The basic purpose of the graduate program in the Department of Geography is to train scholars and professionals to produce and disseminate knowledge and to make outstanding contributions in the public and private sectors.

Students wishing to pursue graduate work in geography leading to candidacy for advanced degrees should read the Doctoral Degree Requirements section carefully. Also see university catalog course requirements.


The minimum requirement for admission to the Ph.D. program is the successful completion of a Master's (MA or MS) degree program.


The Ph.D. degree is not conferred merely upon the satisfactory completion of a course of study. The candidate must also demonstrate proficiency in three broad areas of concentration within your chosen subfield, be able to critically evaluate work in the field, show the ability to work independently in his/her chosen field, and make an original contribution of significance to the advancement of knowledge.

The minimum requirements include 30 credit hours of coursework numbered 5000 or above and 30 dissertation credit hours. Ordinarily the number of coursework hours and dissertation hours will be greater than 30 each. At least 20 hours of coursework must be taken at the University of Colorado; up to 10 credit hours from another institution may be transferred upon approval (after one semester of residency).  A 3.00 (B) average or higher must be maintained in all course work.

Six semesters of residence are required beyond the bachelor’s degree, of which four must be at the University of Colorado; this may include 2 semesters for the Master’s degree. Students with a University of Colorado MA Degree in Geography may, with Departmental approval, apply all credit hours from 5000 or above courses (except thesis credits) to the Ph.D. requirements.

Ph.D. Language Requirement 

The Department’s minimum language requirement is a demonstration of proficiency in one foreign language. Ways in which this requirement may be satisfied are determined by the student’s Advisor and PhD Committee, and may include timed translation, publication in the language, and/or course work. If more than the minimum proficiency is needed for library and/or field research, the choice and number of languages, as well as the required level of skill and methods of testing these skills, are determined and approved by the student’s Advisory Committee. The language requirement must be satisfied before the Comprehensive Exam is taken.

Preliminary Exam

The Graduate School requires that all students in the doctoral program successfully pass a Preliminary Exam. In Geography, this requirement is met by obtaining a grade of B or better in each of the three required courses: GEOG 5152, History and Theory of Geography; GEOG 5161, Research Design in Geography; and GEOG 5023, Introduction to Quantitative Methods in Geography or GEOG 5722, Field Methods in Human Geography. Following completion of the Preliminary Exam requirement, students undertake preparation for Comprehensive Exams. 

Comprehensive Exams

Following successful completion of the Preliminary Exam, doctoral students must pass a Comprehensive Exam for advancement to candidacy for the doctoral degree. The Comprehensive Exam consists of two parts: an exam on three subfields of geography with written and oral components, and completion of a written dissertation proposal and oral defense. Working together, the student and an Advisory Committee of five faculty set the subfield topics. The student creates a reading list for each subfield, and usually spends a semester reading and preparing for the subfields exam. The Advisory Committee sets the subfields exam questions, and evaluates the written and oral responses, as well as the proposal defense. Upon successful completion of the Comprehensive Exam, a student can turn full attention to dissertation research and writing. 


In addition to the minimum of 30 hours of coursework required for the doctorate, a student must register for a total of at least 30 hours of dissertation credit, with a maximum of 10 hours in any one semester. Not more than 10 of these hours may be obtained before the student has been approved as a candidate for the doctorate (i.e. before the Comprehensive exam has been passed). Coursework and work on the dissertation may proceed concurrently throughout the Ph.D. program, but at no time shall a doctoral student register for more than 15 hours of 5000 level and above courses. 

Following successful completion of comprehensives and “admission to candidacy,” students must register continuously. Students admitted to “candidacy for degree” will register for and be charged for a minimum of 5 dissertation hours each semester. Students may also register for classes in addition to the 5 dissertation hours. After “admission to candidacy,” those not making use of campus facilities may register for 3 dissertation hours (part-time status). Continuous registration during the academic year will be required until completion of the dissertation defense. It is expected that the student and advisor will consult each semester as to the number of hours for which the student will register, consistent with the classifications described above.

See Theses & Dissertations for a list of past work.

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