restoration of old maps and historical documents. Cartographers work within a variety of areas, including publishing, government, surveying and conservation. Today the field commonly also draws on an array of advanced technologies, such as geographical information systems (GIS) and digital-mapping techniques. You will not usually need a postgraduate degree or previous experience to pursue this role, but you may nonetheless find it helpful to have completed a specialized degree in a topic such as remote sensing, and/or gain some practical experience.
Environmental consultants work to ensure that their commercial or government clients comply with regulations, and address a variety of environmental issues. This is a varied role, typically focusing on identifying whether an area of land, air or water is polluted, and what the impact would be, by means of desk-based research and field work. Environmental consultancy offers the opportunity for a structured career path with the potential to specialize in an area of interest. Work experience would be very beneficial for entry in this role, with potential employers including water-related organizations and the government.
As a town planner, you may deal with the management and development not only of towns, but also cities, villages and rural areas. You will put your analytical skills and knowledge of the environment into use to improve existing infrastructure and find solutions to environmental issues, as well as ensuring new developments are in line with various policies and regulations. A part of your job will be to satisfy the needs of businesses and local communities, while ensuring that development is sustainable and natural environments are maximally preserved. You are likely to need a postgraduate qualification in order to increase your prospects of becoming a chartered town planner.
Geographical information systems officer
If, as well as the environment, you’re interested in working with data, analytics and computer systems, then this role might suit you. Geographic information systems (GIS) are computerized systems used for the collection, storage, analysis, management and presentation of complicated geographical information, for example radar. Geographical information systems officers carry out the gathering and examination of geographical data generated by GIS. The data can be applied in a variety of areas, such as defense, meteorology, oil, gas, telecommunications and transportation, to make decisions which benefit the environment.
For entry into this role, you may find it useful to have previously studied GIS as a module during your degree, and many employers also highly value a relevant postgraduate degree and/or work experience.
If you are passionate about the environment and want to encourage others to appreciate and safeguard the natural world, you might like to become a conservation officer. In this career you will work to protect a natural environment and raise awareness of the ways in which the local community can enjoy its settings without having a negative impact. Similarly, a sustainable development officer would promote their particular employer’s sustainability practices in the local area. To increase your chances of pursuing this career, it is essential to gain some relevant work experience, through paid or voluntary work, and a master’s degree in sustainable development may be useful.
Continuing with the theme of sustainability in careers in geography, recycling officers aim to reduce waste by promoting recycling in their local area. They plan and develop environmental and waste reduction policies and schemes. Your employer could be a local authority/government, recycling contractor or environmental charity. In this career you will need strong communication and planning skills, as well as an understanding of current recycling practices, emerging technologies and future trends.
Other careers in geography
If you have a creative side which you’re keen to explore whilst still protecting the environment, then this role could be for you. Landscape architects create, design and manage the open spaces around us to ensure that they are not only aesthetically pleasing, but also safe and sustainable. To become a landscape architect, you will need to complete an accredited postgraduate degree in the subject.
You may also like to pass on your geography skills and knowledge to the next generation as a geography teacher in a secondary school, college or further education institution. Like other teaching roles, this will usually require completion of a specialized teaching qualification and/or specialized study at master’s or PhD level. You’ll need excellent communication skills, creativity and commitment to your subject. You’ll also need to keep up to date with new developments in geography and perhaps arrange field trips as a practical learning method.
If none of the above geography careers are appealing to you, there are still plenty of options available. The skills you’ve gained during your degree would also be useful for careers in a wide range of other industries, from commerce and the public sector, to transport and tourism.
‘What Can You Do With a Geography Degree?’ is part of our ‘What Can You Do With…’ series. We have also covered art, biology, business, communications, computer science, English, engineering, fashion, history, law, marketing, mathematics, performing arts, philosophy, politics, psychology, sociology, chemistry, economics and physics.
This article was originally published in November 2015 . It was last updated in January 2020