Graduate Academic Degree Programs

The Department of Geography offers Masters and PhD degree programs.

The doctoral  program in Geography is designed to train students as professionals who can have successful careers as professors, researchers, and experts in Geography and its various subfields.  Students work closely with professors in the Department in a research-intensive environment that provides training, mentorship, and experience in the research endeavor.


Requirements for the Doctor of Philosophy Degree


In order to be admitted to the Ph.D. program, students must have completed a master’s thesis.  Ph.D. students who do not have a prior degree in geography (either at the bachelor’s or master’s level) must have completed a course in (1) physical geography (2) human geography (3) quantitative methods, and (4) geospatial technology.   If these courses were not been taken previously, they must be taken while in the degree program at MSU.


Ph.D. students in Geography must complete at least 56 credits in the courses and areas listed below. Courses below the 400-level may not be counted toward the 56 credit requirement for the Ph.D. degree, but may be used to fulfill methods course requirements. Ph.D. students may count no more than six credits of coursework in independent study or research problems toward their degree.


Specific Requirements for the Ph.D. degree:

  • GEO 886 Research Design in Geography
  • GEO 986 Theories and Philosophies in Geography
  • Two Geography Research Seminars
  • One advanced level tool course (800 or 900 level)
  • Electives as approved by the student’s Guidance Committee
  • GEO 999 Doctoral Dissertation Research
  • Pass the comprehensive examination.

The comprehensive exam tests a student’s mastery of geographical subject matter, knowledge of related geographic literature, and an understanding of research theory and methodology.

  • Present a research paper or poster (as author and presenter), approved by the Advisor, at a professional meeting, while in residence in Ph.D. program
  • Submit, as first author, an authored or co-authored manuscript to a peer reviewed journal, approved by the Advisor, for publication while in residence in Ph.D. program
  • Present and defend a written dissertation proposal before the Department.
  • Complete a dissertation.

All doctoral students must complete a dissertation, a written document of research that makes an original contribution to knowledge.

  • Pass an oral examination in defense of the dissertation.


Please see the current Graduate Handbook for a more detailed explanation of these requirements.

The master’s program in Geography is designed to enable the student to achieve professional competence in the discipline. This program is intended to increase substantive and technical proficiency so that graduates can successfully enter the workplace or continue on with further graduate study.


Requirements for the Master’s of Science Degree

In order to be admitted to the Master’s Program, a student is expected to have completed a Bachelor’s degree in Geography or a related discipline at a recognized college or university.

Applicants should have completed a course in (1) physical, (2) human,  (3) quantitative methods, (4) geospatial technology.  If these courses have not been taken previously, they must be taken while in the degree program at MSU.


In the Master’s program, the student must complete at least 30 credits at the graduate level with at least 20 of those credits in Geography.  Master’s students may count no more than four credits of coursework in Independent Study or Research Problems toward their degree, unless these credits were from classes taught as a regular course.


Specific Requirements for the M.S. degree:

 A.  One of the following four seminars:

  • GEO 871 Seminar in Physical Geography
  • GEO 872 Seminar in Human Geography
  • GEO 873 Seminar in Human-Environment Geography
  • GEO 874 Seminar in GIScience

B.  GEO 886 Research Design in Geography

C.   Two advanced-level methods courses:

One tool must be in the “spatial technology” area from the following:

  • GEO 423 Cartographic Design and Production
  • GEO 424 Advanced Remote Sensing
  • GEO 425 Problems in Geographic Information Systems
  • GEO 426 Thematic Cartography
  • GEO 428 Digital Terrain Analysis
  • GEO 802 Geospatial Technology
  • GEO 825 Geoprocessing
  • GEO 826 Geocomputation
  • GEO 827 Digital Image Processing

The second methods course can be taken from those listed above or from the following:

  • GEO 865 Advanced Quantitative Methods in Geography
  • GEO 866 Spatial Data Analysis
  • GEO 868 Spatial Regression and Modeling
  • An approved qualitative methods course
  • An approved second-year equivalency language course
  • An approved computer programming course

D.  Electives as approved by the student’s advisor

E.  GEO 899 Master’s Thesis Research (4-6 credits)

F.  Present a research paper or poster, approved by the advisor, at a professional meeting.

G.  Complete a minimum of 16 credits at the 800 or 900 level.

H.  Complete a master’s thesis.


Please see the current Graduate Handbook for a more detailed explanation of these requirements.

Student Requirements

Students interested in a “straight-to-PhD” option must meet the following criteria during the application phase:

1)  Bachelor’s degree in Geography or related field.

2)  At least a 3.5 GPA (or equivalent) and > 1150 GRE. (4 out of 6 on written)

3)  Evidence of research activity, preferably submission of a lead authored refereed journal article. Other evidence of research activity, such as junior authorship on a journal article, poster presentation, Honor’s awards, or other scholarship may be accepted.

  • Somewhat lower GPA and GRE requirements may be acceptable if evidence of evidence of exemplary scholarship exists, such as first or sole-authored publication, or in-hand external/internal (competitive) funding.

Application Protocol
APPLY for Major Code:  7669

1)  The Straight-to-PhD option must be selected on “Background Information Form”.

2)  Student references from an academic background must indicate that applicant is capable of completing a Straight-to-PhD option.

3)   Student must provide a clear geographical research statement, including identification of a potential advisor at MSU Geo. This document is separate from the standard statement of purpose. We strongly encourage applicants to personally contact relevant faculty.

4)  The application is reviewed internally according to standard procedures currently in place.

5)   A decision is rendered by the Admissions Committee, which includes the following options:

  • Do not admit
  • Admit to MS program
  • Applicant is conditionally approved pending an interview.

6)     The applicant must interview with the Graduate Advisor and potential Research Advisor. Although this interview can be conducted by phone, a campus visit is encouraged.

7)     After interviews, the Graduate Advisor and Research Advisor meet to render final decision to either admit to MS program or PhD program.

Performance Review

This discussion applies only to those undergraduate students who have been admitted straight to the PhD program at MSU Geography. It is intended to provide the framework for a rigorous review of such students and their progress.

1)     An undergraduate student admitted with normal funding straight to the PhD program will automatically receive 2 years of guaranteed funding, with an option for an additional 3 years of funding provided suitable progress is made toward the degree.

2)     The student will be required to develop a good working relationship with the PhD advisor in the first year.

3)     The student will be required to take Research Design (886) in the first year and develop the foundation for a research proposal.

4)     The student must maintain an acceptable grade point average for a Ph.D.

5)     The student must construct a 10-pg pre-proposal and defend it at a Departmental colloquium by the end of the 1st year.

6)     At the end of the first year, the Graduate Committee reviews student progress, with input from Major Advisor.

7)     Graduate Committee decides one of following outcomes:

  • Continue on track for Ph.D. with guaranteed funding.
  • Move to MS level with 1 more year of guaranteed funding.

Please refer to the current Graduate Handbook as an important source of information that will answer many of your questions about our graduate programs. The handbook is intended to serve Geography graduate students and faculty as a guide to the basic policies and procedures of the graduate programs so that they will have a working knowledge of their opportunities, obligations, and responsibilities. (Past handbooks are listed as reference for the Dean’s office.)