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Department of Geography

The Doctoral Degree in Geography

Admission to Candidacy Admissions Requirements Advisors
Assistantships Dissertation Dissertation Committee
Doctoral Checklist Doctoral Defense Expectations for Being Part of the Geography Community
Forms Graduate School Independent Study
Plan of Study Preliminary Examinations Program Requirements
Schedule for Completion Transferring Coursework  

Admissions Requirements

Minimum requirements to be considered for admission to the Ph.D. in geography include 36 hours of graduate work in geography or an allied discipline, acceptable scores on the GRE Exam, three strong letters of recommendation, and a personal statement that summarizes your background and interests in pursuing an advanced degree in geography.

Promising students who do not meet the formal requirements for full admission may, upon departmental recommendation, be granted provisional admission. Full graduate standing will be granted when the student satisfactorily completes prescribed courses or otherwise removes deficiencies as outlined by the Director of Graduate Studies or the Graduate School. All special conditions must be satisfied no later than upon the completion of 15 semester hours of graduate credit. A graduate student admitted provisionally is not eligible for appointment to an assistantship or fellowship until full graduate standing is achieved.

Application deadlines for submission of ALL requirements using “Apply Yourself”; are: FALL: January 20 if you wish to apply for an assistantship, May 1st if you are not applying for an assistantship; SPRING: September 15 if you wish to apply for an assistantship and November 1 if you are not applying for an assistantship.

International Applications

All applicants should use the online “ApplyYourself” program located on The Graduate School website, with two additional requirements set by UNCG for international applications:

  1. Provide an acceptable score on the TOEFL or IELTS for English proficiency; if the score is low or not provided, applicants will be accepted only provisionally, tested through the INTERLINK program, and may be required to complete some modules before taking classes.
  2. Grade transcripts must be evaluated by a NACES affiliated credential evaluation service such as ECE, EP, IERF or WES.

Deadline for international applicants to the Fall term is April 15, and for the Spring term is September 15. Following admission, students will be processed through the UNCG International Programs Center for a visa.


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Program Requirements

The doctoral degree requires a minimum of 48 hours of graduate-level coursework; all but six credit hours must be at the 600-level and higher.

  • As of the Fall 2016 semester the required core course numbers will change from: (Advanced Spatial Analysis) GEO 750 to GEO 720; (Research Design) GEO 760 to GEO 702; (History of Geographic Thought) GEO 761 to GEO 701
  • Required cluster courses are:
    • 6 credit hours of Geographic Information Science courses
    • 6 credit hours of Human geography courses
    • 6 credit hours of Physical geography courses
    • 6 credit hours of dissertation-related courses
  • 15-21 hours of dissertation research 799

Students coming into our programs without an undergraduate degree in geography must complete 4 undergraduate courses in geography to help ground themselves in the discipline. One course in each of the following sub-disciplines is required, in addition to completing the advanced degree requirements:

  • Physical Geography: GEO 103; GEO 106
  • Regional Geography: GEO 104; GEO 330; GEO 340; GEO 344
  • Human Geography: GEO 105; GEO 301; GEO 306
  • Geographic Techniques: GEO 121; GEO 603

These courses may have been taken previously as part of an undergraduate program; if this is not the case, they may be taken at UNCG, in any other approved geography department, or in some cases by correspondence. Please consult the Director of Graduate Studies for more information or course approvals.

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The Director of Graduate Studies serves as the temporary advisor for all incoming graduate students unless otherwise preassigned. Additionally, incoming students are required to meet with the Graduate Director for an orientation meeting at the beginning of the semester. The purpose of this initial meeting is to discuss your goals, help you plan a course of study, and to anticipate the timing of important graduate school and departmental deadlines.

By the end of the first year, you will be expected to select a permanent advisor, with that advisor’s consent. You may request a change of advisor at any time usually based on a substantial change of topic. This may entail a delay in your graduation. Following any change in committee membership, it is the student's responsibility to immediately notify affected faculty and request permission to include any contribution of the faculty in their final work. After 12 credit hours, or at the end of their first year of study, a student may constitute a committee. After completion of 18 credit hours, failure to do so may indicate lack of progress toward a degree. Students are free to discuss project ideas with various faculty members. Faculty contribute their time and expertise in the valuable production of graduates, serving in the capacity of committee members as well as primary advisor, which should be respected by all involved in this critical process. In accordance with the investment of substantial time and intellectual property in project development, the advisor-advisee relationship should be formalized by signing the appropriate "Committee Appointment" form. The student needs to have a topic and a written paragraph summarizing their intended research, which is then signed by the intended advisor and committee.

Please note that faculty committees do NOT normally meet during the periods between semesters, during the first or last week of any semester or the summer months. Committee approvals of work/proposals may be significantly delayed if you fail to recognize this in your planning.

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Schedule for Completion

Graduate students should consult clearly and methodically with their advisor to plan their schedule of major due dates to complete their written work in order to graduate in optimal time. Be sure to give your committee members several opportunities to periodically read your work, providing plenty of time for them to respond to you and for you to make requested changes. Schedule a time to meet with each committee member face to face to discuss your work and their suggestions. Always send your work to your advisor to approve before release to the committee. Plan to graduate at the end of Fall or Spring semester, as faculty are frequently elsewhere during the summer. Be aware of all the due dates on both the Graduate School and Department of Geography web pages; compliance with these is your responsibility.

Plan of Study

Every graduate program undertaken, including the post-baccalaureate certificates, requires you to file a plan of study outlining all the courses you will take or have taken to meet the requirements of your degree. A preliminary form must be filled out and signed by the Director of Graduate Studies during your first year in the program. A final plan, which documents any changes that occurred must be signed and filed with the Graduate School when you apply for graduation.

Please note that each program undertaken requires a separate plan of study to be filed. See the appendix for forms.

Transferring Coursework

In some instances, work completed at other institutions may be counted towards your degree. If you propose the transfer of credit, it must be recommended by your dissertation committee before the Graduate School will credit the work to your program. The maximum amount of credits transferable is approximately nine credit hours. The following conditions also apply:

  • Courses must have been taken at a recognized, accredited graduate school
  • Courses may NOT have been used to complete the requirements for another degree
  • Courses must have been taken within the seven-year time frame of the degree
  • A B (3.0) or better grade must have been earned on all transfer credit
  • The credit must be recorded on an official transcript that is on file with the Graduate School
  • Transfer credits must be approved by the student’s dissertation committee and by the Dean of the Graduate School
  • Transfer credit must be necessary to meet specific degree requirements
  • A maximum of nine credit hours may be transferred

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Independent Study

An independent study consists of guided readings, research and individual project work completed under the direction of a member of the geography department. They offer students the opportunity to complete an in-depth study of an area in geography that is not covered by a regular course in the geography curriculum. These studies are not designed to substitute for regular coursework.

Eighteen hours of graduate coursework must be completed before a student is eligible to enroll in GEO 690 – Research Problems in Applied Geography or GEO 790 –Independent Geographic Research. Students must also have at least a 3.0 average in their graduate coursework and the prior approval of a faculty member to enroll – faculty must fill out a form granting you approval to register (forms generally available in the front office). No more than three credit hours of independent study may be earned in any given semester, and not more than six semester hours may count towards satisfying the minimum requirements for a master’s or doctoral degree.

Dissertation Committee

Your dissertation committee must be established no later than the completion of 18 credit hours of coursework related to your doctoral degree. At least four members of the graduate faculty comprise the dissertation committee. This committee helps you prepare your plan of study and guides the development of your dissertation. Of the four members, two (including the Chair), must be members of the graduate faculty; no more than one may be an adjunct graduate faculty member. The Chair must be from your major department. It is also strongly recommended that one member be selected from a minor area of study.

Preliminary Examinations

Upon the completion of 21 credit hours in your program of study, you are required to sit for a preliminary doctoral examination, which consists of both a written and an oral component. A request for the examination committee must be submitted to the dissertation committee a minimum of four weeks prior to the proposed exam date. The written portion is scheduled and prepared by the dissertation advisor, in consultation with the dissertation committee. Questions may cover any phase of coursework taken during your doctoral degree or any subject logically related and basic to an understanding of the subject matter of your dissertation. Following the written examination, an oral examination is scheduled as a follow-up exam; this should be scheduled within one month of the written examination. The complete dissertation committee must participate in the preliminary examinations. Unanimous approval is required to pass the examination; no more than one re-examination is allowed, and this is at the discretion of the dissertation committee.

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Admission to Candidacy

When you have completed all coursework, passed the preliminary examination, and submitted a dissertation research outline approved by your dissertation committee, you may then make formal application in the Graduate School for admission to candidacy for the doctoral degree.


Before the preliminary doctoral examination is scheduled, and before beginning dissertation work, you must write a dissertation proposal in consultation with your advisor and the other members of your dissertation committee. The dissertation proposal should be concise and focused; a good model to follow is the NSF Dissertation Grant Proposal document (www.nsf.gov). The grant proposal has a 15 page limit; in no case should the proposal exceed 30 pages. It should include:

  • Title page - proposed title of dissertation; name of student; name and signature of 1st and 2nd readers, and the names of two reviewers; date of submission; a 50-100 word abstract typed (single spaced) stating concisely the nature of the problem to be pursued, objectives of the study, and data and methods to be employed
  • Introduction & Justification – A specific statement of the problem as a researchable issue, including its relationship to past and present research
  • Literature Review – Discussion of the pertinent literature and placing the proposal in context with this
  • Procedure – Discussion of research objectives and design, along with the data to be used
  • Timetable – A timetable for producing the product, including research, analysis, and writing phases
  • Bibliography – Listing of works that most clearly relate to the study as sources of theory, data or methodology

Your dissertation will be the result of a comprehensive investigation of a basic and significant problem within your major area of study. It must represent a significant and original contribution to knowledge, and highlight your ability to conduct independent research of high quality.

Three paper dissertation option (adapted from Cornell)

With the consent of the student’s Dissertation Committee a three paper option may be completed in lieu of the traditional dissertation.  The three papers must have a common focus and be of a quality that the Dissertation Committee feels would be publishable in appropriate professional journals. To conform to Graduate School requirements the three papers must be in standard dissertation format and there must be a separate chapter introducing the work and one summarizing the conclusions found in the work.

The standards for the three paper option are taken from the Cornell Department of City and Regional Planning website http://aap.cornell.edu/crp/

  • The three papers should be thematically linked and reflect a trajectory of work with depth of inquiry in a common area.
  • Each paper must contribute significantly to the frontier of knowledge and be deemed publishable in a reputable refereed journal.
  • There should not be considerable overlap in the material covered in the papers.
  • The candidates’ committee (or chair) should have the final say as to the form of the exit option, specifically is the three-paper model appropriate.
  • Articles should be ready for submission to an academic publisher.  Articles already submitted, accepted or published before the defense, are acceptable, as long as the committee is satisfied.  If the committee is not satisfied with the quality of the articles, the student must continue to make improvements to satisfy the committee.
  • Co-authored papers, with the student as lead author are acceptable; however one or more of the papers must be single authored by the candidate.

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Doctoral Defense

When you have successfully completed all other requirements for the degree, the chair of your dissertation committee will, in consultation with the other committee members, schedule your final oral dissertation defense. You have to inform the Graduate School when you are doing your defense two weeks before the date so they can publish the dissertation title, date, time and location. The examination is open to all members of the University community who may wish to attend. The final oral examination is administered by the advisory/dissertation committee according to program guidelines. The examination is largely related to the dissertation field of study including courses taken here and elsewhere. Approval of the examination must be attested to by all members of the advisory/dissertation committee. The results of the examination are to be reported in writing to the Dean of The Graduate School.

Your degree requirements are not fulfilled until you make all the corrections required by your committee at the doctoral defense, your advisor reads and approves the corrections, and you submit the final corrected and formatted dissertation to the Graduate School. Please note that UNCG requires you submit an approval copy of your dissertation, followed by the final, corrected copy. These versions must be submitted by the deadlines set by the Graduate school (found in the university calendar). Please also note that the dissertation must follow strict formatting guidelines, available from the Graduate School. If your dissertation does not meet these guidelines, it will not be accepted and your graduation date will be delayed until you have revised the formatting accordingly. Dissertation Copies. One bound copy of the finished dissertation must be filed with the department. It is also customary to provide each committee member with a bound copy of the final dissertation.

Expectations for Being Part of the Geography Community

A critical aspect of the graduate experience is participation in events beyond the coursework requirements. Thus, graduate students are expected to go to professional conferences, attend colloquiums and are highly encouraged to present and/or publish from their theses and dissertations. Travel funds in support of graduate students travel is periodically available from the Graduate School or the Geography Department but is typically quite limited. Please be aware that evaluation for continued and future funding includes regular attendance at departmental events such as colloquiums.

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A full-time student load per semester is nine credit hours. Students receiving financial support from the University are expected to enroll in a minimum of six semester hours in a graduate degree program. Students must have been admitted to the University unconditionally and have maintained a B (3.0) average. Service hours may not exceed 20 hours per week in total. Full-time graduate students may not be employed for more than 20 hours per week inclusive of assistantship hours. Normally a student who has a fellowship or service appointment will not work outside the University. Only under extraordinary circumstances, with the recommendation of the department and approval of the Dean of The Graduate School, a student who has a fellowship or service appointment may be granted special permission to work outside the University.

Full-time assistantships in Geography are classified as GA (graduate assistant) or TA (teaching assistantship). Master's candidates are automatically classified as GA; doctoral students are classified as TA. Normally, a 20-hours assistantship will consist of one of the following:

  • complete responsibility for one or two sections of a course (Ex. GEO 103)
  • teaching two or three lab sections of a course (Ex. GEO 106L)
  • serving as a technical assistant in a course (Ex. GEO 121)
  • serving as a lab assistant in the research lab
  • some combination of technical assistance and lab assistance

Please note that assignments are made based on a balance of Departmental needs, student skills, and schedules. Students holding assistantships are evaluated yearly. Students holding assistantships are evaluated yearly. Master’s students making adequate progress towards their degree and meeting their work requirements consistently and with positive evaluations can expect to receive a total of two years of funding. Doctoral students in similar circumstances can expect to receive a total of four years of funding.  Specific details regarding criteria for receiving continued funding are described in the checklist in the Appendix X