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At a Glance

  • Use surveying and meteorological equipment
  • May specialize in physical, economic, political, or cultural geography
  • May work overtime to meet deadlines
  • Have at least a bachelor's degree
  • Mainly work for government agencies

Career summary

Geographers study physical and cultural characteristics of land and the people who live there.

#no matching wois descriptions, checked 2/18/15 lh

Geographers consider physical aspects of a given area. The area could be on a local, regional, continental, or global in scale.

Geographers also create and modify maps using geographic information systems (GIS), remote sensing, and global positioning systems (GPS). They gather data through observations, maps, photos, and other means.

Geographers write reports and make presentations of their research findings. Some geographers teach at the college or university level.

There are several specialties in geography:

Physical geography

Physical geographers look at the physical aspects of a region. They collect data on land features, climates, and soil as well as the animals and plants that live there.

Human geography

Human (or cultural) geographers study people and how they adapt to the physical environment. They take into consideration political, societal, and economic factors.

Human geographers may specialize in one area:

Related careers

This career is part of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Job duties

Task list

The following list of tasks is specific to geographers.

Common work activities

Geographers perform the following tasks. These tasks are common to many careers.

Work requirements

Working conditions

In a typical work setting, geographers:

Interpersonal relationships

Physical work conditions

Work performance


Physical demands

Geographers frequently:

It is important for geographers to be able to:

It is not as important, but still necessary, for geographers to be able to:

Skills and abilities

Geographers need to:


Reason and problem solve

Use math and science

Manage oneself, people, time, and things

Work with people

Perceive and visualize

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study directly related to this occupation

Other programs of study to consider


To work as a geographer, you typically need to:

Education after high school

You need at least a bachelor's degree in geography to become a geographer. Many geographers have a master's degree in geography. As a student you should also take courses in economics, history, and urban studies. Map reading courses are also important. Computer courses are important for people who want to use or create digital maps. Most colleges and universities have bachelor's programs in geography.

You need a doctoral (PhD) degree to teach geography at a college. Many colleges and universities offer advanced degrees in geography.

Work experience

Working as a research assistant for a geographer is good experience for this field. Look for this kind of work when you are a college student.

On-the-job training

Some students complete an internship while in school. This is important work experience for finding a job.

Depending on your employer, you may receive training on your first job. The length of training varies by employer, but may last up to one year.

Helpful high school courses

In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum (external link) may be different from your state's graduation requirements (external link). Geographers use advanced math. Try to take math through Trigonometry.

You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Here are examples of activities and groups (PDF file) that may be available in your high school or community.

Things to know

Employers look for geographers who have earned at least a bachelor's degree in geography. They look for workers who know how to use computers and mapping software. They also prefer to hire people with a portfolio, a collection of completed maps. Geographers also need good written and oral communication skills.

Costs to workers

Workers must pay for association dues, reference books and journals, seminars, and advanced-level classes to keep up with changes in the field.

Job listings

Listed below are links to job categories from the National Labor Exchange that relate to this career. Once you get a list of jobs, you can view information about individual jobs and find out how to apply. If your job search finds too many openings, or if you wish to search for jobs outside of Washington, you will need to refine your search.

To get a listing of current jobs from the WorkSource system, go to the WorkSource website (external link).


#In Washington, the average entry-level wage for geographers is $28.71 per hour ($4,976 per month).

#Updated ES wage info 07.16 sd

Geographers (SOC 19-3092)

Pay Period
Washington Hourly $27.56 $33.79 $39.38 $47.08 $51.97
Monthly $4,776 $5,856 $6,825 $8,159 $9,006
Yearly $57,330 $70,280 $81,920 $97,930 $108,100
    Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue Hourly $30.23 $35.72 $40.06 $49.49 $51.00
Monthly $5,239 $6,190 $6,942 $8,577 $8,838
Yearly $62,879 $74,290 $83,308 $102,937 $106,080
    Vancouver Hourly $29.80 $34.99 $43.71 $49.56 $57.41
Monthly $5,164 $6,064 $7,575 $8,589 $9,949
Yearly $61,979 $72,774 $90,914 $103,071 $119,421
United States Hourly $24.38 $30.42 $38.60 $46.62 $52.84
Monthly $4,225 $5,272 $6,689 $8,079 $9,157
Yearly $50,720 $63,270 $80,300 $96,980 $109,900

Wages vary by employer and area of the country. The geographer's education and level of responsibility also affect wages.

Geographers who work full time often receive benefits. Typical benefits include sick leave, paid vacation, and health insurance. Some employers also provide a retirement plan.

Employment and outlook

Washington outlook

#Between 2014 and 2024, it is estimated that there will be no openings annually due to new positions and one opening annually from a worker leaving this occupation.

#Updated outlook 06.16 sd

The table below provides information about the number of workers in this career in various regions. It also provides information about the expected growth rate and future job openings. 

Geographers (SOC 19-3092)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 41 17.1% 16.1% 6
    King County 18 38.9% 19.6% 3
United States 1,500 6.7% 5.2% 200

National employment

Major employers:

National outlook

Growth is expected to be about as fast as average for geographers. Despite cuts in government spending, geographic technology including Geographic Information Systems (GIS) will spur some growth in this occupation. Government uses geographic data for land use planning. Companies use geographic information to make business plans.

Competition for jobs is expected to be strong. This is due to the limited number of job openings. Geographers who have an advanced degree who know how to use GIS technology will have the best job prospects.

The employment and outlook data does not include geographers who teach at colleges and universities.

Other resources

About Geography Careers (external link)
(from the American Association of Geographers)
African Studies Association (external link)
American Association of Geographers (external link)
1710 - 16th Street NW
Washington, DC 20009
American Planning Association (external link)
205 North Michigan Avenue, Suite 1200
Chicago, IL 60601
Association of Pacific Coast Geographers (external link)


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net (external link) occupation

O*Net job zone (external link)

DOT occupations

Strong Interest Inventory

Holland occupational cluster