What are the Top Geography Programs in 2020?

Caitlin Dempsey


The latest QS World University Rankings by Subject reveal updated rankings for Geography departments around the world. To determine the rankings, the universities are assessed based on four metrics: employer reputation, H-Index citations, number of citations per paper, and university reputation.

Geography is a diverse discipline that is broadly split into two main branches: human geography and physical geography. Geographers work in a diverse range of fields, reflective of the discipline’s interdisciplinary approach.

How Many Geography Departments are There in the World?

While the QS World University Rankings by Subject only ranked 202 of the world’s geography departments, there are far more geography departments in the world.

One database maintained by Klaus Förster tracks 1,278  geography departments in 101 countries. Users can search for geography departments by country, key words and research fields.

For the 2020 rankings, the top three geography departments are all in the United Kingdom. The fourth and five ranked geography departments are based in the United States.

#1 Ranked Geography Department

The University of Oxford’s School of Geography and the Environment was ranked #1. The school offers an Undergraduate Honour School and has more than 250 graduate students, making it one of the largest geography graduate programs in the world.

The geography department at Oxford is organized into the following thematic clusters:

  • Biodiversity, Ecosystems and Conservation
  • Climate Systems and Policy
  • Economy and Society
  • Environmental Interactions
  • Landscape Dynamics
  • Political Worlds
  • Technological Life

There are also three research centers within Oxford’s geography department: Environmental Change Institute, Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, and Transport Studies Unit.

#2 Ranked Geography Department

The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)’s Department of Geography and Environment is the second ranked geography department in the world. The department offers undergraduate and graduate students programs in three core areas: the economic, development, urban, regional planning, and environmental social science aspects of geography.

LSE’s Department of Geography and Environment considers itself a medium-sized geography department. There are several research centers housed at LSE’s Department of Geography:

#3 Ranked Geography Department

The third ranked geography department in the world is University of Cambridge’s Geography Department.

The tradition of teaching geography at Cambridge dates back to the first University Lecturer in Geography appointed in 1888. In 1931, the first professor of geography was appointed at the university.

Research is centered around the following six thematic groups:

  • Vital Geographies – production, politics and governance of different forms of life.
  • Infrastructural Geographies –  examines the material and organizational structures of life.
  • Geographies of Knowledge –  studies how knowledge about the world is made, authorized and contested with particular regard to the situated historical, cultural and political processes which shape it.
  • Biogeography and Biogeomorphology – concerned with the interactions and feedbacks between organisms (including humans) and their environments in the past, present and uncertain future.
  • Climate and Environmental Dynamics – research on past, present and future climate and environmental variability and understanding the mechanisms, evolution and impacts of global climate and environmental systems.
  • Glaciology and Glacial Geology – Research on the Earth’s cryosphere (glaciers and ice sheets, sea ice and permafrost) and the landscapes affected by the cryosphere.

#4 Ranked Geography Department

The University of California (UC) at Berkeley Department of Geography is the top non-UK geography department. This Northern California University is the fourth ranked geography department in the world.

UC Berkeley has three areas of focus:

  • Earth System Science
  • Human Geography
  • Geospatial Representation and Analysis

The first appointed professor of Geography occurred in 1888 at UC Berkeley.

Famous geographer Carl Sauer headed the department for 31 years from 1923 to 1954. He founded the Berkeley School of Latin Americanist Geography.

#5 Ranked Geography Department

Rounding out the top five Geography Departments is another American university. The University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) Geography Department is ranked fifth in the world.

The research themes at UCLA’s geography department are:

  • Biogeographic Processes
  • Cultural and Historical Geographies
  • Earth Systems Science
  • Globalization, Urban, Political, and Economic Geographies
  • Population Movement and Flows
  • Geographies of Nature and Society
  • Hydrological and Geomorphological Processes
  • Geographic Methods and Techniques

The geography department at UCLA (and my alma mater) was established in 1911.

A notable alumni of UCLA’s geography department is Evelyn Pruitt, a geographer with the U.S. Office of Naval Research who was the first to coin the term remote sensing.

Other Top Ranked Geography Departments

The rest of the top ten geography departments in the world are:

  • The Australian National University – Australia – 6th
  • University of British Columbia – Canada – 7th
  • University College London – United Kingdom – 8th
  • National University of Singapore (NUS) – Singapore – 9th
  • Durham University – United Kingdom – 10th


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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.

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