A Deep Dive into College Majors: Human Geography

Wave Learning Festival
4 min readJul 20, 2021

By Mihika Vyas, Press & Written Media Team

What does it mean to major in human geography?

Just about every time I tell somebody that one of the double majors I am pursuing is human geography, I am promptly asked to explain what the study of the field entails. Since “geography” as a discipline is so broad in scope, it is divided into five specialties. Human geography is a subdivision of geography along with physical geography, geographic techniques and regional geography. It is considered to be the branch of geography that is associated with humans and their relationships with communities, cultures, economies and the environment, by means of studying their relationships. That means this field is primarily concerned with the dispersal of people and cultures on the Earth’s surface. For example, human geographers might study how individuals or communities use and alter their environment. If the geographer where to look into the practice of overgrazing, the impact of overgrazing on the environment as well as agricultural production would be a viable area of study. Human geographers also examine the ways in which political, social and economic systems are organized across a geographical space. This would include governmental and authoritative institutions, religious organizations and trade partnerships.

Since 1945, human geography has included five main divisions — economic, social, cultural, political and historical geography. While these categories all represent concerns with different forms of human activity, the first four specifically reflect areas of contemporary life and the social science disciplines that geographers interact with. In the mid- to late-20th century, these five spheres have shifted to include focuses in types of areas such as urban regions.

Potential career paths:

In general, a large number of careers related to geography require further study. This would mean that you will need to pursue either a masters or a PhD (or even both!). In fact, based on a study conducted in 2008, 19% of geography students retired to specialize in fields such as meteorology, environmental management and oceanography within six months of graduating. Meanwhile, careers in urban planning, surveying and teaching may necessitate further study.

With that being said, here is a short list of potential careers you could seek after completing a bachelor’s degree in human geography.

  1. Community Outreach Coordinator in NGOs
  2. Sustainability Coordinator in Corporations
  3. Mapping/Data Analyst in Planning/Construction
  4. GIS Analyst in Transportation Services
  5. Development Worker in Non-Profits
  6. Natural and Cultural Heritage Interpreter in Government Services
  7. Tourism Information Officer in Travel Services
  8. Policy Analyst in Municipal Government

Upon completion of further study, geography graduates are supplied with the opportunity of moving in a larger variety of directions career-wise, in that they are able to combine their knowledge of human and environmental activity to engage in areas like town planning, travel and tourism or aspects of environmental protection.

Within the property industry, surveying — with regards to urban general practice or planning and development — is a career option. You could also partake in a career surrounding international aid, logistics, distribution and development. Additionally you might work within local government branches, travel and transport companies, housing, environmental services, sustainability and regeneration and economic development. As mentioned, human geography graduates are skilled in analytical and research skills. In considering this, jobs that include market research, law, finance and accounting could be well-suited for you as well.

Coursework and fields of study you can expect to engage in if you choose to pursue human geography:

Although specific course lectures and topics will differ from colleges and universities, here are some course concepts and subjects you can expect to touch upon in your human geography major!

  1. Factors affecting economic development
  2. Social concerns around the natural environment
  3. Health impacts of various development activities
  4. How to manage megacities?
  5. Land use policies and sustainability
  6. Migration and tourism
  7. Urbanization and poverty

Other things to keep in mind:

Because of how broad this major tends to be, pairing the study of Human Geography with other subjects is something you could look into. For instance, I’ll be double majoring in Human Geography and Peace, Conflict and Justice Studies with a minor in Geographic Information Systems. A geographic information system (GIS) is a computer system that is utilized to capture, store, check and display data related to positions on the Earth’s surface. This software can help individuals better understand spatial patterns and relationships, and attain skills in contemporary spatial analysis. By minoring in GIS, you’d be able to learn methods for spatial data production, analysis and presentation through means of computer cartography, spatial analysis, remote sensing and geo-visualization.

While I have yet to major in the subject, I have taken two courses in my first-year of university study that played a huge role in helping me decide to study human geography. The first was titled “Cities and Urban Life” while the other was “Geographies of Globalization, Development and Inequality”. The first course helped provide me with an understanding of how forces of urbanization, globalization, economic polarization and migration operate in North American cities. The second examined economic growth, social change and environmental changes in global contexts, placing emphasis on concepts like international development, poverty and economic globalization. If you are unsure about your interest in human geography, I would highly recommend taking a few introductory courses in your first year of university, especially since they would also serve as foundations for more advanced courses in urban planning, political geography and the like.

You could also look into combining your major in human geography with a major or minor in other topics that your university might offer, especially since the program’s scope covers an array of different subjects.

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