The Department of Geography is a leader in the field of geography and offers exceptional opportunities for graduate education. The department has been consistently rated as one of the best in the country and for over 100 years has been the training ground for generations of geographers. The department's strength is reflected in its ability to attract top-caliber students, compete for significant research funding, and publish foundational scholarly work. The department maintains strength across the full spectrum of subfields within the discipline and is organized into four major thematic areas: physical geography and earth system science, people and environment, human geography, and cartography/GIS.

Department faculty and graduate students represent a diverse community within which a wide range of perspectives, approaches, and research strategies are accommodated. The faculty has long been recognized nationally and internationally for outstanding contributions to geography and beyond. Many graduate students have gone on to prominence within government, industry, and academia, and some of the most influential names in geography received their training in Madison.

The department offers two masters of science in geography (thesis option): a master of science in geography and a master of science in cartography and geographic information systems.

Graduate students at the MS level are expected to acquire a broad foundation in geography in addition to specializing in one or more areas of concentration. Students who earn the MS (Thesis) degree are prepared to continue on for the PhD or for positions in government agencies, planning organizations, environmental agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and private industry.

The department takes in roughly 10–15 new graduate students each year. In recent years, about half of all incoming graduate students have completed an undergraduate major in a subject other than geography.


Housed in historic Science Hall, the Department of Geography offers exceptional facilities for advanced study in geography, cartography, and GIS. The department maintains the University Cartographic Laboratory, the Arthur Robinson Map and Air Photo Library, a computer lab, several computer classrooms, and laboratory facilities specializing in biogeography, biogeochemistry, paleoecology, geomorphology, and soil research. In addition, the building houses the Wisconsin State Cartographer's Office, the History of Cartography Project, and the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.

Graduate students may supplement their work in the geography department with study in other departments of the university, and there are frequent opportunities for advanced work in interdepartmental seminars. The location of the state capital at Madison makes possible easy contact with state agencies and some federal agencies.


Please consult the table below for key information about this degree program’s admissions requirements. The program may have more detailed admissions requirements, which can be found below the table or on the program’s website.

Graduate admissions is a two-step process between academic programs and the Graduate School. Applicants must meet the minimum requirements of the Graduate School as well as the program(s). Once you have researched the graduate program(s) you are interested in, apply online.

Fall Deadline December 15
Spring Deadline The program does not admit in the spring.
Summer Deadline The program does not admit in the summer.
GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) Not required.
English Proficiency Test Every applicant whose native language is not English, or whose undergraduate instruction was not exclusively in English, must provide an English proficiency test score earned within two years of the anticipated term of enrollment. Refer to the Graduate School: Minimum Requirements for Admission policy: https://policy.wisc.edu/library/UW-1241.
Other Test(s) (e.g., GMAT, MCAT) n/a
Letters of Recommendation Required 3

Breadth Requirements

This program requires students to have taken coursework in several areas of Geography to show breadth of knowledge in the field. Most students have completed the coursework for the breadth requirements prior to entering the program. Typically, these courses are not seminars. Students must have completed the equivalent of one undergraduate-level course in each subarea (Physical Geography and Earth System Science, Human Geography, People-Environment Geography, Cartography/GIS). Students who begin the program lacking one or more of the breadth courses are expected to complete such coursework during the master’s program. One course taken for breadth can also be used to fulfill degree requirements.


Graduate School Resources

Resources to help you afford graduate study might include assistantships, fellowships, traineeships, and financial aid. Further funding information is available from the Graduate School. Be sure to check with your program for individual policies and restrictions related to funding.

Program Resources

See "How Does Funding Work?" at the Geography Master's FAQ.

Minimum Graduate School Requirements

Review the Graduate School minimum academic progress and degree requirements, in addition to the program requirements listed below.

Major Requirements

Mode of Instruction

Face to Face Evening/Weekend Online Hybrid Accelerated
Yes No No No No

Mode of Instruction Definitions

Accelerated: Accelerated programs are offered at a fast pace that condenses the time to completion. Students typically take enough credits aimed at completing the program in a year or two.

Evening/Weekend: ​Courses meet on the UW–Madison campus only in evenings and/or on weekends to accommodate typical business schedules.  Students have the advantages of face-to-face courses with the flexibility to keep work and other life commitments.

Face-to-Face: Courses typically meet during weekdays on the UW-Madison Campus.

Hybrid: These programs combine face-to-face and online learning formats.  Contact the program for more specific information.

Online: These programs are offered 100% online.  Some programs may require an on-campus orientation or residency experience, but the courses will be facilitated in an online format.

Curricular Requirements

Minimum Credit Requirement 30 credits
Minimum Residence Credit Requirement 16 credits
Minimum Graduate Coursework Requirement 15 credits must be graduate-level coursework. Refer to the Graduate School: Minimum Graduate Coursework (50%) Requirement policy: https://policy.wisc.edu/library/UW-1244.
Overall Graduate GPA Requirement 3.00 GPA required. Refer to the Graduate School: Grade Point Average (GPA) Requirement policy: https://policy.wisc.edu/library/UW-1203.
Other Grade Requirements n/a
Assessments and Examinations A formal thesis is required.
Language Requirements No language requirement.

Required Courses

Core Courses
GEOG 765 Geographical Inquiry and Analysis: An Introduction1
GEOG 766 Geographical Inquiry and Analysis: Techniques3
Two geography graduate courses numbered 300 and above 16
Two geography seminars numbered 900 with two different core or affiliate Geography faculty members. See list of options below.6
Additional Coursework14
In consultation with advisor, complete coursework to reach the minimum of 30 credit requirement.
Total Credits30

One course can double count for breadth. Exclusive of seminars.

Geography Seminars

GEOG 900 Seminar in Geography1-3
GEOG 901 Seminar in Cultural Geography2-3
GEOG 918 Seminar in Political Geography2-3
GEOG 920 Seminar in Physical Geography1-3
GEOG 930 Seminar in People-Environment Geography2-3
GEOG 970 Seminar in Geographic Information Science1-3
GEOG/​A A E/​ANTHRO/​C&E SOC/​HISTORY/​LACIS/​POLI SCI/​PORTUG/​SOC/​SPANISH  982 Interdepartmental Seminar in the Latin-American Area1-3
GEOG/​AFRICAN/​ANTHRO/​ECON/​HISTORY/​POLI SCI  983 Interdepartmental Seminar in African Studies Topics3

Graduate School Policies

The Graduate School’s Academic Policies and Procedures provide essential information regarding general university policies. Program authority to set degree policies beyond the minimum required by the Graduate School lies with the degree program faculty. Policies set by the academic degree program can be found below.

Major-Specific Policies

Prior Coursework

Graduate Credits Earned at Other Institutions

With program approval, students are allowed to count no more than 6 credits of graduate coursework from other institutions. Coursework earned ten or more years prior to admission to a master’s degree or doctoral degree is not allowed to satisfy requirements.

Undergraduate Credits Earned at Other Institutions or UW-Madison

No credits from a UW–Madison undergraduate degree are allowed to count toward the degree.

Credits Earned as a Professional Student at UW-Madison (Law, Medicine, Pharmacy, and Veterinary careers)

Refer to the Graduate School: Transfer Credits for Prior Coursework policy.

Credits Earned as a University Special Student at UW–Madison

With program approval, students are allowed to count no more than 6 credits of graduate coursework as defined above taken as a UW–Madison Special student. Coursework earned ten or more years prior to admission to a master’s degree or doctoral degree is not allowed to satisfy requirements.


The Department of Geography expects graduate students to progress through a sequence of benchmarks within prescribed time periods. These benchmarks constitute a reasonable rate of accomplishment for full-time students holding teaching or research appointments. The department recognizes that individual circumstances vary, and not all students progressing toward their academic goals will hit the benchmarks exactly. Thus a student’s progress is considered unsatisfactory only after a period of time elapses following an unmet benchmark. A student not making satisfactory progress is placed on probation. For detailed information about these benchmarks and triggers for probationary status, see the department’s Criteria for Satisfactory Progress.

Advisor / Committee

The chair (or co-chair) of a master's student's committee is the student's advisor. This individual must be graduate faculty in Geography or affiliated with Geography. The committee must have at least three members, two of whom must be graduate faculty (or former graduate faculty up to one year after resignation/retirement). Two of the three members must be affiliated with the Geography Department. The third member may be a qualified individual from within or outside UW-Madison. Inclusion of committee members who are not UW-Madison graduate faculty must be approved by the student's advisor. 

Credits Per Term Allowed

15 credits

Time Limits

For program-specific time limits, please see Probation Policy above.  Refer to the Graduate School: Time Limits policy.

Grievances and Appeals

These resources may be helpful in addressing your concerns:

Students should contact the department chair or program director with questions about grievances. They may also contact the L&S Academic Divisional Associate Deans, the L&S Associate Dean for Teaching and Learning Administration, or the L&S Director of Human Resources.



Professional Development

Graduate School Resources

Take advantage of the Graduate School's professional development resources to build skills, thrive academically, and launch your career. 

Learning Outcomes

  1. Articulates, critiques, or elaborates the concepts, theories, methods, and/or approaches to design and inquiry in Geography.
  2. Identifies sources, assembles evidence, and/or builds justification for addressing questions or challenges in Geography.
  3. Demonstrates understanding of Geography in a historical, social, global, and/or technological context.
  4. Selects and/or utilizes the most appropriate methods, technological solutions, and practices to address challenges in Geography.
  5. Analyzes, synthesizes, and evaluates information pertaining to questions or challenges in Geography and related fields.
  6. Communicates clearly in written, verbal, and visual ways appropriate to Geography.
  7. Demonstrates state-of-the-art technical skills relevant to future careers.
  8. Recognizes and applies principles of ethical and professional conduct expected in Geography.



Department Chair: John (Jack) Williams

Professors: Ian Baird, Erika Marin-Spiotta, Joseph Mason, Lisa Naughton, Kristopher Olds, Morgan Robertson, Robert Roth, Matthew Turner, John (Jack) Williams, Keith Woodward, A-Xing Zhu

Associate Professors: Song Gao, Asligül Göçmen, Qunying Huang, Jenna Loyd, Sarah Moore, Stephen Young

Assistant Professors: Christian Andresen, Ken Keefover-Ring, Bill Limpisathian, Almita Miranda, Jonathan Nelson