Geographer Job Description

Geographers study features of the earth, its inhabitants, and the land that its inhabitants live on.

In the past, geographers relied on maps for a lot of their work, but in today's world, global positioning systems (GPS) and geographic information systems (GIS) have changed the way that geographers work.

These advancements in technology give geographers the ability to identify trends and relationships in geographic data that would have been previously very difficult to detect. They are able to digitally represent detailed maps, charts, and other reports on demand, without having to take long excursions to gather data. This information can then be used to help businesses and the government make decisions -- such as where roads, homes, and landfills are built.

Because geography is such a broad discipline, most geographers choose to specialize in one of two broad studies.

Human geographers look for similarities between a region's culture and the geographic area the people inhabit. For instance, they may be able to identify cultural similarities between different people who live in cold coastal regions.

Physical geographers study the physical aspects of the earth. They look at things like vegetation, climates, plants, and animals. They study these characteristics to understand the implications of the geography on a country or region.

Many people confuse geographers with cartographers (who make maps), but they are very different professions. You can learn more about cartographers here.

Work Environment and Schedule

Most geographers work for the federal government, but if you shouldn't limit your job search to just government jobs. There are also many available positions with colleges and universities, as well as companies in the professional and scientific services industries.

The working environment for geographers varies depending on their place of employment and the work they were hired to do. Some geographers are able to do all of their work from their office, while others have to split their time between the office and the field.

For some geographers, fieldwork requires extended travel to remote regions of the world. For others, their fieldwork may be locally centralized and require only a short drive.

Most geographers work full time, though overtime is sometimes required. Since their projects may be deadline driven, additional hours may be required as a deadline approaches.

How to Become a Geographer

A minimum of a bachelor's degree is required for most entry-level geographer positions. In some cases, exceptional work experience can make up for not having a graduate degree, but if you're considering a long-term career in the field, you should seriously consider getting a graduate degree.

In most cases, a master's degree is enough to ensure long-term advancement opportunities, but most of the heavy research is done by those who have a Ph.D.

Because your career can be limited by the level of education you pursue, it's important to determine the type of work you want to do before you commit to a degree. Conduct some informational interviews or do your own research to learn what type of degree is necessary to do the type of work you want to do.

Nearly all employers require their geographers to be proficient with GIS technology. Though they don't require it, you can become GIS certified by the GIS Certification Institute. This certification will not get you a job on its own, but it can help you stand out among other equally qualified candidates.

If you only have a bachelor's degree and want to find a way to qualify for more advanced positions, the GIS certification can help.

Related Occupations

Employment Outlook

There are currently 1,600 geographers in the United States, with 130 new geographer job openings created each year.

Geographer jobs are not expected to see much growth beyond their current levels in the next decade.

Geographer Salaries

Salaries by State

Hover over your state to get an idea of what Geographers make in your area.

How to use this salary data.

Job seekers can use it while negotiating a salary.

Employers can use it to help set appropriate wage levels while writing job descriptions.

Overall Salaries

Geographer salaries can vary depending on your experience, the location, company, industry, and benefits provided. Nationwide, most geographers make between $57,400 - $89,800 per year, or $27.61 - $43.19 per hour.

Salary and statistical data provided by the BLS.