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How do I Earn a Geography PhD?

G. Wiesen
G. Wiesen

To earn a Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) in geography you should begin by receiving a four-year degree, such as a bachelor’s degree, in a related field. You will need to apply to geography graduate programs, and a four-year degree is typically required before acceptance into such a program. A master’s degree in geography may also be necessary, though some programs will allow you to work toward your geography PhD and receive your master’s degree “en route.” You will need to finish the necessary coursework to receive your geography PhD and likely prepare, present, and defend a doctoral thesis to complete your work.

A bachelor’s degree, or similar four-year degree, will likely be required by any graduate program that offers a geography PhD. As you work on your undergraduate coursework, you should begin looking at graduate schools and programs early, so that you can apply in a timely manner. You may need to take exams such as the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), and if you are an international student you may also have to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Letters of recommendation from several different people are also often expected, and you should be sure to give those who are writing such letters for you several weeks to prepare them.

One area of focus in a geography graduate program is cartography.
One area of focus in a geography graduate program is cartography.

Once you are accepted into a geography PhD program, then you should consider potential specializations or areas of interest you may wish to focus on in your studies. Areas of focus offered by a number of different graduate geography programs can include environmental studies, climatology, cartography, and urban geography. While you may not be required to choose an area of specialization, it can often be helpful and is something you should consider as you are completing your undergraduate coursework. You will also likely have to take a series of examinations on geography and specific areas of study, and you should be sure to prepare for these exams.

Creating the final doctoral thesis is often the last step required before receiving a geography PhD and may take several years to research, write, and ultimately present. Even though the necessary coursework toward your geography PhD, beyond your master’s degree work, may only require two years, the entire process may take four or five years. You will likely need to present an idea for your thesis to an adviser about halfway through your coursework, and then do the necessary research and work to fully create the thesis. Your thesis will then typically be presented by you to a panel of experts in the field, and you will have to defend your ideas and work before them.

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    • One area of focus in a geography graduate program is cartography.
      By: Olga Galushko
      One area of focus in a geography graduate program is cartography.