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Career Options for Geographic Information Science Professionals

Oct 07, 2019

Programs in geographic information science typically cover how to measure and map land, air spaces and bodies of water. Find out about the requirements of these programs, and learn about career options, job growth and salary info for geographic information science graduates.

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Geographic information science is the science of digitally representing the earth to find trends and make predictions about the geography of the past and the future. This article touches on three career paths in geographic information science: surveyors, cartographers, and mapping and surveying technicians. While a degree may not be required for all jobs, some training in mapping systems is needed.

Essential Information

Geographic information science degree programs can be found at the undergraduate and graduate levels. In these programs, students learn how to create maps and graphs by analyzing satellite image data, aerial photos and geological surveys. Geographic information science professionals use their skills to determine sizes, scales and colors used in the creation of maps, and they are also responsible for ensuring the accuracy of completed products. The majority of professionals work in office settings and use computers and mapping equipment, but some professionals may work outdoors gathering information.

Career Titles Surveyor Cartographer Mapping and Surveying Technician
Education Requirements Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree High school diploma
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028) 6%* 15%* 5%*
Average Salary (2018) $66,440* $68,340* $47,690*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Career Options

While there are many career job options in the field of geographic information science, graduates may consider becoming surveyors, cartographers, or mapping and surveying technicians. Read on for overviews of these careers.

Surveyor

These professionals use their knowledge of mapping geographic information sciences to take measurements to determine property boundaries for residential properties, construction sites and other locations. Surveyors often travel to sites and use specialized equipment to take measurements. They also review legal documents to compare previously established boundaries with current measurements. Surveyors create and submit reports on their findings to their clients.

Surveyors must usually hold bachelor's degrees. Although there are degree programs designed specifically for surveyors, programs in related fields, including geographic information science, may prove beneficial. Since surveyors work with and write legal documents, licensure is mandatory. To become licensed, individuals typically must meet state-mandated education requirements, pass the Fundamentals of Surveying (FS) exam and complete a mentorship-type program where they work under licensed surveyors for several years. After gaining enough work experience, individuals are eligible to become licensed by passing the Principles and Practice of Surveying (PS) exam. Additional licensure requirements vary by state.

Cartographer

Cartographers map out the surfaces of the planet. These workers use Geographic Information Systems software to assist them in analyzing data, such as longitude, latitude, elevation and distances between points. Workers also use high-tech equipment, including satellites and aerial cameras. They design digital or graphic maps based on their research.

Many bachelor's degree programs may prepare graduates for this career, and common majors include cartography, civil engineering, geomatics, or geography. Each state has different licensing requirements for cartographers, and several states require that cartographers complete the surveyor licensure process, since these careers share many similarities. Industry certification is voluntary, but most professionals do not become certified until accruing several years of work experience.

Mapping and Surveying Technician

These technicians are responsible for taking measurements in the field. Their duties include operating surveying instruments, which record land distances and angles. Afterwards, they return to their offices to enter their data into computer systems.

Employers will hire technicians with only high school diplomas, although most employers prefer applicants who have some postsecondary training in geographic information systems and other mapping technologies. Some employers offer paid apprenticeship programs, which is useful for people who want to become surveyors. As technicians gain more skill with mapping technologies, they can become certified. Technicians often use their credentials to prove their years of experience and skill with certain technologies.

Job Outlook and Salary Statistics

Job prospects are strong and expected to grow average to much faster-than-average for cartographers, surveyors and mapping and surveying technicians. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment opportunities were expected to increase by 6% for surveyors and 5% for mapping and surveying technicians, and grow by 15% for cartographers between 2018 and 2028.

Average annual salaries for geographic information science professionals can vary with specific job titles and duties. In May 2018, the BLS reported that surveyors earned an average annual salary of $66,440, and cartographers earned $68,340. Records from that same year showed that technicians earned an average annual salary of $47,690.

Due to the dramatic increase in the number of jobs over the next decade, employment prospects look best for cartographers. However, this does not necessarily mean that there will be no jobs available for either surveyors or mapping and surveying technicians. For all of these careers, proficiency in GIS greatly improves desirability to employers.

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