College of Social and Behavioral Sciences2021-2022

Department of Geography, Planning, and Recreation

Geography, Master of Science

This plan is available for students as of Fall 2022

This masters degree is designed for students who want to pursue a career in managing land, community, and environmental spatial systems, including geographic information systems (GIS), geodesign, community planning and development, and recreation. In addition to engaging coursework this degree requires a research thesis or applied practicum project overseen by a faculty committee.  


What Can I Do with a Master of Science in Geography?

The Master of Science in Geography at Northern Arizona University can provide you the tools to engage in a lifetime of intellectual adventure in research and teaching, or a career in the private or public sectors. The required coursework will increase your expertise in specialized areas related to community and sustainable planning, GIS data analysis and mapping, area and regional studies, and focused education in geospatial technologies. Faculty work closely to assist you with geographic research, and applied community development as you explore Flagstaff 's own physical and cultural geography. Our location on the diverse Colorado Plateau, coupled with its mix of ethnic roots (Native American, Latino, and western European), make this mountain town a perfect geography classroom.

Career opportunities that might be pursued:
  • Community planner or developer
  • Land, utility, or land resource manager
  • Sustainability program director
  • Recreation resource manager
  • Community college instructor

With further education, one of these paths is possible:
  • International development
  • Business and political marketing
  • Mobile and big data analysis 
  • University professor

University Requirements

  • To receive a master’s degree at Northern Arizona University, you must complete a planned group of courses from one or more subject areas, consisting of at least 30 units of graduate-level courses. (Many master’s degree programs require more than 30 units.)

    You must additionally complete:

    • All requirements for your specific academic plan(s). This may include a thesis.
    • All graduate work with a cumulative grade point average of at least 3.0.
    • All work toward the master’s degree must be completed within six consecutive years. The six years begins with the semester and year of admission to the program.
    The full policy can be viewed here.



In addition to University Requirements:

  • Complete individual plan requirements.

Minimum Units for Completion 30
Additional Admission Requirements Admission requirements over and above admission to NAU are required.
Fieldwork Experience/Internship Optional
Thesis Thesis may be required by chosen emphasis or offered as an option.
Comprehensive Exam Comprehensive Exam is required.
Oral Defense Oral Defense may be required by chosen emphasis or offered as an option.
Research Individualized research may be required by chosen emphasis or offered as an option.
Some online/blended coursework Required
Progression Plan Link View Program of Study

Purpose Statement

The Master of Science in Geography teaches geographical science, community planning, and geospatial technologies to prepare professionals and academics for a changing world. The program seeks to educate both traditional graduate students and working professionals in distance and on campus contexts and provides opportunities for diverse populations to exchange ideas and leverage knowledge. Geographic inquiry and community development are examined with attention to spatial relationships and complexities, dynamics of place and scale, and human-environment relations. Too often, analyses and understanding is based in disciplinary tracks. Geographic inquiry is based in synthesis and interdisciplinary investigation. Critical analysis and geospatial technologies provide methods to understand communities and environments from spatial and context-driven perspectives and at geographic scales from local to global. The program supports quality research and practical application, while providing (transferable) analytic, communicative, and visual skills. Our graduates are prepared for opportunities in the public, private, and non-governmental sectors in the fields of geography, planning, and natural resource management.

Mission Statement:

The mission of the Master of Science in Geography is to enhance student abilities:

  1. To apply critical analysis, including geospatial technologies, to issues of geographic inquiry and community development;
  2. To advance professionally in applied geospatial and community careers; and
  3. To understand and appreciate human-environment relations and the complexity of place.

Student Learning Outcomes:

Geographic Inquiry and Human-Environment Relations
From the beginning of the discipline, geographic inquiry has sought to understand the relationship between humans and the landscape, whether the relationship is direct or indirect. As the world continues in a path of globalization and technological advancements, the need for research and understanding about these trends at all geographic scales, from global to micro-local, has increased. Understanding Nature/Society relations requires research and inquiry into human and physical systems and interrelationships between them based on theories derived from geographical thought. Upon completion of the degree, graduates will:
  • Elucidate major theories of geography; and
  • Apply geographic theories to questions and inquiries related to interrelationships of human and physical systems in varying contexts and at different scales.

Place and Community Development
The concepts of place and community development are integral to geographical sciences, planning, and much spatially-based research. Graduates should possess a strong understanding of place and space, sense of place, and issues of adjacency and relational connectivity in order to identify critical issues, understand context, and create solutions. Upon completion of the degree, graduates will:
  • Elucidate the major theories, techniques, and trends associated with place and/or community development; and
  • Apply these concepts to analyze issues and create solutions as related to their Masters level project.

Critical Analysis
The ability to think critically about an issue, deconstruct, construct and identify biases, whether intended or unintended, and to seek a deeper understanding and solutions to issues of space, place, the environment and human landscape is central to Geographic thought and practice. This analysis derives from an understanding of the major theories, research approaches and methods in geography, as well as the ability to employ them to understand social problems and their potential solutions. Upon completion of the degree, graduate will:
  • Identify, explain, and evaluate the manor research methods and modes of inquiry within geographic thought and practice; and
  • Generate critical questions based on geographical theory, applying systematic research processes consistent with disciplinary norms, and present findings generated through a methodologically robust and defensible Masters level project.

Professional Development
Our graduate program provides a critical step in professional development for those entering professions or seeking to enhance their existing knowledge base and opportunities. We prepare students to make a difference in communities and agencies through effective problem-solving and communication. Upon completion of the degree, graduates will:
  • Conduct oneself and create work in a way that demonstrates the level competency, skill, and ethical behavior required of professional employment;
  • Present and defend a project with the purpose of generating new knowledge, or solving a problem or challenge within their profession or area of interest;
  • Present your work to general and professional audiences, articulating sustained, coherent explanations summarizing your project; and
  • Effectively communicate complex ideas and analysis through written, oral, and visual communication.


Additional Admission Requirements
  • Admission requirements over and above admission to NAU are required.
    • NAU Graduate Online application is required for all programs. Details on admission requirements are included in the online application.
    • Undergraduate degree from a regionally accredited institution
    • Grade Point Average (GPA) of 3.00 (scale is 4.00 = "A"), or the equivalent. 
    • Admission to many graduate programs is on a competitive basis, and programs may have higher standards than those established by the Graduate College.
    • Transcripts
    • For details on graduate admission policies, please visit the Graduate Admissions Policy
    • International applicants have additional admission requirements. Please see the International Graduate Admissions Policy 

    Individual program admission requirements include:

    • GRE® revised General Test
    • Personal statement or essay 
Master's Requirements
  • This Master’s degree requires 30 units distributed as follows:

    • Graduate coursework 24 units
    • Thesis or Professional Practicum: 6 units

    Take the following 30 units:

    • GSP 681, GSP 687 (4 units)
    • At least 3 units of GSP or PRM graduate-level courses selected with your faculty advisor's consent (3 units)
    • Additional Northern Arizona University graduate-level courses selected with your faculty advisor's consent (17 units)

    Students may not use the same courses toward degree requirements and more than 50% of any graduate certificate.


  • Thesis and Professional Practicum (6 units)
    • GSP 699 -Thesis is for the research, writing, and oral defense of an approved thesis. Please be aware that you can only count 6 units of thesis credit toward your degree. However, you may end up taking more units because you must enroll for it each term while you are working on your thesis.   Students selecting the Thesis option are required to complete 18 units of formal letter-graded coursework.    
    • GSP 689 - Professional Practicum is for a project-based internship experience in a professional work environment, including the writing and oral presentation of an approved practicum project. Please be aware that you can only count 6 units of professional practicum credit toward your degree. The final practicum units will not be passed until the oral presentation and project report have been accepted by your faculty advisor.  Students selecting the Professional Practicum option must complete 24 units of formal letter-graded coursework.

    Be aware that some courses may have prerequisites that you must also take. For prerequisite information click on the course or see your faculty advisor.
Additional Information
  • Accelerated Bachelor's to Master's Program

    This program is available as an Accelerated Undergraduate/Graduate Plan.  Accelerated Programs provide the opportunity for outstanding undergraduates working on their bachelor’s degree to simultaneously begin work on a master’s degree. Departments may allow students to complete both degrees in an accelerated manner by approving up to 12 units applicable toward both degrees.  Students must apply to the accelerated program and the master’s program by the application deadline, and meet all requirements as listed on the Accelerated Bachelor's to Master's Programs to be considered for admission.  Admission to programs is competitive and qualified applicants may be denied because of limits on the number of students admitted each year.  Be sure to speak with your advisor regarding your interest in Accelerated Programs.

Campus Availability

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