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.
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.
Students interested in this major need to meet requirements for admission to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Iowa graduates have a 95 percent job/grad school placement rate within six months of graduation. Our Pomerantz Career Center offers multiple resources to help students find internships and jobs.
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 to postgraduate programs and contact potential employers.
In addition to more than 500 student organizations, Iowa students choose from more than 100 study abroad programs and multiple undergraduate research opportunities.
The University of Iowa provides a variety of scholarships to eligible undergraduate students through the Iowa Scholarship Portal. Scholarships are available to first-year, transfer, and currently enrolled students. For additional details on scholarships for your program of study, check directly with the department or college.
The Office of Admissions and the Office of Student Financial Aid are great resources for students seeking scholarships.
Geography majors can earn a BA or a BS degree at Iowa. Both 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 advanced statistics and/or calculus courses.
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
In addition to course work for the major, students also must complete the requirements of the College of Liberal Arts and Science GE CLAS Core.
BA and BS students also choose 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 and 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.
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.
See Geography in the UI General Catalog to learn more about required course work and graduating with honors.
To learn more, see the Minor in Geography, Minor in Geographic Information Science and Minor in Environmental Policy and Planning in the UI General Catalog.
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.