The Master of Arts program in geography focuses on investigating the environmental consequences of human decisions, the social implications of environmental change, and the geographic information science that enables these studies. Central to the department's studies are the theories, methods, and models of environmental, social, and geographic information science. Within this broad domain, the department has strengths in environmental justice, environmental modeling, GIScience and GIS, land use and its environmental consequences, sustainability, urban ecology, climatology, and health geography.

Master of Arts students follow one of two tracks. The professional track is designed as a terminal nonthesis degree that prepares students to enter the workforce directly after receiving an M.A. degree. The thesis track includes an independent research project and prepares students to enter a Ph.D. program or a career that requires creative research in selected areas of geography.

The department provides opportunities for graduate students to gain practical experience through service as departmental teaching or research assistants. In addition, graduate students often compete successfully for intramural and extramural funding for graduate education.

Graduate students often present their research at professional conferences and publish their work in academic journals. These presentations and papers can be the product of independent research or research projects led by a faculty member.

Learning Outcomes

Nonthesis (Professional) Program

Students who successfully complete the professional M.A. (nonthesis) program in the Department of Geographical and Sustainability Sciences will demonstrate:

  • broad knowledge of the basic concepts, tools, and areas of study of field of geography; and
  • a basic understanding of and ability to apply tools and techniques in a particular area of geography.

Thesis Program

Students who successfully complete the M.A. (thesis) program in the Department of Geographical and Sustainability Sciences will demonstrate:

  • both broad knowledge of the field of geography and deep knowledge in their area of research concentration;
  • an ability to communicate their research concisely and effectively to both general and specialist audiences in written and verbal formats;
  • an ability to formulate research questions; select, design, and apply appropriate research methods (e.g., testable hypotheses, data collection, management, analytical techniques); and utilize critical thinking skills to build knowledge, theory, and/or practice in their area of research concentration;
  • competence in teaching geography, environmental, or sustainability related courses; and
  • understanding of and an ability to operate under professional standards of ethical conduct.

The Master of Arts with a major in geography requires a minimum of 30 s.h. of graduate credit with thesis and 32 s.h. of graduate credit without thesis. Students must maintain a program g.p.a. of at least 2.75. The M.A. is designed to be completed in four semesters.

Thesis students must earn 15 s.h. of credit in Department of Geographical and Sustainability Sciences courses numbered 5000 or above; they may count 6 s.h. of thesis credit and 2 s.h. earned in GEOG:7000 Geography Colloquium toward the degree. Students who earn more than 30 s.h. may use the additional work to increase their breadth of knowledge in geography and to tailor their study programs to their individual interests.

Nonthesis students build skills across a range of topics in geographical and sustainability sciences during their first year and develop skills in particular application areas during their second year. They must earn 15 s.h. of credit in Department of Geographical and Sustainability Sciences courses numbered 5000 or above.

Students demonstrate competence by completing appropriate coursework; completing and defending an M.A. thesis (for thesis students) or completing a portfolio of finished work and having it reviewed (nonthesis students).

More detailed information about M.A. requirements is provided in the department's Manual for Graduate Degree Requirements; contact the Department of Geographical and Sustainability Sciences.

Applicants must meet the admission requirements of the Graduate College; see the Manual of Rules and Regulations on the Graduate College website.

A bachelor's degree with a major in geography is not required, but applicants must have an undergraduate background relevant to the field. Strength in social science, environmental science, or geographic information science and interest in exploring the spatial perspectives that characterize modern geography are important in admission decisions. Depending on their prior training, graduate students may be required to take courses that are prerequisites for coursework in their chosen area of graduate study; credit earned in prerequisites does not count toward the graduate degree.

Application materials should include transcripts with grade-point average, scores on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Test, three letters of recommendation, and an essay in which applicants state their reasons for wanting to study geography at the University of Iowa.

Applicants whose first language is not English must submit official test scores to verify English proficiency. Applicants can verify English proficiency by submitting official test scores from the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), or the Duolingo English Test (DET).

New graduate students whose first language is not English are required to take a speaking proficiency test when they arrive at the University; eventually they take the English Language Performance Test (ELPT). Students must be fully certified by the ELPT before they begin their fourth semester in order to be considered for funding in succeeding semesters. Students who do not pass the tests are required to take Teaching Assistant Preparation in English (TAPE) courses until they have achieved proficiency in spoken English.

A number of graduate teaching and research assistantships are available. In addition, outstanding applicants and underrepresented minorities are eligible for several fellowships. Awards are based on merit. In giving awards, the department pays particular attention to grade-point average, especially for the junior and senior years; scores on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) General Test; letters of recommendation; and fit of a student's objectives with department specializations.

Applications for graduate appointments must be received by January 1. Applications for fellowships are due by January 15.

Graduates hold positions on college and university faculties, in private research organizations, and in business and government.

Courses in geography are commonly required of students preparing to teach at the elementary and secondary school levels or to work in planning and public affairs. The degree also provides a solid background for many related professions, including law, health care, environmental engineering, and business.

Geography majors also are encouraged to participate in an internship. The department maintains close ties with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and other local agencies that offer internships.

The application of GIS to social, economic, and environmental problems has increased considerably during the past decade. This trend is likely to continue into the future; in fact, the U.S. Department of Labor has identified the area as one of its 14 high-growth industries. GIS presents an abundance of career opportunities for geography graduates in local, state, and federal government agencies, as well as in the private sector.

The department’s faculty members help students apply for postgraduate programs and contact potential employers.

The Pomerantz Career Center offers multiple resources to help students find internships and jobs.

Sample Plan of Study

Sample plans represent one way to complete a program of study. Actual course selection and sequence will vary and should be discussed with an academic advisor. For additional sample plans, see MyUI.

Geography, M.A.

Plan of Study Grid (Manual)
Academic Career
Any SemesterHours
32 s.h. must be graduate level coursework; graduate transfer credits allowed upon approval. More information is included in the General Catalog and on department website. a
 Hours0
First Year
Fall
Required course b 3
Required course b 3
Required course b 3
GEOG:7000 Geography Colloquium c 1
 Hours10
Spring
Required course b 3
Elective course d 3
Elective course d 2
GEOG:7000 Geography Colloquium c 1
 Hours9
Second Year
Fall
Required course b 3
Elective course d 3
Elective course d 2
GEOG:7000 Geography Colloquium c 1
 Hours9
Spring
Elective course d 3
Elective course d 2
GEOG:7000 Geography Colloquium c 1
Final Exam e
 Hours6
 Total Hours34
a
Students must complete specific requirements in the University of Iowa Graduate College after program admission. Refer to the Graduate College website and the Manual of Rules and Regulations for more information.
b
Must earn 15 s.h. of credit in Geographical and Sustainability Sciences courses numbered 5000 or above. Work with faculty advisor to determine appropriate graduate level coursework and sequence.
c
Required every semester; may count 2 s.h. earned in GEOG:7000 toward the degree.
d
Work with faculty advisor to determine appropriate elective coursework and sequence.
e
Completed and approved portfolio of finished work.