A Ph.D. in geography requires years of academic study -- first in college, and then in graduate school. You'll also have to complete a dissertation presenting new research to the geography field. If geography is your passion, though, the work and cost of tuition may pay off in the form of a rewarding career and a vast knowledge of geography.
Geographers who pursue graduate-level studies typically earn more than people with just a bachelor's degree. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in 2013 that a Ph.D. recipient has median weekly earnings of $1,624 -- an amount that equates to $29,016 more in annual earnings than you'd get with a bachelor's degree. The median annual salary of all geographers -- including those who only completed college -- is $72,800.
Increased Research and Educational Opportunities
A Ph.D. in geography offers more research and educational opportunities. You'll take geography classes, and may be able to choose a specific area of concentration. At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, for example, geography students can specialize in topics such as biophysical geography and geographic information and analysis. You'll also have to prove your expertise. At Pennsylvania State University, Ph.D. candidates in geography take a verbal candidacy exam, a written knowledge exam, and construct and defend a dissertation.
If you want to teach geography at the college level, a Ph.D. can help you achieve your goal. You'll also have more opportunities to perform and head research studies with a doctorate. You might also work as a meteorologist, environmental consultant, cartographer, urban planner, geography writer or climatologist. While not all geography careers require a Ph.D., your degree serves as evidence of your expertise and training.
Weighing Costs and Benefits
A Ph.D. in geography can be costly, and the additional time spent in school might mean a delay in your career. Evaluate whether you need a Ph.D. for the career you want, and consider enrolling half-time if you're concerned about quitting your job. You'll also need to check employment statistics for the school you've chosen and select a school that provides plenty of career and research opportunities.
2016 Salary Information for Geographers
Geographers earned a median annual salary of $74,260 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, geographers earned a 25th percentile salary of $57,210, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $90,120, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 1,500 people were employed in the U.S. as geographers.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Geographers -- Pay
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Employment Projections
- University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Geography -- Graduate Program
- Portland State University: What Can I Do With a Degree in Geography?
- Pennsylvania State University: Four-Year Ph.D. in Geography
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Geographers
- Career Trend: Geographers
Van Thompson is an attorney and writer. A former martial arts instructor, he holds bachelor's degrees in music and computer science from Westchester University, and a juris doctor from Georgia State University. He is the recipient of numerous writing awards, including a 2009 CALI Legal Writing Award.