MA/MS in Geography

Course of Study

The MA normally is awarded to those who concentrate in cultural or human geography, whereas the MS is awarded to those who concentrate in physical geography. Students must elect to pursue either the MA or MS option during their first semester in the program. A minimum of 6 credits in physical geography or natural science courses appropriate to the student’s area of study are required for the MS Students may also elect to complete their degree through either a thesis or non-thesis track.

Graduate Student Orientation

All new students are expected to participate in the department orientation program, offered during the week prior to the start of fall classes. New students will be paired with an experienced student mentor during their first year. Instructional opportunities sponsored by the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) will be offered to all teaching assistants.

Major Professor and Advisory Committee

The student must have a major professor to advise and supervise the student’s studies as specified in Graduate School regulations. The Chair of the Graduate Student Administrative Committee is a temporary advisor; within the first semester the student selects an advisor in the student’s specialization. The major professor must be chosen from the Departmental faculty.

The Advisory Committee of an MA/MS student consists of the major professor and two other faculty members. The other members of the Advisory Committee can be chosen from the Department faculty. If appropriate, Committee members may be selected from other departments at UWM, and/or with Graduate School permission, one member of the committee may be from outside UWM. The majority of Committee members must be Geography Department faculty. Additional members may be added as dictated by the student’s special interests.

The committee guides the individual program and thesis work, judges the quality of the thesis (or capstone work for non-thesis students), and administers and evaluates the final Master’s examination. In addition, the major professor presents the topic of the thesis to the Graduate Faculty of the Department for approval, and makes the recommendation to the Graduate School to grant the degree.

Credits and Courses

Minimum degree requirement is 30 graduate credits with an average GPA of 3.0.

The student, in consultation with the advisor, plans a program of studies to include:

  • Geog 525 – Geographic Information Science, 4 credits
  • Geog 547 – Spatial Analysis, 4 credits
  • Geog 810 – Introduction to Techniques of Research and Presentation, 3 credits
  • Geog 870 – Contemporary Geographic Approaches, 3 credits
  • 12 credits in graduate-level (700 and above) courses approved by the student’s advisor (at least 3 of these credits must be in one Geography graduate seminar course)
  • The remaining 4 credits will be earned in the student’s capstone project (see Thesis Track and Non-Thesis Track information below).

The student also must attend Geography colloquia regularly while in residence and must present her/his thesis research at a departmental colloquium.

Thesis Track

The student must register at least 4 credits of Geog 890 – Research and Master’s Thesis (approved by the student’s advisor). In addition, the student, through the advisor, must present a proposed thesis topic and Advisory Committee to the Graduate Faculty of the Department for its approval. For students electing the M.S. option, the Faculty will also judge the appropriateness of the thesis topic for that degree. The student must then write a thesis acceptable to the major professor for presentation to the Advisory Committee (two faculty in addition to the advisor). The defense date for the thesis must be set at least two weeks prior to the Graduate School deadline for completion of all work. The thesis must be approved by the advisor and delivered to the committee at least six weeks prior to the defense date. Students must submit the thesis to the advisor in sufficient time to meet the committee deadline. Exceptions to these deadlines under unusual circumstances must be approved unanimously by the student’s committee.

In addition to submission of the final thesis to the Graduate School (according to their required procedure), the candidate must present the Geography Department with a professionally hard-bound copy which meets Graduate School specifications for quality. This copy will remain on file in the department.

Non-Thesis Track

This track is intended for students who are not interested in continuing their graduate education beyond the master’s degree, and plan to seek professional employment. The MA degree will normally be awarded upon completion of this track. Those who wish a MS degree must formally petition the Graduate Faculty in writing, providing a rationale as to why that degree is appropriate to their program. The student must complete at least 4 credits of graduate work (approved by the student’s advisor) as either:

  1. Two research papers (Geog 999)
    Students pursuing the non-thesis track through the two research paper option must choose two separate topics, and conduct extended literature reviews on the topics, although other possibilities, such as a small research project, should not be excluded. The papers are expected to be 25-50 pages apiece. The student is expected to have an oral defense with three committee members regarding the two papers. According to current guidelines, the student is not expected to present his/her papers to the colloquium series


  2. A graduate internship (Geog 698 or Geog 889 – note that Geog 810 is a prerequisite for Geog 889)
    Students pursuing the non-thesis track through the graduate internship should conduct at least 180 hours of internship. The internship should be related to the student’s academic area of interest and must be approved by the advisor. The student is expected to write a scholarly paper of 25-50 pages length that connects the internship to the appropriate literature. The student must have a committee of three faculty members, and is expected to go through an oral defense with the committee members regarding the internship paper. According to current guidelines, the student is not expected to present his/her internship paper to the colloquium series.
    1. Comprehensive Examination

      In combination with the thesis defense (or after completion of the work for the non-thesis track), the student must pass a final oral examination over the field of geography, administered by the student’s Advisory Committee. Scheduling this examination during the summer is not permitted except under unusual academic circumstances and with the approval of the department faculty.

      Time Limit

      This program is designed to be completed in two years of full-time attendance. The Graduate School requires that all degree requirements be completed within five years of initial enrollment.

      Graduate Grievance Procedures

      Federal law and UWM policy require programs and departments to have procedures for graduate students to appeal academic decisions such as grades or scholastic standing. These procedures ensure the protection of students’ rights. These pages serve as a reference on procedures for graduate student academic appeals.