Geography Major Guide for 2013-2014

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 shape and interact with their natural and built environments. There are three main branches of geography: human geography, physical geography, and spatial analysis.

Human geography is concerned with the spatial aspects of human life – how people and their activities are distributed in space, how people use and perceive space, and how people create, sus­tain, and even struggle over the places that make up the earth’s surface. Human geographers work in the fields of urban and regional planning, transportation, retail location analysis, 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. Physical geographers play a major role in studying climate change and using lab and field methods to reconstruct past natural environments and to understand the historical impact of humans on these environments

Many geographers have skills in geographic information systems and geospatial analysis – sophisticated, in-demand skills that are used for examining and interpreting many of the phenomena and activities described above.

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, international trade issues, 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, and they must be prepared to tell prospective employers how they can help them.  This is an obstacle most accountants or computer programmers do not encounter, but is likely to remain for geography job seekers.

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.

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 but solid high school education.

How to Major in Geography

Ideally, a student declares a major in geography when entering UT.  Although the major has two prerequisites, the 131–132 lab sequence and either 101 or 201, a student can take these courses after declaring.  Once a student has declared the 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 often after taking a geography course to fulfill a distribution requirement. Such students have to work closely with their advisor to make sure that they complete all their geography requirements and still graduate on time.

A student who becomes a geography major after completing 60 course hours and who already has a two-course lab sequence may petition to substitute certain upper division physical geography courses for 131-132.  Students in the same situation may also petition to substitute an upper-level human geography course for either 101 or 201.

Many students minor in geography (15 credit hours at the 300 level) 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 0r 201 are pre-requisites to the major.

The major consists of 27 hours including:
Geography 310: Introduction to Cartography
Geography 499: Proseminar in Geography

One methods course from:
GEOG 410 – Global Positioning Systems and Geographic Data
GEOG 411 – Introduction to Geographic Information Science
GEOG 412 – Advanced Cartography Techniques
GEOG 413 – Remote Sensing: Types and Applications
GEOG 414 – Spatial Databases and Data Management
GEOG 419 – Practicum in Cartography/Remote Sensing

One human geography course such as:
GEOG 320 – Cultural Geography: Core Concepts
GEOG 340 – Economic Geography: Core Concepts
GEOD 344 – Population Geography
GEOG 345 – Population and Environment
GEOG 421 – Geography of Folk Societies
GEOG 423 – Geography of American Popular Culture
GEOG 441 – Urban Geography of the United States
GEOG 442 – Urban Social Geography
GEOG 443 – Rural Geography of the United States
GEOG 449 – Geography of Transportation
GEOG 451 – The Global Economy

One regional geography course such as:
GEOG 361 – Regional Geography of the United States and Canada
GEOG 363 – Geography of the American South
GEOG 365 – Geography of Appalachia
GEOG 366 – Geography of Tennessee
GEOG 371 – Geography of Europe
GEOG 373 – Geography of South America
GEOG 374 – Geography of East Asia
GEOG 375 – Geography of South Asia

One physical geography course such as:
GEOG 333 – Climate Change and Human Response
GEOG 334 – Meteorology
GEOG 430 – Global Environments of the Quaternary
GEOG 432 – Dendrochronology
GEOG 433 – The Land-Surface System
GEOG 434 – Climatology
GEOG 435 – Biogeography
GEOG 436 – Water Resources
GEOG 439 – Plant Geography of North America
GEOG 450 – Process Geomorphology
GEOG 454 – Terrain Analysis

Nine additional hours in Geography, six of which must be taken at the 400-level. No more than 3 hours of Geography 490 may be counted toward the major.

A minor consists of 15 hours of Geography courses at the 300-level or above.  Geography 490, 491, 492, and 493 may not be counted toward the minor without departmental permission.

Special Programs, Co-ops, and Internships

The Geography honors option entails writing an honors thesis under the guidance of a faculty mentor and completing six credits in honors courses.  Geography majors also have the opportunity to work on geography-related projects off campus as interns. Geography internships are often available with TVA, Oak Ridge National Labs, NOAA, National Geographic, the City of Knoxville, local planning agencies, and private firms.  Majors sometimes find work opportunities in the department’s cartography shop or as assistants and collaborators on faculty research projects. A growing number of Geography majors take advantage of Undergraduate Research Experience (GEOG 494). Such experiences provide geography majors with first-hand knowledge of the work professional geographers do and further their preparation for their careers.

Highlights of Geography

Geography majors play an active role in the life of the department. Club Geography is our undergraduate student organization that is involved with various activities, such as hiking, trivia nights, and fund raising. Majors are also active in Geography Awareness Week, helping promote the discipline by organizing public awareness events and speaking to schools, civic groups, and students across campus. 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) serves as an introduction to today’s world for many UT students.  The department offers a course on the Global Economy (451) 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 Human Geography (201), Urban Geography (441), Transportation Geography (449), Population and the Environment (345), and Biogeography (435) have strong international components.  Many faculty members are engaged in international 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.

Students are highly encouraged to begin planning early in their academic career and to consult with an academic advisor about the best time to study abroad as well as what courses to take abroad. For more information about program options, the application process, and how to finance study abroad, please visit the Programs Abroad Office website.

Also, 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.

Academic Plan and Milestones

Following an academic plan will help students stay on track to graduate in four years. Beginning with first-time, first-year, full-time, degree-seeking students entering in the Fall 2013 semester, UT has implemented Universal Tracking (uTrack), an academic monitoring system designed to help students stay on track for timely graduation. In order to remain on track, students must complete the minimum requirements for each tracking semester, known as milestones. Milestones may include successful completion of specified courses and/or attainment of a minimum GPA.

To see a sample academic plan and milestones for this major, please visit the undergraduate catalog.

For More Information

Ronald V. Kalafsky, PhD
University of Tennessee
Department of Geography
Knoxville TN 37996 USA
Tel: +1-865-974-0407


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.