M.A. Requirements

The M.A. curriculum requires 33 units and is designed to encourage your participation in research seminars and in formal geography coursework. We offer opportunities for specialization in many areas of geography that reflect the teaching and research interests of the faculty.

See the Geography Graduate Student Handbook for full details about the M.A. program.

Core Courses

The core courses are fundamental to graduate education. Core course requirements include:

A reading and discussion seminar concerned with major changes in the structure of geographic thought, with an emphasis on developments in the 20th and 21st centuries. In addition to surveying major trends in paradigmatic approaches, the course also provides students with the conceptual tools to evaluate these trends relative to cross-cutting issues of epistemology, ontology, and methodology.

A course aimed at developing student research agendas and programs through rigorous proposal writing. The course takes the form of a collaborative workshop to familiarize students with identifying research problems, framing questions, reviewing literature, selecting methodologies, and presenting research in light of its intellectual contributions and broader impacts. The course seeks to encourage students to interact with their advisors, plan a course of research, and focus their reading and thinking, whether in human geography, physical geography, spatial techniques, or any other specialty. The result of the course is a draft proposal.


GEOG 689 and GEOG 500 must ordinarily be completed during the your year in residence. GEOG 689 is offered each Fall semester and GEOG 500 is offered each Spring semester.

Advanced Methods

An advanced methods requirement of three units for the M.A. in your area of study (six units if planning to continue to the Ph.D. program). These methods units should be tailored to your needs  and can include regular graduate or jointly convened courses or independent study, within or outside the School as appropriate.

Geography Courses

Complete 12 units (four courses) of graduate credit courses; up to six of these units may be jointly convened graduate/ undergraduate credit courses and/or independent studies other than thesis units (section 1.1.5).

Enrollment in courses and seminars numbered 500 and up is normally exclusive to graduate students. With approval of the Director of Graduate Studies, credit may be applied to graduate degree requirements without restriction.

All seminars (GEOG 696) may be repeated for credit. A number of seminars are typically offered each semester, with specific topics and descriptions for that semester. The semester’s offerings are announced prior to the registration period.

Professional Development

We offer several one-credit courses in different aspects of professional development. You are encouraged to take any or all of these courses and can apply the credits towards the requirements for graduation (with the exception of GEOG 695A, Colloquium, which is required but but does not apply towards graduation). 

The exchange of scholarly information and/or secondary research, usually in a small group setting. Instruction often includes lectures by several different persons. Research projects may or may not be required of course registrants.

A course designed to assist advanced graduate students in obtaining academic employment.

Introduces graduate students to pedagogical theory, skills, practice and technological tools for college classrooms. Covers learning philosophies, cognitive skills, assessment, classroom dynamics and ethics. Provides practice in developing and presenting course materials.

Course is to assist advance graduate students in writing up a geographic research project or developing a proposal.


Complete 12 units (four courses) of graduate credit courses in SGD and other departments, including independent studies and thesis credits.

Individual Studies

Graduate students can register for different kinds of individual study and professional development. Up to nine of these credits (including GEOG 910 Thesis credits) can apply to requirements for the M.A. degree. In the following list, the number in brackets refers to the number of credits permitted each semester, not the number of credits required for graduation. For an M.A., at least one and up to six credits of GEOG 910 are required for graduation.

  • GEOG 593: Internship [1 to 5 units]
  • GEOG 599: Independent Study [1 to 6 units]
  • GEOG 699: Independent Study [1 to 6 units]
  • GEOG 900: Research [1 to 6 units]
  • GEOG 910: Thesis [1 to 6 units]

The 33 units offered for the degree may not include more than nine units of thesis, internship, and/or independent studies.

Plan of Study

The Graduate College requires that a Plan of Study be filed by the end of the second semester. The Plan of Study should identify any courses you intend to transfer from other institutions, courses already completed at the University of Arizona which you intend to apply towards the M.A. degree, and additional courses you plan to complete to fulfill degree requirements. The Plan of Study must have the signature approval of the your advisor (committee chair) and the Director of Graduate Studies before it is submitted to the Graduate College. The Plan of Study can be modified later if necessary.

M.A. Committee

By the time you have completed the core courses, and following consultation with your advisor, mentor, the Director of Graduate Studies, and other appropriate faculty, an M.A. committee will be recommended to the School Director. The Director will then appoint the committee (with modifications, as appropriate, after discussion). You should work with your committee towards preparation of the thesis proposal and thesis, or towards preparation for the professional master's degree exam.

Thesis Option

The thesis option is strongly recommended (indeed virtually required) for students who intend to pursue the Ph.D. Doing a thesis is also valuable experience in any field that values good research, analysis, and writing, whether academic or professional. Students choosing the thesis option must present a thesis proposal to their committee by the end of the third semester. Following approval of the thesis proposal, you are allowed to take thesis units (GEOG 910), of which up to six may be counted towards graduation. Registration for thesis units must be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies. Students who do not have a proposal approved by the end of the third semester may be required to take coursework to pursue the professional (non-thesis) option.

When the thesis is completed in final draft form, you will present it to your committee as part of a comprehensive final oral examination (i.e., the thesis defense). The committee members must each be given a copy of the thesis (either electronic or paper) with sufficient time for review prior to the exam. The committee decides to approve or deny passage of the exam. Thesis credits are awarded after any changes suggested by the committee are made and committee members have signed the final copy of the thesis. The same rules apply whatever the thesis format (i.e. traditional monograph or journal article)

A complete electronic version of the thesis (PDF), as well as complete, signed, and bound copies, must be filed with the School and the student's thesis advisor.

The School expects students to complete the thesis option within two years. The M.A. thesis defense should be successfully completed by the deadline established by the Graduate College in the 4th semester.

Professional (non-thesis) Option

The professional, non-thesis option is recommended for students who intend to pursue a non-academic career in public or private sectors. Instead of thesis units, professional-option students typically take courses in a specialty area of interest. Students choosing this option take a comprehensive examination near the end of their course of study. The exam is administered by the student's committee and includes two parts: a four-hour written portion followed by an oral exam. The precise format of the written exam is left to the committee, but it is a comprehensive examination of your degree program, and not only an examination of the identified individual field of specialization or concentration. These examinations may only be scheduled in your final semester.

The School expects students to complete the professional degree within two years. The M.A. final exam should be successfully completed by the deadline established by the Graduate College in the 4th semester.

Optional Certificates and Tracks

Within the constraints of these requirements, you are encouraged to develop a master's degree program tailored to your individual needs. You are advised to consult with the relevant faculty members and the Director of Graduate Studies about tracks of study in sub-fields of geography including Critical Human Geography, Human-Environment Relations, Physical Geography, Regional Development, Methodology and Technology, and Water Resources and Policy.

The School is also involved in several of University of Arizona’s graduate certificates in specialized areas. Current certificates include GIS and water policy. These are distinct graduate offerings that may include considerable overlap with degree programs, and may be a useful additional qualification for some students.

Moving from M.A. to Ph.D.

M.A. students who are finishing their degrees in SGD and who want to continue in the same program for their Ph.D. must apply during the January-February period when the School is considering new graduate student applications for the following Fall. Current M.A. students must indicate their interest on their annual progress report in mid-February. At the same time they must also submit a statement of purpose for the Ph.D. and a completed Change of Degree Program Form (from the Graduate College website), and request letters of support from each of their M.A. committee members.

In general, the School encourages our M.A. students to continue here if their goal is a Ph.D., and new students are often recruited and/or admitted to the M.A. program with that understanding. The procedure described here fosters orderly information-gathering and allows systematic review of Ph.D. applicants.

M.A. students progressing to the Ph.D. in SGD must have completed and passed the M.A. thesis or final examination before the start of their first semester in the Ph.D. program. Failure to do so will result in the student becoming ineligible for Ph.D. funding.