Earth & Environmental Sciences  Humans & Behavior


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* = Minors are not technically a degree, but can be pursued to supplement a bachelor's degree; ** = Hydrology is an unofficial certificate offered by the department

The Department of Geography brings a holistic perspective to the physical and human processes that shape the world around us. Geographers strive to understand how people interact with, are shaped by, and in turn help shape, our world. 

The department engages in cutting-edge research across the breadth of the discipline, excelling at providing field-oriented, hands-on experience. It also trains its students to be top scientists as well as citizens of the broader world to which we’re all connected.

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.

I wanted to pursue a degree that would expand my understanding of how humans and the environment interrelate. In the Geography department I have taken fantastic classes with inspiring professors, gained a skill-set in GIS, become part of a wonderful community, and had the opportunity to explore issues I am concerned about."

— Kate Gregory

Geography is, in essence, the study of the interactions between people and their environments, both natural and human. Those who study geography are explore our world by examining the places and regions resulting from that interaction and analyze the spatial characteristics of all manner of cultural, economic, political and physical processes and relationships.

Often considered the best subject to study and the degree most likely to hold the key to the world's problems, Geography is an interdisciplinary field that allows for a diverse education, plenty of hands-on experience, field experience and engaging research opportunities and a solid foundation for whatever may come after undergraduate education.

And the geography department at the University of Colorado Boulder is recognized as one of the best in the world, ranking #13 by the Academic Ranking of World Universities. As well, their research into remote sensing is ranked #21 in the world by the most recent U.S. News and World Reports.

Their faculty members are also frequently recognized with awards and honors, including three Professors of Distinction, a Distinguished Professor, a Distinguished Research Lecturer, two Guggenheim fellows, multiple Fulbright recipients, and numerous fellows for the National Science Foundation, Ford Foundation, Rockefeller Foundation, Geological Society of America, American Meteorological Society, Andrew W. Mellon foundation, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Geophysical Union. They've also had various faculty members deliver a keynote address at a science forum at the White House; help author the report to the President on climate change; receive a gold medal research award from the Russian Geographical Society; and are home to a former Chief Scientist for NASA. They are often quoted in major magazines and have published numerous papers involving groundbreaking research.

The Department of Geography at the University of Colorado Boulder is one of the few geography programs to maintain an active research profile in most of Geography's subfields, and offers undergraduate research concentrations in each, including:

  • Physical Geography
    • 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. If you elect this option, you will 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

    • 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. If you elect this option, you will study the interactions among the economy, social processes, politics, and culture. You 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. Coursework in human geography covers subjects as diverse as conservation, water policy, agricultural practices, political processes, migration, urbanization, the formation of cultural identities, and gender.

  • Environment-Society Relations

    • In this option you will study 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 has special strength in land and water resource issues in the American West, Africa and Latin America. 

  • Geographic Information Science

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

Their diverse faculty also include several who have joint affiliations with institutes and centers like the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR), the Institute of Behavioral Science (IBS), the Center for Native American and Indigenous Studies, the Center for Latin American Studies and the Center for Asian Studies, and other departments like Sociology, Environmental Studies and International Affairs.

For the undergraduate students pursuing a degree in geography, there are a number of research opportunities beyond just class work:

  • The Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program (UROP) and the departmental honors program offer avenues to work alongside a faculty sponsor on original research. Learn to write proposals, conduct research, pursue creative work, analyze data, and present the results. For more information, call UROP at 303-492-2596 or visit the UROP website.

  • Majors can choose to seek honors in geography, which results in the designation of cum laude, magna cum laude or summa cum laude at graduation. Look into this program early as it involves securing a  faculty advisor and developing an individual project. 

  • 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. Students receive 3 credits and a "letter" grade. Paid internships are occasionally available, but students can not receive credit for them.

  • The experience of studying abroad can prove invaluable for you as a geography major. Your first-hand experience abroad can provide you with new insights into both human and natural environments of your host country. The university offers more than 100 programs throughout the world that offer credit, in some cases fulfilling major and core requirements. You may spend a few weeks to a full academic year abroad, depending on the program you select. Prior language study or other prerequisites are necessary for some programs, so early planning for study abroad is essential. Further information about study abroad is available from Education Abroad, 303-492-7741 or on the education abroad website.

The skills and knowledge of the geographer are in demand, leading graduates to entry-level positions in such areas as land-use 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. You may find the career resources page on the geography website useful for more information about careers in geography.

Career Services offers free services for all CU Boulder degree-seeking students, and alumni up to one year after graduation, to help students discover who they are, what they want to do, and how to get there. They are the bridge between academics and the world of work by discussing major and career exploration, internship or job searching, and graduate school preparation. 

According to the 2017-18 College Salary Report by PayScale Human Capital:

  • the median salary for someone with a bachelor’s degree in Geography and 0-5 years of experience is $43,600;
  • median salary for 10-plus years of experience, $72,700.

Estimated Geography Salary Info

At CU Boulder, Geography graduates earn more than the nationwide average of comparable majors as reported by Payscale. CU Boulder alumni in this discipline earn an estimated annual salary of $87,313, based on a pool of 582 alumni who graduated between 1989 and 2018. This amount, however, is slightly less than the average for all CU Boulder graduates with a bachelor's degree, according to a survey by Esmi Alumni Insight of 25,000 alumni who graduated during the same stretch.

Job growth for 2016-2026 is projected to be 6 percent, slightly less than average for all job categories.

The Department of Geography has an extensive alumni network working in a variety of industries across the globe. Some alumni of the program include:

  • Waleed Abdalati (PhD '96) is director of CIRES (Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences). He previously served as chief scientist for NASA and head of cryospheric sciences at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center.

  • James Balog (MA '77) is president and founder of the Extreme Ice Survey and Earth Vision Institute. He is an acclaimed photographer and was featured in the Academy Award-nominated documentary, Chasing Ice.

  • Michael Brown (BA '90) has summited Mount Everest five times and made dozens of films on location from the highest peaks in the world, from South America to Antarctica. He’s also a teacher and founder of the Outside Adventure Film School in Boulder. Outside magazine, which sponsors the school, has called him a “swashbuckling librarian.”

  • Joshua Cousins (BA) is a postdoctoral fellow in Ecology, Evolution, Ecosystems & Society at Dartmouth College.

  • Adam Serafin (BA '02) is lead knowledge analyst in geoanalytics at The Boston Consulting Group.

  • Jeff Kerridge (BA '84) is senior vice president at Digital Globe.