Geography Major

Are you passionate about environmental sustainability? Are you curious about what social justice looks like? Do you like to learn about the diversity of the world’s places and cultures? Are you interested in the analysis and visualization of data? Do you find the character and social life of cities fascinating? Do you find physical landscapes inspiring? Do you ever wonder why some places are rich while others are poor? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, but especially more than one, then Geography could be a great fit for you. Geography is especially ideal for individuals who have a wide range of interests spanning the natural sciences, humanities, and social sciences.  

Geography is an interdisciplinary field that seeks to understand humans’ relationships with the built, biophysical, and social environment. It is a rich and vibrant discipline that is essential to understanding the world and many of its problems. Geographers emphasize spatial processes in studying a wide array of vital issues, including climate change, urbanization, social movements, globalization, environmental justice, geopolitics, environmental hazards, and human migration, among others. Geography thus offers a unique lens through which to illuminate the intertwined places, ecologies, and societies that comprise our diverse world. 

The discipline of Geography is typically broken down into three subfields, described below, and Geography majors concentrate in one of them.

1. Human geographyis broadly concerned with the spatial organization and differentiation of people, society, and human activities across Earth’s surface. Human geographers study a wide array of issues, including, but not limited to, urbanization, war and human conflict, globalization, refugees and human migration, and social movements. 

2. People-environment geography straddles the social sciences and natural sciences, and is concerned with how and why humans interact with the environment and for what consequences. People-environment geographers study environmental justice, agrifood systems and hunger, urban sustainability, indigenous ecological knowledges, and environmental conservation among many other topics.

3. Physical geography is the holistic study of Earth’s major natural systems. Physical geographers study how the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere interact to produce unique ecosystems and physical landscapes across Earth’s surface. Notable topics of interest among physical geographers include, but are not limited to, climate change, soil development, landscape dynamics of streams and glaciers, and vegetation change over time and space.

The Geography major exposes students to the breadth of the discipline while also allowing students to focus their upper-level coursework on one of the three subareas: human geography, people-environment geography, or physical geography. Geography students also learn at least one cutting-edge geospatial technology, are steeped in geographic theory and research methods, and complete a substantive research project as part of a senior capstone or an honors thesis. The Geography major requirements are listed HERE on the Guide.

Students who are interested in learning more about the Geography major are encouraged to schedule an appointment with the Geography advisor, Joel Gruley, at jgruley@wisc.edu or via Starfish.

Joel Gruley is the undergraduate advisor for the Geography and Cartography/GIS majors. Joel was lucky enough to find and study Geography in college, and he taught it for several years at Madison College before joining the Department of Geography at UW-Madison. He’s passionate about helping students learn about and navigate this exciting field.

Students who want to learn about courses, careers, research opportunities, and majoring in Geography and Cartography/GIS are encouraged to schedule an appointment with Joel via Starfish. Note that students who wish to declare the Geography major and/or the Cartography/GIS major must schedule an appointment with Joel.

Given its interdisciplinary nature, Geography prepares students for employment in a wide variety of fields spanning the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, both domestically and abroad. Fields where geographers commonly find employment include, but are not limited to: ecological restoration; urban planning; economic development; human rights; corporate sustainability; immigration advocacy and refugee resettlement; environmental consulting; social movements and community organization; national security; data analysis and visualization; risk assessment; public health; journalism; diplomacy; transportation; and sustainable agrifood systems. Moreover, geographers trained in Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and cartography are in high demand from governments, businesses, and nonprofits for their spatial data analysis and visualization skills. To learn more about the diversity of careers associated with Geography, visit the American Association of Geographers’ Careers in Geography page.