Geography is concerned with places or environments and the physical, social, economic, and political processes that change them. It is a composite science, requiring a broad base of knowledge from many related disciplines. Geography also is an analytical science that seeks answers to specific questions from a geographic perspective. To achieve their aims, geographers develop and use advanced geospatial methods, including computer-based mapping, global positioning, and satellite sensing.
Why Study at Iowa?
Iowa’s geography program helps students develop insights and methods of inquiry that are particularly applicable to understanding many of the complex problems confronting societies. Its three tracks encompass issues and problems that concern geographers, such as:
- Distribution and consumption of natural resources
- Air and water pollution
- Management of natural environments
- Patterns of infectious diseases
- Population growth and decline
- Transportation problems
- Availability of health services
- Spatial inequalities in vulnerability to hazards
Iowa’s geography students also learn concepts and methods for organizing urban areas, marketing regions, school districts, health service areas, and drainage basins and for addressing other areas of concern. With the knowledge of data, methods, and processes, geographers are well prepared to make significant contributions toward understanding behaviors of individuals and societies and their relations with the environment.
Geography majors can earn a Bachelor of Arts (BA) or a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree at Iowa. Both degree programs prepare students for advanced training and careers in geography or environmental studies.
If you are interested in quantitative analysis and model building, you may decide to choose the BS, which requires more math.
Required courses (for BA and BS students):
- Introduction to Human Geography or Globalization and Geographic Diversity
- The Global Environment
- Foundations of GIS (geographic information systems)
- A course in economic, population, regional, or environmental geography
- A course in geographic visualization, GIS, remote sensing, or field methods
- A statistics course
- A senior project or thesis
BS students also take more advanced statistics and/or calculus courses.
BA and BS students also take courses in one of three tracks:
- Environmental Studies—for students with environmental interests such as resource management, physical geography, environmental policy or law, global environmental change, sustainable development, or other complex environmental issues. It provides a sound foundation for graduate or professional study in natural or social aspects of the environment.
- Health & Society—for understanding the modern world’s increasing globalization and related processes. Many students in this track go on to pursue graduate study in geography, public health, or urban and regional planning or professional degrees in law, business, or policy analysis. The track also helps students prepare for positions in government, nongovernmental organizations, international or regional development, or business.
- Geographic Information Science—to understand the design, implementation, and use of geographic information systems (GIS) and the interpretation of satellite imagery. It prepares students for positions in non-governmental organizations, government agencies, international development agencies, and business, as well as graduate work in geography, urban and regional planning, and other disciplines.
Requirements for the three tracks overlap, so if your interests change, you usually can switch tracks without losing credit.
See Geography in the UI General Catalog to learn more about the curriculum and graduating with honors.
If you are interested in teaching in elementary or secondary schools, you'll also need to complete the College of Education's Teacher Education Program.
Geography majors need to meet requirements for admission to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Admission Requirements Tabs
Students in this major may enjoy the Green Adventures Living-Learning Community in the UI residence halls.
Faculty, Facilities, and Resources
The Geographic Information Systems Instructional Laboratory (GISIL) is one of several resources available to the department’s students. GISIL features 26 state-of-the-art computer workstations, a terrestrial-based LiDAR system, an aerial hyper-spectral scanner, GPS receivers, printers, plotters, and digitizers. GIS courses, other data-intensive courses, and research are conducted in the lab.
The department is central to the university's Winterim India Program, in which students take a three-week course in India. Some financial help is available.
Iowa graduates have job placement rates ranging from 86-100 percent, depending on their area of study, and our Pomerantz Career Center offers multiple resources to help students find internships and jobs.
Geography majors are encouraged to participate in an internship. The department maintains close ties with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and other local agencies that offer internships.
Courses in geography are commonly required of students preparing to teach at the elementary and secondary school levels or to work in urban and regional planning. The degree also provides a solid background for many related professions, including law, health care, environmental engineering, and business.
The application of GIS to social, economic, and environmental problems has increased considerably during the past decade. This trend is likely to continue into the future; in fact, the U.S. Department of Labor has identified the area as one of its 14 high-growth industries. GIS presents an abundance of career opportunities for geography graduates in local, state, and federal government agencies, as well as in the private sector.
The department’s faculty members help students apply for postgraduate programs and contact potential employers.
Application Process Tabs
Apply to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.