Geography Degree Programs

Blue map of the world with network of nodes connceted across land areas

Geography is the study of people and place. It is a wide-ranging discipline. Geographers are interested in how natural processes, people and systems are affected by the specifics of a place—location in the world, topography, weather and climate, the built environment and human interactions and interventions in space and place. In the Department of Geography and Spatial Sciences, students learn about the many fields within geography and build the skills to apply them to real-world problems and situations.

Broadly, there are three main fields within geography: physical geography, human geography, and geographic information systems and science. Our department has strong programs in all three areas, led by faculty conducting research in the field and mentoring students, both undergraduate and graduate.

Graduate Degree Programs

Graduate studies in Geography at UD lead to Master of Arts (M.A.), Master of Science (M.S.) degree and the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in Geography. A required, original research thesis or dissertation is the capstone achievement of every degree program.

Human geography students in the M.A. or the Ph.D. in Geography study one of several aspects of human, cultural, or environmental geography. Physical geography students in the M.S. or the Ph.D. in Geography pursue topics in physical geography, including land-surface processes, ecohydrology, and cryosphere and climate studies, and the interactions among those areas. Some students focus on geographic information science (GIS), including mapping, remote sensing, and cartographic data analysis. Any of the degrees in Geography may encompass topics that cross into both the human and physical environment and their interactions.

Our students are expected to acquire expertise as needed to be self-sufficient in the methods required for their research. This may require courses or individualized study in remote sensing, cartography, qualitative and/or quantitative analysis, ethnographic methods, archival research, use of electronics and instrumentation, mathematics, statistics, numerical methods, or computer programming.

The goal of our masters program has been to prepare our graduate students for admittance to Ph.D. programs here and elsewhere, or for meaningful employment in the private or public sector and in K–12 education. A topical thesis is always required.

  • Undergraduate grade-point-average of 2.75 or more
  • The program neither requires nor accepts GRE scores.
  • International students must submit an English language test, such as TOEFL or IELTS, or a waiver.
  • Admission is selective and competitive based on the number of well-qualified applicants and the limits of available faculty and facilities.

Those who meet stated minimum academic requirements are not guaranteed admission, nor are those who fail to meet those requirements necessarily precluded from admission if they offer other appropriate strengths. The department will consider qualified applicants without previous background in geography, although additional preliminary work may be required.

  • Students in either the Master of Arts or Master of Science program complete at least 24 course credits. (The special thesis research courses, 868 and 869, are not counted in these 24 credits.)
  • Graduate students entering a Geography graduate degree program for the first time are expected to take GEOG600, which primarily serves as an introduction to this department, to the nature of a thesis, and to graduate study and professional geography in general.
  • The only other required course is a methods course in the student's area of specialization. Oherwise, the advisory committee determines whether a given suite of courses sufficiently prepares a student for the master’s thesis. Early and regular consultation with an adviser is necessary for planning each student’s curriculum.
  • Each student must complete a research thesis. This requires at least six credits of GEOG869 Master’s Thesis. These credits are over and above the 24 credits of regular courses required. All six credits may be taken at once or, more commonly, they may be taken a few credits at a time during more than one semester.  
  • All students will propose a research project, conduct research and data analysis, and complete a master’s thesis.
  • The thesis must have standard components of academic writing including, but not limited to: an introduction, background and context for the topic; a literature review; methods and methodology; analysis and discussion.
  • The purpose of the thesis is to demonstrate that the student can conduct original research under supervision and communicate the results clearly in English.
  • The thesis will be defended in a public presentation held in the department. The presentation should be not more than 30-minutes in length. The public will have opportunity to ask questions. The committee will also ask questions as part of the public defense and will determine if the thesis is ready for submission.

For more information on degree requirements, visit the UD Course Catalog and review the current Department of Geography & Spatial Sciences graduate policies.


The goal of our Ph.D. program has been primarily to prepare students for academic careers in higher education and research, but this has not been the only career track chosen by our graduates. Students are expected to acquire general knowledge of the discipline of geography, specialized knowledge of a topical area of research, and technical skills needed to carry out independent research in the topical area.

  • The program neither requires nor accepts GRE scores.
  • International students must submit an English language test, such as TOEFL or IELTS, or a waiver.
  • The undergraduate record will be examined, but the focus in Ph.D. admission is on the quality of work at the master’s level.
  • Most Ph.D. students enter from master’s programs in geography, geology, atmospheric sciences, oceanography or environmental science. Students from other related disciplines are encouraged to apply, and students who are not sure of the appropriateness of their background are encouraged to consult with the Chair or a faculty member in the area of interest before applying.
  • All applicants will be judged on the basis of both the quality and the range of their education, and the topical compatibility with areas of research by potential advisers.
  • Applicants must demonstrate their preparation in methodological techniques appropriate to their particular interests. Additional preparation may be required following admission and prior to undertaking a research program.
  • For any graduate admission, but especially for the Ph.D.s, the applicant's research interests must show topical compatibility with research areas of potential advisers.
  • Students must complete a minimum of 12 course credits. At least 9 course credits must be completed in the department (or outside courses in a related discipline that are approved by the advisor and the Graduate Director). Courses outside the department can be used to fulfill the remaining 3 credits.
  • In their first year of the program, all incoming students who are new to the department are required to enroll in GEOG600 – Prelude to Geography (3 credits). Students are also required to take one methods course in their skill area (3 credits). Other necessary courses will be determined by the degree audit conducted by the Graduate Director, if new to the department, and/or in conversation with their PhD Committee Chair.
  • Each student must complete a dissertation based on original research. Each student is required to enroll in at least 9 credits of GEOG969 – Doctoral Dissertation.

Each student will conduct original research and will write a dissertation. The format of the dissertation may be a monograph or may follow a paper model.
Monograph Model Requirements: In the case of the monograph, the student should work closely with their advisor to draft a dissertation that can later be revised for an academic press. It is not a requirement of the monograph model that any dissertation paper be published prior to the defense. However, recognizing that publishing research is a critical component of being a researcher at an R1 institution, students must publish at least one paper (from the Master’s research or their PhD work) as part of their requirements for conferral of the PhD.

Paper Model Requirements: In order for the student to successfully complete the dissertation, at least three journal articles must be written. Students must send each paper to the committee for feedback prior to submission. The committee will advise the student on journal selection. The following conditions must be satisfied regarding these journal articles:

  1. Paper 1 must be accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.
  2. Paper 2 must be under review for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.
  3. Paper 3 must be completed, although it does not yet have to be submitted.

For the dissertation itself, these papers must be combined in a document with an introduction and conclusion to the overall work presented in these papers.

All PhD students must pass written and oral examinations to advance to candidacy. The written comprehensive exam consists of questions related to the sub-discipline, methods and methodology, topic and/or region of the student’s work. The purpose of the exam is to demonstrate the student’s expertise in their field. The exam committee is comprised of the internal (Geography) members of the dissertation committee. In consultation with their chair, a student can elect to have external committee member(s) sit on their exams committee.

The written exam:

Each departmental committee member will submit at least three questions to the committee chair. The guidelines for the written portion of the exam are as follows:

  • There will be three sections of the exam; each section will have three questions. The student must answer at least two questions for each section.
  • Students will have 48 hours to complete each section. Students who have a documented learning disability or for whom English is a second language may receive an additional 24 hours to complete each section of the exam.
  • Each section will be administered one at a time with up to 24 hours (at the discretion of the student) passing before the beginning of the next answer period.
  • The exam is closed-book, open-note. Students may use any notes or materials that are self-generated to support their exam. If a particular tool is necessary for the answering of a question, it may be requested by the student or committee members; its use should be stipulated by the committee chair.
  • Citations should be used (author, year), but exact page numbers are not necessary.
  • All answers should be type-written, double-spaced, use standard font, font-sizing, and margins and be accompanied by a works cited.

The oral exam:

The oral exam will be scheduled within 30 days of the completion of the written exam. It is not open to the public and is between the student and the exam committee. The oral exam is a follow-up on the written exam and is an opportunity for the student to defend and explain their answers. The oral exam should be not more than two hours in length.  

  • The defense will be a public presentation where the candidate will discuss the main objectives and findings of their dissertation research.
  • The presentation should not be more than 45-minutes in length.
  • Following the presentation, the committee and the public will be invited to ask questions. The public question session may last up to one hour. The committee will meet with the candidate in a closed-door session following the public questions and ask additional questions.

For more information on degree requirements, visit the UD Course Catalog and review the current Department of Geography & Spatial Sciences graduate policies.


Faculty Focus Areas

In any graduate program, a student’s adviser provides mentorship and guidance while filling crucial practical roles in their education as well. Success in either a master’s or Ph.D. program requires a student to find a faculty member with an established record of scholarship in the specific research field the student wishes to investigate. Use this categorization of the department’s faculty to help find good potential matches for an adviser.

Questions about climate change, and its causes and implications, are among the central environmental questions of our time, and the climatology faculty are providing key answers to these questions. The climatology faculty research land/ocean/ice– atmosphere interactions, and climate dynamics and variability with a particular emphasis on understanding the role of snow and ice in our climate system. The faculty employ a wide range of models, from cloud scale to climate scale, and use environmental observations including surface, upper air, and satellite data, along with state-of-the-art methods of analysis and modeling to study our climate system.

Faculty and students apply skills collecting and analyzing large environmental data sets to understand and address today’s most pressing topics, such as food security, water shortages, climate change impact and environmental health. In the course of their work, they advance the uses of Geographic Information System (GIS) software, contributing not only their own research findings, but also increased capability for the field.


These topics within human geography seek to explain patterns of differences and commonality across the human-environment interactions, examining both the physical properties of the natural environment and the role that human beliefs, activities and decision-making have in shaping the world around us.


Steps to apply

Step 1

Reach out to CEOE faculty with research interests matching your own to discuss opportunities.

Step 2

Visit the official UD Graduate Admissions homepage.

Step 3

Click the Submit Application link to create an online account. You will receive a temporary account PIN that you can use to create a new password.

Step 4

Start a new application. Fill out your biographical information, select your program of study and follow the on-screen prompts.

Step 5

Once your application is submitted, notify the department graduate program director.

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