Are you thinking of studying Geography?

Image shows hills with the sun setting behind them, wreathed in mist.
Far from gibes about colouring in maps or dull school experiences of counting pedestrians, the subject of Geography is varied and fascinating.
This vast subject spans two major fields, human geography and physical geography. The latter looks at the physical world we live in, from climatology to glaciology. The former looks at human society, how it functions and how it is shaped. Integrated geography is arguably a third path that aims to marry the two as much as possible. It is perhaps as easy to answer what isn’t studied under the umbrella of Geography as what is.

What kind of things can I expect to study?

Most university courses will have a balance of human and physical geography in your first year, and then allow you to focus more on one or the other in your later years of study, if you want to (of course, there are degree courses that focus exclusively on one or the other). You can expect to cover:

Physical Geography

Image shows the Earth.
You’ll learn about weather systems.

You’ll cover earth system processes, including atmosphere and climate, land and water, oceans and coasts, and environmental change. This is the part of Geography that is most like a science.

Human Geography

Areas you can expect to cover will include globalisation, cultural geography, economic geography, geopolitics, urban geography, transport and demographics.

Geographical techniques and skills

This is the section of your course where you will learn the practical skills and techniques that will lend support to the rest of your studies – and that may also be among the most marketable elements of what you’ll learn over the course of your degree. You’ll gain research and writing skills, as well as learning about statistics, cartography and laboratory skills. You’ll also learn how to make the most of your fieldwork.

What do I need for a Geography degree?

Image shows the Turkish flag and the EU flag flying side by side.
Knowledge of politics is useful for Geography.

Geography departments are welcoming to almost all comers in terms of A-level subjects, as the field is so broad. You don’t even need to have taken A-level Geography (although you might need to justify your decision not to take it in your personal statement or at interview). Other useful subjects besides Geography include the sciences, Maths, Geology, History, Government and Politics, and Economics. As a Geography degree can be either a BA or a BSc, it’s important to check which type you’re applying for; BScs might not accept candidates who don’t have any science A-levels, whereas BAs might want to see evidence of your essay skills in subjects like History or English Literature.
In terms of your general skill base, Geography requires you to be a reasonably good all-rounder, as it sits in the centre of the humanities and sciences Venn diagram. You’ll also need good attention to detail and an interest in statistics.

What skills will I acquire?

You’ll gain a range of skills, in line with the range of areas that you’ll study – so  you will gain competencies in some areas of scientific research, but also humanities skills such as communication and essay-writing. You will gain the usual degree skills of time management, self-motivation and problem-solving. You will also acquire practical, hands-on skills relating to your fieldwork.

Will I get to travel as part of my degree?

Image shows the Mojave desert.
The Mojave desert, where some Sheffield geographers go on field trips.

Yes – Geography is a great subject for students who want to travel. Fieldwork is an essential part of the course and it can take you all over the world. For example, Sheffield University geographers might travel to New York, Morocco or the Mojave Desert, while Durham geographers might get to work in Israel or Iceland. This isn’t just for physical geographers, either; human geography requires just as much fieldwork and therefore includes just as many travel possibilities.

What careers are possible with a Geography degree?

Prospects for Geography graduates are generally good; finding a degree after graduation can be slow and entry-level jobs are not well paid, but in the long run, Geography graduates are among the least likely to be unemployed. There are a decent number of specifically Geography-related careers available, such as conservation, urban planning, coastal and marine management, cartography, meteorology or global development – though some of those will require postgraduate study, which is pursued by just under a third of Geography graduates. A Geography degree will also leave you well-prepared for a variety of more general graduate roles, such as law or management consultancy. And of course, teaching is always an option.

Related degrees

Image shows the top figure on a totem pole.
Anthropology is a popular alternative option for prospective Geographers.

If you’re thinking of studying Geography, you may also be interested in these related degrees:

  • Environmental Science – if you are interested primarily in the scientific side of Geography.
  • Politics and International Studies – if you are fascinated by the political side of Human Geography, and want to know how policymakers help shape it.
  • Anthropology – this subject, like Geography, spans the sciences and the humanities, and, also like Geography, looks at the way that humans interact with their society and the wider world.
  • [Region] studies – these degrees, such as American Studies, African Studies or Oriental Studies, focus on the geography, languages, history, politics and cultures of a particular country or region, and therefore offer a broader subject base than Geography while focusing on a smaller area.

A final thought on Geography

Geography is an exciting and dynamic degree. It’s easy to pinpoint the things that make it interesting to study a Geography degree right now, from the effects of climate changes to huge demographic shifts across the world, but the truth is that current affairs always intersect with Geography; it is a degree that is always relevant to what is happening around the world. Its breadth means that this is a good degree for those who don’t yet know how they want to specialise; partly because of this, it also leaves an impressive range of options open to those who want to go on to further study. Usefully, it also gives you the skills to satisfy many of the requirements of the modern workplace; your analytical and research skills will be particularly valuable. And not only will you get the travel the world, you’ll also get to understand the way it works at multiple fascinating levels.

Image credits: banner; globe; EU; Mojave Desert; totem pole.