CU Boulder guggenheim geography building
Degrees Offered: BA IBA MA PhD Minor

Geography is the study of human activity and the natural environment. The field’s unique spatial perspective on natural environment and human activity ties to other fields in the natural sciences, social sciences and humanities. Geographers are interested in a wide range of phenomena and often work in interdisciplinary teams to focus on environmental change, global development and other social and economic issues, and resource use in an increasingly complex and interdependent world.

The skills and knowledge of the geographer are in demand, leading graduates to entry-level positions in areas such as land­use planning, urban and regional planning, environmental analysis and monitoring, location analysis for the siting of facilities, remote sensing using satellite imagery, international development and a wide variety of spatial analyses of issues in transportation, recreation, population and resources. The major may also serve as preparation for graduate study leading to specialized applied and theoretical work in geography or advanced work in business, law, public affairs, planning, education and other professions.

Undergraduate Opportunities

The major in geography leads to a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree. Students may choose to concentrate in one of four optional themes, such as physical geography, human geography, environment­society relations and geographic information science. 

Physical Geography Option

Physical geography integrates climate, vegetation, water, soils and landforms as the major natural elements of the environment. The focus of physical geography is on the zone of the land, ocean and atmosphere that contains most of the world’s organic life. Physical geography is a discipline that questions how and why physical and biological processes act as they do. Students that elect this option investigate Earth processes from the perspectives of meteorology, hydrology, geology, biology and soil science. Physical geography integrates the above perspectives in a uniquely comprehensive way, often with an emphasis on human modifications to the environment.

Human Geography Option

Human geography involves the study of human behavior, and more specifically, the organization of human activity as it affects and responds to the world around us. Students who choose this option study the interactions among the economy, social processes, politics and culture, and may examine a particular region, such as Latin America, China or Africa; particular kinds of places, such as cities or developing areas; or particular systems. Course work in human geography covers subjects as diverse as conservation, water policy, agricultural practices, political processes, migration, urbanization, the formation of cultural identities and gender.

Environment­Society Relations Option

This option examines the manifold relations between societies and their natural and built environments. This includes topics such as resource use, natural hazards, sustainable development, landscape studies, political ecology and environmental conservation. The University of Colorado Boulder has special strength in land and water resource issues in the American West, Africa and Latin America. 

Geographic Information Science Option

This option is concerned with the methods for the collection, analysis, mapping and communication of geographical data, methods and findings. Subareas include cartography, geographical information systems, remote sensing and geography education. 

The curriculum is also devoted to developing basic communication skills—written, oral, symbolic or graphic—that will be useful throughout a geographer’s career. Quantitative methods, mapmaking, computer­assisted cartography, computerized geographic information systems and interpretation of environmental data using imagery sensed from aerial and orbiting platforms are some of the subjects covered.

Graduate Studies

The graduate program of the Department of Geography offers both MA and PhD degrees. The program’s basic purpose is to train scholars and professionals to produce and disseminate knowledge and to make outstanding contributions in the public and private sectors. There are approximately 80­90 graduate students in the program. The department is ranked as one of the top programs among the nation’s doctoral­granting departments of geography.

Research Opportunities

Fieldwork opportunities and research activities are enhanced by departmental affiliation with various research facilities, including the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR) and its Mountain Research Station, and the Institute of Behavioral Science (IBS). All of these institutes are involved in interdisciplinary research activities related to geography and the environment.

In addition, the proximity of the Boulder campus to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and state and federal agencies in Denver enhance the department’s access to technical resources.

The department’s research facilities also include cartographic, spatial data analysis, personal computer and physical geography laboratories, including facilities for computer­assisted cartography, geographic information systems and remote sensing interpretation. The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) and the departmental honors program offer other avenues to work alongside a faculty sponsor on original research. 

A special feature of the department is the geography internship program, which provides an opportunity for qualified geography majors to put their acquired geographic concepts and skills to use in the working world. Participating students may choose from a variety of internship placements. Sponsors include city, county, state and federal agencies, environmental planning consultants, businesses and industries and nonprofit organizations.