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University Bulletin
Graduate Degree Programs

Geography (GEOG)

Program Home Page (Opens New Window)

CYNTHIA A. BREWER, Head of the Department
302 Walker Building


Degrees Conferred:

Ph.D., M.S.
Dual-Title Graduate Degree (Ph.D.) in Geography and African Studies.


The Graduate Faculty



The Programs

The faculty encourages graduate students to arrange courses of study appropriate to their individual needs and aspirations. Programs in Geography may be directed toward a career in public service, teaching and research, private industry, or one of the many other vocational opportunities open to geographers.

Students typically concentrate their study on topics that fall within the special skills and interests of the faculty. Current specialties include behavioral geography; biogeography; cartography; climatology; cultural geography; feminist geography; geo-computation; geographic education; geographic information science; geography of the developing world; geographic theory; geographic visualization; historical geography; human dimensions of global change; nature and society; political geography; population geography; regional economic development and industrial location; remote sensing; and urban geography.

The M.S. program is broadly based. It is designed to provide beginning graduate students with basic training in systematic fields, geographical theory, and research techniques. Study at the Ph.D. level is also broad in the first year, then becomes more specialized.

Admission Requirements

Scores from the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) are required for admission, as well as a personal statement. Requirements listed here are in addition to general Graduate School requirements stated in the GENERAL INFORMATION section of the Graduate Bulletin.

Students with a 3.00 junior/senior grade-point average (on a 4.00 scale) and with appropriate course work in geography or a related discipline will be considered for admission to the M.S. program or to the five-year PhD program. Applicants with master's degrees from high-quality graduate programs in geography will be considered for admission to the four-year doctoral program. The best-qualified applicants will be admitted up to the number of places that are available for new students. All students must have or must acquire a broad competence in physical geography, human geography, environment and society, GIScience, and analysis methods (qualitative or quantitative).

Baccalaureate students must earn a master's degree before they will be considered for admission to the doctoral program.

Master's Degree Requirements

The M.S. degree may be earned by completing a thesis or two papers. The thesis option requires completion of at least 30 graduate credits. If the two-paper option is elected, the candidate must earn 35 credits of graduate-level work. The master's papers are usually expanded versions of course or semester papers that are of sufficiently high quality that they can be submitted to scholarly journals. At least one of the papers offered to fulfill the M.S. papers requirement must have been written in connection with a departmental course or seminar.

All M.S. students are required to enroll in GEOG 500 Introduction to Geographic Research (3 credits), GEOG 502 Research Scholarship in Geography (3 credits), and at least 3 credits of GEOG 501A, B, C, or D Research Perspectives (1 credit each) during their first year of residence. All M.S. students are required to complete at least one seminar at the 500 level. Supporting courses are chosen in consultation with an entrance committee (in year one) or the adviser (in subsequent years).

Doctoral Degree Requirements

There are three paths to a Ph.D. One is a five-year Ph.D with M.S. degree, which is available to students who enter Penn State Geography’s graduate program without a master’s degree. These students are on an accelerated schedule and earn an M.S. along the way to the Ph.D. The second is a four-year Ph.D., which is available to those students who have already received a master’s degree in another program either at Penn State or at another university. The third is an M.S.-to-Ph.D. path, which is available to Penn State Geography M.S. students who decide either to continue into the Ph.D. program after they have started their master’s program, or to return for the Ph.D. after having graduated with the M.S. Students on this path are not accelerated and therefore will usually require two years to earn the master’s and four years to earn the doctorate.

There is no fixed number of credits; courses are prescribed according to the student's prior experience and academic goals. The Graduate School's communication and foreign language requirement for the Ph.D. degree shall be satisfied in a manner approved by the candidate's doctoral committee.

All doctoral students are required to enroll in GEOG 500 Introduction to Geographic Research (3 credits) and GEOG 502 Research Scholarship in Geography (3 credits) during their first year of residence.

Dual-Title Graduate Degree in African Studies

Geography doctoral students – who are already in the program and who have research and scholarly interests in comparative, sub-regional, national and thematic analyses, environmental change, livelihood systems, socio-economic and political change, and other aspects of African development – may apply to the Dual-Title Doctoral Degree Program in African Studies. The goal of the dual-title program is to enable graduate students from Geography to complement their knowledge and skills in a major area of geographic specialization with in-depth knowledge of prevailing theories and problem-solving approaches to thematic, regional, or national issues pertaining to African Studies.
The dual-title degree program will provide interested Geography doctoral students with a multidisciplinary approach that will enhance their analytical capabilities for addressing key issues in African development and broad aspects of livelihood change. It thereby will add value to their Geography degree and increase their competitiveness in the job market. The well-rounded, regional specialist who graduates from the program is likely to be employed in an international setting. The program has the potential, therefore, to enhance the reputation of the Geography Department, the College of Earth and Mineral Sciences, the College of the Liberal Arts, and Penn State.

Admission Requirements

Students must apply and be admitted to the graduate program in Geography and The Graduate School before they can apply for admission to the dual-title degree program. Applicants interested in the dual-title degree program may make their interest in the program known clearly on their applications to Geography and include remarks in their statement of purpose that address the ways in which their research and professional goals in Geography reflect an interest in African Studies-related research.

To be enrolled in the Dual-Title Doctoral Degree Program in African Studies, a student must submit a letter of application and transcript, which will be reviewed by the African Studies Admissions Committee. Students must apply for enrollment into the dual-title degree program in African Studies prior to taking their candidacy examination.

General Graduate School admission requirements are stated in the GENERAL INFORMATION section of the Graduate Bulletin.

Academic Advisors and Course Selection

To qualify for the dual-title degree, students must satisfy the requirements of the Geography graduate program. In addition, they must satisfy the requirements described below, as established by the African Studies Program. Within this framework, final course selection is determined by the student in consultation with the Geography and African Studies academic advisors.
Upon acceptance into the dual-title degree program by the African Studies admissions committee, the student will be assigned an African Studies academic advisor in consultation with the African Studies director and the African Studies admissions committee.
As a student develops specific scholarly interests, s/he may request a different African Studies advisor from the one assigned by the African Studies admissions committee. The student and the Geography and African Studies academic advisors will establish a program of study that is appropriate for the student’s professional objectives and that is in accordance with the policies of the Graduate Council, the Geography graduate program, and the African Studies dual-title graduate degree program.

Requirements for the Geography-African Studies Ph.D.

The Dual-Title Doctoral Degree in Geography and African Studies is awarded only to students who are admitted to the Geography doctoral program and admitted to the dual-title degree program in African Studies. The minimum course requirements for the Dual-Title Ph.D. degree in Geography and African Studies are as follows:

  • Completion of all course work and other requirements for the Geography Ph.D.
  • 18 credits of Africa-related coursework at the 400-, 500-, or 800-level, of which the following are required: AFR 501 (3) and a minimum of 6 credits from AAAS 530 (3), AFR 532 (3), AFR 534 (3), AFR 536 (3), AFR 537 (3), and SOC/AFR 527 (3)
  • As many as 6 of the 18 credits may come from 400-, 500-, or 800-level Geography courses, as approved by the student’s Geography and African Studies Program advisors
  • The remaining credits can be taken in AFR or in any department other than Geography; of these, no more than 6 credits may be taken at the 400-level and no more than 3 combined credits may come from AFR and GEOG 596 and 599
  • Communication and foreign language requirements will be determined by the student and the Geography and African Studies advisors in accordance with the existing Geography language requirements

The choice of electives in African Studies is to be proposed by the student and is subject to approval by the Geography and African Studies academic advisors. The suite of selected courses should have an integrated, intellectual thrust that probes a thematic, national, or regional issue and that complements the student’s specialty in Geography.

Language Requirement

The language requirement for a student in the dual-title doctoral degree program will be determined by the student and the Geography and African Studies Program advisors in accordance with the existing Geography language requirements.

Candidacy Exam

The Candidacy Exam in Geography is an oral exam designed to help students to “..think analytically and critically in their field of expertise and to understand and apply ideas from other fields of geography to their research domain” (Geography Graduate Student Handbook 2011-2012, p. 30). The format of the candidacy exam for the dual-title degree student will be unchanged from the existing Geography candidacy exam and will be guided directly by the requirements outlined in the Geography Graduate Student Handbook. The only difference from the Geography candidacy exam will be an explicit African studies component.

Doctoral Committee Composition

The doctoral committee of a Ph.D. dual-title doctoral degree student must include a minimum of four faculty members, i.e., the chair and at least three additional members, all of whom must be members of the Graduate Faculty. The committee must include at least one member of the African Studies graduate faculty. If the chair of the committee representing Geography is not also a member of the graduate faculty in African Studies, then the member of the committee representing African Studies must be appointed as Co-Chair.

Comprehensive Exam

After completing all course work, doctoral candidates for the dual-title doctoral degree in Geography and African Studies must pass a comprehensive examination that includes written and oral components. Written components will be administered on a candidate’s major Geography subfields and on African Studies. The African Studies representative on the student’s doctoral committee will develop questions for and participate in the evaluation of the oral component of the comprehensive examination. The African Studies component of the exam will be based on the student’s thematic, national, or regional area of interest and specialization in African Studies.

Dissertation and Dissertation Defense

Ph.D. students enrolled in the dual-title degree program are required to write a dissertation on a topic that reflects their education and research interest in Geography and African Studies. Upon completion of the doctoral dissertation, the candidate must pass a final oral examination (the dissertation defense) to earn the degree.

Other Relevant Information

Penn State's graduate program in Geography works with incoming students to design programs tailored to their specific interests and needs. Thus there are few formal requirements and a maximum of opportunities for students to pursue their own interests under the guidance of the faculty. Each student's work is supervised by his or her academic adviser and by a committee consisting of two additional members of the graduate faculty for M.S. students and three or four additional members for doctoral students.

Student Aid

Graduate assistantships available to students in this program and other forms of student aid are described in the STUDENT AID section of the Graduate Bulletin.


Graduate courses carry numbers from 500 to 699 and 800 to 899. Advanced undergraduate courses numbered between 400 and 499 may be used to meet some graduate degree requirements when taken by graduate students. Courses below the 400 level may not. A graduate student may register for or audit these courses in order to make up deficiencies or to fill in gaps in previous education but not to meet requirements for an advanced degree.

GEOGRAPHY (GEOG) course list



Faculty linked: 6/9/14; department head updated: 9/30/14


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