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What Geographers Do About this section

Geographers use maps and global positioning systems in their work.

Geographers study the Earth and the distribution of its land, features, and inhabitants. They research the interactions between the physical aspects of a region and the human activities within it.


Geographers typically do the following:

  • Gather geographic data through field observations, maps, photographs, satellite imagery, and censuses
  • Conduct research via surveys, interviews, and focus groups
  • Create and modify maps or other visual representations of geographic data
  • Analyze the geographic distribution of physical and cultural characteristics and occurrences
  • Collect, analyze, and display geographic data with Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
  • Write reports and present research findings
  • Assist, advise, or lead others in using GIS and geographic data
  • Link geographic data with economic, health, or other data

Geographers use several technologies in their work, such as GIS, remote sensing, and global positioning systems (GPS), to find relationships and trends in geographic data. They then present the data visually as maps, reports, and charts. For example, geographers may overlay aerial or satellite images with GIS data, such as population density in a given region, and create digital maps. They then use the maps to inform governments, businesses, and the public on a variety of topics, including urban planning and disaster response.

The following are examples of types of geographers:

Physical geographers study features of the natural environment, such as landforms, climate, soils, natural hazards, water, and plants. For example, physical geographers may map where a natural resource occurs in a country or study the implications of proposed economic development on the surrounding natural environment.

Human geographers often combine other disciplines with their research, which may include economic, environmental, medical, cultural, social, or political topics. Some human geographers rely primarily on quantitative research methods; others rely more heavily on qualitative methods, such as field observations and interviews.

Geographers often work on projects with people in related fields. For example, geographers may work with urban planners, civil engineers, legislators, or real estate agents to determine the best location for new public transportation infrastructure.

People who study geography and who use GIS in their work also may be employed as surveyors, cartographers and photogrammetrists, surveying and mapping technicians, urban and regional planners, geoscientists, or hydrologists. People who earn a Ph.D. in geography may become postsecondary teachers.

Work Environment About this section

Some geographers travel to do fieldwork.

Geographers held about 1,600 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of geographers were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service 63%
State government, excluding education and hospitals 9
Educational services; state, local, and private 9
Professional, scientific, and technical services 9

Geographers who do fieldwork may travel to foreign countries or remote locations to gather data and observe geographic features, such as the landscape and environment.

Work Schedules

Most geographers work full time.

How to Become a Geographer About this section

Geographers may perform fieldwork as part of their education.

Geographers typically need at least a bachelor’s degree to enter the occupation. Some jobs require a master’s or doctoral degree.


High school students interested in becoming geographers should take classes in physical sciences, computer programming, and geography.

Geographers with a bachelor’s degree may qualify for entry-level jobs and for positions with the federal government. Geographers working outside of the federal government may need a master’s degree in geography or in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Some employers allow candidates to substitute work experience or GIS proficiency for an advanced degree. Research positions may require a Ph.D. or a master’s degree and several years of relevant experience.

Geography programs may include courses in physical and human geography, statistics or math, remote sensing, and GIS. Because geography is an interdisciplinary field, courses in a variety of areas, such as business, economics, or real estate, may be helpful.

College students may benefit from participating in internships that put geography principles into practice.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Although not required, certification may indicate professional expertise. For example, the GIS Certification Institute and the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing both offer certification in GIS. Candidates may qualify for certification by passing an exam and meeting other requirements, such as for education or experience.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Geographers study data and information from a variety of sources and must be able to draw conclusions about their usefulness and meaning.

Computer skills. Geographers must be proficient in GIS programming, database management, and data visualization techniques and should be comfortable creating and manipulating digital images with GIS software.

Communication skills. Geographers often need to write reports and funding proposals. They also present their research and findings to their peers and nontechnical audiences and must be able to convey the meaning of data in understandable ways.

Critical-thinking skills. Geographers must be able to choose the appropriate data, methods, and scale of analysis for projects.

Pay About this section


Median annual wages, May 2021



Social scientists and related workers


Total, all occupations



The median annual wage for geographers was $85,220 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $53,410, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $118,380.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for geographers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service $93,640
Educational services; state, local, and private 64,760
Professional, scientific, and technical services 64,430
State government, excluding education and hospitals 64,250

Most geographers work full time.

Job Outlook About this section


Percent change in employment, projected 2021-31

Social scientists and related workers


Total, all occupations





Employment of geographers is projected to show little or no change from 2021 to 2031.

Despite limited employment growth, about 100 openings for geographers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Most of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.


Budget constraints are expected to reduce employment for geographers in federal government. However, governments and businesses will still need geographers to research topics such as natural hazards and the use of resources. For example, geographers’ analyses on population distribution and land use are important for infrastructure planning and development by both governments and businesses.

Employment projections data for geographers, 2021-31
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2021 Projected Employment, 2031 Change, 2021-31 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program


19-3092 1,600 1,600 0 0 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about geographers, visit

Association of American Geographers

For more information about geographic information systems (GIS) certification, visit

American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing

GIS Certification Institute

To find vacancies for geographer positions in the federal government, visit





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