geography

Geography studies the interaction between people and their environments, including the ways in which people, environments, and their interactions vary from place to place across Earth. Because it is concerned with the character of people and their cultures on the one hand, and with the character of Earth's surface and its resources on the other, it is both a social and a natural science. Being broad and integrative, Geography provides an appropriate foundation for a liberal education. It also provides a base for employment in public or private agencies, both domestic and international, concerned with environmental management, locational analysis, or planning (urban, regional, land use), among other fields.

Exploring the field of geography at UW–Madison is easy. Interested students are strongly encouraged to take introductory courses in the field. The Department of Geography offers four intro courses, each of which surveys one of the four major subareas that comprise the discipline: (1) human geography; (2) people–environment geography; (3) physical geography; (4) and cartography and geographic information science. The four intro classes are:

Students who intend to declare their major in geography must schedule an appointment with the geography undergraduate advisor, Joel Gruley, at jgruley@wisc.edu.

University General Education Requirements

All undergraduate students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison are required to fulfill a minimum set of common university general education requirements to ensure that every graduate acquires the essential core of an undergraduate education. This core establishes a foundation for living a productive life, being a citizen of the world, appreciating aesthetic values, and engaging in lifelong learning in a continually changing world. Various schools and colleges will have requirements in addition to the requirements listed below. Consult your advisor for assistance, as needed. For additional information, see the university Undergraduate General Education Requirements section of the Guide.

General Education
  • Breadth—Humanities/Literature/Arts: 6 credits
  • Breadth—Natural Science: 4 to 6 credits, consisting of one 4- or 5-credit course with a laboratory component; or two courses providing a total of 6 credits
  • Breadth—Social Studies: 3 credits
  • Communication Part A & Part B *
  • Ethnic Studies *
  • Quantitative Reasoning Part A & Part B *

* The mortarboard symbol appears before the title of any course that fulfills one of the Communication Part A or Part B, Ethnic Studies, or Quantitative Reasoning Part A or Part B requirements.

College of Letters & Science Breadth and Degree Requirements: Bachelor of Arts (B.A.)

Students pursuing a bachelor of arts degree in the College of Letters & Science must complete all of the requirements below. The College of Letters & Science allows this major to be paired with either a bachelor of arts or a bachelor of science curriculum. View a comparison of the degree requirements here.

Bachelor of Arts degree requirements

Mathematics Fulfilled with completion of University General Education requirements Quantitative Reasoning a (QR A) and Quantitative Reasoning b (QR B) coursework. Please note that some majors may require students to complete additional math coursework beyond the B.A. mathematics requirement.
Foreign Language
  • Complete the fourth unit of a foreign language; OR
  • Complete the third unit of a foreign language and the second unit of an additional foreign language

Note: A unit is one year of high school work or one semester/term of college work.
L&S Breadth
  • Humanities, 12 credits: 6 of the 12 credits must be in literature
  • Social Sciences, 12 credits
  • Natural Sciences, 12 credits: must include one 3+ credit course in the biological sciences; must include one 3+ credit course in the physical sciences
Liberal Arts and Science Coursework 108 credits
Depth of Intermediate/Advanced work 60 intermediate or advanced credits
Major Declare and complete at least one (1) major
Total Credits 120 credits
UW-Madison Experience 30 credits in residence, overall
30 credits in residence after the 90th credit
Minimum GPAs 2.000 in all coursework at UW–Madison
2.000 in intermediate/advanced coursework at UW–Madison

Non–L&S students pursuing an L&S major

Non–L&S students who have permission from their school/college to pursue an additional major within L&S only need to fulfill the major requirements and do not need to complete the L&S breadth and degree requirements above.  Please note that the following special degree programs are not considered majors so are not available to non–L&S degree-seeking candidates:  

  • Applied Mathematics, Engineering and Physics (Bachelor of Science–Applied Mathematics, Engineering and Physics)
  • Journalism (Bachelor of Arts–Journalism; Bachelor of Science–Journalism)
  • Music (Bachelor of Music)
  • Social Work (Bachelor of Social Work)

Requirements for the Major

Core Requirements for all Major options

30 credits in courses required by the major. All options must complete these core requirements:

BReadth

3 courses, 1 each from these areas:

Human Geography (1 course)3
Introduction to Human Geography
Introduction to Human Geography
Geography of Social Organization
Economic Geography: Locational Behavior
Introduction to the City
Introduction to Geopolitics
World Regions in Global Context
Geography of Wisconsin
Latin America
Europe
Russia and the NIS-Topical Analysis
Africa, South of the Sahara
Human Geography of Southeast Asia
The Making of the American Landscape
Space and Place: A Geography of Experience
Researching the City: Qualitative Strategies
Urban Spatial Patterns and Theories
Historical Geography of European Urbanization
Landscape and Settlement in the North American Past
Economic Geography
Power, Place, Identity
History of Geographic Thought
People–Environment (1 course)3
Living in the Global Environment: An Introduction to People-Environment Geography
Soil: Ecosystem and Resource
People, Land and Food: Comparative Study of Agriculture Systems
Global Warming: Science and Impacts
Nature, Power and Society
Environmental Biogeography
Environmental Conservation
World Regions in Global Context
The American West
Australia: Environment and Society
People, Wildlife and Landscapes
US Environmental Policy and Regulation
American Environmental History
Landscape and Settlement in the North American Past
Human Transformations of Earth Surface Processes
Environmental Governance: Markets, States and Nature
Culture and Environment
The Humid Tropics: Ecology, Subsistence, and Development
Development and Environment in Southeast Asia
Physical Geography (1 course)3
Introduction to the Earth System
Physical Systems of the Environment
Geomorphology
Climatology
Science of Climate Change
Analysis of the Physical Environment
Landforms-Topics and Regions
Landforms and Landscapes of North America
Global Warming: Science and Impacts
Environmental Biogeography
Geography of Wisconsin
The American West
Glacial and Pleistocene Geology
Quaternary Vegetation Dynamics
Advanced Landform Geography
Soil Geomorphology
Human Transformations of Earth Surface Processes
The Quaternary Period
Past Climates and Climatic Change
Total Credits9

Capstone

Complete one of:3-6
Colloquium for Undergraduate Majors
Senior Honors Thesis
and Senior Honors Thesis
Senior Thesis
and Senior Thesis
Total Credits3-6

Named Options

RESIDENCE and QUALITY OF WORK

2.000 GPA in GEOG and major courses
2.000 GPA on 15 upper-level credits, taken in residence 1
15 credits in GEOG, taken on the UW–Madison campus

Honors in the Major

Students may declare Honors in the Geography Major in consultation with the Geography undergraduate advisor.

Honors in the Geography Major Requirements

To earn a B.A. or B.S. with Honors in the Major in Geography students must satisfy both the requirements for the major (above) and the following additional requirements:

  • Earn a 3.300 University GPA
  • Earn a 3.300 GPA in all GEOG courses and major courses
  • At least 1 Advanced level major course or 6 credits in major courses numbered 300 and higher, taken for Honors
  • Complete a two-semester Senior Honors Thesis (GEOG 681 and GEOG 682) for a total of 6 credits.

University Degree Requirements

Total Degree To receive a bachelor's degree from UW–Madison, students must earn a minimum of 120 degree credits. The requirements for some programs may exceed 120 degree credits. Students should consult with their college or department advisor for information on specific credit requirements.
Residency Degree candidates are required to earn a minimum of 30 credits in residence at UW–Madison. "In residence" means on the UW–Madison campus with an undergraduate degree classification. “In residence” credit also includes UW–Madison courses offered in distance or online formats and credits earned in UW–Madison Study Abroad/Study Away programs.
Quality of Work Undergraduate students must maintain the minimum grade point average specified by the school, college, or academic program to remain in good academic standing. Students whose academic performance drops below these minimum thresholds will be placed on academic probation.

1. A broad spectrum of geographical knowledge and skills, as well as a degree of expertise in a specific sub-field of the discipline (Human, People-Environment, Physical, Cart/GIS).

2. Skills in developing and implementing research plans.

3. Critical reasoning and analytical skills.

4. Communication skills—both written and oral.

Advising

Students with questions about the major, courses, and careers are encouraged to contact the geography undergraduate advisor, Joel Gruley, at jgruley@wisc.edu

Careers

Geography is a remarkably interdisciplinary field that spans the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. The types of careers that geography can prepare students for thus reflect this diversity. Geographers work across the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, and typically work in the following fields: environmental policy, conservation, and management; geospatial analysis; urban and transportation planning; economic and community development; food security; historic preservation; environmental hazards management; demography and health; refugees and immigration; digital cartography; journalism; international conflict resolution; tourism.

L&S career resources

SuccessWorks at the College of Letters & Science helps students leverage the academic skills learned in their major, certificates, and liberal arts degree; explore and try out different career paths; participate in internships; prepare for the job search and/or graduate school applications; and network with professionals in the field (alumni and employers).

SuccessWorks can also assist students in career advising, résumé and cover letter writing, networking opportunities, and interview skills, as well as course offerings for undergraduates to begin their career exploration early in their undergraduate career. 

Professors Burt, Cadwallader, Cronon, Downey, Kaiser, Knox, Mason, Naughton, Olds, Ostergren, Turner, Williams, Zhu

Associate Professors Alatout, Dennis

Assistant Professors Baird,  Gibbs, Marin-Spiotta, Ozdogan, Robertson, Roth, Schneider, Woodward, Young