How to Find a Top Geography Degree Program

Caitlin Dempsey


Graduating from a well-respected geography degree program will help job seekers.  Learn here about the different rankings for geography undergraduate and graduate degree programs and where to find resources to help you pick the best geography program.

Top World Geography Programs

Each year, Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) releases its list of the top 800 universities in the world.    Rankings can further be filtered by the prestige of the university’s individual departments. 

Rankings are based on criteria such as Academic Reputation, Employer Reputation, Citations per Paper, and H-index Citations (a measurement of both the productivity and impact of a published paper).   

According to QS, the top Geography programs in the world are:

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  • University of Oxford
  • University of Cambridge
  • London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)
  • University of California, Berkeley (UCB)
  • Durham University
  • University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
  • UCL (University College London)
  • Australian National University
  • National University of Singapore (NUS)
  • The University of Manchester
  • University of British Columbia. 

Access to the rankings is publically available and with a free registration, users can also further filter the results by manipulating the rank criteria.

Top United States Geography Programs

Within the United States, the most well respected ranking system for graduate degree programs is the National Research Council (NRC). In 2010, the NRC released its rankings for geography departments.  The NRC used multiple factors by which to rank geography departments such as time to degree, faculty input, and publications.

Based on the aggregate results of that 2010 study, the site has ranked the top ten geography department as:

  • Boston University
  • University of California-Santa Barbara
  • University of Colorado at Boulder
  • University of California-Los Angeles
  • Clark University
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Arizona State University
  • Ohio State University-Main Campus
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • University of Maryland-College Park.

An Alternate to NRC Geography Program Rankings

A secondary source to the NRC rankings is the 2013 list of top geography departments compiled by Justin Holman, who holds a PhD in geography and maintains a respected blog, Geographical Perspectives. 

He publishes regular rankings of the top Geography and GIS programs as an addendum to the NRC rankings, explaining, “[u]nfortunately, because these rankings were produced by academic types who are masters of creating difficult-to-understand prose for publication in peer review journals, you almost need a PhD to interpret their rankings.” 

His latest ranking for geography departments lists the top ten as: UC Santa Barbara, University of Colorado at Boulder, Penn State, Ohio State

University of Wisconsin-Madison, University of California, Los Angeles, Clark  University, Boston University, University of Oregon, and University of California, Berkeley.

Picking the Right Geography Program

While knowing the national or international ranking of a geography department is a good starting point, it’s important to looking beyond simple rankings when figuring out the right geography program for your studies.  Even high-ranking geography departments have strengths and weaknesses in different subfields of geography. 

For example, a geography department may be a powerhouse in physical geography but might be underrepresented in economic or cultural geography.  It’s important to weigh the merits of each department with your own focus area; does the school you are interested in have professors on staff that specialize in your intended area of study, do you prefer a large or smaller school setting, what resources can the school offer to help you in your studies, how affordable is the school, are there online courses offered, and what career resources will the school offer once you are ready to graduate? 

The AAG offers several online resources to help you pick an appropriate geography department.  For example, in its Guide to Geography Departments Internet section, AAG has compiled a simple table that lists in alphabetical order the geography departments, the degrees offered, and program specialties.

Rankings provide a good indication as to the overall quality of a geography program and can serve as one piece of information in helping you decide the best program for your studies.

Further Resources

Murphy, Alexander. “Geography’s Place in Higher Education in the United States.” Journal of Geography in Higher Education31.1 (2007): 121-41. Print. Web:

Guide to Geography Programs in the Americas 2011-2012.N.p.: Assn of Amer Geographers, 2012. Print.


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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.