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For Prospective Grad Students

Dear Prospective Graduate Student:

Thank you for you interest in the University of Tennessee and the Department of Geography. We are happy that you are considering us for your continuing education needs and we are confident that you will find a Department that is not only “student centered,” but is committed to helping you achieve your professional goals and aspirations. If there is one characteristic that defines our Department it is a commitment to being excellent in a full range of skills—from teaching and research to writing and oral communication and including public engagement and outreach.

Our faculty seek to prepare you for a marketplace of jobs, inside and outside of the academy, that increasingly seeks professionals who can thinks broadly and critically across disciplinary boundaries and who can apply more than one method to solving the world’s problems and creating a more just and sustainable planet. We are looking for graduate students who will help us maintain and advance that standard. This letter offers some advice on the application process, information about the department and university and the city. Should you have any questions please don’t hesitate to contact us.

While many factors are weighed as we make graduate admission decisions and decisions about funding (e.g., GRE, GPA, letters of reference), one of the biggest factors is your ability to find a potential advisor who is willing to work with you. In the past, students who were not able to find someone willing to work with them were denied admission to our Department. While faculty are busy and sometimes hard to get a hold of, we encourage you to look through our departmental website and begin making contacts with potential faculty advisors before you submit your application. The website address is:

Additionally, students who gain admission to our program and who are ultimately funded are able to articulate a set of research interests and are able, in a general sense, to express a set of career and professional goals that they will be able to realize through a graduate degree in geography. This is particularly important in determining how you will fit within our present graduate student cohort and the strengths and needs of our faculty and graduate program.

The graduate school website contains a lot of very good information about the application process, fees and costs associated with the university and deadlines. Information can be found here: Please pay attention to the dates for applications. Generally, we try to make a first round of admission decisions in late December or early January with an initial round of funding decisions sometime in February. Therefore getting a completed application to us by the first of December is a good benchmark for you to consider. While we continue to make admission decisions after January, generally our funding for graduate students is used up pretty quickly. While we sometimes admit students to begin in the spring or summer, generally we encourage graduate students to begin in the fall. This allows us to maximize university opportunities for you to receive fellowships, grants and additional monies to increase the value of your graduate stipend.

The University of Tennessee is a dynamic and international campus located at the foothills of the Smokey Mountains. The university is in the midst of transforming into an internationally recognized research institution as it seeks to move into and up the top 25 ranking of public research universities. As you read this, the state and university are constructing over a billion dollars worth of new research and student facilities on the Knoxville campus that is opening up new and spectacular research facilities across campus. These facilities compliment already existing research facilities.

As you are no doubt aware, we have some of the finest geographic research facilities in the United States. Our home, the Burchfiel Geography Building, is located on the heart of the University of Tennessee campus and has GIScience, remote sensing, and physical geography research labs. Additionally, given our close association with Oak Ridge National Lab we have access to some of the most powerful computers and research facilities in the world as well as joint faculty who have been able to offer students research assistantships, internships, and summer employment. Should you decide to come, and depending on the direction your graduate studies take, you could have access to these research facilities.

The Knoxville Metropolitan Statistical Area has a population of over a million people. Downtown Knoxville has been transformed over the last decade and now boasts concert and theater venues as well as good restaurants. Within a forty-five minute drive you can be in the Smokey Mountains and you can have access to outdoor recreation opportunities. Throughout the year downtown is transformed by a weekend farmer’s market, music events, museums and art galleries, and the annual Dog Wood Arts Festival along with several other festivals. Put simply we not only like to work hard, we also like to take advantage of numerous opportunities to enjoy the city and the region.  Knoxville also has a regional airport serviced by major airlines. Information about the city can be found here: Visitor information can be found here:

Finally, no matter what you decide to do with your graduate education we do wish you well. If there is anything we can do for you now or in the future please don’t hesitate to call on us.

Sincerely and on behalf of the entire faculty,

Kelsey Ellis, PhD
Director of Graduate Studies
University of Tennessee