So what can you do with a major in geography? Plenty actually.
Say “geography” and the first thing most people associate it with is trivial factoid recall — longest river in the world, capital of Uzbekistan, and so on. A few may associate it with surveying the land, maps, and landforms.
Geography is exciting both as an intellectual pursuit and a career option. It easily connects everything in this world. Why? It deals with all of Earth and everything that happens in the context of Earth, where we live.
Where is something? Why is it there? What is the consequence of it being there? What if it were in some other place? How are things distributed on Earth and how are they connected? These are geography’s major questions.
We use geography every waking moment of our lives when we: buy vegetables, decide whether to wear a sweater, carry an umbrella or not, and so on. When you enjoy those French fries, that tomato soup, that dynamite chilli-filled Andhra lunch, that rice idli for breakfast, and that rava idli for the evening snack … you are enjoying geography also.
Locating a dam, an ATM, retail outlet; navigating an aircraft; defending a country’s borders; trying to resolve the Cauvery dispute, Telengana issue, border disputes with neighbours; trying to understand and control the spread of pandemics (HIV, cholera, malaria, etc.) and a host of other issues demand geographic competency.
Geographic study is some combination of these branches: area studies (study of regions), physical geography (study of landforms, meteorology, resources), human geography (populations, migration, social, cultural and economic issues), geo-informatics (geographic information systems-GIS, global positioning systems-GPS, remote sensing-RS), and cartography (map-making).
Undergraduate geography degrees (BA, B.Sc.) are available in many colleges in India. These are non-specialised and cover a wide range of geographical study. Unfortunately, practical, hands-on, and applications-oriented offerings are very few. Many foreign universities allow you to design an undergraduate / graduate (PG) degree programme best suited to your interests.
At the undergraduate level, identify an area of geography that fascinates you most and then pursue that at your PG level.
Post-graduate degrees include MA/M.Sc and Ph.D. Several universities offer these degrees in India. Even more at this level, foreign universities let you design a programme best suited to your interests.
Very innovative fields in geography that have excellent prospects include: Medical Geography, Climate Change Geography, International Relations, and Regional Development.
View an interview with eminent geographer Dr. Surinder Bhardwaj on studying geography and other questions, at
Careers in geography include a vast number of tracks. Here are some examples: regional / urban planning, diplomacy, resource management (forests, water, petroleum), meteorology, agricultural policy, marketing, politics (just look at voting patterns, castes, water, and agriculture — they are all geographically connected), emergency response services, cartography, trade, and yes, teaching (how else can we provide a good geographic education to our students?).
“Is it lucrative?” is best answered with, “It is as lucrative as your imaginative approach can make it!” Many geographers find excellent careers as consultants, project leaders, and so on. Geographic competence is useful in any career.
Get off the beaten track! Become a geographer and you will find many exciting things you can do, and make a difference for the better! And make some good money, while you are at it!
(For the record: longest river — Nile (6,650km); capital of Uzbekistan — Tashkent)
The writer is Founder, Director of The Indian Institute of Geographical Studies, Bangalore