The Four Geography Tracks and Their Requirements

The geography major at CU has four concentrations: physical geography, human geography, environment and society relations, and GIS, or geographic information science. Students can either pick to follow one of these tracks or stick to the general geography major program, although many students struggle with knowing whether or not to declare a specialization track. On CU’s geography page, in the “Undergraduate Major Overview” section, we find the statement: “The faculty believes that both physical and human geography are essential to an outstanding program, that both are complementary and indispensable parts of the same subject.” This is a philosophy many geography students agree with, and even if you do want to complete a track you must take classes in each of the four disciplines. The benefits to declaring a track are a more streamlined educational experience in the specialized subject you may be interested in, the ability to work more closely with the staff that also specialize in the same area, and to form connections within your track for future career opportunities or graduate school. Next, we will break down the four concentrations and the types of classes involved with each.

Physical Geography:

“Climatology, geomorphology, biogeography, arctic and alpine systems, hydrology, and global change”

Physical geography is the study of earth systems and the natural world, focusing on land, ocean, and atmosphere, as well as the organic life in these zones or spheres. Physical geography is paired well with geology and this track can break down even further into specializations such as those listed above. The requirements for the track include the general geography major requirements, plus Calculus 1 and 2, physics and chemistry, two upper division earth-science based geography courses, and two upper-division electives within the physical geography sphere of courses. Within these electives, you can take classes related to your specific interests in geography, like arctic climates, forest or soil geography, as well as research seminars and other specialized topics.

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Human Geography:

“Population, political, urban, social, and cultural geography”

Human geography is the study of people with a spatialized point of view, focusing on economic, social, historical, and environmental factors in why groups of humans do what they do, when and where they do it. “The products are change, conflict, diffusion, differentiation, and repetition” when studying the various facets of human geography. Students in this track may find themselves with specialized interests in the studies of race and gender, economics, urban relationships, and region studies, all with a focus on the spatial aspects of these engagements. The requirements for this track are all of the requirements for the geography major, plus a third year proficiency in a foreign language, and three upper division geography electives within the human geography focus.

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Environment and Society:

“Human dimensions of environmental change; natural resources; conservation behavior”

Environment and society encourages students to have a deep understanding of the relationship between people and the physical world around them. In many ways, this track gets at the core of what studying geography teaches us to prepare humanity for the future. Environment and society investigates how societies are shaped by their natural environments and vice versa. Awareness of natural resources and natural hazards is a main focal point for this track and an increasingly relevant path of knowledge in this day and age. In this track, students can explore passions such as conservation, cultural ecology, and region-specific interests that faculty at CU are fully equipped to teach. The requirements for this track are all of the courses needed for the general geography major, as well as either Natural Hazards or Political Ecology, Applied Ecology, and three upper-division geography electives in the specialized subject of environment and society.

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Geographic Information Science:

“GIS, cartography, and remote sensing”

Geographic Information Science, or GIS, is the study, analysis, application, and representation of spatial data. This track is rooted in computer science, statistics, and cartography skills, as well as the nuances of spatial data that continue to emerge in this very new field. GIS looks to understand and solve problems that arise in the acquisition and representation of digital and spatial information, as well as analyze and find meaning in patterns and trends in such data. This track works with the three other concentrations in subject matter and meaning, but uses methodologies that are beyond those learned in the tracks themselves. The requirements for this track include all of the requirements for geography majors, as well as GIS 1, an upper division elective in one of the other three concentrations, and three upper-division electives in the GIS track.

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The geography major requirements include both of the Environmental Systems course: Landscapes and Water, and Climate and Vegetation. These give students an idea of what physical geography is like, if they wish to take more classes in that discipline. Geography students also must take two human geography classes, one of which is often “Environment and Society” or “Environment and Culture.” From these courses, students can decide if human geography is a track they are interested in. All geography students must also take cartography, statistics, and a skills course that have potential to produce an interest in GIS. Through all of these requirements, students can weigh their options and decide whether or not to declare a track, and if so, which one.