Applicants’ FAQ

The decisions to undertake graduate work and, then, where to do it are likely to be among the more influential of your life. You should consider several good departments and find out as much as you can about them; consider the quality and relevance of the supervision you can expect to receive, the interests inside (and outside) the department, as well as the innovation and intellectual vigour of the institution.

You will know already that there is a geography of Geography: no single department can do everything, and it obviously makes sense for you to find the most congenial base for your work. But for some projects there is no obvious place: you may want to strike out in a completely original direction, or to tie together a series of strikingly different strands. Either way, however, you need to satisfy yourself that the department to which you eventually apply will welcome your ideas and encourage and support you in your efforts.

We don't pretend to cover the whole range of geography, but we represent a wide range of courses, approaches, research projects and interests. We also do our best to help our students develop their own ideas and follow their own paths: we don't represent and neither do we seek to foster a single 'school' of scholars, but rely instead on a lively and creative diversity among faculty and graduate students alike. This mix means that you will probably find several people whose interests intersect closely with your own, as well as others whose friendly disagreement (or outright astonishment!) will help you clarify your ideas and develop a wider and richer platform for your own work.

Research styles differ considerably within the department, since our work ranges from the physical and biological sciences through the social sciences to the arts and humanities. In general, though, graduate students in atmospheric science and physical geography usually work closely with a faculty member, sometimes as part of a larger project team, whereas graduate students in human geography usually work on topics of their own devising which may or may not be closely related to their supervisor's research.

We hope that most of your basic questions will be answered somewhere in this website. For further information about research possibilities and directions, you may find it helpful to write directly to one or two faculty whose work is closest to your own interests. Please include a brief summary of your academic record and interests. If you're not sure whom to approach, ask the Graduate Committee at <>, but don't expect any of us to specify your research for you! Although few of our students have a very precise idea of what they want to do before they arrive - and those that do often find their ideas change substantially while they are here - they have all been able to identify particular areas of interest.

Entry is highly competitive: each year we receive over 500 inquiries, which usually translates into around 150 applications for perhaps 25 new places.

We pay particular attention to:

  1. Academic performance: We expect you to have done well in academic courses (so high scores in basketball, however admirable for other purposes, are not at issue). The minimum academic requirements for entry into our graduate programs (MA, MSc, PhD) depends on the country of the academic institution that conferred your degree and you can find those requirements by visiting In some cases, particularly in physical geography or the more technical streams, we also want to be sure that you have the right mix of courses for the sort of research you propose to do here. If in doubt, please write to the program for advice.
  2. Letters of reference: These are particularly important for applicants to be considered for a departmental graduate scholarship; therefore, it is helpful to have detailed letters from your referees rather than just a series of ticks on the standard forms. This means that you need to talk to your referees before you apply, explain what you are about, and ask them if they are willing to act as a referee for you.
  3. Research interests: In some cases applicants will be accepted into the program primarily because they fit so well with an ongoing research project; in other cases their proposed research may be much more individualistic. But we do look for some common ground, and evidence that you have already contacted a faculty member is a considerable plus.
  4. Other relevant experience: The key word is "relevant"; if you have language skills, technical abilities, experience of living and working in another country, or if you have worked for Environment Canada, the Geological Survey or the United Nations, then tell us. Working in a restaurant is relevant to a more restricted range of research projects.

We also take into account the availability of supervisors (we try to make sure that no faculty member is supervising more than about six graduate students at any one time) and the availability of funding.

The Department encourages applications from qualified women, Aboriginals, visible minorities, and persons with disabilities.

The simple answer is "yes". There is a thriving international student community at UBC.

International students pay the same low tuition fee as domestic students. The International Partial Tuition Scholarships are awarded to all international graduates, with few exceptions. However, if the student is a recipient of a major external scholarship or funding that covers their tuition, i.e., if the student´s tuition fees are being paid by their home government, they are not eligible for the tuition scholarship.

There are two issues you should also know about:

  1. An important aspect of planning your move to UBC is having a realistic idea of the amount of money you will need to pay tuition and living expenses in Canada. Living costs will also vary according to whether you are single, or bringing a spouse and other dependents with you. The amount of money that you will need each term will also be affected by where you choose to live, and if you have a scholarship or bursary. According to the estimation provided by the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies in 2012, a new single graduate student will need approximately $25,000 for a period of 12 months. In addition, please note that Immigration Canada will not issue student visas to any international students who cannot show that they are able to meet the minimum level of financial support. Please read the section on "Tuition and Funding" in this website very carefully.
  2. As international students apply to UBC with a vast range of degrees and diplomas from different institutions, you should realize that issues of comparability are therefore complex and contentious. In some circumstances the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies imposes particular requirements before admission can be confirmed: if you are unsure about your own situation, please check with graduate program staff.

In general and in practice, yes.

In some (very rare) cases, students holding a Bachelor´s degree with First Class honours may be admitted direct to the PhD program. If you are entertaining this possibility, you should know that in your first year you will have to complete 18 credits (six courses) with a First Class average (at or above 80% in UBC grading system). Out of the 18 credits, 10 credits must be specifically graduate courses (500-level and above). In every case we can think of, students who fall into this category have enrolled instead in the MA or MSc program; there is then the possibility of transferring to the PhD program at the end of the first year, but the same criteria have to be met - so you will not be surprised to learn that, in practice, very few students choose this route.

Most of our graduate students do have a previous degree in Geography, but many don't: Geography is such a wide-ranging field that - so long as you have an appropriate mix of courses relevant to your proposed program somewhere in your academic career, and your proposed research relates to Geography - we will be happy to consider your application. In the last few years we have admitted graduate students with backgrounds in Anthropology, Botany, Civil Engineering, Commerce, Computer Science, Communications, Cultural Studies, Economics, French, Geology, History, Law, Meteorology, Philosophy, Physics, Political Science, Sociology, Women's Studies - and Geography!

If you don't have a degree in Geography, however, you may be eligible for a more restricted range of Teaching Assistantships than others, simply because there will be a number of TA positions for which you are not qualified. In some cases funding for your first year in the program might have to be drawn entirely from awards and/or Research Assistantships, so that we can have time to determine your ability to act as a Teaching Assistant in the future.

In fairness to all candidates we do not normally consider applications for the graduate program until all applications have been received; however, if we think your interests would be better accommodated in another department, we usually let you know immediately. We begin the evaluation process in February. We try to ensure that most applicants know whether they have been accepted by the end of April. Unfortunately, there will always be a small group for whom no decision is possible until May or June, because we have to wait until we can determine the financial support available for them. Please be patient: we will do our best to let you know what is happening as soon as we can. Equally, if we make you an offer of a place and/or financial support, we would appreciate knowing whether or not you will accept the offer as soon as possible: other applicants will be waiting on your decision.

After making our admission decision, we will recommend the successful candidates to the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies for final admission approval. You should also be aware of the fact that acceptance by the Department does not mean that you are automatically accepted by the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies. Perhaps in as many as 10% of the cases, especially those coming from universities with which UBC has had no previous experience, the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies will require additional information before formal acceptance.

Let us know your decision as soon as you can - then relax! Over the next few months you will receive important details about the university, department, and orientation.

If you are an international student you will need a "Student Authorization" (Student Visa) before you can enter the country. As soon as you have been accepted by UBC and have received the original official admission letter from the Faculty of Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies, you should apply for the Student Authorization.  For more information on Student Authorization, please visit Immigration Canada and the UBC International Student Guide.

At the Department of Geography we do not offer a Master of GIS, instead we offer Master of Science degrees, in which you can utilize GIS technologies.  These Master students generally come into the program with a strong background/knowledge of GIS tools and they employ this knowledge in developing their research projects.

Further information on the Master of Science programs.