Geography is the study of how the world affects people and how people affect the world. The discipline is split up into two main areas; Human Geography and Physical Geography.
- Human Geography is the geography of people; it looks at the world in a social and economic sense.
- Physical Geography looks mostly at the environment and its physical processes.
You can take Geography as one whole subject or choose to specialise in either Human or Physical Geography. It is also possible to do a joint or combined subject degree, thereby studying Geography alongside another subject.
Related subjects include : Environmental Science, Development Studies, Anthropology, Geology, Conservation Studies, Ecology, Oceanography, Meteorology, Population Studies etc.
Geography at University level
- 'Do I really want to spend three years studying Geography?'
- 'Am I really up to studying this at University?'
- 'How different is it to A level?'
These are very individual questions - only you can judge the answer to the first two questions and make the decision about what you want to study.
For the final question, a very useful book to look at is 'Geography, a Very Short Introduction' by Matthews & Herbert. Its aimed at 1st year undergraduates and is written in a straightforward easy-to-read style by two respected University lecturers. It covers the basic concepts in academic Geography, and 'how it is studied at University' and the the 'history' of this study. It's usually priced at about £6 on Amazon so a small investment to reassure yourself that Geography really is the subject for you.
There are other University level books available on Amazon - just type in 'Geography and Introduction' and look at the book descriptions to see what level each book is aimed at - again, books aimed at 1st year undergraduates will be the most useful. You don't need to buy these more expensive books; you can borrow them from your local public library through inter-library loans.
Choosing a course
- There are a very wide range of Geography courses offered at British Universities. The subject area covers everything from Volcanoes and Natural Disaster Management to Town Planning and Population policy.
- A good place to start is the What Uni site. This list all the Universities offering Geography - both as a single subject and joint subject courses. You can also search for related subjects such as Environmental Studies, GIS or Population, and you can search on your likely or predicted A level grades or UCAS points.
- You should always, always also look on each University's website to double check entry requirements - both required grades and required subjects.
- Make sure you have read each separate course description very carefully and know exactly what topics each course covers and what the general focus is at that University. If you are interested in Human Geography then make sure there are enough units/modules in each of the three years that cover this. If you are interested in just Physical Geography the same applies. And don't forget to look at the 'connected subjects' listed in the Introduction above - would any of these be a better fit for your interests?
- Is your focus more Humanities based (look at BA courses) or more science focused (look at BSc courses).
- Read the descriptions of the optional units/modules for all three or four years of the course. Think carefully about which options you would choose.
- Can you do any optional units/modules in other subjects areas? A language? Or another social science?
- Is a Year Abroad offered? Even if languages aren't your strong point, there may be options for USA, Australia, or Canada. Wonderful for a Geographer!
- Is a work placement a possibility in your 2nd or 3rd? You could get something useful on your CV whilst still studying.
Course structures at different universities can vary wildly, and there is no standard structure that all courses follow universities offer. Just because they have the same course code doesn't mean all Geography courses are exactly the same.
Usually you will do Introductory courses in your first term - sometimes called 'Core courses' - that provide you with the fundamental skills needed to study Geography at this level. You may have optional courses that run alongside this or these may start in your second term.
Most Uni courses consist of two parallel term-long courses. These will be taught in a variety of ways - classes, tutorials, lectures and practical classes. They will also be assessed in different ways - coursework, exams, participation in class etc. Make sure you are clear on what options you have and what the differences between each course and Uni is in terms of teaching methods and assessment.
Be aware that options available in your 2nd or 3rd year may depend on 'prerequisites' like having taken a particular unit in your 1st year, so make sure you are aware of this when making choices.
Optional units could include areas as diverse as Cultural Geography, Global Climate Change, Population Policy, Environment, Ecology and Development, Qualitative Methods, Geographical Information Systems (GIS), Gender & Development, Environmental Politics etc, plus a whole range of topics that concentrate on a particular geographical area; Europe, China, The Americas etc.
Geography (or a related subject such as International Development) is offered at most UK Universities. The grades and subjects required will vary between each University.
What Uni is a good place to look for what courses/Unis are possible with your predicted grades. Always check on each individual University website for specific subjects/grades and any GCSE requirements. If you aren't sure if your subjects/likely grades are acceptable, then email the University's 'Admissions Office' (not the Dept) and ask. If you need more information about the content of optional courses, again you can email the Dept.
Open Days - go to as many as you can and at a range of different Universities (you will need to apply to at least one with grade requirements well below your predicted grades as an Insurance option). Open Days are a good way of seeing what 'going to Uni' would be like, and you can get an idea of what 'sort' of Geography that University specialises in, any particular focus of that course. Many Open Days include a sample lecture and that is useful in seeing the 'step up' required for studying Geography at University level.
UCAS Form & Personal Statement
The most important part of any Personal Statement is 'Why do you want to study this subject at University level?'. What is it that you really enjoy about the subject? Why this subject and not another? If you can provide brief examples of how and why your interest started or developed then this is worth including - 'I did a Geography project in Year 9 about local rivers and became interested in water pollution' etc. This is especially important if you are doing something relevant like voluntary work now. Explain why you are doing it and what you get out of it.
Mention any Science Fairs or exhibitions you've been to and what caught you attention and interest. Most Unis run Public Lectures on a wide variety of topics (ie. including Geography) that are worth going to - just look on the Uni's website. Examples here from the University of Bath. Anything which shows you have an interest outside your A level syllabus will show an Admissions Tutor that you are ready to study Geography at a higher level and are starting to engage with the world beyond school.
Btw, Admissions Tutors are NOT impressed by 'overseas experience' that was clearly 'bought' for you by your wealthy parents and was nothing more than a glorified holiday. It wont impress - so don't waste your parent's money on things like World Challenge as it won't be the clincher in you getting an offer or not.
And finally, avoid mentioning specific books. The Admissions Tutor has already read them all and understands them a great deal better than you do. Anything you do say will come over as a either naive and a bit gauche, or just pretentious waffle. It's fine to say something like 'I am especially interested in ice-cap erosion and have read further into this subject' but don't give the Admissions Tutor your book-list.
Graduate Destinations and Career Prospects
Geographers enter a very wide range of career areas and put simply there is no such thing as 'a geography job'; there are simply 'jobs that geographers do'. Studying geography provides you with valuable skills and a firm base for life-long learning and a career in many different areas.
Geography is a particularly useful degree as it involves dealing with both written text and statistical data. You will develop transferable skills such as the ability to analyse, discuss, gather evidence, report write, devise visual presentations of data/information, plus team work and other practical skills in common with other social science subjects. The Royal Geographical Society has good information and links about careers/job searching in different areas of Geography work.
Some useful career sites for seeing what other Geography graduates have gone on to do :
Guardian pages for 'what you can do with this degree'