Undergraduate Major

Information for Prospective Majorsalumns

1. What do geographers study, and which major should I choose?

Geographers study the interaction between people and their environments including the ways in which these interactions vary from place to place over the earth. Geographic knowledge is essential for understanding rapid social change and environmental change in a globalized society. Our program offers two majors, Geography and Cartography/GIS (and many students major in both).

Geography majors choose a concentration in one of four major thematic areas: physical geography, people-environmental studies, and human geography. These areas are described in detail on our department overview page.

Cartography/GIS incorporates geography, cartography, spatial analysis, and related fields such as geovisualization, geodesy, geocomputation, cognition, and computer science. Cartography/GIS majors study digital technology and the theory behind this technology to help people work with geographic information.

2. What kind of job can I get with a Geography or Cartography/GIS major?

A Geography degree provides a base for employment in a variety of public and private agencies, both domestic and international, concerned with environmental management, locational analysis or planning (urban, regional, land use). Professionals trained in GIS are very much in demand by federal agencies, state and local governments, and private firms.

To see where some of our former Geography undergrads are working, check out our Where Are They Now slideshow! For a thorough exploration of possible careers, see this article on Geography Jobs from the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Quarterly. You can also find out more about job opportunities at the Association of Association of American Geographers.

3. What are the requirements for the Geography and Cartography/GIS majors?

The Undergraduate Catalog is the best source for all major requirements and policies. You can also stop by Science Hall for a brochure with requirements and current advisor information. Our current semester Course Catalog also provides a good deal of information on which courses count toward which requirements; you can find a PDF of it on our Courses page.

4. Which area concentration of the Geography major should I sign up for?

Our website provides an overview of all of the area concentrations (Human, People-Environment, and Physical). You're always welcome to talk with the advisors for those areas as well. And of course, it's easy to change your mind even after you declare.

5. Can I do Honors in the Major in either Geography or Cartography/GIS?

Yes. Please see the Honors in Geography page for an overview of Honors in the Major requirements, guidelines for the honors thesis, information on past theses in the department, and more.

6. How do I meet with an advisor?

There is at least one advisor for each area concentration in our department — People-Environment, Human, Physical, and Cartography/GIS. Please see undergraduate advisors and their office hours.

You do not need an appointment to see an advisor; office hours are on an informal walk-in basis. If the office hours do not work with your schedule, feel free to email or call the advisor to set up an appointment.

7. How do I declare my major?

  1. Download the L&S Major Declaration Form from our website and fill out the top part. This form is also available from your advisor or the Undergraduate Coordinator.
  2. Meet with the advisor for your anticipated area of concentration.
  3. Once the declaration form has been signed by your advisor, return it to the Undergraduate Coordinator in Room 160. If you are a double-major from outside L&S - or you want to transfer to L&S - be sure to mention this as there will be extra steps required.
  4. If you are declaring Honors in the Major, a separate form will be needed. This form must be signed by the Honors advisor, stamped and copied by the Undergraduate Coordinator, and then taken in person to the L&S Honors Office.

8. Do you offer a minor in geography?

Sorry, no. But most students take advantage of the great variety of certificates that are available through other departments on campus.

9. I transferred from another university or UW campus where I took courses in Geography. Can I count these toward my UW-Madison Geography/Cartography major?

It depends. Your Geography advisor can assist you in determining which of your courses (if any) you may count toward certain requirements of your major. Having a copy of the syllabi for your other courses is most helpful in making these determinations. For more information, also see the Transfer page of the Office of Admissions.

10. Can my AP Geography course count toward my major?

AP courses for Geography will show up on your DARS and transcript as "Geography electives", with the exam scores determining the nature of the credit:

  • Score of 3 – 3 credits, no breadth credit, shows up as X12 on DARS
  • Score of 4, 5 – 3 credits, Social Science breadth credit, shows up as X22 on DARS
  • You may count your AP course toward the 30 credits in the major, but only by DARS exception (see your advisor).

Information for Current Majors

1. How can I change my area concentration?

Simply let the Undergraduate Coordinator know (in person or by email) which concentration you are switching to (no official paperwork necessary).

2. Can I do more than one area concentration?

Yes and no. As DARS is currently configured, your major area concentration will automatically "switch off" in DARS when you've completed any one area. This doesn't mean that you can't do more than one concentration; it just won't be officially documented. You can always truthfully state in your graduate applications and resumes that you completed more than one concentration.

3. When do you publish the classes for upcoming semesters?

Generally, the timetable for Spring is available in October, the timetable for Summer is available in November, and the timetable for Fall is available in March. You will get an email from the Undergraduate Coordinator as soon as even the rough draft of the next timetable is available.

4. How do I get an internship in Geography?

Internships can be very valuable experiences for undergraduates, as they provide hands on training in the real world and can create future job connections. They are available through several local, national, and international agencies and Geography/Cartography majors can receive course credit for completing an internship (see your advisor or the Undergraduate Coordinator for details). It is up to the student to locate and apply to the internships they are interested in, and identify the Geography faculty member most appropriate to supervise this experience. Internship announcements are posted outside the main Geography office and majors have also found the following sources useful:

5. What kind of job can I get with a Geography Degree?

To see where some of our former Geography undergrads are working, check out our Where Are They Now slideshow! Career paths of Geography alumni include Location Expert, Real Estate Appraiser, Environmental Manager, College Professor, Overseas Teacher, Cartographer, GIS Specialist, Community Developer, Coastal Zone Manager, Hydrologist, Area Specialist, Transportation Planner, etc. Many other careers can be found on the Association of American Geographer's website (aag.org).

6. I'm ready to graduate. What do I do?

First, go to My UW and apply to graduate in the Student Center. This will alert the Degree Auditors that you are graduating, and a final DARS will be run. If any deficiencies show up, you will be contacted by an Auditor, but if your DARS states "All reqs complete pending final review" you are good to go! Once you apply to graduate, you should then go to the Commencement webpage and select your graduating semester. There you will find links for listing yourself in the Commencement program and ordering your cap and gown.

7. What sort of Study Abroad opportunities are available for Geography majors?

The UW's International Academic Programs Office should be your starting point for all things Study Abroad. Although there are certainly some very popular programs (Ecuador, Chile, and Australia) our majors go everywhere! Recent destinations (year-long and semester-long) have included Austria, Argentina, Costa Rica, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Egypt, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Kenya, Mexico, Nepal, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Thailand, the Turks & Caicos Islands, Vietnam, and Uganda. Non-UW study abroad programs are also available, but majors should thoroughly research these programs with the Office of Admissions & Recruitment before signing up in order to ensure credits will transfer to UW-Madison. Regardless of which kind of program you choose, be sure you work closely with IAP or the Office of Admissions to determine possible course equivalencies before you go abroad. One of the main advantages of studying through IAP is that their office will work with your major advisor while you are abroad to ensure that courses are transferred properly, but please be sure to keep all syllabi in case a decision needs to be made after you return.

8. I'm thinking about applying to graduate school. How and when should I request letters of recommendation from professors?

Even if you are not sure when or if you will be applying to grad school, now is the time to talk to your professors about references. See this handout for more details!