Geography Advising Guide

Department of Earth Sciences

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What is Geography?

Geography is the science of place and space. Geographers ask where things are located on the surface of the earth, why they are located where they are, how places differ from one another, and how people interact with the environment. Geography is unique in linking the social sciences and natural sciences together. Geographers also study the relationships between human activity and natural systems.  Geographers use many tools and techniques in their work, and geographic technologies are increasingly among the most important emerging fields for understanding our complex world. They include Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Remote Sensing, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), online mapping such as Google Earth, and others.

There are two main branches of geography: human geography and physical geography.

Physical geographers study weather, climate, water and coastal processes, plant and animal distributions, landforms, soils, and natural hazards. Their objective is to improve the understanding of the way the environment operates, both naturally and in response to human-induced changes. Physical geographers evaluate the potential of natural resources, make environmental impact assessments, monitor environmental change, map exotic species expansion, and determine the risks of harm from natural hazards such as storms, volcanic eruptions, landslides, and floods.

Human geographers examine the spatial differentiation and organization of human activities and the interrelationships with the physical environment.  Human geographers look at economic, social, cultural, and political dimensions of the landscape. They study health, population, agriculture, industry, tourism, cities, transportation networks, migrations, commodity flows, political units, and behavioral patterns. Their objective is to improve our understanding of how people use the land and help plan more rational uses of natural resources that will benefit society while protecting the environment from excessive deterioration.  


Career Opportunities in Geography

A degree in geography can prepare you for a rewarding career in a variety of fields.  Many geographers pursue occupations in education, business, local state and federal agencies, and nonprofit organizations.  Although historically, geographers tended to remain in the education sector, with the evolution of GIS and remote sensing many geographers with Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees are now employed in a diverse economic environment.  Examples of these sectors are as follows:

  • Education - The education sector includes K through 12 institutions, colleges and universities that award at least a two-year degree, continuing education and informal education organizations, and higher education institutions. Educators may also work in educational administration and academic research positions.
  • Government - Applicants new to the public sector, which includes federal, state, and local government, may find the broad, integrative perspective offered by academic training in geography to be an asset. Nearly 2 million civilians—1.8 percent of the U.S. workforce—are employed by the federal government, while state and local governments employ 19.8 million workers. Geography's emphasis on addressing real-world problems and issues is excellent preparation for public sector employment, particularly at the local and state levels where much policy innovation, implementation, and bottom-line responsibility reside.
  • Nonprofit - Roughly nine percent of the U.S. workforce (12 million individuals) is employed by an estimated 1.4 million nonprofit organizations, whose causes and values span the entire political spectrum. Because nonprofits typically strive to create a better world (as defined by their mission statements), they offer great opportunities for job seekers hoping to make a difference which is where a degree in geography will give you an edge.


Salary Trends in Geography 

Median Annual Salary

( 2015)


Unlike more vocationally-oriented majors, such as majors in business, engineering, or the health professions, A&S majors tend to study a greater range of topics outside of their immediate major area. This greater breadth provides an interdisciplinary perspective that complements the more linear education in the student’s major area. 

As a result, A&S majors are compatible with a wide-range of career options. A large 2012 survey of employers found that 81% of employers will consider any degree, so most employers do not require a specific degree. So A&S majors typically find post-graduate employment at rates comparable to more vocationally-specific degrees, Furthermore, longitudinal studies which have followed college graduates over time have shown that Arts and Sciences graduates' rates of salary growth often exceed those of more vocationally-specific majors. For example, a 2010 longitudinal survey of college majors after graduation found that:

“Occupationally specific degrees are beneficial at the point of entry into the labor market but have the lowest growth in occupational status over time. Students earning credentials focusing on general skills, in contrast, begin in jobs with low occupational status but subsequently report the greatest growth.

Another longitudinal study concluded that:

"Employment across educational fields is almost identical for individuals aged 35-44, and beyond age 45, humanities graduates actually have higher rates of employment than those in other fields. After age 45, humanities and social science majors’ salaries overtake those of counterparts in other fields."

Finally, A&S majors have on average the highest rates of increase from starting to mid-career salary, with Math, Philosophy, International Studies, Physics, Political Science, Chemistry, and Journalism all scoring in the top 10 among all majors in rate of salary growth to mid-career.


High School Preparation

Most students in the United States are only exposed to geographic education in elementary or middle school. As a result, there is a widespread misconception that Geography is limited to boring memorization of locations of countries, states, capital cities, major physical landmarks, and export products. The truth is that modern geography is an exciting science producing research of great value to government interests, planning agencies, and private businesses.  There are, however, several ways to prepare for a degree in geography during high school.  For example, consider taking social studies courses like AP Human Geography, World Geography, World History, or physical sciences courses like Biology and Chemistry.  


How to Major in Geography

A student with a major in geography must take a group of required core geography courses and elective geography courses for a total of 47 semester hours. Students must take six (6) upper division geography electives from all of the following categories: Human, Physical, Regional, and Technical. Geography 101 and 102 are prerequisites to all physical geography courses, and Geography 114 and 115 are prerequisites to all human geography courses listed below. Only two technical geography courses may be counted toward the Geography major.

Course ID Title Prereq Hours Offered Taken/notes
GEO 101 Atmospheric Processes None 4 Every semester  
GEO 102 Landscape Processes None 4 Every semester  
GEO 114 Human Geography None 3 Every semester  
GEO 115 World Regional None 3 Every semester  
GEO 201 Geography Orientation None 1 Every Fall  
GEO 202W Writing in the Sciences   3 Every Spring Beginning 2015-16
GEO 331 Computer Graphs & Maps Instructor permission 4 Every semester  
GEO 332 Remote Sensing I Instructor permission 4 Every semester  
GEO 435 Research Methods Junior, GEO 201 3 Every Fall  
GEO 485 Seminar: Geographic Senior 3 Every Spring Beginning 2015-16
    Total Core Hours 32    
Upper division: need 6 upper division courses (min. 18 hrs) from all of the following categories
GEO 312W World Economic GEO 114 and EH 102 3 Every Fall  
GEO 321W Nat'l Parks Conservation 101 or 102 or 114 or 115 3 Not currently offered  
GEO 365 Urban Geography GEO 114 3 Fall even years  
GEO 370 International Tourism 101 or 102 or 114 or 115 3 Spring even years  
GEO 407 Technological hazards Junior standing   Not currently offered  
GEO 417 Health and Place Junior standing   Spring odd years  
GEO 310 Env. Earth Sciences GEO 102 or GY 111 3 Spring even years  
GEO 341W Climatology GEO 101 3 Every spring  
GEO 405 Natural Hazards & Disasters GEO 102 or GY 111 3 Spring odd years  
GEO 410 Biogeography GEO 101 & 102 3 Fall odd years  
GEO 411 Soils GEO 102 3 Fall even years  
GEO 412W Regional Physiography GEO 102 or GY 111 3 Spring even years  
GEO 440 Coastal Zone Management   2 Dauphin Sea Lab  
GEO 441 Coastal Climatology   2 Dauphin Sea Lab  
GEO 313 US and Canada GEO 101, 102, 114 or 115 3 Summer even years  
GEO 314 Europe 101 or 102 or 114 or 115 3 Fall even years  
GEO 315 Latin America GEO 114 or 115 3 Fall odd years  
GEO 317 Mountain Geography     Spring odd years  
GEO 320W Alabama EH 102 3 Fall even years  
GIT 442* Remote Sensing II GEO 332, B grade 4 Every semester  
GIT 460* Intro. to GIS CIS 150 4 Every semester  
GIT 461* GIS apps: Environmental GEO 460, B grade 4 Every semester  
GIT 462* GIS apps: Social Science GEO 460, B grade 4 Every semester  
GEO 480W Field Work Junior standing   Not currently offered  
**Only 2 technical courses can count toward major for 2010 catalog or later students. Other courses can count toward minor.
Variable topics
GEO 490 Special Topics Special permission 1-3    
GEO 492 Seminar Special permission 1-3    
GEO 494 Directed Research Special permission 1-3    
GEO 496 Internship Special permission 1-3    


Geography Minor

A student must take at least 20 semester hours of Geography, including the following list:

  • GEO 101 Atmospheric Processes
  • GEO 101L Atmospheric Processes Lab
  • GEO 102 Landscape Processes
  • GEO 102L Landscape Processes Lab
  • GEO 114 Introduction to Human Geography

To complete the minor, a student must take at least three electives at the 300 or 400 level.

GIST Minor

A student must take at least 22 semester hours of Geographic Information Technology related classes. Students must take 3 core classes:

  • GIT 110 or MET 420 Introduction to Computer Science (Python Programming) or Computer Apps in Earth Sciences
  • GIT 460 Introduction to GIT
  • GIT 461 Applications in GIT: Environment or 462 Applications in GIT: Business & Social Sciences

And three additional electives from the following list:

  • GY 301 Geomorphology
  • GEO 331 Computer Graphs and Maps
  • GEO 332 Remote Sensing I
  • MET 370 Satellite Meteorology
  • GIT 442 Remote Sensing II
  • GIT 462 Applications in GIT: Business & Social Sciences
  • GIT 461 Applications in GIT: Environment
  • GIT 494 Special Projects in GIT
  • GIT 496 Internship in GIT
  • GIT 490 Web Mapping and Server Management

*Only two classes can count towards both the Geography major and a GIST minor.

GIST Certificate

A student must take all of the following classes and maintain a 3.0 GPA in each class. No substitutions can be made for courses in the certificate.

  • GEO 331 Computer Graphs and Maps
  • GEO 332 Remote Sensing I
  • GIT 442 Remote Sensing II
  • GIT 460 Introduction to GIT
  • GIT 461 Applications in GIT: Environment
  • GIT 462 Applications in GIT: Business & Social Sciences


Special Programs, Co-ops, Internships

There are a number of internships available to Geographers.  Among many others, there are:


Geography Highlights 


Study Abroad Opportunities 

Studying abroad is an exciting and meaningful experience that will contribute to your academic and personal development.  Participating on a study abroad program can be one of the most profound decisions of your college life, and can lead to many new and interesting opportunities.  It can help develop your critical thinking skills, sense of independence, and confidence.  When you depart on your study abroad program, you will go with excitement, trepidation, and uncertainty about the world and your place in it.  When you return home, your deep connection and affection for your host culture will be overwhelming, and will only be matched by a newfound respect and appreciation for your home.

Study abroad is the opportunity for USA students to spend time in a different country while earning credit towards your degree through taking classes, interning, volunteering, and more.  There are many different types of study abroad available to you at USA. They include faculty-led programs, international exchange programs, and direct-enroll and affiliate programs. 

Students on faculty-led programs will travel as a group led by USA professors and take classes in various locations. All courses taken on these programs are USA courses and offer USA credits that will apply to your degree. International Exchange programs are partnerships with specific universities around the world with which USA has a special, reciprocal relationship. Students enroll directly at the host university, and students from the host university attend USA. USA affiliate programs allow students to enroll at a partner university or program through a third-party provider. GPA requirements vary by program.

You should think of the Study Abroad Office as a one-stop shop for information related to your study abroad experience. The Study Abroad ( team is excited to assist you as you navigate through the process of choosing a program, and will help you from the advising stage until you return from your program.  You can get started by coming to meet with an advisor during Walk-In Advising hours. During an advising session, you can gain general information about the many programs available, how the application process works at USA and general guidance on where to begin.

Be sure to visit the OIE Study Abroad website at to begin your research.  The website contains information on how to get started, financing your program, and a comprehensive list of pre-approved study abroad programs and partners. While researching a passport or visa programs, consider the following: eligibility requirements, location, course offerings, and costs.  You should also meet with your faculty advisor for assistance in selecting a program based on courses related to your degree.

Studying abroad can be one of the highlights of your university career, giving you wonderful and challenging experiences that will allow you to grow both academically and professionally. Where will you study abroad?


Academic Plan

It can be helpful to following an academic plan.

To access a sample academic plan for this major, click here.  This is a SUGGESTED schedule and it is important to always meet with your advisor for additional help. 

For additional degree information please click here to visit the department website.


For More Information

For more information on this program, contact Dr. Steve Schultze at
or (251) 460–7041 -- or stop by LSCB 383.

You can find us on campus at:

Department of Earth Sciences
Life Sciences Building (LSCB), Room 136
Mobile, AL 36688

Department website