Become a Geographic Information Systems Analyst: Career Guide

Mar 05, 2020

Learn how to become a geographic information systems analyst. Explore the job description and education requirements, and find out how to start a career in geographic information systems analysis.

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GIS Analyst

Geographic information systems (GIS) analysts work with large databases containing spatial information, such as satellite images and aerial photographs. They might use this information to make maps, develop specialized software, or analyze data for scientific, commercial or planning purposes. GIS analysts work on projects as diverse as wildlife management, urban planning and market research. These analysts often spend many hours working at desks, looking at computer monitors. They may experience stress when deadlines approach.

Career Skills & Salary

GIS analysts:

Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Fields GIS, geography or computer science; urban planning, environmental science or related fields can also be useful
Certification Optional certifications are available from the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing and the GIS Certification Institute
Experience Varies by employer; 1-5+ years of experience could be required
Key Skills Ability to think spatially and have advanced knowledge of database software, like Microsoft Access, and specialized GIS software, such as ArcGIS; good verbal and written communication, interpersonal and organizational skills can also help them succeed in the field
Salary (2018) In May 2018, GIS analysts earned a median annual salary of $44,380 (median salary for all surveying and mapping technicians)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2018)

Let's take a look at the kind of degree you'll need to qualify for a job as a GIS analyst:

Step 1: Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree in GIS, geography or computer science provides a strong foundation for a career in GIS analysis. Alternative majors include urban or regional planning, environmental science, forestry and resource management. These programs can include courses in such topics as remote sensing and geospatial information science.

Once enrolled, you may want to try out these success tips.

Success Tips

  • Take some art classes. Art classes can allow GIS analysts build their visualization skills. They might also help them make more attractive or user-friendly maps.
  • Seek out an internship or complete a project. Familiarity with database and GIS-related software is an important qualification for job seekers in this field. Students can learn to use the technical tools of the trade by interning with nonprofit organizations or government agencies.

Step 2: Experience

Aspiring GIS analysts with bachelor's degrees, especially those who've acquired the necessary computer skills, can usually qualify for entry-level positions in a variety of industries. Employers as diverse as media conglomerates, risk management firms and military contractors advertise for entry-level GIS analysts to assist with tax research, map fire-related risk information and manage databases for the U.S. Army.

Success Tip:

  • Consider continuing education. Options range from single-session software training seminars to graduate certificates in GIS. The time and financial commitment required to complete these training options varies widely. Some software training is free and can be completed in as little as an hour. Graduate certificates, on the other hand, usually require 12 credit hours of coursework.

Step 3: Certification

Voluntary certifications can be used to demonstrate skills and knowledge to prospective employers. These credentials are offered through professional organizations like the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) and the GIS Certification Institute (GISCI).

The American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) awards mapping scientist and GIS technologist certifications to applicants who pass an exam after meeting experience and education requirements. The GIS Certification Institute (GISCI) grants GIS Professional status to those sufficient education, experience and contributions to the field, whether through publications or attendance at conferences.

Software certifications are also available. ESRI, a maker of GIS software, offers associate and professional certifications to those who can pass exams on the use of its ArcGIS products.

Success Tip:

  • Pass certification exams while still enrolled in a bachelor's degree program. ASPRS offers provisional certification to students who pass its written exam but do not have the requisite experience. They can later gain full certification after establishing themselves in the field.

Step 4: Master's Degree

A master's degree in GIS or a related field may help analysts' advance their careers and provide them with the leaderships skills necessary for positions as project managers. Many master's degree programs can be completed in less than two years. Some also accommodate working professionals by holding classes in the evenings. Once enrolled, graduate students may learn about GIS in the corporate sector, spatial analysis techniques, data presentation methods and programming. Major projects or internships might also be part of the program.

Let's review! Geographic information systems (GIS) analysts earned a median annual salary of $44,380 as of May 2018. They usually need a bachelor's degree in computer science, geography, GIS or a related field to obtain an entry-level position, which can help them qualify for a professional certification from the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) and the GIS Certificate Institute (GISCI).

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