geography

People often ask, “So you’re a cartographer? Hasn’t everything already been mapped?” No, cartographers are not explorers charting frontiers in an ancient time; we are artists, community organizers, data scientists, visual storytellers, and full-stack web developers. In an era of massive data sets and location-based apps, maps and geospatial data have never been more important, and the UW–Madison Cartography and GIS major covers the conceptual foundations and technical skills needed to harness maps and geospatial data to solve society’s most pressing problems. Courses range from graphic design and web mapping to big data analytics and mobile app development, with all courses having an important laboratory component to work with industry-standard cartography and GIS technology. So, yes, everywhere has been mapped in some form, but in a dynamic world driven by information and technology, cartographers are needed more now than ever to help us understand our changing planet.

Exploring the field of geographic information science 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 in geographic information science:

Students who intend to declare their major as cartography and GIS need to schedule an appointment with the geography undergraduate advisor.

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 86th 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

BREADTH

3 courses, 1 each from these areas:

Human Geography (1 course)3
Introduction to Human Geography
Introduction to Human Geography
Revolutions and Social Change
Economic Geography: Locational Behavior
Introduction to the City
International Migration, Health, and Human Rights
Latinx Feminisms: Women's Lives, Work, and Activism
Introduction to Geopolitics
World Regions in Global Context
Geography of Wisconsin
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
Economic Geography
Power, Place, Identity
History of Geographic Thought
People-Environment (1 course)3
Global Environmental Issues
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
Changing Landscapes of the American West
Managing Nature in Native North America
Australia: Environment and Society
People, Wildlife and Landscapes
US Environmental Policy and Regulation
American Environmental History
The Making of the American Landscape
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
Polar Regions and Their Importance in the Global Environment
Landforms and Landscapes of North America
Global Warming: Science and Impacts
Climatic Environments of the Past
Environmental Biogeography
Geography of Wisconsin
Changing Landscapes of the American West
Glacial and Pleistocene Geology
Advanced Paleoecology: Species Responses to Past Environmental Change
Advanced Landform Geography
Soil Geomorphology
Human Transformations of Earth Surface Processes
The Quaternary Period
Past Climates and Climatic Change
Total Credits9

SKILLS, TECHNIQUES & METHODOLOGY

Core Cartography/GIS
GEOG 370 Introduction to Cartography4
GEOG/​ENVIR ST/​F&W ECOL/​G L E/​GEOSCI/​LAND ARC  371 Introduction to Environmental Remote Sensing3
GEOG/​CIV ENGR/​ENVIR ST  377 An Introduction to Geographic Information Systems4
GEOG 378 Introduction to Geocomputing4
Quantitative Methods (1 course)3-4
Quantitative Methods in Geographical Analysis (offered only in spring)
Advanced Quantitative Methods
Introduction to Statistical Methods
Introductory Applied Statistics for Engineers
Introductory Applied Statistics for the Life Sciences
Mathematics Proficiency6
Complete one of the following by Placement or by completing the course
Algebra
and Trigonometry
Algebra and Trigonometry
Total Credits24-25

DEPTH

Two courses7-8
Applications of Geographic Information Systems in Planning
Graphic Design in Cartography
Advanced Geocomputing and Geospatial Big Data Analytics
Geospatial Database Design and Development
Interactive Cartography & Geovisualization
Geospatial Web and Mobile Programming
Environmental Modeling with GIS
GIS Applications
GIS and Spatial Analysis
Total Credits7-8

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

Residence and Quality of Work

  • 2.000 GPA in GEOG and major courses
  • 2.000 GPA on 15 upper-level credits, taken in residence 2
  • 15 credits in GEOG, taken on the UW–Madison campus

Honors in the Major

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

HONORS IN THE CARTOGRAPHY AND GEOGRAPHIC INFORMATION SYSTEMS MAJOR REQUIREMENTS

To earn Honors in the Major in Cartography and GIS, students must satisfy both the requirements for the major (above) and the following additional requirements:

  • Earn a 3.300 overall university GPA
  • Earn a 3.300 GPA for all GEOG courses, and all courses accepted in the major
  • Complete GEOG 578: GIS Applications with a grade of B or better
  • Complete at least one advanced-level course OR 6 credits of honors credits in the major at the 300 level or above
  • Complete a two-semester Senior Honors Thesis in GEOG 681 Senior Honors Thesis and GEOG 682 Senior Honors Thesis, a piece of original research composition, 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. 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.

Sample Four-Year Plan

This Sample Four-Year Plan is a tool to assist students and their advisor(s). Students should use it—along with their DARS report, the Degree Planner, and Course Search & Enroll tools—to make their own four-year plan based on their placement scores, credit for transferred courses and approved examinations, and individual interests. As students become involved in athletics, honors, research, student organizations, study abroad, volunteer experiences, and/or work, they might adjust the order of their courses to accommodate these experiences. Students will likely revise their own four-year plan several times during college.

First Year
FallCreditsSpringCredits
MATH 1123MATH 1133
Communication A3Ethnic Studies4
Foreign Language4Foreign Language4
Humanities Breadth3Literature Breadth3
Elective2 
 15 14
Second Year
FallCreditsSpringCredits
STAT 3013GEOG/​CIV ENGR/​ENVIR ST  3774
GEOG 3704Communication B4
INTER-LS 2101Biological Science Breadth3
Literature Breadth3Elective4
Elective4 
 15 15
Third Year
FallCreditsSpringCredits
GEOG 3784500-level Cartography/GIS Elective4
Major course: Human Geography3-4Biological Science Breadth3
Electives9Humanities Breadth3
 Major course: People-Environment Geography3-4
 16 14
Fourth Year
FallCreditsSpringCredits
GEOG/​ENVIR ST/​F&W ECOL/​G L E/​GEOSCI/​LAND ARC  3713500-level Cartography/GIS Elective4
Major course: Physical Geography4Electives12
GEOG 5653 
Electives5 
 15 16
Total Credits 120

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

Cartography and GIS is a booming profession, but remains one of the biggest secrets on campus because of the limited treatment of geography in K-12 education. The Department of Labor reported that there were 425,000 US residents working in the geospatial industry in 2010, and the National Research Council estimates this could exceed 2 million by 2020. Cartography and GIS recently was rated the #1 profession in engineering, in part due to its extremely low unemployment rate (less than 1% of students with degrees!), strong future growth of the job market, and relatively low-stress rating. Our alumni work in local, national, and international government positions, as well as in private industry, including firms such as Apple, Google, Facebook, and Uber, and media outlets such as National Geographic, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal.

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). In short, SuccessWorks helps students in the College of Letters & Science discover themselves, find opportunities, and develop the skills they need for success after graduation.

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. 

Students should set up their profiles in Handshake to take care of everything they need to explore career events, manage their campus interviews, and apply to jobs and internships from 200,000+ employers around the country.

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