One of the most important decisions faced by college students is choosing a major or minor area of study, which invites another level of intense debate and professional discernment. From the testimony of a recent alumnus, gainfully employed, undergraduates should consider geography.
First, students should know what geography actually is. It is not states and capitals (though they are important) or mapmaking (though geographers do love maps). According to the American Association of Geographers, the leading professional organization of geographers in North America, geographers are concerned with everything from “the spatial aspects of human existence” to “patterns of climates, landforms, vegetation, soils and water.”
Second, we should address what every undergraduate student is increasingly worried about: jobs. The Houston Chronicle listed professionalism, good communication, interpersonal and teamwork abilities and ethics among its list of positive characteristics for a job interview. Geography provides comprehensive training in all of these areas.
As spatial thinkers, geographers are keenly aware of networks of theory and practice, embedding teamwork (or, perhaps better, community) within the core of our discipline. Our involvement in human progress necessarily concerns us with ethics. As the purveyors of spatial analysis, we are on the frontlines of communication as we synthesize spatial information and analyses into easily digestible visual and textual exposés. As we navigate between sub-disciplines and beyond the halls of our own department, geographers work closely with more senior cohorts to gain important professional experience.
But jobs aren’t everything. Undoubtedly, some students attend the university to have a strong resume item for their professional careers. Others attend simply for the joy of learning—to understand more about the world in which we live and to contribute to the important research that guides decision-making at all levels. Geography is equally helpful in this regard.
As previously mentioned, geography bridges the gap between other areas of study. Human geography involves understandings of political science, sociology, human psychology, economics and philosophy. Physical geography requires its practitioners to be familiar with biology, ecology, geology, chemistry and physics. These categories aren’t exclusive, however. Geography’s subfields, such as political ecology, synthesize important earth science concepts with human implications and social processes. This provides the budding academic a breadth of knowledge not known to all fields, opening many doors to advanced study within and outside of the formal academic institution.
Approaching this impressive discipline can seem daunting. Speaking from experience, however, Texas State’s geography department and its faculty do an excellent job. Undergraduates are introduced to the topic in a way that is engaging and doable, while not losing the invitation to do more. Certainly, as coursework progresses, it becomes less of an invitation and more of a requirement but one that the geographer is ready for after prerequisites.
A major or minor in geography can supplement a resume as easily and effectively as a curriculum vitae. Employers are looking for applicants with diverse skillsets and impressive functional knowledge. As college graduates flood the market of potential employees, choose geography to stand out above the rest—take it from an employed recent graduate.
– Cutter W. González earned his Bachelor of Science in geography from Texas State University in 2017 and is now a policy analyst at the Armstrong Center for Energy and the Environment at Texas Public Policy Foundation.