Most people have read great tales of travel and adventure, of men (mainly) who left the comfort of their homes, neighbourhoods and familiar faces to enter upon voyages of discovery and distant, unknown lands.

Columbus, Magellan, Livingstone, Captain Cook and Sir Francis Drake all come to mind. These brave explorers sailed into the great unknown with little more than the wind in their sails, a compass and an astrolabe. They recorded for posterity what they saw and, while doing so, took land and treasure for their homeland.

This is a time which is long gone, never to return, but now there are new frontiers for the 21st century geographer to scrutinise and record!

If ever you have dreamt of charting your own course, scaling the Andes or following the course of the Nile, like Livingstone did, Superprof now takes up the baton, demonstrating that having a degree in geography can lead to lucrative and exciting work.

Of course, that’s sans the scurvy, cholera and malaria that may have assailed you in those heady days!

What a Geography Degree Can Do For You

First know that geography is so much more than merely 'earth description' because it's not simply about rivers and mountains. It's also about topography and maps, volcanoes, climate and how people first settled into particular locations and why.

The subject is split into two corresponding fields of learning: Physical Geography and Human Geography.

In the field of human geography, the areas of speciality include:

  • Social geography: emphasis is placed on social factors in the context of the environment
  • Urban geography studies  urban lifestyle and  the built environment
  • Cultural geography: a subfield of human geography, it analyses material aspects of human life across regions and cultural mores
  • Political geography is the study of countries – their possessions, boundaries and borders
  • Economic geography: the distribution and organisation of economic activity around the world.
  • Regional geography focuses on how humans interact with natural environment of a region.
eroded cliff in sea
Geography is about so much more than rock formations and erosion. ⎪ Source: Unsplash

In the other branch of geography, physical geographers study:

  • Environmental geography: how people relate to their environments
  • Phytogeography studies the how plants are distributed
  • World regional geography: the study of world regions from a geographical perspective
  • Biogeography: the study of ecosystems and organisms in specific places and geological eras

You can now see that the choice of careers is extensive, especially since most of the disciplines are correlated.

For example, you may decide to study social geography in Africa, but perhaps you should collaborate with an environmental geographer so that you can get a fuller picture of your subject matter.

What if you, for instance, don’t enjoy travelling?

That does not imply that you should switch to another major.

Think of the street plans of major cities: Paris, New York, Sydney, Tokyo or Brasilia. Consider what kind of degree those town planners must have?

Studying a course in geography does not necessarily entail weighing anchor and pointing your boat into the wind: you may be employed in the office of your local town planner, if that is your choice!

A Human Geography Degree Does Have a Point

Climate change is one of the hottest (excuse the pun) topics in many a coffee shop right now.

As we sweat (sorry!) over our future on this planet, climatologists and meteorologists are the people we turn to for answers and direction.

Who do climatologists consult with  for proof of global warming?

They turn to others scientists like glaciologists. These folk study, measure, record and track movement and changes of glaciers and ice sheets: the amount of melt and movement and how they impact on their environment.

Pedologists are also relied upon to analyse soil and how it interacts with the climate. This relates to how temperature and rainfall affect minerals and organisms in the soil.

Two further geography-related disciplines that reflect on climate are oceanography and coastal geography.

The worrying increases in seawater temperature, sea levels and the volume of ice melting at the earth’s poles provide climatologists with clear evidence of the effects of global warming.

Coastal geographers also map and track how people are interacting with the coastal waters: documenting sediment movement, erecting retaining walls and measuring the rising of sea levels.

These various components of science, so crucial right now, form part of the discipline called physical geography.

If you’re a person who is enthusiastic about earth’s future and want to participate in conservation activities, then even just an undergraduate qualification in geography should fuel your desire to preserve the earth for forthcoming generations.

street sign showing distances to different cities
Find out more about the world we live in by studying Geography.⎪ Source: Unsplash

If you have no desire or need to venture out into the wilderness and write down everything, nobody can fault you. You may then lean towards a qualification in urban development.

There are, fortunately, several geography courses which could earn you a bachelor’s degree and place you where you’d ideally like to be!

Enough reasons to study Geography already?

If there’s no desire or need to venture out into the wilderness and write down everything, there’s no reason that anyone can fault you. You may then lean towards a qualification in urban development.

There are, fortunately, several geography courses which could earn you a bachelor’s degree and place you where you’d ideally like to be!

If you consider urban and regional planning, you could work as a private contractor or for the government to guide cities to utilise their land and resources effectively. You would also advise your city on environmental concerns and plan where a new school and roads should be built.

A Geography Degree Qualifies You for Other Work Too

If you are concerned about sustainability and conservation, it will please you to know that the notion of urban studies leans heavily towards these concepts!

What if a cartography course is included in your geography syllabus?

Most people deem this field as the prime task of a geography. It is indeed so that your work will involve maps, possibly, for local government, for transport and communications systems and for atlases.

Should you find this kind of work irresistible, you would, in all probability, travel extensively … with a surveyor.

Let’s assume that you’ve been appointed to draw a map of Gauteng. Locating and identifying that line must be accurately done. Thus, a professionally-trained person would be needed. A surveyor would need to accompany you on your travels.

If you're not interested in travel, how about becoming a geographic information systems (GIS) specialist? These systems utilise technology to collect, model and manage geographic data. For the most part, you be office-bound, constructing databases of co-ordinates and bringing together satellite images.

Further aspects of your work, would involve creating maps for education courses and conducting spatial analysis.

You could even, later on, get involved in field work as a geographical information systems specialist as this would definitely fall within the scope of your job description.

If you are concerned about sustainability and conservation, it will please you to know that the notion of urban studies leans heavily towards these concepts! Geography degree jobs would also include working as a teacher, lecturer or private tutor or in the fields of human- and environmental geography. yOu can find more information about the hourly rates of Geography tutors here.

Education requirements

There is a severe shortage of teachers for non-core subjects, including geography, in South Africa’s schools.

Since that is the case, maybe you’ve decided on applying for one of the many geography teaching jobs.

The required minimum education requirements, are somewhat higher for teachers of the humanities than for someone who is employed in natural resource management. You have to, not only do your coursework, but also gain the knowledge and skills which a teacher requires.

young child reading a map in a field
A degree in geography could lead you in multiple directions.⎪ Source: Unsplash

Where can geography classes customised for future-orientated classroom leadership be found?

Qualifying to teach a subject like geography shouldn’t scare you off, because you would be granted the opportunity to lead a research project and publish your findings, if you taught at post-graduate level.

Since the topic is writing …

Right now, there is a great demand for science graduates to write convincing articles. e.g. on life on the shoreline or, maybe, even travel.

Well-researched articles are sought after by science publications. They support analytical reporting of the environmental change in distant locations.

Science publications, online and in print, always welcome well-researched contributions; they encourage analytical reporting of distant locations’ natural environmental change!

The number of careers in geography are numerous, so you’ll really be spoilt for choice. They include:

·      environmental consultant

·      cartographer

·      town planner

·      recycling officer
·      geographical information systems officer

·      conservation officer

·      landscape architect

There are also a large number of geology jobs available. Some of them are:

  • Drilling engineer
  • Environmental consultant
  • Environmental engineer
  • Minerals surveyor
  • Quarry manager
  • Sustainability consultant.

One exciting aspect of this line of work may even expose you to analysing rocks brought to earth from other planets? How does that sound?

You can, of course, also choose the popular fields of climatology and meteorology as your chosen career path or the less visible geographic information science.

You may be still be busy studying at whatever level. However, one thing is abundantly clear: to find employment in any of the above fields, you have to, of necessity, study geography.

Calling all adventurers: get a move on with those studies and uncover where you can reach a geography tutor to help you accelerate your learning.

Need a Geography teacher?

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Trevor

Career teacher turned writer. Passionate about family, running, and the great outdoors.