Oregon State University

College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences

Earth Sciences Major with Geography Option

Geography student

Geographers study the Earth and the relationships between Earth and people. They are interested in learning more about the natural and the human worlds in order that this knowledge can be applied to guide environmental decisions. Geographers seek to generate scientific information about the environment and combine it with an understanding of human needs to work toward societal decisions which are both environmentally sensitive and compatible with the greater goals of society. Geography at OSU focuses on sustainability and wise management of the environment and resources, with an international orientation aimed at enhancing global awareness. The Geography option offers undergraduates an interdisciplinary curriculum that includes specializations in fields such as geographic information systems, climate and water science, planning and resource evaluation, and the geography of regional and international conflict. The curriculum gives students a rigorous education in spatial analysis and prepares them to apply geographic analysis to practical questions and to communicate effectively. Courses in basic sciences, statistics, and earth sciences provide a broad background. Students also acquire depth of knowledge through upper level elective coursework.

Degree Requirements

Career Opportunities

Career opportunities are bright because OSU geography graduates are well prepared in issues concerning natural resources, the physical environment, land use planning and the latest computer mapping and analysis techniques. Such graduates fill planning and resource management positions in federal, state, city, and county agencies. Others work as specialists in cartography, remote sensing, or geographic information systems.

Recent OSU graduates are employed by:

  • U.S. Department of Interior
  • Oregon Department of Environmental Quality
  • U.S. Forest Service
  • Remote sensing firms
  • Bureau of Land Management
  • U.S. National Park Service
  • Consulting firms
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • Washington Department of Ecology
  • Oregon GIS Service Center
  • Forest industry firms
  • Mapping firms
  • Peace Corps

How do I know if I want to be a geographer?

If you answer yes to a majority of these questions, you may have a bright future in geography.

From the Association of American Geographers web site.

  1. Are you curious about places? If so, geography channels this interest into a rigorous study of the makeup of places and what makes them tick.
  2. Do you like to study maps? The geographer's first inclination is to put information on a map in order to see how it looks spatially.
  3. Do you prefer the window seats on airplanes? Geography tries to explain the constantly changing patterns of human activity and natural phenomena on the landscape.
  4. Are you interested in foreign areas? Many geographers specialize in a particular part of the world such as Latin America, Europe, Asia or Africa.
  5. Do you like to work outside? Many geographers obtain their basic data from field investigation in environments that range from wilderness areas to cities.
  6. Are you a problem solver? As scientists, geographers are naturally curious about how the world is arranged. They ask lots of questions about why things are located the way they are and then they try to answer those questions.
  7. Are you good at seeing connections among seemingly unrelated processes? One of geography's strengths is its ability to integrate ideas about human behavior, social institutions and the natural environment.
  8. Can you adapt to rapid technological change? Geography has been buffeted by monumental changes in technology. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) has revolutionized the way geographers collect, store, analyze and present spatial information.
  9. Do you try to see the big picture? Geographers look at how places interact with each other and how they are influenced by larger more global forces. Geographers think big!
  10. Are you interested in connections between people and the environment? Geographers see the world as the human habitat, one that we have transformed and that has transformed us.

Where will a degree in geography lead?

What do geographers do? Geographers work in a wide variety of jobs using their diverse skills. Perhaps the current highest demand for specific geographic skills is in the field of geographic information science (GIScience). In 2004, the U.S. Department of Labor called geotechnology (encompassed by GIScience) one of the three leading areas of science along with nanotechnology and biotechnology where job growth will be high in the next decade as new applications for the technology are developed and new users adopt the tools of GIS, remote sensing, digital image processing and cartography.

Undergraduates who develop a set of skills in techniques such as GIS, remote sensing and computer-assisted mapping find job opportunities in federal, state and local government agencies in such diverse areas as land and resource management, population (Census Bureau), economic forecasting, agriculture, forestry, tourism, transportation, public health and emergency response. The private and non-profit sectors also have a high demand for college graduates with GIS skills as shown in current job listings in The GIS Jobs Clearinghouse. Due to the high demand for graduates with GIS/remote sensing skills, the starting salaries are often quite attractive. Depending on their focus as an undergraduate, geography graduates offer employers combinations of skills beyond GIScience. Employment fields that particularly open opportunities for geographers involve the environment, human-nature relations and people-space relations such as:

  • environmental geography and human-nature relations (environmental protection; natural resource management including watersheds, forests, grasslands, coastlines, marine areas and inland waters; land use planning; national and state park administration; agriculture; and natural hazards mitigation including fire, flood, earthquake, volcano, tsunami and drought); and
  • human and regional geography (tourism; recreation; urban and regional planning; international trade; transportation; marketing; cultural preservation and interpretation; aid and relief; international development; diplomacy; migration; national defense and security; and real estate).

Geography graduates enter the job market with a broad background in the natural and social sciences. To strengthen their preparation for a career area, advisors in the OSU Geography Program may suggest coursework in fields such as foreign language, computer science, statistics, anthropology, economics or chemistry.

What about graduate school? Many geography majors continue their education at the master's or Ph.D. levels. OSU undergraduate majors have successfully gone on to complete graduate degrees in geography and allied fields both in the United States and abroad. Graduate geography degrees are offered in a wide variety of universities, each offering different specializations depending on the faculty, facilities and related programs. More information about Oregon State's graduate geography degree can be found on the Graduate Program page of this website.