What can you do with a geography degree to impact society?

November 17, 2020 · 6 min read · By ASU Online
At its core, geography focuses on the physical features of the earth and its atmosphere. Careers in geography include climate change analysts, environmental protection specialists, environmental restoration planners, geographic information systems (GIS) analysts and soil scientists. Individuals within these careers are the people who report on the impact of humans on the planet or the impact of the environment on people. As an aspiring student, you may choose to pursue a Bachelor of Arts or Bachelor of Science in geography.

The Bachelor of Arts in geography focuses on humans and the natural landscape. Students in this degree program work with information that describes how populations influence places. They also focus on how those same places influence the people who live in them. Graduates go on to work in roles where knowledge of geography’s impact on society, and vice versa, is important.

The Bachelor of Science in geography emphasizes the study of Earth’s physical features. That means mapping and analyzing features like landforms, water and climate. This path lends itself to roles such as cartographer or photogrammetrist.

Geography graduates aren’t limited to only a shortlist of roles. Careers in geography cover many different areas. Some traditional geography-centric positions include:

  • Cartographers – collect, review and use geographic data to create maps.
  • Geographers – study terrain, its features and the people who live on it.
  • Photogrammetrists – gather information based on analysis of photos and imaging.


Graduates may also pursue opportunities in the public and private sectors. Job opportunities include analysts and consulting-planning roles that emphasize geography within their job descriptions.

Two program graduates with careers in geography analyze data on a computer.

How do geographers influence economics, environment, health, culture and politics?

Geographers bring a unique perspective to the analysis of economics, environment and culture. Their efforts map connections between physical features and key parts of society. This context helps other professionals make more informed decisions and helps support their goals. Geography’s role in this process includes:

  • Discouraging or encouraging economic activity. For example, an area near a natural harbor can encourage imports and exports.
  • Helping create specific environments. Terrain, natural barriers and other geographic features can influence ecosystems and biodiversity.
  • Impacting political action. For instance, a location may be more or less useful for a government project due to its geography. Geographic features may also involve special laws or protections. A legislature may deem a given area a national park or wildlife preserve.
  • Influencing the development of specific cultures. For example, the presence of natural resources and barriers can influence cultural practices, including traditional occupations and cuisine.
  • Informing health care strategy. Geographic information can help identify underserved areas.


Careers in geography influence broader society in direct and indirect ways. This is true for graduates of both the Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science programs in this field.


Geography’s unique role in politics

Geography can have a major effect on politics. Local terrain may impact the suitability of a location for a new government facility. The presence or absence of such projects can improve or impair a local economy. Government regulations tied to natural resources can also influence political priorities. Politics is another field where geographers may find opportunities to leverage their expertise.

The peer-reviewed scientific journal PLOS ONE highlighted geography’s influence on political identity. Location can influence political positions about issues with a significant geographic connection. Consider support for an important local industry. A local resident may support a type of business despite the political party they identify with opposing it.


Geography impacts individual and population health

Geography has a broad connection to health and patient outcomes. The National Cancer Institute said geography plays a key role in risk factors and care. For example, geography can influence:

  • Access to health services – certain areas may provide many or few choices for receiving care.
  • Built and social environment – an area may offer helpful resources like easy access to healthy foods or lack thereof.
  • Environmental exposure – pollution from heavy industry could cause related health issues.


Geographers can help identify issues that make access to care more difficult. This information assists medical and public health workers. Those professionals can then devise specific strategies for better connecting with affected groups. Work can also involve reviewing risk factors related to geography. That includes considerations like polluted lakes and rivers. Analysis related to physical environments leans on the core element of geography.

The Bachelor of Arts in geography degree

Careers in geography for Bachelor of Arts graduates often focus on human geography. This describes the influence of humans on the physical landscape and vice versa.

A Bachelor of Arts in geography can equip you to connect people, places and culture. Understanding natural features and how humans may alter them offers valuable insight into:

  • Development of cultural practices.
  • Localized health issues.
  • Political priorities and leanings.
  • Transportation concerns and the flow of goods and services.


An arts degree in this discipline may also involve a foreign language component. Degree holders can then find jobs for geography majors across the globe. Graduates may seek out roles in the U.S. State Department. They may also work with organizations operating in foreign nations. Combining cultural understanding and geographic knowledge can be especially valuable in these positions.

Possible examples of major professional goals and objectives may include:

  • Building knowledge of geography’s impact on culture and vice versa.
  • Developing stronger cross-cultural understanding and appreciation.
  • Solving area-specific problems with a geographic component.


The Bachelor of Science in geography degree

The Bachelor of Science in geography generally focuses on Earth’s physical features. Graduates document and analyze core characteristics like climate, landforms, plants, water and weather.

Students in this program also learn about related social and environmental science dynamics. One key element is the role of the Earth’s physical features on economic patterns. Geography’s impact on local or regional populations and transportation is another element.

There are many career options for program graduates. Their knowledge and abilities have a variety of applications in the modern economy. Graduates can find roles in many levels of government. They may also work for consulting firms and a variety of businesses. Jobs for geography majors who graduate with this degree include:

  • Cartographer.
  • Environmental impact analyst.
  • Geographic information system (GIS) specialist and analyst.
  • Hydrology and water resource specialist.


Students who earn a Bachelor of Science in geography have many goals and objectives such as:

  • Building more accurate and useful maps and databases for widespread or specific use.
  • Creating a greater understanding of the physical world that surrounds and supports society.
  • Identifying and mitigating existing and potential environmental hazards with a geographic component.


Taking the next step toward careers in geography with ASU Online

The Bachelor of Arts in geography helps you learn about people, places and culture. It also builds foreign language competencies that are crucial for international work. The Bachelor of Science in geography develops knowledge of Earth’s physical features. You will also learn how social and environmental science play into geographic work. Both tracks allow you to pursue roles that can help to create change in society.

ASU Online provides two valuable options for students interested in a geography-centered career. The School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning helps students pursue their passion for geography. Through the school, students can develop the abilities needed to compete for relevant positions.

ASU Online — Geography (BS) Fact Sheet (offline document)
ASU Online — Geography (BA) Fact Sheet (offline document)
Geographers by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Cartographers and Photogrammetrists by U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Why Spatial Context Matters by the National Cancer Institute
The Political Reference Point: How Geography Shapes Political Identity by PLoS ON

A geographer sitting down outside near a river accessing data from his laptop.


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