GIS degree programs meet the education requirements for professional certification from organizations like the National Society of Professional Surveyors and the Geographic Information Systems Certification Institute (GISCI). Students interested in associate's and bachelor's programs in GIS are required to hold a high school diploma or GED certificate and to take reading, writing and mathematics college placement tests. Some bachelor's degree programs also expect to see geography courses on the high school transcript.
Undergraduate geography or GIS coursework is required for enrollment in a master's degree program, and applicants must also hold a bachelor's degree. Application requirements also include satisfactory scores on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), letters of recommendation, and a personal statement or essay.
Associate of Applied Science in Geographic Information Systems
Associate's degree programs focus on database systems used in the study of geography, and these geographic information systems (GIS) capture, store, display, and analyze geographic information like maps and 3D images of the Earth. The curriculum introduces students to GIS technologies like GIS software, Remote Sensing, and Global Positioning Technologies. Other focus areas are cartography, geocoding and geoprocessing. Students learn to utilize GIS database systems, analyze geographic information, and identify processes in the Earth's atmosphere.
Coursework prepares students to utilize technologies like database, mapping and Global Positioning Systems (GPS), and to apply GIS data to interpret changes in the Earth's environment. GIS course topics include:
- ArcGIS software
- Object-oriented programming
Bachelor of Science in Geographic Information Science
Bachelor's degree programs expand on studies in a GIS associate's degree program, often combining these skills with advanced studies in the information systems utilized to manage and analyze geographic information. Students in a bachelor's degree program learn to analyze spatial data and use GIS information systems, including digital scanners, plotters, and computers using a variety of operating systems and software programs. They develop a portfolio of work over the course of the program, and the program culminates in an internship experience.
Students take a variety of geography courses in the program, including studies in the geography of continents like North America, Asia, and Europe. Other topics of discussion are:
- Geographic patterns
- Data capture
- Spatial data display
- Weather systems
Master of Geographic Information Systems
Master's degree programs prepare students to take on greater leadership roles in GIS and include studies in project management and database development. Other areas of focus include geospatial information systems, programming, and the development of GIS applications. Students complete traditional classroom coursework, work in computer labs, and complete a culminating capstone project. Passing this capstone project requires students to deliver a written and oral presentation of their work in GIS.
GIS courses prepare students to manage geographic data, develop information systems and utilize GIS techniques to predict geographic change. Courses include:
- Environmental health
- Satellite images
- Geometric images
- Surface analysis
Popular Career Options
While many graduates of associate's degree programs go on to purse a bachelor's degree in GIS, job opportunities are available at government agencies, engineering firms, utility companies and more. Some job titles for graduates include:
- GIS technician
- Cartographic technician
- GIS specialist
Graduates of bachelor's degree and master's degree programs can find jobs at construction companies, mapping firms and non-profit organizations. Possible job titles for graduates include:
- Land surveyor
- Surveying technician
- Mapping technician
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that job prospects for surveyors, cartographers, photogrammetrists, and surveying and mapping technicians would vary during the 2014-2024 decade. Job opportunities for surveyors are expected to decline by 2% during this period. For cartographers and photogrammetrists, job growth is expected to be 29%, while jobs for surveying and mapping technicians are expected to decline by 8% (www.bls.gov). In May 2015, the BLS reported that cartographers and photogrammetrists earned a median annual salary of $61,880; surveying and mapping technicians received $42,010 and surveyors earned $58,020.
Continuing Education and Certification Information
Graduates are eligible to participate in the National Society of Professional Surveyors' Certified Survey Technician program. At the completion of the training program, applicants take an examination to qualify for entry-level certification.
Earning a master's degree in GIS lends 25 points towards the requirements to become a Certified GIS Professional (GISP) through the GISCI. Graduates who earn an additional 5 points through coursework, workshops or by attending GISCI conferences are eligible for GISP certification.
Other certification options for graduates with qualifying work experience are the Certified Photogrammetrist and Certified Mapping Scientist/Remote Sensing designations, offered through the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS). Technologist certifications offered through ASPRS are the Certified Programmetric, Remote Sensing and GIS/LIS Technologist designations.
Individuals who are interested in geographic information systems can find relevant programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels. They can choose from a variety of careers after graduation, and professional certifications are also available.