Our graduate program is focused on specialization and independent scholarship built on a foundation of geographic knowledge and training. Admission to our program is competitive. We look for outstanding students who have strong recommendation letters and research goals that intersect with the scholarship of our faculty members.
Prospective graduate students are encouraged to reach out to faculty members with whom they might be interested in working to begin a conversation about potential research projects. It’s best for you to do this before submitting your application. You will need to identify and explain areas of specialization that you want to pursue in the personal statement you include with your application materials.
Want to learn more about the application and admissions process for our resident graduate programs? Check out our recently held Q&A webinar on our application and admissions process.
Who Should Apply?
We welcome applications from students who would like to join our Department’s commitment to resilient and just solutions for the future of our planet and its people. While many of our graduate students have an academic background in Geography, we encourage applications from students who may not already have a geography degree. For example, we have admitted graduate students with backgrounds in ecology, social science, meteorology, economics, women’s studies, computer science, public policy, and many other allied disciplines.
We are looking for outstanding students who are passionate about bridging the subfields of geography to develop innovative and creative social, environmental, and spatial solutions. Our department’s research is connected by grand challenges to sustain landscapes and livelihoods, respond to the climate crisis, and make data science spatial.
The department makes every effort to secure graduate teaching or research assistantship (TA/RA) funding for each admitted student. That funding covers the cost of tuition and also provides a monthly stipend for living expenses. There are also a limited number of university and college fellowships, which provide tuition and stipend benefits but do not require half-time work in a teaching or research assistant role. Generally speaking, the department does not admit students it cannot fund via assistantships or fellowships. In a typical year, the department faculty make a collaborative decision to fund a new cohort of 10–20 students from a pool of 100–150 applicants.
In some circumstances, prospective students who already have tuition and stipend support from their employer, agency, government, or other organization are admitted to the program. If you think this might apply to you, please contact us to discuss your specific situation before you apply.
Additional information on stipend rates and insurance benefits for assistantships is provided by the Graduate School.
Applications are being accepted now for students who will begin degree programs in Fall of 2021.
To be considered for a university or college fellowship your application is due by: November 13, 2020, by 5:00 p.m. eastern standard time.
To be considered for a teaching or research assistantship, your application is due by: December 11, 2020 by 5:00 p.m. eastern standard time.
Application Process and Required Materials
All applicants to graduate programs at Penn State must meet basic academic eligibility (verification you have earned a bachelor’s degree or its equivalent) and English language requirements. For international student applicants, you may be required to submit TOEFL or IELTS scores indicating English proficiency. Please visit the Graduate School for current guidance on these requirements.
In addition, the Department of Geography requires the following elements in your completed application:
- Three Letters of Reference: You need to provide contact details for three references who have agreed to write you a letter of recommendation. They will be notified automatically by the application system and provided with instructions on how to submit their letter about you to us.
- Personal Statement: You need to write a two-page narrative in which you highlight your interests, achievements, and research goals. Emphasis should be placed on describing the potential research projects you would like to initiate at Penn State. We want to know why you’re choosing Penn State Geography in particular—and if you have certain academic advisors in mind, tell us how you think you would collaborate with those faculty members. There is no particular “best” format for a personal statement, but we like this guide from our colleagues in Wisconsin for ways to shape your writing.
- Test Scores: GRE scores are not required and should not be submitted. The admissions committee will not use GRE scores in evaluating your application. Please note that the graduate school bulletin information will be updated soon to reflect this change.
Completing your Application
We have prepared an application guide to help you navigate each step on the official Graduate School application site.
The Graduate School requires the payment of a $65 USD non-refundable Application Fee for all applicants.
If paying this fee represents a significant burden to your finances and you are a member of an underrepresented group, please let us know. We will do our best to cover this fee for applicants from underrepresented groups. A limited number of application fee waivers will be supported by the department budget each year.
Application Review Process and Decisions
All complete applications that are submitted on or before the application deadline are reviewed by the graduate program admissions committee, made up of faculty spanning the major subfields of geography. This committee works together to review and evaluate all applications, and after developing an overall ranking for the applicant pool, potential advisors listed on the application are brought in to provide additional feedback on top overall candidates.
Available funding for research and teaching assistantships sets a general limit on the overall size of each incoming class, and within that incoming class, the department seeks to ensure that a range of geographic interests are represented and that externally funded research projects are properly supported.
Admissions decisions are made following a faculty meeting early in the new calendar year to review and discuss all applicants. Admissions offers are sent to students thereafter. The chair of the graduate admissions committee makes offers to top overall candidates, and in the event that some candidates indicate they are accepting offers elsewhere, the chair will continue moving through the pool to make offers to subsequent candidates.
Offers for admission must receive a response by April 15. We appreciate it if we receive a response as soon as possible, however.
If you have questions about applying to our graduate programs, please contact us at email@example.com or give us a call at 814-865-3434.