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Geography Major Guide for 2008-2009

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

Human geography is concerned with the spatial aspects of human life—how people and their activity are distributed in space, how people use and perceive space, and how people create and sus­tain the places that make up the earth’s surface. Human geographers work in the fields of urban and regional planning, transportation, marketing, real estate, tourism, and international business.

Physical geographers study patterns of climates, land forms, vegetation, soils, and water. They forecast the weather, manage land and water resources, and plan for forests, rangelands, and wetlands. Many geographers have skills in cartography (map-making) and geographic information systems (GIS —computer-based techniques for storing and interpreting geographical information).

Geographers also study the links between human activity and natural systems. Geographers were among the first scientists to warn that human-induced changes to the environment were threatening the balance of life itself. Today, geographers are active in the study of global warming, desertification, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, groundwater pollution, and flooding. One can hardly understand modern world events, American problems in international trade, the relationships between nations, and the differences in economic circumstances and environmental quality that occur from place to place without knowledge of modern geography.

Career Opportunities in Geography

Geography's main areas—human, physical, and technical—have all experienced expansion in recent years. Improved understanding of our discipline has allowed geography departments to prepare their graduates for diverse employment opportunities. Environmental opportunities abound; locational analysis for commercial enterprises remains an important option; urban and regional planning continues to lure geographers; and mapping and spatial data analysis have expanded. Teaching positions at all levels have been abundant as well. Geographers have long supplied their expertise to these areas, while recently developing new tools.

In addition to time-honored fields, geographers are making inroads into new occupational areas. Travel and tourism now offer more opportunities to geographers, as do historic preservation, archival, and museum programs, international development and policy. Employers have a better grasp of what geographers can do for them than they did in the past, but few job advertisements use the title “geographer.” Consequently, job seekers must often be creative in their job search, and they must be prepared to tell prospective employers how they can help them.

Salary Trends in Geography

A degree in arts and sciences prepares students for many types of careers. Your college major is not necessarily the deciding factor in your career choice. As with any degree, pre-professional experience (for example, volunteering, work experience, and internships) increases your chances of obtaining the job you want and affects your potential salary. As a group, graduates in arts and sciences average an annual starting salary of $33,258 (

High School Preparation

It is difficult to set out an exact program of study for high school students because high schools have widely varying course offerings. But a high school student planning on majoring in geography should take all the geography courses he or she can. The student should also become as computer proficient as possible. Beyond that, a prospective geography major’s mix of high school courses will depend on both what is offered and the student’s own interests. For example, if a student is interested in the foreign studies aspect of geography, he or she might take political science, a modern foreign language, and appropriate foreign history courses. A student interested in physical geography should be sure to take biology and physics. A student interested in geographical information systems should acquire a strong background in mathematics. The above notwithstanding, many geography majors successfully build on a general high school education.

How to Major in Geography

Ideally, a student declares a major in geography when entering UT.  The major has two prerequisites, the 131–132 sequence and either 101 or 102. A student may take these courses after declaring. Once a student has declared a geography major, he or she will be assigned an advisor in the department who will help plan the student’s schedule. Majors are expected to maintain at least a 2.0 (or C) average, and only courses in which the student earns a 2.0 (or C) or better count toward the major. In practice, many students switch into geography from undeclared status or from another major. Such students have to work closely with their advisor to make sure that they complete all their geography requirements and still graduate on time. Many students take a minor in geography combining it with majors such as business, economics, political science, history, or a foreign language.

Requirements for Geography

Geography 131 and 132, and Ge­ography 101 or 102, are pre-requisites to the major.  The major consists of 27 hours including:

  • Geography 310: Introduction to Cartography
  • Geography 499: Proseminar in Geography
  • One course from the following:
    320: Core Concepts in Cultural Geography
    421: Geography of Folk Societies
    423: Geography of American Popular Culture
  • Either Geography 340: Core Concepts in Economic Geography or Geography 351: The Global Economy
  • One course from the following:
    410: Global Positioning Systems and Geographic Data
    411: Computer Mapping and Geographic Information Systems
    412: Advanced Cartography Techniques
    413: Remote Sensing: Types and Applications
    415: Quantitative Methods in Geography
  • One course from Geography 361, 363, 365, 366, 371, 372, 373, 374, and 379
  • Nine additional hours in Geography, six of which must be taken at the 400-level.

A minor consists of 15 hours of Geography courses at the 300-level or above.

Special Programs, Co-ops, and Internships

The Geography honors option entails writing an honors thesis under the guidance of a faculty mentor and completing an additional six credits in honors courses.  The option is available to students who maintain an overall grade point average of 3.2. Geography majors also have the opportunity to work on geography-related projects off campus as interns. Geography-sponsored internships are often available with TVA, Oak Ridge National Labs, and private firms.  Majors sometimes find work in the department’s cartography shop as research assistants on faculty research projects. Such experiences provide geography majors first-hand knowledge of the work professional geographers do and furthers their preparation for their future careers.

Highlights of Geography

Geography majors are active in the life of the department. There is a student geography club that undertakes public service projects such as river clean-ups. It also sponsors social gatherings and field trips to cities and other sites of interest in the region. Majors are also active in Geography Awareness Week, helping organize public awareness events and speaking to schools and civic groups. Geography majors occasionally join faculty and graduate students in attending professional meetings.  Outstanding geography majors may be inducted into Gamma Theta Upsilon, geography’s national honor society.

Ready for the World logoReady for the World

Geography is a highly internationalized discipline.  The department’s World regional Geography (101-102) sequence serves as an introduction to today’s world for many UT students.  The department offers a course on the global economy (351) as well as a suite of courses focusing on different world areas including South America (373), Europe (371), and East Asia (374).  Even the department’s topical courses such as Urban Geography (441), Transportation Geography (449), Population and the Environment (345), and Biogeography (435) have strong international components.  Most faculty members are engaged in foreign research.  They have also led students on study-abroad trips and have been active in semester-abroad programs sponsored by the Center for International Education.  Several recent geography majors have had foreign internships and some have assisted faculty members in foreign-based research.

Learn more about UT's Ready for the World initiative to help students gain the international and intercultural knowledge they need to succeed in today's world.

Sample Curriculum

Freshman Year Credit Hours
English Composition 6
Foreign Language 6
Geography 131-132 8
Quantitative Reasoning 6-8
Social Sciences 3
General Elective 0-1
Sophomore Year Credit Hours
Non-US History Sequence 6
Natural Science 3
Foreign Language or General Electives 6
Humanities 3
Social Sciences 6
Geography 101 or 102 3
Geography 310 3
Junior Year Credit Hours
Geography (major) 6
Geography 320, 421 or 423 3
Geography 340 or 351 3
Humanities 3
Upper Level Distribution 3
Upper Division Elective 6
Communicating Through Writing 3
Communicating Orally 3
Senior Year Credit Hours
Geography (major) 9
Geography 499 3
Humanities 3
Upper Level Distribution 3
Upper Division Elective 3
General Electives 9
GRAND TOTAL (minimum) 120

For More Information

Department of Geography
The University of Tennessee
Burchfiel Geography Building, Room 304
Knoxville, TN 37996-0925



The information on this page should be considered general information only. For more specific information on this and other programs refer to the UT catalog or contact the department and/or college directly.