Prospective Graduate Students

Geography is broad and interdisciplinary, and we welcome students with different backgrounds into our graduate programs. You do not need to have a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree in Geography in order to apply.

Before applying, we recommend the following:

  • Visit our department website, including our faculty webpage and graduate student profiles, to learn more about our programs, course offerings, research, and graduate student experience in the department.
  • Participate in a UW Madison Graduate School Open House for prospective students. These events are held several times throughout the year (including during the summer) and may be available virtually as well as in-person.  Please see the Graduate School website for information about upcoming events.
  • Explore graduate student life in Madison.
  • Make a visit to Madison, if possible. You are welcome to contact our Graduate Program Manager at or by phone (608-262-3861) if you would like to arrange a visit. We’re happy to meet with you while you’re here, arrange for departmental tours and answer questions you may have. We encourage you to work independently to set up meetings with faculty and students, but are happy to assist in making those arrangements.
  • Visit the UW-Madison Graduate School Admissions Office for information about the Graduate School application process.

As you apply, the following ‘checklist’ may be helpful:

  1. Identify which of our three research-based graduate programs is most appropriate for you: Geography-MS, Cartography/GIS-MS (Thesis), Geography-PhD
  2. Consider your primary sub-area specialization. Please see below for additional information.
  3. Reach out to potential faculty members with whom you are interested in working. Please see below for additional information.

 Sub-Area Specialization

  • Our Geography Program is organized into four major thematic sub-areas: Cartography/GIS, Earth Systems Geography, Human Geography, and People-Environment Geography. Faculty members specialize in one sub-area, although there is intentional overlap among the thematic areas, and many of our faculty have research and teaching interests in multiple sub-areas.
  • In identifying your primary sub-area of interest, you should consider the specialization of the faculty member(s) with whom you wish to work. Please review this list of program faculty, grouped by sub-area.
    • Cartography/GIS: Song Gao, Qunying Huang, Bill Limpisathian, Jonathan Nelson, Rob Roth, A-Xing Zhu
    • Earth Systems Geography: Christian Andresen, Ken Keefover-Ring, Erika Marin-Spiotta, Joe Mason, John (Jack) Williams
    • Human Geography: Jenna Loyd, Almita Miranda, Sarah Moore, Kris Olds, Keith Woodward, Stephen Young
    • People Environment Geography: Ian Baird, Asligul Gocmen, Lisa Naughton, Morgan Robertson, Matt Turner

Contacting Faculty Members and Graduate Students

  • The admissions process in the department is faculty-led, and it can be very helpful to contact faculty members with whom you may wish to work as you consider applying to the department. This provides you an opportunity to explore how your research interests align and determine whether they are available to work with new students. You can explore faculty profiles on our website to learn more about faculty members’ research and scholarship. The profiles include contact information, and you are welcome to reach out to them.
  • Since faculty members receive many emails, it is helpful to include some information about yourself and your interests – including
    • your name,
    • the program you are interested in applying to,
    • your background and research interests, and
    • ways in which you see your research interests aligning with theirs.
  • Please be aware that you may not receive an immediate response. It is best to reach out early in the process, if possible.
  • It can also be helpful to contact current graduate students to gain insight into their experiences in the department. Student profiles on the website include information about students’ research interests as well as contact information.

Additional Information (Please see other tabs above)

  • For additional information about the application process, please visit the following pages:
  • For information about program structure and course and credit requirements associated with each program, please review the Program Requirements for each program.
  • Please contact our Graduate Program Manager by email ( or phone (608-262-3861) if you have questions.

Please review the information on our Before Applying tab above for additional guidance on applying.

Application Deadline

  • December 15, for the following Fall
  • Please note – the Geography-MS, Cartography/GIS-MS (Thesis), and Geography-PhD programs do not admit in the Spring or Summer.

GPA Requirement

  • Minimum grade point average (GPA) for admission required by the Graduate School is 3.00 (4.00 scale). Please see their admission requirements here.

GRE Requirement

  • Effective Fall Semester, 2020, GRE scores are not required or considered for admission.

English Proficiency Test

  • Students whose native language is other than English need to submit official TOEFL/IELTS scores along with the application. See below for more information on requirements and submission process.
  • An international student whose native language is not English who wishes to be considered for teaching assistantships will need to have taken the speaking part of the TOEFL / IELTS test and have the score reported on the application. See the university policies related to Teaching Assistant spoken English proficiency.

Completing the Online Application

Review the UW Madison Graduate School Application webpage for application guidelines and a link to the online application.

Intended Field of Study

When specifying “Intended Field of Study,” select ONE of the following. Please do NOT select more than one program:

  • “Geography Ph.D.” for Degree of Philosophy in Geography
    • You must have, or be in process of completing, a Master’s degree to apply directly to the Ph.D. program. The Master’s degree does not have to be in Geography.
    • Students with a Bachelor’s degree who plan to pursue a Ph.D. in Geography should apply to the Geography-MS program or the Cartography/GIS-MS (Thesis) program and indicate their intent to continue to the Ph.D. in their statement of purpose and by checking the appropriate box on the application form.
  • “Geography MS” for Master of Science in Geography
    • Please apply to the Geography-MS program if your primary area of interest is Earth Systems Geography, Human Geography, or People/Environment Geography.
    • Please do NOT apply to BOTH the Geography-MS and Cartography/GIS-MS (Thesis) programs.
    • If you are applying to the Geography-MS program and intend to pursue a Ph.D. in Geography, indicate that by checking the appropriate box on the application form. Some funding opportunities are only available to students who are Ph.D.-bound.
  • “Cartography and Geographic Information Systems MS-Thesis” for Master of Science in Cartography/GIS (Thesis)
    • Please apply to the Cartography/GIS-MS (Thesis) program if your primary area of interest is Cartography/GIS.
    • Please do NOT apply to BOTH the Geography-MS and Cartography/GIS-MS (Thesis) programs.
    • If you are applying to the Cartography/GIS-MS (Thesis) program and intend to pursue a Ph.D. in Geography, indicate that by checking the appropriate box on the application form. Some funding opportunities are only available to students who are Ph.D.-bound.

Statement of Purpose

  • Submit a one or two page “statement of purpose” or “reason for graduate study.” This document should be uploaded as a PDF directly into the online application.
  • The more specific you are in this statement, the easier it is for us to assess your application. Ask a peer or professor to review your statement for you.
  • It is important to identify your research interests and why the UW-Madison Geography Department would be an appropriate place to pursue them. If you have developed a specific research project, please state it in the document. It is expected that applicants to the PhD program would have a more developed research project than applicants to the MS programs. You should mention faculty members with whom you would like to work, particularly if you have already communicated with them. Please also indicate this in the Supplemental Application (see below). Please see our Before Applying tab above on reaching out to faculty members. Applicants to the MS programs who wish to continue to the PhD should indicate this in the statement of purpose and on the online application.
  • Also see the UW Graduate School’s guidelines on preparing a statement of purpose.


  • Upload a current CV/Resume into the online application.
  • Please include your name in the file name of the document.

Letters of Recommendation

  • Three (3) letters of recommendation from people who can best attest to your capacity for graduate-level work. This can include, for example, current and past faculty members, instructors, academic mentors, and employers.
  • Letters of Recommendation are submitted online by your references. Each recommender will receive an electronic invitation to submit a letter on the applicant’s behalf. You can check to see if your recommendations have been submitted in the online application status system.

Official TOEFL/IELTS Scores

  • The Graduate School requires TOEFL/IELTS scores of all applicants whose native language is not English, or whose undergraduate instruction was not in English. There are some exemptions, which are detailed on the UW Graduate School application website.
  • The score for students admitted into this department is generally higher than that required by the Graduate School. TOEFL scores are typically over 615 (paper based test), 260 (computer-based test), or 105 (iTOEFL). The IELTS equivalent is 7.5.
  • Please see the UW Graduate School application website for information on the English language proficiency requirement and how to submit TOEFL / IELTS scores. Use institution code 1846 if submitting through ETS.


  • Submit transcripts for all post-secondary coursework to the UW-Madison Graduate School.
  • Unofficial copies of these documents should be uploaded electronically as PDFs directly into the online application.
  • Please include the issuing institution in the file name of each transcript you upload (e.g., SCHOOL.Transcr.pdf).
  • Official transcripts or academic records from each institution attended will be requested from applicants who are recommended for admission. Please do NOT send official documents until requested.
  • International academic records must be in the original language accompanied by an official English translation. Documents must be issued by the school with the official seal/stamp and an official signature.

Supplemental Application

  • Indicate faculty members with whom you are interested in working, including those you have identified in your statement of purpose, by checking the boxes next to their names. Please review the faculty list.
  • Geography-MS and Geography-Ph.D: indicate your primary and secondary sub-area interest within Geography. Please feel welcome to also include up to three areas of interest (e.g., regional, topical, methodological, theoretical, etc.).

Application fee

  • Application fee paid to the Graduate School ($75).
  • Please note that an additional fee is required of international applicants due to the additional processing required.
  • The Graduate School offers a limited number of application fee grants. More information about these grants can be found here. If you are not eligible for the Graduate School fee grants, the department may be able to assist, as we may have a limited number of fee grants (availability varies by year). Please contact the Graduate Program Manager to inquire, if you cannot receive a fee grant from the Graduate School.

All applicants, domestic and international, are considered for multi-year guaranteed funding packages as part of the application and admissions process. There is no separate application for this.

These funding guarantees are typically 2 years for MS students and 3 years for PhD students (5 years for PhD-bound MS students). They are most commonly in the form of teaching assistantships that are guaranteed at a level such that students receive a stipend and are eligible for benefits (including health insurance) and tuition remission. Currently, Geography Department TA positions are 50% appointments (please see the Graduate School website for information on graduate assistantship appointment levels and current stipends:

In addition to teaching assistantships, the department regularly has research assistantships and program assistantships associated with individual faculty members (e.g., funded through research grants), as well as a limited number of UW-sponsored fellowships that we can award to admitted students. The latter include “University Fellowships” (available for PhD-bound students) and “GRS/AOF Fellowships” (available for underrepresented students).

Decisions about funding are typically made together with admissions decisions, by mid-February.

Please see the UW Graduate School for additional information about funding resources.

Please contact our Graduate Program Manager at or by phone 608-262-3861 if you have additional questions.

See Answers to Frequently Asked Questions about the Graduate Study Applications Process.

For more information about admission or the application process, please contact the Graduate Program Director by email ( or at (608) 262-3861.

Please review the following links for information about program structure and course and credit requirements associated with each program.

The Geography grad handbook is updated every year with faculty changes and any policy changes implemented by the Program or the Graduate School. Students are held to the terms of the handbook that is in effect when they matriculate, unless changes in University or Graduate School policy require otherwise.

Please note – this handbook is associated with the MS-Geography, MS-Cartography/GIS (Thesis Option), and PhD-Geography programs. Please visit the GIS Professional Program website for the handbook associated with the professional programs.

Any questions, comments, edits for this handbook should be directed to the Graduate Program Director.