Jun 14, 2024  
Graduate Catalog | 2023-2024 
Graduate Catalog | 2023-2024 Previous Edition

Geography, M.A.

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The Master of Arts in Geography emphasizes the application of skills, methods, and theories to solve geographic problems in contemporary society.  To this end, students gain a solid foundation in spatial, locational, and planning theory, research methods (quantitative and qualitative), and Geographic Information Science and Technology (GIS&T).

Building on the strengths and research interests of the graduate faculty in the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences and colleagues across campus, there are five areas of concentration within the geography program:

  1. Business Location and Transportation Analytics
  2. Geographic Information Science and Technology (GIS&T)
  3. Human and Environmental Systems
  4. Urban and Regional Analysis
  5. Urban Planning

One of the program’s greatest strengths is the collaborative relationship between students and faculty.  Research partnerships and a strong sense of community among students themselves are considered essential components of the learning and teaching environment in the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences and at UNC Charlotte more generally.  An additional strength is community engagement with local partners.  Students engage in service- or problem-based learning, participatory research and outreach with neighborhoods, and/or internships with local businesses, non-profits, and public agencies.  Students are actively involved in research, scholarship, and professional development that is rigorous and reflective of real-world needs in the Charlotte community and beyond.

The geography program at UNC Charlotte is recognized as one of the best applied programs in the country enrolling on a competitive basis more than 30 students each year.  Graduates go directly into jobs as professional geographers, planners, research and/or marketing specialists, location analysts, GIS&T specialists, and consultants in the public, non-profit, and private sectors.

An increasing number of M.A. in Geography graduates have also chosen to study at the Ph.D. level both within the doctoral program at UNC Charlotte  and others across the county.  Recognizing the distinctive nature of these two paths, a cornerstone of the program is that students are given the option to complete their degrees with either an applied capstone project or a more traditional research thesis.

Admission Requirements

In addition to the general requirements for admission to the UNC Charlotte Graduate School, the following are required for study to the M.A. in Geography:

  • Under most circumstances, students admitted to the program must have: a B.A. or B.S. degree in Geography or field related to the primary emphases of the program.
  • Grade Point Average (GPA):  in general, the department would prefer an overall undergraduate GPA above 3.1 (or a 3.1 for the last 2 years) and a GPA of 3.2 in the major.  However, averages less than these do not exclude applicants if the other elements of the application are strong.
  • Transcripts of College Coursework: transcripts are evaluated on the basis of types of courses attempted, range of geography, statistical, and computer coursework attempted.  Not only is the applicant evaluated on the strength of the performance in these areas, but also on the range, depth and suitability of the applicant’s preparation for graduate level coursework.
  • Graduate Record Examination (GRE) with minimum scores of 150 on both the verbal and quantitative sections and a 3.5 or above on the analytical portions.  Applicants must have taken the GRE; no other test is accepted in its place. Scores less than these suggested minimums do not automatically exclude applicants if the remainder of the applicant’s file is strong.
  • TOEFL exam scores of at least 84 on the Internet-based test for applicants whose native language is not English.  The program expects a minimum score in the low to mid 20s on each of the components of the TOEFL.  In addition, international students who are supported through a teaching assistantship (TA) are required to undergo evaluation by the English Language Training Institute (ELTI) at UNC Charlotte prior to beginning their assistantship.
  • Letters of Recommendation: Three letters of reference are required.  Letters from college or university teachers who have worked with and/or taught applicants are preferred.  These letters are evaluated on the basis of how well the applicant is suited in terms of intellect, motivation and temperament to do graduate coursework.
  • Personal Essay: Applicants must write a personal essay which directly addresses why they wish to do graduate work in geography and why they wish to participate in the M.A. program at UNC Charlotte.  They should address directly how the program at UNC Charlotte fits their career and/or professional goals and how they would benefit from and contribute to the M.A. in Geography at UNC Charlotte.  This essay is very important in determining the applicant’s commitment to graduate education and to a professional career in geography or a related field.  Careful consideration of what goes into this essay is time well spent.   

Early Entry Program

Exceptional undergraduate students at UNC Charlotte may apply for the Early Entry Program and begin work toward the graduate degree before completion of the baccalaureate degree.  See the Undergraduate Catalog for details and requirements.  Also see the Degree Requirements and Academic Policies  section of the Graduate Catalog for more information about Early Entry Programs.

Prerequisite Requirements

All prospective graduate students must demonstrate competence in the undergraduate subject matter in their area of study.  While the Department does not require that applicants have a degree in Geography, prospective graduate students should provide evidence that they are prepared to immediately take full advantage of graduate level coursework in Geography.

Students applying to the program should, at a minimum, be familiar with the concepts and materials offered in courses such as basic Economic Geography, Introduction to Spatial Analysis, Location Theory, and Introduction to Research Methods or Statistics.  Any student wishing to pursue additional training in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) should have basic cartography preparation and computer file management and database skills.  


Graduate assistantships are awarded on a competitive basis and arranged for either one entire semester or for an entire academic year (2 semesters or 9 months).  They are normally scheduled for 15 weeks per semester and the student works 20 hours per week. 

Degree Requirements

The M.A. in Geography requires a minimum of 36 credit hours of graduate work.  The composition of this coursework (required vs. elective) differs across concentrations as detailed below.  All students must, as a part of their total 36 credit hours, complete a minimum of 6 credit hours of capstone credit.  In addition, all students are required to pass an oral defense of both the proposal and the final version of their individual capstone project. 

Up to 12 credit hours may be taken in related work, which includes all transfer credit, credit by exam, and coursework in other departments at or above the 5000 level.  At the discretion of the department, transfer credit totaling up to 6 credit hours may be accepted from a college or university accredited by an accepted accrediting body.  No student may take more than 6 credit hours in graduate level independent study (GEOG 6800 ).

Elective Courses:

  • Other 5000- or 6000-level courses in Geography with a minimum of 12 credit hours
  • Related work (outside the department) or transfer credits in courses numbered 5000 and above with a maximum of 12 credit hours


* Students have a choice, after discussing with their academic advisor, to substitute GRAD 6101  with another statistical course offered within or outside the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences to meet their research needs.


Students may elect to study in one or a combination of the five concentrations.

Business Location and Transportation Analytics

The Business Location and Transportation Analytics concentration aims to enhance students’ knowledge of theories, techniques, and models of business location analytics and transportation analytics used by practitioners in the public and private sectors of the economy.  This concentration is focused on business location decisions and practices in urban, regional, and national contexts, including commercial and institutional site selection and evaluation, economic development, and the use of transportation and mobility systems in contemporary societies, including infrastructure development, socio-economic impacts, and the structuring effect of transportation systems on urban and regional geographies.  The concentration offers coursework in retail and office location, real estate development, transportation, logistics, regional economic development, business intelligence and methods of geospatial, census, and network data analytics.  This concentration prepares students for jobs in location research with retailer and service firms, real estate developers, consulting firms, jobs in transportation analysis with various groups of service providers (carriers, freight forwarders, logistics managers, transit agencies), jobs with economic development agencies, or for continued academic training in economic and transport geography. ​

Geographic Information Science and Technologies (GIS&T)

Geospatial data used in research, public affairs, and private business is increasingly pervasive and traceable to geographic positions. The Geographic Information Science and Technology focus examines the nature of geographic data and information, and methods of capture, measurement, analysis, and modeling of this information to advance our understanding of complex geographic phenomena.  Research is articulated around the representation, numerical modeling, and dissemination of spatially explicit information with state-of-the-art computational analytics.  M.A. students in this rapidly evolving field at the interface of data, social, and natural sciences develop proficiency in state-of-the-art geospatial data analytics for an understanding of social and environmental processes of geographic systems across multiple spatial and temporal scales.  In conjunction with a critical awareness of the content of geospatial information, students can build expertise in several sub-areas spanning from geocomputational modeling and simulation, cyberGIS, big spatial data analytics, social network analysis, satellite/airborne remote sensing, spatial data mining and machine learning, spatial statistics, and geovisual analytics.  The internationally respected GIS&T faculty are well engaged in research on urban and regional socio-economic systems processes, transportation analytics, landscape and environmental systems, public health, energy, land change, sustainability, and resilience.

Human and Environmental Systems

The Human and Environmental Systems concentration focuses on interactions between human social systems and their associated physical environment.  Students integrate coursework and research in urban ecology, environmental justice and equity, environmental and social sustainability, planning, climate change, paleoecology, and earth sciences.  Students should take a mix of courses that address knowledge and understanding of environmental systems, social systems, and social-ecological interactions. The Department of Geography and Earth Sciences houses facilities and resources that enable students to pursue cutting-edge, impactful research questions using the latest field, laboratory, and computational methods, as well as Geographic Information Science (GIScience) and remote-sensing technologies.

Urban and Regional Analysis

The Urban and Regional Analysis concentration emphasizes place-based learning and research on pressing social, economic, political and cultural dynamics facing cities, and the urban systems to which they belong. The concentration trains students to apply traditional and innovative methods and theoretical perspectives on urban form, function, and interconnections at all geographic scales with a view to addressing contemporary challenges such as urban development, suburbanization, sustainability, mobility, migration and settlement, economic transition, technological development, infrastructure provision, and demographic and cultural change.  Students concentrating in Urban and Regional Analysis receive rigorous applied instruction that leads to careers in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors, as well as continued academic training in urban, economic, transportation, social, and cultural geography.​

Urban Planning

Professional planners use information strategically to help communities improve long-term health, safety, prosperity, and social equity.  The core curriculum of the Urban Planning concentration provides students with theoretical and practical knowledge that they can complement with elective courses related to economic development, ecological conservation, social justice, land use policy, urban design, and transportation.  Individual students’ interests and career goals further define capstone research projects that may incorporate economic, social, environmental, or geospatial modeling.  The required capstone research frequently involves community-based scholarship that yields mutually beneficial partnerships outside the university.  Knowledge, skills, and methods gained from the Urban Planning concentration afford students with opportunities for successful careers in public and private planning organizations.  The concentration also prepares students for doctoral studies in planning, geography, policy studies, and related fields.  Students with appropriate backgrounds may pursue a dual degree combining the M.A. in Geography (Urban Planning Concentration) and a Master of Urban Design.

Degree Total = 36 Credit Hours


Upon admission to the program each student will be assigned a faculty advisor from the student’s declared area of interest. This advisor will help guide the student through the design and implementation of a program of study tailored to the student’s specific needs and career goals. The advisor will be available to the student for advice on academic and other matters. Students must confer with their advisors regularly concerning academic matters.

More often than not, students will not work with the same advisor throughout the entire program. Once the student has become familiar with the program and the faculty, it is possible to change advisors by obtaining prior approval from the faculty member with whom the student wishes to work. Advisors should be chosen to match, as nearly as possible, the student’s academic and career interests. No student will be allowed to register for a course without an advising session with their advisor. The advisor will remove the advising hold at this session.

All students are required to formulate a complete plan for their M.A. during pre-registration for second semester. This plan must be approved by their advisor and will serve as a guide to their course of study while at UNC Charlotte.

Academic Standards

From the date of admission to graduation, the Department conducts a continuous review of student academic and professional performance. In addition to evaluations conducted within the courses taken by students, the faculty conduct a thorough review of student performance on a regular basis. Continuation in the program is contingent upon a favorable review during these evaluations. Students who consistently show borderline course performance, who are not developing good applied skills in the practice of their chosen area of study, who fail to complete coursework on a timely basis, or who otherwise perform unprofessionally or unsatisfactorily, may be required to complete additional courses or may be terminated from the program.

All graduate students are subject to academic suspension and/or termination. Department academic standards deviate slightly from University policies stated in appropriate catalogs. A student must maintain a cumulative average of 3.0 in all coursework taken in the program. An accumulation of one (1) marginal (C) grade results in the student being placed on probationary status within the program and could lead to the student being required to re-take the course, and a potential loss of funding if the student is receiving departmental or internship funding. An accumulation of two (2) marginal (C) grades results in suspension of the student’s enrollment in the graduate program. A graduate student whose enrollment has been suspended because of grades is ineligible to register in any semester or summer session unless properly reinstated through the suspension appeal process. An accumulation of three (3) marginal (C) grades or one (1) unsatisfactory (U) or one (1) NC grade results in termination of the student’s enrollment in the graduate program. In order to continue a program of study, the student must pursue reinstatement through the termination appeal process or wait a period of two years before applying for readmission to the program.

Special care should be exercised in completing the requirements of a course in which a grade of Incomplete (I) is received. With the exception of GEOG 6131 , where incomplete grades are not normally given, incomplete work must be finished during the next semester in residence, but not later than 12 months after the end of the term in which the “I” was assigned, whichever comes first. However, the course instructor has the option of specifying a completion deadline anytime within the 12-month period. If the “I” is not removed during the specified time, a grade of U is automatically assigned. In any case, a student will not be allowed to schedule the final comprehensive examination until all incomplete grades are removed. Also, with the exception of GEOG 7900 , no student may have more than two incomplete grades at any time. Students with two or more incompletes may not register for another term.

Research Options

The program requires all students to complete an individual capstone research project.  Although individual research experiences may differ, students should pursue research experiences that are appropriate to departmental faculty resources, individual student’s programs and career goals, and the availability of opportunities that exist to work with allied agencies or clients on or off campus.  One of three options, depending on the previously stated stipulations, is available: 1) a research experience similar to that of a traditional academic capstone; 2) a research experience which involves a paid internship funded by and arranged with a public or private agency or client; and 3) a research experience involving an internship that is not funded, but arranged with a public or private agency or client. 

Each of these options fulfills program requirements equally.  Each produces a finished research effort of thesis quality.  These options provide a choice for students to pursue a research problem in a direction of their individual interest. In all cases, students must work closely with their advisor and program committee to choose the option which best fits both their particular program and prevailing circumstances. 

Not every student can expect to engage in a capstone research project that is a paid internship because the number of students frequently exceeds a matching number of opportunities funded in that manner.  Unpaid internships provide the same caliber of experience and training in an applied environment.  In some cases, that experience may relate student with nonprofit agencies or social services that simply do not have the resources to fund an internship.  In either case, the topic of the internship is defined by the client’s problem or needs.


All GEOG 7900  Research Projects are evaluated by a committee of faculty. Committees must have a minimum of three members composed of the graduate faculty of the department–or related departments. Committee members may include outside members from other departments or internship coordinators from off-campus agencies when appropriate.

Proposal and Capstone Defense

To complete the program, all students are required to pass an oral defense of both the proposal and the final version of their individual capstone project.  It is the responsibility of the advisor or committee chair, in consultation with the student, to arrange both proposal and capstone defense.

The Proposal

Students must prepare and orally present a written research proposal that clearly outlines the purpose and scope of their research.  Students should be prepared to respond to questions from their research committee, including questions on general topics addressed in their prior coursework.  The proposal presentation is generally completed at the beginning (or during) the 3rd semester for full-time students.  

The Defense

The defense of the individual research project (GEOG 7900 ), the capstone, is generally administered at the discretion of the committee chair and the student.  When the advisor is satisfied that the student’s research and writing has progressed sufficiently, the research document is provided to the other members of the independent research committee; if they agree that the document is ready for a defense, an oral exam is scheduled.

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