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Geographers salary & career outlook

Geographers use their expert knowledge of cultures and landscapes around the world to guide public policy or business strategy. They research the land, its characteristics and its inhabitants to form holistic views of regions that can help governments, businesses or organizations understand how different aspects of people and place interact. With faster than average job growth projected by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2012), geographers could face good employment opportunities in the coming decade.

A closer look at geographers

Geographers are social scientists trained to collect and interpret data about a region's physical and cultural features. They often work in the field conducting interviews and surveying the land with maps and geographic information system (GIS) technology. Geographers may specialize in physical or cultural geography; physical geographers focus on the land's natural resources, while cultural geographers analyze human activities related to the economy, environment, city life, politics or health care.

Geographer salary: 2011 earnings profile

Geographers were earning a national average annual wage of $74,170 as of May 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov, 2012). The top 10 percent nationally commanded a six-figure geography salary in 2011, earning up to $50 per hour. The federal government is the top employer in the field, paying a national annual average salary of $77,920, according to bls.gov. Meanwhile, bls.gov highlights that the top-paying industry is scientific research and development services, which pays a national average annual wage of $91,370.

Region impacts geographer salary potential. New York and Virginia are among the top employers of geographers, and also pay the highest average salaries. According to bls.gov, geographers in New York earned a $89,970 average annual salary, while their colleagues in Virginia earned an average annual wage of $86,300.

Some of the best earning opportunities for geographers can be found in regions with a high salary relative to the cost of living. Economically advantageous cities for geographers could include:

  • Austin, Texas: Austin's low 96.7 rating on the ACCRA Cost of Living Index is paired with a bls.gov average annual salary estimate of $61,590.
  • Denver, Colo.: Denver offers the winning combination of an average ACCRA 103 cost of living score and a bls.gov annual average salary of $78,360.
  • Charleston, S.C.: With a below-average ACCRA rating of 99.6, Charleston's bls.gov ranking as the 7th highest-paying metropolitan area makes its $40,920 annual average salary something to consider.

Preparing for a career with geographer training online

Geographer schools can offer students the credentials and training required to develop a career in the field. A bachelor's degree in geography with training in geographical information systems technology is sufficient for some entry-level jobs, according to blsgov. But most jobs -- particularly those in the private sector -- often require a master's degree in geography. Some employers prefer or require certification in GIS technology through the GIS Certification Institute. Meanwhile, top research positions may target candidates with a Ph.D. in geography. Geographer training online offers accessible degree programs at all levels, with courses offered in both human and physical geography, statistics, research techniques, remote sensing and GIS.

Career outlook for geographers

Geographers can look forward to a projected job growth of 35 between the 2010 to 2020 period, forecasts bls.gov. This rate is much faster than average for all occupations, accounting for about 600 new jobs in this relatively small field. The scientific and professional services industry will drive growth in the field, as businesses concerned with sustainability enlist geographers to advise them on land use or environmental impact.

Geography careers offer the allure of interesting work, valuable public service, and opportunity, with relatively high salary potential. Geographer training online can help you get your bearings in this growing career.