Jun 20, 2024  
Graduate Catalog | 2015-2016 
Graduate Catalog | 2015-2016 Previous Edition

Geography, M.A.

The M.A. in Geography at UNC Charlotte emphasizes the application of geographic skills, methods, and theories to problem solving in contemporary society. To this end, students are offered a solid foundation in research methods, problem formulation and solution, quantitative methods, computer applications and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Faculty and students are active in the community and, when possible, students are encouraged to complete their programs with either funded or unfunded private or public sector internships.

One of the program’s greatest strengths is the close relationship between its students and faculty and among the students themselves. Small class sizes, close student and faculty contact and a strong sense of community are considered essential components of the learning and teaching environment at UNC Charlotte.

The applied geography program at UNC Charlotte is recognized as one of the best of its kind in the country. Its graduates go directly into jobs as professional geographers, research and/or marketing specialists, location analysts, planners, transportation specialists, and consulting. About 10 percent of the more than 250 graduates of the program have gone on to study in Ph.D. programs.

Additional Admission Requirements

It is the policy of the Department of Geography and Earth Sciences to provide equal opportunities to all students regardless of race, creed, color, gender, or national origin. The Department maintains slightly different requirements than the general requirements for admission to graduate study at UNC Charlotte. The Department requires that applicants demonstrate evidence of suitability for the programs via evaluation in the five major areas listed below. These are weighted equally.

All applications for admission to the M.A. in Geography program are reviewed by the Geography Graduate Advisory Committee. The Department admits applicants on a competitive basis as space in the program allows and grants exceptions to the minimum standards if deemed in the best interests 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 will not exclude applicants if the other elements of the application are strong.
  • 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 will be evaluated on the basis of how well the applicant is suited in terms of intellect, motivation and temperament to do graduate coursework.
  • Personal Essays: 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.
  • Scores on the Graduate Record Exam (GRE): In general, the department would prefer scores in the range of 150 or more on each of the Verbal and Quantitative portions of the GRE.  Analytical scores are expected to be above 3.5.  Again, scores less than these suggested minimums will not automatically exclude applicants if the remainder of the applicant’s file is strong.
  • Transcripts of College Coursework: The transcripts will be evaluated on the basis of types of courses attempted, range of geography, statistical and computer coursework attempted. Not only will the applicant be 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.

Additional Requirements for International Applicants

Applicants whose native language is not English must demonstrate their proficiency in English by taking the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) examination. Overall scores of 84 with scores of 21 or above on individual sections (listening comprehension; structure and written expression; vocabulary and reading comprehension) are preferred.

Prerequisite Requirements

(Minimum Preparation Suggested for Students Entering the Program)

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 data base 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 16 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. Three specific courses (12 hours) are required of all students except those pursuing the Community Planning Track. Of the remaining 24 credit hours, a minimum of 12 credit hours must be completed through 5000-6000 level geography coursework. 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 hours may be accepted from accredited universities. 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


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.

Concentrations and Tracks

Students may elect to study in one or a combination of three concentrations (Location Analysis, Urban-Regional Analysis, GIS&T) and one track (Community Planning).

Location Analysis Concentration

The Concentration in Location Analysis offers coursework in retail location, applied population analysis, facility siting, office and industrial location, trade area analysis, real estate development, location research, and regional economic development.

This concentration prepares students for jobs in location research with retail companies, real estate developers, consulting firms, commercial banks, and economic development agencies or for continued academic training in economic geography and location analysis.  Some courses are taught by practitioners in the career fields listed above.


The following courses are suggested for a concentration in location analysis:

Urban-Regional Analysis Concentration

The Concentration in Urban-Regional Analysis offers coursework in community development, regional development, GIS based analysis, site feasibility analysis, public facility siting, urban economics and social geography.

Students normally gain employment in public sector community development and economic development as well as the private sector. 

Graduates of the M.A. in Geography program hold positions in a number of local and regional agencies in North Carolina and South Carolina as well as in other states such as California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, New York, and Washington.  They have responsibility for a broad range of development issues and tasks including economic development, geographic information systems, housing, land use, community and neighborhood analysis.  Job placement for graduates has been very successful. 


Students normally choose courses from the following for a Concentration In Urban-Regional Analysis:

Geographic Information Science and Technologies (GIS&T) Concentration

Given the increasingly diverse uses of geospatial technology in government, industry, and academia, this concentration prepares students for jobs with public agencies and private companies, such as GIS systems designers, geospatial analysts, geospatial project coordinators, geospatial information technologists, cartographers, spatial planners, and remote sensing analysts.

The Concentration in Geographic Information Science and Technologies (GIS&T) offers coursework giving each student the opportunity to acquire and apply GIS&T tools and techniques, specifically digital image processing, environmental, transportation and urban applications of GIS, GPS, GIS programming and customization, geocomputation, geovisualization, location modeling, network analysis, planning applications of GIS, remote sensing, spatial database design, spatial decision support systems, spatial optimization spatial statistics and geostatistics.


Elective Courses

A total of 24 credit hours originating from the following lists of GIS&T elective courses are recommended for a Concentration in GIS&T*.  In customizing their programs, students should endeavor to take at least 3 to 6 elective hours of geography courses in the areas of community planning, transportation, locational analysis, or urban regional analysis.


*In addition, selected coursework offered by the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the College of Computing and Informatics is available to students with the approval of their academic advisor, provided that course prerequisites are satisfied.  Students can also elect to complete an internship with a private company or a public agency for credit to acquire practical experiences in GIS&T.

**Unless students have had a substantial introductory GIS course prior to entering the M.A. program, GEOG 5120  is strongly recommended as this course serves as a foundation for the other GIS&T courses.

Community Planning Track

The Community Planning Track is structured to provide students with grounding in planning skills, methods and theory, and practical experience for careers in community planning.  That structure is supported by interdisciplinary perspectives from core coursework in Architecture, Economics, Geography, and Public Administration.

Graduates have been hired by local and regional planning agencies to give the track an excellent placement success rate.  Perhaps a third of the students who pursue the program are practicing planners who wish to build and improve their professional skills.

The track comprises an interdisciplinary curriculum of 36 required credit hours.  Core requirements and approved electives are listed below:

Research Options

The program requires all students to complete a thesis-quality, 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, will be available: 1) a research experience similar to that of a traditional academic  thesis; 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 will produce a finished research effort of thesis quality.

Not every student can expect to develop a capstone research project that is similar to a traditional academic thesis. It does, however, provide a choice for students to pursue a research problem in a direction of his/her individual interest. Students who ultimately plan to pursue a Ph.D. degree might be more inclined and encouraged toward that option. The same is true of students who wish to complete their master’s program with that kind of individual research activity. 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.

Admission to Candidacy Requirements

The Admission to Candidacy form should be filed upon successful completion of a minimum of 18 credit hours of graduate work.  Deadlines are posted on the Graduate School’s website. Completed forms forwarded to Graduate School must include a capstone research project title and the names of faculty who comprise the student’s committee.

Comprehensive Examination and Capstone Defense

To complete the program, each student must pass a written comprehensive examination covering both general aspects of the discipline and an oral defense of the individual capstone research project.  It is the responsibility of the advisor or committee chair, in consultation with the student, to arrange both the examination and defense.

The Written Exam

The student must respond to three questions submitted by the faculty.  These questions are solicited from the entire graduate faculty of the department by a memo sent by student’s advisor who then administers the examination. The written comprehensive exam is normally taken during the third semester (for full-time students) and in no case should the student take this exam before accumulating 27 credit hours of completed coursework including courses in progress.  This exam may not be administered if the student has outstanding incomplete grades in any coursework.  

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.