Why study geography?

Fifty years ago, Geography was associated with two main career paths: teaching and planning. Today, Geographers have the opportunity to use a unique combination of knowledge and skills, offering a much wider range of employment opportunities.

Why study Geography? This is a question frequently asked by students at school when faced with a choice of pathways leading to higher education and employment. The ultimate choice may not simply depend on how good you are at a subject or how much you enjoy it - it may be influenced by the perceived value of a course of study in terms of getting a job.

Gone are the days when geography appeared to offer limited possibilities of employment. Over 3,000 graduates from universities in the UK each year now go on to find employment, and geography remains one of the most popular subjects both at school and at university. Its popularity stems from the fact that a particularly wide range of skills and knowledge are developed through the stimulating use of contemporary issues and real-world examples. Studying societies and environments in other parts, it is important to understand global interconnections. In this way we can shape the world we live in by maintaining and improving economic and social well-being, while at the same time minimising damage to the environment.

The revolution in Information Technology of recent years has been seized upon by geographers who use IT for data collection and analysis through the development of sophisticated computer-based Geographical Information Systems (GIS). In a world where over 80% of all information is spatially based, GIS has rapidly grown to become an essential tool in business organisations and government. The modern geographer has a capacity to think analytically and has a confidence in using IT that augments the skills of observation traditionally derived from fieldwork. In addition to this, the preparation of field reports and the need to communicate both science and social science concepts encourages breadth in the development of literacy and language skills.

Career Choice

All of this adds up to the development of a wide range of intellectual, practical and social skills - just the combination that many employers are looking for. While the study of geography will certainly have a direct relevance to careers such as cartography, landscape architecture, environmental consultancy and the leisure and tourism industries, the importance of geography lies in the number of basic skills it provides which graduates can 'market'. More and more geography graduates are now finding themselves in jobs that include banking, advertising, the media, business management and the armed forces. These careers may not appear geographically related, but they utilise more general skills and attributes such as the collection, analysis and interpretation of data, the application of methodical working techniques, the ability to view problems from a number of angles and some general knowledge of the world. While many other degrees cover a variety of these skills, geography appears to be the only subject that covers them all.

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