Geography Graduate Program

Our graduate program in Geography offers the following degrees and options:
  • M.S. in Geography without Option (General Geography).
  • M.S. in Geography with Option in Cartography & GIS.
  • M.S. in Geography with Option in Community & Environmental Planning.

Some of our faculty members participate in the interdisciplinary graduate program in Systems Ecology (M.S. + Ph.D.).

Application procedures

To complete your application: 

  • Fill out UM Graduate School application and pay fee.
  • Submit the following to the online application portal, unless otherwise noted:
    • A statement of interest that describes the intended area of study.  The statement of interest should include the name(s) of at least one FCFC faculty member whose research interests most closely align with the applicant’s, and briefly describe how/why.  When relevant, applicants should note whether they have spoken with any faculty in FCFC about graduate work, and especially if any faculty have invited application.
    • A resume or Curriculum Vitae.
    • E-mail addresses for three (3) references who have agreed to provide letters of recommendation.  (Please be sure to check the box to indicate that your references receive the automated email from CollegeNet.)
    • Unofficial transcripts uploaded into CollegeNet or by email to
    • Official English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) scores if English is not your first language.

The GRE will no longer be required as part of our application materials.

Additional application information:

  • The statement of interest (maximum 1000 words) should explain your objectives in graduate studies and why you wish to pursue those studies in the Department of Geography at the University of Montana.
  • Applicants must provide transcripts of all previous college work.  Unofficial transcripts can be submitted for application review.  Accepted applicants will be asked to provide an official transcript showing all degrees received.  Applicants already enrolled in or who have received a degree from UM do not need to submit a transcript.
  • Applicants may email electronic transcripts to or mail physical copies to the W.A. Franke College of Forestry & Conservation, Attn: Grad Applications, 32 Campus Drive, University of Montana, Missoula, MT, 59812.
  • If you wish to be considered for a teaching assistantship, check the appropriate box on the online application and either upload into CollegeNet or email to a written statement of interest and qualifications concerning the teaching assistantship (maximum 350 words).
  • The W.A. Franke College of Forestry & Conservation does not require a writing sample as part of the application process, but in some cases, individual faculty may request a writing sample for evaluation.
  • Applicants can check application status by logging into the CollegeNet account created prior to submission.

We do not accept applications by fax.  Please note that it typically takes four to six weeks from the date of the TOEFL examination for the scores to be reported.  We will check application files periodically and inform applicants of missing files.  We will not take action on incomplete application files.

Application deadlines

January 31 for admission to the fall semester of that same calendar year.

August 31 for admission to the spring semester of the following calendar year.

Admissions requirements

The W.A. Franke College of Forestry & Conservation welcomes applications from people of all backgrounds who seek an intellectually challenging education.  All students must be familiar with the requirements and procedures established by the Graduate School for their particular graduate degree. These requirements are available at the UM Graduate School.

Preliminary decisions regarding acceptance will be made by the FCFC Graduate Committee using the following minimum criteria:

  • Minimum grade point average (GPA) of 3.0 in undergraduate work for M.S. programs and 3.5 in graduate work for PhD programs.
  • For applicants whose native language is not English, the applicant must have a minimum TOEFL score of 79 or an IELTS score of 6.5

Applicants who do not meet these minimums may still be considered for provisional admission if other aspects of the application show substantial professional experience or other qualifications.

Final decisions regarding acceptance will be made by individual faculty members using the following criteria:

Applicants who meet the minimum criteria will be further evaluated by faculty members based on all or some of the following criteria:  1) references; 2) previous experience, including relevant knowledge, skills, and abilities; 3) writing proficiency; 4) overall GPA versus GPA during the most recent two years or in specific coursework; 5) results of an on campus and/or remote interview.  In some cases, admission decisions may also be based on the availability of funding.  Finally, applicants will not be accepted without the approval of a faculty member who agrees to serve as the major professor.  Lack of faculty endorsement is the primary reason applicants are not accepted.  We strongly suggest all applicants directly contact one or more faculty members before submitting a graduate application.

Accepted applicants must enroll in the semester stated in their acceptance letter or in the subsequent semester.  Outside of this enrollment window, admission may be deferred for one year with approval from the major professor.  Accepted applicants seeking deferral should contact the Graduate School for all required deferment paperwork.  There is a $20 deferment fee.  Accepted applicants who do not have an approved deferral or not start their degree work within the acceptance timeframe must reapply for admission.

General Degree Requirements

Download a PDF of Graduate degree requirements.

Degree Options and Tracks

For the M.S. degree, with or without option, students are required to complete one of the following tracks: 

  • Thesis track: Successfully complete and defend a thesis or one or more papers (i.e., articles) of publishable quality before an examining committee. 
  • Professional Paper track: Successfully complete and defend a professional paper or one or more papers (i.e., articles) of publishable quality before an examining committee. The difference between a thesis and a professional paper is that while the thesis is directed toward advances in the discipline, the professional paper may be directed toward advances in the profession. A professional paper may also consist of one or more papers of publishable quality intended for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. 
  • Non-thesis (Portfolio) track: Requires additional course work consisting of at least 6 credits (see below), and the successful completion of a portfolio and written and oral comprehensive examinations described in the addendum of the "PDF of Graduate Degree Requirements" downloadable through the link above.. 

In consultation with their advisors, students must select from among the three tracks by the end of their first semester in residence. This allows for the proper configuration of programs of study that will best meet students’ needs and interests.

Degree Credit Minimum

A minimum of 

  • M.S. degree in General Geography:
    • 30 credits plus a thesis (typically 3-6 cr.) are required for the thesis and professional paper tracks.
    • 36 credits are required for the non-thesis (portfolio) track. 
  • M.S. CEP Option:
    • 33 to 34 credits plus a thesis (typically 3-6 cr.) are required for the thesis or professional paper track.
    • 39 credit hours are required for the non-thesis (portfolio) track. 
  • M.S. CGIS Option:
    • 34 credits plus a thesis (typically 3-6 cr.) are required for the thesis or professional paper track.
    • 40 credit hours are required for the non-thesis track. 

See specific requirements for the options for additional information on the thesis, professional paper, and professional degree tracks.

Background Credits

(do not count toward the degree)

Incoming students are expected to have appropriate undergraduate course work and skills needed to commence graduate studies in Geography. Students may need to take foundational courses, with credits not counting toward the graduate degree. 

  • All Geography graduate students are expected to have an understanding of Cartography and GIS (GPHY 284 or equivalent). 
  • Depending on course of study and program option, and with details determined by the advisor, courses may include one or a combination of the following:
    • Foreign language,
    • Quantitative methods,
    • Computer programming (GIS-related),
    • Upper-division systematic geography. 

Courses Taken Previously

The same courses taken previously or similar courses taken elsewhere will be evaluated by the advisor in order to determine whether or not they satisfy any of the requirements. Criteria for such evaluations include the course content, the date that the course was taken, and the grade received. GPHY 284 (GPHY 381/2), Intro to GIS and Cartography, is primarily concerned with the discipline of cartography. Previous GIS training will generally not be considered in substitution for this course.

Graduate School Requirements

Of the minimum number of credits required for the M.S. degree, at least 20 semester credits (including those earned for the thesis or professional paper), will be in your major discipline, and at least 50% must be at the 500 or 600 level (excluding a combined total of 10 semester credits for thesis and research). Students must be continuously registered for a minimum of 3 credits per semester, including the final term during which they complete all degree requirements. Please see Graduate School Policies on Credit Requirements and Continuous Registration.

Graduate Student Handbook

The Graduate Student Handbook includes additional information about our graduate program and its policies and procedures.