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Undergraduate Seeking Advice on Applying to Geography Programs

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I attend a small liberal arts college in Massachusetts that does not have a geography department. I'm an Urban Studies major and am attracted to studying Geography after undergraduate because I am fascinated with maps and spatial analysis. I have two questions: 1) Since I am not a geography major and do not have access to many geography courses, am I at a serious disadvantage in getting accepted into a M.A. or Ph.D. program in Geography? 2) What experience would I need in order to be competitive for a M.A. or Ph.D. program in Geography?

There is no one with a Ph.D. in Geography at the college that I currently attend. I have talked to my GIS professor (He has a Ph.D. in Environmental Sciences) and he doesn't think that my prospects would be hurt, but he asked me to seek a Ph.D. in Geography for more advice.

Here is more background information me:


  1. Overall GPA: 3.6, Urban Studies Major GPA: 3.8
  2. No GRE yet
  3. Courses that I have taken that are somewhat similar to Geography: 
    • Introduction to GIS
    • Introduction to Human Geography (Online)
    • Can fit an Advanced GIS course into schedule next semester
  4. I also worked as a TA for Introduction to GIS, received outstanding feedback from students, ENVS professors willing to write recs for me based on the good feedback
  5. I have taken intro classes in Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Statistics, and Calculus as well (not sure if it will be helpful). My grades were in the B range for all of them.
  6. Advanced in French, Intermediate in German 
  7. Other honors: Udall Scholarship recipient

Professional Experience (Not sure if it helps):

  1. Internship with city development services office, occasionally developing maps for planners, but mostly administrative stuff and grant writing
  2. Mini-projects doing online mapping stuff on Google Maps-like platforms for people (not really intensive) - had a poster on a local planning (really small-scale) conference 
  3. Part-time as a computer technician at college.

I will apply to start graduate school for the Fall 2018 or Fall 2019 semester.

Edited by Jenn16

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If I were you, I'd definitely take whatever advanced GIS (and, if possible, remote sensing) courses you can. I'd also take an intro to computer science course or two since being able to program can be quite helpful for doing advanced work in ArcGIS. In your time between undergrad and grad school, you may want to see if you can find a job where you get to use GIS every day. This will likely mean starting off as a GIS technician and perhaps working your way up from there. There are often GIS jobs with the city, county, and/or state government that you may be able to get. That extra experience with GIS and working on projects will be a boon to your future master's applications.

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Are you looking for a program with focus on GIS and spatial analysis in particular, as technology or methdology, rather than specific issues in geography? (Ie, human, economic, climate, whatever.) If it is, you could try to add a GIS component to your coursework in urban planning idependently. Choose topics for assignments and projects that will let you incorporate GIS analyses...you could discuss it with professors and explain that this is your goal. I know that incroporating more GIS was usually viewed positively when I was doing urban/economic geography (basically the undergrad of the urban planning program.) But I'm not from the states, and my sense is that planning and geography are more separate disciplines there.

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I can't tell you about the experience you might need, but as a geography major applying to MA and PhD geography programs, as I've been looking at the CVs of the faculty members at schools I'm interested in (and the profiles of their current PhD students), I've found a surprising number who didn't study geography for undergrad. For example, look at the current geography PhD students at Clark: http://www2.clarku.edu/departments/geography/graduate/current-students/.  Plus, considering how closely related urban studies is to some disciplines of geography, I don't think you should be too worried about that part of your background (at least from what I've learned so far in this process).

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