University of California, Berkeley

About the Program

Geography is an inquiry into the patterns and processes that make up the surface of the Earth. It is a broad field of inquiry that, in our department, includes glaciers and climate change, the origins of agriculture and the evolution of plant life, the culture of cities and the dynamics of the global economy.

Such a wide range of themes gives each student great freedom to choose a research topic, develop an intellectual style, and select approaches to gathering evidence and making persuasive arguments. That freedom also includes opportunities to go outside of the department and make use of the tremendous resources of the campus as a whole. Our goal is to help each student find his or her own combination of intellectual rigor, creativity, and independence.

Ph.D. Program in Geography

The program is divided into three major areas:

  • Global Development and Political Economy
  • Earth System Science
  • Geospatial Representation and Analysis

Within these domains, a wide range of faculty interests are represented, such as political ecology, economic geography, cultural geography, post-colonial studies, urban studies, geography of race and gender, climatology, geomorphology, remote sensing, and geographic information systems (GIS). Faculty members come with a broad spectrum of regional specialties as well, including Africa, South and East Asia, the Arctic, the Everglades and Mississippi Delta, Brazil, the Caribbean, and Latin America.

The faculty has been expanded in recent years to include a number of affiliates in other departments with expertise in such fields as GIS, gender and social movements, natural resources, fluvial geomorphology, environmental engineering, landscape ecology, and urban planning.

Berkeley students are expected to be independent, and we welcome those who have had professional experience and wish to return to deepen their education. Students are encouraged to range freely through the curriculum and to follow their inspiration where it leads, working in tandem with faculty advisors. Students choose their own mentors, often utilizing two or three faculty in equal measure; these may include faculty affiliates and members from other departments.

While faculty have their own research agendas and teaching specialties, and often collaborate with students, we believe students should march to their own drummer. We expect students to read extensively, develop the necessary research skills, and produce well-crafted thesis and dissertation. Many students publish their findings along the way, as well. Berkeley Geography offers the highest quality graduate training for future scholars and teachers at the collegiate level, as well as for those going into professional careers in government, NGOs and consulting. 

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General Admission Requirements for Graduate Study

Applying for Graduate Admission

Thank you for considering UC Berkeley for graduate study! UC Berkeley offers more than 120 graduate programs representing the breadth and depth of interdisciplinary scholarship. The Graduate Division hosts a complete list of graduate academic programs, departments, degrees offered, and application deadlines can be found on the Graduate Division website.

Prospective students must submit an online application to be considered for admission, in addition to any supplemental materials specific to the program for which they are applying. The online application and steps to take to apply can be found on the Graduate Division website.

Admission Requirements

The minimum graduate admission requirements are:

  1. A bachelor’s degree or recognized equivalent from an accredited institution;

  2. A satisfactory scholastic average, usually a minimum grade-point average (GPA) of 3.0 (B) on a 4.0 scale; and

  3. Enough undergraduate training to do graduate work in your chosen field.

For a list of requirements to complete your graduate application, please see the Graduate Division’s Admissions Requirements page. It is also important to check with the program or department of interest, as they may have additional requirements specific to their program of study and degree. Department contact information can be found here.

Where to apply?

Visit the Berkeley Graduate Division application page.

Additional Departmental Application Requirements 

In addition to the information and documents required by the Graduate Division, the Geography Department asks all prospective applicants to include the following materials in their application:

  • Statement of purpose outlining the applicant’s intellectual objectives in her or his graduate career. Students can refer to the Graduate Division Statement of Purpose Guide here:
  • Personal history statement. Students should indicate any challenges, hardships or obstacles they may have overcome. The department would like to know if students have supported themselves through school, if they are a first generation college student, if they took on a leadership position, tutored or mentored underrepresented students, or took advantage of unique opportunities. Students can refer to the Graduate Division Personal Statement Guide here:
  • Three letters of academic appraisal, preferably from former instructors. 
  • GRE Scores are OPTIONAL during the upcoming Fall 2021 application cycle. Students who have previously taken or would like to take the GRE are welcome to send their scores with their application, but there will be no disadvantage to students who choose not to submit GRE scores.
  • Applicants are asked to list the faculty they have contacted or expect to contact concerning their application, as well as the faculty in the department whose research is of particular interest to them and who they can foresee as a potential advisor. 
  • Resumes or CVs are optional, but highly recommended.
  • Writing samples are optional.

Important Notes:

  • The geography department does NOT admit students for a Master’s degree. Students may only apply for the Ph.D. program in geography.
  • The department does NOT offer admission for spring terms; students may only apply for programs that begin with the fall term.


If you have questions regarding your application to the Ph.D. program in geography, please email Bobby Ewing, Graduate Student Affairs Officer, at

Doctoral Degree Requirements

General Program Outline

First Year Curriculum and Course Enrollment

All students take GEOG 200A in their first year. This course is designed to help each student to see, think, and write geographically; to learn how to make and to judge arguments; and to prepare a thesis proposal. Students with a Human Geography focus will also take GEOG 200B and GEOG 200C following GEOG 200A.

Those with an Earth Systems Science focus are exempt from GEOG 200B and GEOG 200C (these students will take a course identified by their faculty adviser). All students in the doctoral program must take at least 12 units every semester (primarily in the form of appropriate graduate seminars) before taking the qualifying exam and advancing to candidacy. In addition, students must enroll in the Geography Colloquium (GEOG 295). This is a weekly colloquium which features invited speakers.

Analytic Paper 

By the end of the third year, students entering with only a bachelor's degree must hand in a paper that would be suitable—in length and in quality—for submission to an academic or scientific journal. Students entering with a master's degree are exempt from this requirement.

The analytic paper may be an investigation of an intellectual problem in the form of an original synthesis of secondary literature; it may advance a new idea, or question an existing theory or notion, by assembling information that already exists in the literature; or it may use original information gathered from archives or in the field.

The student should have a proposal for the paper by the end of the first year, and must be in constant and close consultation with their main adviser. The adviser will determine the appropriate format and length of the paper. The paper must be handed in, and approved by the main adviser, no less than a month before the qualifying exam. A copy of the paper with the adviser's approval should be turned in to the Graduate Student Affairs Officer.

Dissertation Prospectus

Prior to taking the qualifying exam, all students must prepare a preliminary dissertation prospectus of between five and ten pages for their exam committee. A prospectus is a valuable first step in writing a dissertation, as it requires students to clarify their project and create a plan for carrying out their research. Before students begin their dissertation research, they must have a dissertation prospectus meeting—during which the student discusses their proposal—with at least two members of their QE committee. 

Qualifying Exam

The qualifying exam must be taken by the end of the third year, although it is recommended that students entering with a master's degree take it by the end of their second year. The exam is based on a discussion of three broad geographic fields built around bibliographies produced in consultation with the examining committee.

Immediately after passing the QE, students will apply to the Graduate Division for advancement to candidacy. Advancing to candidacy by the end of the third year qualifies a student for the Dissertation Completion Fellowship

Additional Departmental Requirements

  • As part of their training, all students will be expected to serve as graduate student instructors (GSIs) for at least one semester.
  • Students will be expected to complete an annual review with their first-year mentor or their faculty advisor each year to ensure timely completion of degree requirements. 
  • All students are expected to give an exit talk during the semester in which they file their dissertation.

Timeline of Degree Conferral

The dissertation is written under the supervision of a committee of three university faculty members, one of whom must be from outside the geography department and a member of the Berkeley Academic Senate. All students must give the department a copy of their thesis before their final report to the Graduate Division will be signed. Upon final acceptance of the dissertation, the degree of Ph.D. is awarded. It is expected that the student will complete the Ph.D. by the end of the sixth year in the program.



Contact Information

Department of Geography

507 McCone Hall

Phone: 510-642-3903

Fax: 510-642-3370

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Department Chair

Jovan Scott Lewis, Ph.D.

Head Graduate Advisor

Jake Kosek, PhD

Graduate Student Affairs Officer (GSAO)

Bobby Ewing, MA

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