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Building Your Career 

To learn more about what you can do with your UNC Geography & GIS degree, view our UNC Alumni Career Spotlights.

While You Are in School

Careers are not just automatically launched because you have a college degree. There are several things you can do while you are in school to improve your chances in your career.

Cultivate a relationship with a professor in your career field. Take several classes with a geography professor. Introduce yourself during office hours and discuss your career objectives. Get involved in research, even if it does not earn credit. When you exit UNC, you can ask that professor for a letter of recommendation. The professor will be able to craft a supportive letter filled with a variety of shared experiences, not just grade performance. The folks who hire you want to know if you are organized, responsible, intelligent, passionate, and committed. They might be looking for leadership, or people who take chances and show initiative.

Experiences, Not Just Classes! When you exit school, your resume is short. It might just say that you have a degree, or that you worked at a few jobs. You really need something to make you stand out. For geography, there are several things to consider to add experiences to your resume:

    1. Take Field Courses. You learn to collect field data, to accomplish a field goal, to answer a geographic question. Field courses offer enduring memories, build relationships with faculty and fellow students, and can show you what a career might be like.
    2. Consider an Internship. Work at a city agency or in the private sector, or for a school district. Learn how an institution works and gain the trust of people who may eventually want to hire you. Internships in geography are found in many subfields. It’s up to you to work with our faculty to arrange an internship. See: http://geography.about.com/od/careersingeography/a/internships.htm
    3. Join the undergraduate Geography and GIS club. The club is active and would welcome leadership if you want to shape the club.
    4. Attend conferences in Geography. There are regional and national conferences for you to consider. See what it’s like to attend a poster session, a research presentation, or to participate in a competition.

Contact our alumni. You can write to many of our geography graduates for advice or assistance as you line up life after school. If you do this early on, you may be advised to take a certain course while you are at UNC—it’s easier to do this while you are still in school! View our Alumni Career Spotlights.

After You Graduate

Here’s what some geographers do who earn advanced degrees: http://www.aag.org/cs/careers. For a more general review of jobs in geography, see http://geography.about.com/od/careersingeography/a/jobsgeography.htm.

 Career Paths in Geography

  • Careers in Business

    Many businesses hire geographers to help them understand their markets from a spatial point of view. Where should we locate a new store? Where are our customers? Where do we go to find or make the products that are sold?

  • Careers in GIS

    Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is an expanding, multidisciplinary field that is an integral part of many disciplines and employment sectors. GIS is all about understanding the world around you. GIS combines cartography, spatial analysis, and data management to make intelligent and meaningful maps that answer three fundamental geographic questions: What? Where? Why? The GIS industry focuses on geospatial technologies, including everything from the creation of interactive web-based maps to the analysis of crime patterns within a city. Those who view life through a spatial lens can use their unique perspective to create responsible, sustainable and scalable solutions that benefit individuals and society.

    The Department of Geography and GIS provides practical, hands-on experience using and applying geospatial technology through small class room settings, independent research projects, and internships with organizations using GIS. Students are exposed to GIS theory, database development and management, programming, spatial analysis and statistics, and remote sensing all of which can be used in a variety of applications, including urban planning, environmental management, law enforcement, intelligence, transportation planning, business development and management and public health.

  • Careers in Government

    Geographers are appropriately trained to work in a host of government positions from the local to the federal level. Each morning the President of the United States, along with select Cabinet members, receive the so-called President’s Daily Briefing (PDB) notebook. Geographers working with various federal agencies such as the CIA and FBI are responsible for the research and compilation of the PDB. At a more mundane level, Geographers are constructively employed in agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) where decisions are made about land use and environmental issues that impact our daily lives.

    Oil well on edge of Pawnee Grasslands, Colorado

    Oil well on edge of Pawnee Grasslands, Colorado

    Large Wind Farm on private land, northeastern Colorado

    Large Wind Farm on private land, northeastern Colorado

    Open pit gold mine, Cripple Creek & Victor Mine, Colorado

    Open pit gold mine, Cripple Creek & Victor Mine, Colorado

  • Careers in Natural Science

    Physical geographers study the natural world and the impact humans have on it. This includes the processes that impact the natural environment, touching on topics such as natural hazards, environmental degradation, and climate change. They use technologies such as GIS to map natural resources and examine the implications that resources have on the surrounding landscape. Physical geographers are increasingly needed to help society understand, natural hazards, environmental changes, and the impacts that humans have on their environment.

    Employable Skills of Geography Graduates

    • Ability to effectively use geospatial technologies, such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Remote Sensing (RS) and others;
    • Ability to use geographic concepts and skills, such as cartography, geographic information systems, statistics and qualitative methods;
    • Ability to understand the natural and social processes that form our environments, as well as the changing interrelationships between environment and society;
    • Ability to perform geographical analysis of social, physical, and cultural issues; and
    • Ability to manipulate geographic data and working with maps, graphs, and diagrams, using related computer equipment and software.
  • Careers in Planning

    Urban and Regional Planners develop plans and programs that help communities decide how their land should be used. The land uses that planners address include just about everything that you see as you walk down a street or drive between towns, from the design of a new school, to the layout of commercial buildings, to the location of a new light rail system, power grid, or park.

    Planners require both specialized knowledge and critical skills. Their work involves some of the most powerful tools of government, including zoning codes and environmental regulations. Applying these tools requires significant quantitative, spatial and financial skills. Because even the smallest plans can have big economic and social impacts, planners must also be able to work in a highly collaborative environment that gives many people a say in what they do. For these reasons, student who pursue a planning career usually seek additional professional certification or advanced degrees within a few years.

    According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the majority of planners are employed by municipal and county governments (about 65%) with another 10% employed by states and the rest by the federal government and private planning or consulting firms. The mean salary in 2012 was about $65,000 with good prospects for growth in the coming decade (http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/urban-and-regional-planners.htm#tab-1)

    The two best places to look for more information are the American Planning Association, a professional association that holds conferences throughout the country and establishes a formal credentialing process and Planetizen, an information exchange site for the profession.

  • Careers in Resource Management

     A degree in Geography enables graduates to work in the field of natural resource management in a variety of capacities. Conservation scientists, for instance, manage and protect the nation's natural resources. They advise farmers, ranchers, and government officials on how to control land for erosion and to better understand impacts of the new energy economy. Graduates might also choose careers as park rangers, whose responsibility is to help visitors experience the natural and cultural heritage of the United States. Park rangers are tasked with ensuring that parks are protected from inappropriate use but they also assist with engaging conservation and ecological studies. Regulatory specialists work within industries such as energy, food and agriculture and have the responsibility of making sure their companies comply with local, national and international regulations pertaining to their business. Specialists might also secure work with federal organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency. There are a variety of rich field based experiences available for geography majors interested in working directly with natural resource issues around the nation and the globe.

  • Careers in Teaching

    You can earn your geography degree and teaching license at UNC. This leads to a career in social studies at grades 7-12. Your classes include a core of Geography & GIS courses and supplementary courses in History, Civics, and Economics, providing content in all 4 social-studies standards areas. Students also complete UNC’s Secondary Professional Teacher Education Program, gaining extensive classroom experience, including student teaching.

    Demand for social studies teachers with a strong Geography background is rising nationally thanks to the rapid growth of the Advance Placement© Human Geography course (APHG). Since its inception in 2001, APHG has grown to become the 13th largest of the 34 AP exams, with almost 150,000 students now taking the course each year in close to 3,000 high schools. In Colorado, more than 60 high schools now offer APHG, reaching several thousand Colorado high schoolers every year. The numbers continue to grow steadily.

    Compared to others graduating with social studies licensure, Geography majors have the unique advantage of being able to incorporate technology in their social studies classrooms. GIS is increasingly being used in the schools, from kindergarten through high school. Many schools across the country, including ___ in Colorado, have adopted a STEM focus schoolwide (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). STEM-designated schools are, or soon will be, adding GIS courses, demonstrating the power of spatial analysis across the curriculum, bridging the natural and social sciences.

  • Careers in Transportation

    Transport Geographers study the costs of movements, the construction and the maintenance of transport modes and infrastructures. The performance of transport systems are often measured and justified by economic and social criteria.

    Transport represents one of the most important human activities worldwide and the fundamental purpose of transport is consequently geographic in nature, meaning that it facilitates movement between different locations across a multitude of scales. Transport thus plays a role in the structure and organization of space and territories.

    As an indispensable component of the economy it plays a major role in spatial relations between locations. Transport creates valuable links between regions and economic activities, between populations and is a vital component of spatial interaction.

    Transport has an impact on the whole of society (users, suppliers, entrepreneurs, governments), facilitating the comings and goings of citizens who wish to have access to employment, healthcare, welfare, and cultural or artistic events. It shapes social interactions by favoring the mobility of people.

    The environmental impacts of transportation on ecological systems such as the atmosphere, the hydrosphere and the ecosphere. Transport geographers examine a wide array of externalities such as noise, land use and the impacts of natural conditions, such as the topography and the climate on the operation of transport systems and vice versa.