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Master of Science in Geography

Grad student in Glacier NP

Grad student in Glacier NP

The Department of Geography offers a Master of Science degree program in geography based on innovative research and strong collaboration between faculty and graduate students. The master's degree in geography develops specialists for academic, governmental, and industry positions through emphasis on:

  • Cutting-edge geographic methods for analyzing and interpreting spatial and temporal processes
  • Formulation of original research questions in response to critical debates and gaps in the scientific literature
  • Research grounded in primary and secondary data, and findings that contribute meaningfully to geographical science

There is a thesis option and a non-thesis option.

Governed by the Virginia Tech Graduate School, the degree program consists of a 32-credit hour curriculum that is designed for completion within two years. Explicit course requirements are limited to allow for flexibility in creating an individualized program, although spatial thought and analytics are central elements.

The degree is most commonly earned through the thesis option, in which coursework is complemented with rigorous, faculty-guided research of a geographic nature that culminates in a written thesis that is formally defended, faculty-approved, and submitted to the Graduate School. The less common path to degree completion is the non-thesis option, which combines more extensive coursework with an abridged faculty-guided geographic research project that culminates in a faculty-approved written project report.

A third path for earning the degree is through the accelerated M.S. degree program. Specific to Virginia Tech undergraduate students, the accelerated degree program allows for overlap of the final year of undergraduate study and the first year of graduate study, conceivably yielding undergraduate and graduate degrees in five years. Students pursuing the accelerated degree may choose either the thesis or non-thesis option.

Information for Prospective Students

How to Apply

In order to receive full consideration for admission and funding, you must apply on or before Jan. 15 for a fall semester start and Sept. 1 for a spring semester start. Applications are submitted through Virginia Tech’s Graduate School, which outlines how to apply.

The application must include an academic transcript, two-page personal statement, three letters of recommendation, and a writing sample. For international students for which English is not the primary language, results from an English proficiency test (e.g., TOEFL) are required. GRE scores are not required but are considered if submitted. If admitted, an official academic transcript is required prior to enrollment.


Each applicant will be considered for a departmental graduate teaching assistantship (GTA). Typically, the program supports 18 GTAs, with approximately nine awarded each academic year. Each GTA includes tuition, a stipend for the period of mid-August to mid-May for 20 hours per week of teaching assistance, and a health benefits option. GTAs can serve a maximum of two academic years, although students must demonstrate sufficient progress toward degree completion each semester to maintain their positions. Graduate research assistantships (GRAs) are periodically available through individual faculty that have secured research funding support. Terms for GRAs vary depending on funding sources.

Connecting with Faculty

The advocacy of a faculty member for admission to the program is essential. No student will be admitted to the program without a clear signal of the willingness of a department graduate faculty member to advise them. It is important for the prospective student to ensure their research interests align with those of at least one faculty member, and it is recommended that a prospective student confirm that the potential faculty advisor is accepting new students. There are 15 graduate faculty who mentor students within the program. Please visit the faculty profiles page for information regarding academic backgrounds and specific research areas.

Graduate Faculty                            Subdiscipline                       
Timothy Baird                               Human geography
Anamaria Bukvic                          Human geography
Thomas Crawford                        GIS/remote sensing
Andrew Ellis                                  Physical geography
Eranga Galappaththi                  Human geography                           
Luke Juran                                     Human geography
Lisa Kennedy                                Physical geography
Junghwan Kim                              GIS/remote sensing
Korine Kolivras                             Human geography
Robert Oliver                                Human geography
Craig Ramseyer                           Physical geography
Lynn Resler                                   Physical geography
Santosh Rijal                                GIS/remote sensing
Yang Shao                                      GIS/remote sensing
Stephanie Zick                             Physical geography

Courses and Degree Requirements

Course descriptions are available from the graduate catalog, while current course offerings are available through the timetable of classes. The requirements for the degree are outlined in the Plans of Study for the thesis option and the non-thesis option.


Please direct inquiries to the director of graduate studies:

Andrew Ellis
Department of Geography
227 Wallace Hall
Phone: 540-231-8049

Resources for Current Students

General Information

A brief navigation guide outlines the structure and functioning of the program and includes semester-by-semester timelines for students entering the program in either the fall or spring semesters.


Submission of various forms guides formal advancement toward the degree. Forms originating within the Department of Geography are linked below, with submission timing noted.

Plan of Study, Thesis Option

Plan of Study, Non-Thesis Option

Research Proposal Approval

Progress Appraisal

Supplemental Research Funding

Funding is available from the Sidman P. Poole Endowment to support field research, to purchase specialized field equipment and supplies, and to assist in attending professional meetings, seminars, and workshops. Please see the Poole Endowment page for more information and details on how to apply.

Additional funding opportunities are available through the College of Natural Resources and Environment, including CNRE travel grants and the CNRE Satellite Beacon Program.

Graduate School Resources

The Graduate School maintains a resources page for current graduate students that includes university announcements, information, and forms.

Masters Candidate FAQ

It is important to contact faculty to gauge their interest in being a potential M.S. thesis advisor. Visit their faculty profiles and personal websites to identify faculty with common research interests. You will be asked to provide at least one faculty member as a potential advisor in your “Academic and Professional Goals Statement.” Faculty will inform you if they are recruiting a new student and if they are interested in considering your submitted application alongside those of other applicants seeking their supervision. Thus, the application process is competitive based on both the pool of applicants and advisor fit. If you are unable to identify a potential advisor, contact Andrew Ellis, director of graduate studies. It is difficult to gain acceptance without an advisor as we strive to be a student-centered program with strong mentoring relationships.

International students are encouraged to apply and given full consideration. Graduate teaching and research assistantships provide tuition remission and a stipend for international students. Note that the English proficiency requirement can be waived in cases of English as a national language and/or English as medium of instruction at your undergraduate institution. If admitted, international students work closely with the Cranwell International Center, which provides a liaison to assist with the visa process. Due to the potential for visa delays outside of our control, it is important for international students to submit applications by the priority deadlines. 

We prefer to admit students in the fall semester due to course scheduling, funding availability, and intended program design. However, applications are accepted to begin in the spring. It is best to contact Andrew Ellis, director of graduate studies, to discuss opportunities for a spring semester start.

Geography is an inherently diverse and interdisciplinary field, so students are not required to have an undergraduate degree in geography. Some of our most successful students have entered with degrees from other fields.

No, GRE scores are not required. 

To receive full consideration for graduate teaching assistantship positions, applications must be submitted by Jan. 15 (fall semester start) or Sept. 1 (spring semester start). We consider applications submitted after the deadlines, but they will not receive priority for funding.

Many questions about applying can be answered by reviewing Virginia Tech’s Graduate School website.