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Department Overview

408A Smith

Geography is about the relationship between people and the environment. It provides important insights into the spatial transformations associated with globalization, environmental change, migration, health, development, and many other contemporary processes. The Department of Geography has a strong commitment to social justice and public scholarship, and provides a rich undergraduate experience for those who are passionate about exploring our world and understanding the social and spatial processes that shape it.

Geography seeks to understand the complex processes that result in the patterns, trends, and impacts of urbanization, migration, trade, and development. Geographers use ethnographies, statistical analysis, databases, scholarly research, and observation to construct models, maps, and other tools for understanding, and to address pressing social and environmental issues.

Undergraduate Program

415 A & B Smith, Box 353550
(206) 543-3246

The Department of Geography offers the following programs of study:

  • Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in geography
  • A minor in geography

Students may choose from among four multifaceted tracks (Cities, Citizenship, and Migration; Environment, Economy, and Sustainability; Globalization, Health, and Development; and GIS, Mapping, and Society), or customize their own hybrid focus along more thematic or issue-driven lines, such as inequality, race/class/gender studies, etc. Lists of courses in each track may be found at

For an overview of main faculty research themes and how they relate to these tracks, visit

Bachelor of Arts

Suggested First- and Second-Year College Courses: Any 100- or 200-level GEOG course. Courses that develop strong writing, analytical, and qualitative- and quantitative-reasoning skills. Geography is inherently interdisciplinary, so exposure to many social science fields of study in the first two years is ideal.

Department Admission Requirements

Students in good academic standing may declare this major at any time.

Major Requirements

60 credits:

  1. Foundations (30 credits): See departmental adviser for approved track courses.
    1. GEOG 315
    2. One methods course from the following: GEOG 317, GEOG 326, GEOG 425, GEOG 426, or faculty approved methods course
    3. One Cities, Citizenship, and Migration Track course (5 credits)
    4. One Environment, Economy, and Sustainability Track course (5 credits)
    5. One Globalization, Health, and Development Track course (5 credits)
    6. One GIS, Mapping, and Society Track course (5 credits)
  2. Track (20 credits): Students select one of the following four tracks:
    1. Cities, Citizenship, and Migration
    2. Environment, Economy, and Sustainability
    3. Globalization, Health, and Development
    4. GIS, Mapping, and Society

    Four upper-division (300- and 400-level) geography courses are required for the track the student selects, at least two of which must be at the 400 level. As an alternative to one of the four defined tracks, students may also customize their own hybrid focus along more thematic or issue-driven lines, such as inequality, race/class/gender studies, etc. See for approved track courses, and/or geography adviser for details.

  3. Electives (10 credits): GEOG electives at the 200 level or above; 300- and 400-level courses preferred.
  4. Additional Degree Conditions and Program Features
    1. Students must complete a minimum of 25 upper-division credits (300- and 400-level) in geography in residence through the UW.
    2. Students are encouraged to take appropriate elective courses outside the Department of Geography in fields that support their track. Courses appropriate to various tracks are available on lists supplied by geography advisers, or may be recommended by the faculty adviser. Students should be aware that 300- and 400-level courses in other departments likely have prerequisites.
    3. 5 credits of internship (GEOG 496) or independent study (GEOG 499) may apply toward the required 60 credits.
    4. No single course may be counted toward more than one degree requirement.
  5. Minimum 2.00 cumulative GPA in courses applied to the major.

Data Science Option

66 to 69 credits

  1. Foundations (30 credits): GEOG 258, GEOG 315, GEOG 317 or GEOG 326, GEOG 360, GEOG 381; one additional course from either the Environment, Economy, and Sustainability track or the Globalization, Health, and Development track
  2. Data Science Electives (36-39 credits):
    1. Programming: CSE 142 or CSE 160; either CSE 143 or CSE 163
    2. Machine Learning: either STAT 311 or STAT 390; one of CSE 416/STAT 416, STAT 435, or INFO 371
    3. GIS, Mapping, and Society: GEOG 458, GEOG 461, GEOG 465, GEOG 482
  3. Additional Degree Conditions and Program Features
    1. Students must complete a minimum of 25 upper-division credits (300- and 400-level) in geography in residence through the UW
    2. No single course may be counted toward more than one degree requirement
  4. Minimum 2.00 cumulative GPA in courses applied to the major


Minor Requirements: 30 credits in geography, including 15 upper-division geography credits with at least 5 credits at the 400 level. No more than 5 credits applied to the minor may be from 100-level classes. Independent learning and internship credits (GEOG 494, GEOG 496, GEOG 497, GEOG 499) may not be counted as part of the 30 credits. A minimum 2.0 grade for each course counted toward the minor. At least 15 credits of upper-division geography courses must be taken through the UW.

Student Outcomes and Opportunities

  • Learning Objectives and Expected Outcomes: Geographers address some of the world’s most urgent challenges, including global and environmental change, economic and social inequality and poverty, world hunger, global health and healthcare, social justice in the city, migration and immigration, and what it means to be a global citizen in the twenty-first century. Responses to such questions are complex and partial, and these issues are not “fixable” by one-dimensional solutions. Geography’s contribution to these public issues and solutions is through evidence-based, multi-scalar analyses and mapping of socio-spatial and environmental change. Social justice, community engagement and activism, and an accountability to place inform our inquiry and study.

    In geography classes students learn how to design and conduct research, employing quantitative and qualitative methods; use statistical and demographic analysis; and interpret and analyze data, discourses, and texts and images in order to address significant topics and questions in human geography. Students combine classroom study with internships, community service, and independent research to develop integrated, rich, and relevant learning experiences. These experiences help develop and refine critical and analytical research and communication skills, offer hopeful and engaged responses to daunting problems, and emphasize that individuals can make a difference.

    Typical questions or lines of inquiry in each track include:

    1. Cities, Citizenship, and Migration: Why do people move, and where do they go? What are the constraints and opportunities for migrants as they settle and integrate in new cities and new nations? How are cities formed and what are the forces that impact their economic and cultural development? The courses in this track focus on themes of urbanization and human movement, emphasizing the importance of labor and housing, as well as cultural processes and historical forms of discrimination that shape where people live and work. Students in this track develop an understanding of the intersections of power and place as they pertain to migration and immigrant life, citizenship and belonging, and the production of urban space.
    2. Environment, Economy, and Sustainabilty: Courses in this track study the reciprocal and often contradictory forces of economic activity, environmental policy, and sustainability. Using such key geographic concepts as scale, place and location, they analyze relations between such complex processes as: land use, labor markets, corporate location, international trade, energy policy and consumption, environmental regulatory policy, resource use, and food systems.
    3. Globalization, Health, and Development How does globalization shape life and death around the planet? How can development initiatives address global health disparities? Providing geographical answers to such questions, this track traces the extraordinarily uneven effects of global trade, global finance, and market-led development on food systems, health, and the geography of impoverishment. By putting global health challenges in a global socio-economic context, the track simultaneously highlights how social movements and social organizing can make a difference, including differences in formal policies affecting human well-being directly as well as innovations in the ethics of care. Courses in the track provide frequent opportunities for service learning as part of the goal of helping students engage with real world challenges. All classes also approach these themes through a geographical lens: charting global-local relations and the links between nature, society, and political-economy in particular places. This geographical approach in turn enables us to explore how nutrition, health, and development are intertwined with other processes ranging from the personal experiences of migrant farm workers, to urban and regional redevelopment, to global financial reforms. Specific questions that frame our classes include: What are the links between life and debt (GEOG 123)? How have sixty years of development increased in-country inequality (GEOG 230)? How do global disease etiologies reflect other global interconnections (GEOG 280)? How does agricultural modernization relate to hunger (GEOG 371)? And what are the implications for food security, health security, and developmental security when they are re-framed in terms of geopolitics and the global security challenges of international relations (GEOG 375)?
    4. GIS, Mapping, and Society In courses that comprise the GIS, Mapping, and Society track, students learn to use GIS, web-based geospatial applications, and database management systems for problem solving in relation to a diverse range of societal concerns, such as those within the other geography tracks. Students learn a range of analytical and critical methods for cartographic representation, spatial analysis, geovisualization, and database management. Further, students learn about the politics, ethics, and values of mapping and geospatial technologies, and integrate their social and technical skills to undertake projects with research partners in the region.

    Graduates have pursued careers as urban planners, environmental planners and land-use analysts, GIS analysts, economic analysts (marketing, location, geo-demographics), public health researchers, NGO specialists in developing nations, airline route analysts, import-export/international-trade specialists, real estate valuation specialists, lawyers, economic development specialists, social studies teachers, and college professors.

  • Instructional and Research Facilities: A map center in Suzzallo Library houses atlases, sheet maps, and aerial photographs. Departmental facilities include the Edward L. Ullman Geography Collaboratory and the John C. Sherman Laboratory, which houses a variety of computer workstations connected to the campus computer network. The Ullman Collaboratory in 415 Smith provides a unique collaborative classroom with networked computer work stations. The Geography Commons also provides computer work stations for students. The Department of Geography is a member of the Center for Social Science Computation and Research, which maintains an extensive data archive and offers many statistical and software consulting services.
  • Honors Options Available: With College Honors (Completion of Honors Core Curriculum and Departmental Honors); With Honors (Completion of Departmental Honors requirements in the major). See adviser for requirements.
  • Research, Internships, and Service Learning: More than 125 geography students participate each year in internships. For lists of these opportunities, see the department's career site.
  • Department Scholarships: None offered.
  • Student Organizations/Associations: The Undergraduate Geography Association (UGA) organizes field trips, alumni career panels, public-service projects, and social gatherings.

Of Special Note: Students interested in GIS are encouraged to learn a high-level programming language such as C, C++, Java, or Visual Basic.

Graduate Program

Graduate Program Coordinator
415B Smith, Box 353550
(206) 543-3246

The department has flexible programs leading to the master of arts and doctor of philosophy degrees. The aspirant to the master's degree completes all work in four to six quarters. The aspirant to the doctoral degree undertakes two years of post-master's study and must take a departmental diagnostic examination upon entry, pass the general examination, attain an appropriate level of competence in a foreign language or cognate field, and successfully complete a dissertation. Normally doctoral program students complete degree requirements in three to four years.

Master of Arts

Admission Requirements

  1. Minimum undergraduate 3.00 GPA (on a 4.00 scale), or B. Higher minimum GPA in graduate work for students holding a master’s degree.
  2. GRE

Degree Requirements

Minimum 36 credits

Students may write either a thesis or two high-quality papers

Required Courses

  1. GEOG 500
  2. GEOG 511. One additional methods course, from the following: GEOG 471, GEOG 525, GEOG 526, GEOG 560, GEOG 561, GEOG 562, and GEOG 564.
  3. Minimum three quarters of GEOG 598
  4. Two departmental research seminars (designated “seminars” or “research seminars”). GEOG 500, GEOG 502, GEOG 511, and GEOG 513, and methods courses listed above do not count toward this requirement. In some cases, a directed readings course (GEOG 600) may count in lieu of this requirement. See department website for more information.

Additional Requirements

  1. Minimum 18 graded credits. With thesis, students complete at least 9 credits of GEOG 700 as part of the minimum 36-credit requirement.
  2. Minimum three full-time (at least 9 credits) quarters of residence credits. Part-time quarters may be accumulated to meet one quarter’s worth of this requirement.
  3. Minimum 3.0 grade in all departmental courses, and minimum 2.7 grade in all related courses. Minimum 3.00 GPA maintained.
  4. Final examination
  5. All work completed within six years.

Master in Geographic Information Systems

The online master's program (M-GIS) helps working professionals enter or advance their careers in the field of geographic information science and sustainability management. Students combine geovisualization, data management, and geospatial analysis to develop, examine, and portray data in two- and three- dimensional maps. Specialized program courses explore sustainability and investigate the interconnection of social, environmental, and economic issues on a regional to global

Students address complex geographic information problems with GIS technologies, and create solutions that balance economic, social, and environmental issues.

Admission Requirements

  1. Bachelor's degree from an accredited U. S. college or university, or equivalent from a foreign institution, in a spatially-oriented discipline such as, but not limited to, geography, urban planning, geology, environmental science, civil engineering, environmental science/studies, and/or forest resources
  2. Minimum 3.00 GPA in the last 60 graded semester hours or last 90 graded quarter hours of undergraduate and graduate study
  3. Minimum one year of professional work experience in a field that emphasizes spatial relationships, wherein analyzing and synthesizing phenomena related across space are important
  4. GRE scores
  5. Personal statement describing educational goals and objectives
  6. Three letters of recommendation
  7. Previous coursework or work experience in GIS may offset any relative weaknesses in previous criteria.
  8. International applicants: Demonstrated English language proficiency.

Degree Requirements

45 credits

  1. GEOG 514, GEOG 517, GEOG 560, GEOG 562, GEOG 564, GEOG 565, GEOG 568, GEOG 569, GEOG 582
  2. Primarily for part-time students. Most courses taught online; however, students attend three, three-day summer sessions in Seattle. Each course is 5 credits. A non-thesis program.
  3. Core courses expose students to the fundamentals of GIS software technologies and advanced spatial thinking skills. Concentration courses in sustainability management consider how resources are being treated currently and how they will be treated for future generations.

Doctor of Philosophy

Admission Requirements

  1. Minimum undergraduate 3.00 GPA (on a 4.00 scale), or B. Also, higher minimum GPA in graduate work for students holding a master’s degree.
  2. GRE

Degree Requirements

90 credits

  1. GEOG 500
  2. GEOG 511
  3. One methods course from among: GEOG 471, GEOG 525, GEOG 526, GEOG 560, GEOG 561, GEOG 562, and GEOG 564
  4. Minimum three quarters of GEOG 598

Additional Requirements*

  1. Minimum 3.00 overall GPA. Minimum 3.0 grade in departmental courses. Minimum 2.7 grade in related courses.
  2. Two departmental research seminars numbered 500 or above, not including GEOG 502 or GEOG 513
  3. Scholarly article submitted to a professionally reviewed academic journal, or application for research support from an external agency, such as the National Science Foundation.
  4. Reading competence in a foreign language or sound level of competence in a cognate field
  5. Minimum 60 credits through UW (including 27 GEOG 800 credits). An approved master’s degree may substitute for 30 credits.
  6. Numerical grades in at least 18 quarter credits taken through UW
  7. General examination
  8. Dissertation (or three papers of publishable quality)
  9. Final examination
  10. * Students who earned an MA at the University of Washington have already met several of these requirements.

Financial Aid

The department awards approximately 15 to 20 teaching assistantships for the academic year. Most assistantships are for teaching quiz sections for a larger lecture class. A few advanced doctoral candidates may teach a class. Normally several research assistantships are also available. In recent years, all the department's graduate students have been funded by internal or external sources.