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Geographic Information Science Degree and Training Program Info

Students in geographic information science programs learn to use geographic information systems (GIS), cartography, surveying and similar resources to discover geologic, population, environmental, and location information about Earth's surface.

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Essential Information

Geographic information science has applications in areas such as environmental science, urban planning, business and teaching, as well as in the military. Students interested in geographic information science can pursue an associate's, bachelor's or master's degree in this field and find career opportunities. Some programs are available online.

Perquisites for associate's and bachelor's degree programs include a high school diploma or GED, SAT or ACT scores, and high school math and science coursework. Associate's degrees take roughly two years to complete, while bachelor's degrees take four. Some schools require that associate's and bachelor's program students participate in internships or field camps.

Admission into a master's program requires a bachelor's degree, GRE scores, as well as a minimum GPA. A master's degree in geographic information science takes about two years to complete. Students are required to complete a thesis or a capstone project as part of their program.


Associate's Degree in Geographic Information Science

Associate of Science in Geographic Information Science degree programs provide students with entry-level professional knowledge of digital maps, coordinate systems, satellite imagery, georeferencing and geodesy. Some programs are aimed at training GIS technicians.

General education requirements for the associate's degree include composition, algebra, English and humanities. Associate's-level GIS-related courses include:

  • Spatial reasoning
  • Data acquisition
  • Introduction to mapping
  • Introduction to geography
  • Global Positioning Systems (GPS)

Bachelor's Degree in Geographic Information Science

A Bachelor of Science in Geographic Information Science degree program trains students to analyze and interpret geospatial data. Similar areas of study include geography, geomatics, digital information mapping and geospatial science and engineering. Required field camps or internships provide undergraduates students with hands-on experience in geodetic, hydrographic, and cadastral positioning. Many qualified schools are part of the University Consortium of Geographic Information Sciences (UCGIS).

Students take background courses in physics, math and statistics. Many courses provide education in spatial technology, computer science, digital drafting and design. Common courses are:

  • Geospatial software
  • Geodetic science
  • Geospatial plane measurements
  • History of land ownership
  • Cartography

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  • Cartography
  • Geography

Master's Degree in Geographic Information Science

Courses at the master's degree level in geographic information science involve detailed design, programming and use of geospatial technology and information databases. Students encounter subjects such as:

  • Spatial analysis
  • Modeling
  • Digital remote sensing
  • Natural resources
  • Surveying

Popular Careers

Master's-level degrees in geographic information science are useful for careers in the physical sciences, ecology, archaeology, market research, urban planning, environmental protection and teaching. Several government agencies hire GIS-trained employees, including the Department of Agriculture, the Forest Service and the military. Job titles include:

  • Geospatial information specialist
  • Geospatial services project manager
  • Spatial data administrator

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Those who complete an associate's degree program may be prepared for careers in geoscience, public safety, landscape architecture and natural sciences. Examples of employers for GIS-trained workers include city and local governments and utilities companies. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), surveying and mapping technicians--the broader category that includes GIS technicians--earned a mean salary of $44,800 in May 2015. The BLS predicted that surveying and mapping technicians should experience a decline of 8% in employment, from 2014-2024.

Some programs prepare graduates for certification in their state as registered professional land surveyors. According to the BLS, as of May 2015 surveyors made average annual wages of $61,880. The mean annual salary of cartographers and photogrammetrists was $65,410 as of May 2015.

Surveyors should expect a decline of 2% in employment, from 2014-2024, while cartographers and photogrammetrists should expect to see 29% job growth (www.bls.gov). Other jobs for graduates with a bachelor's degree include natural resources specialist, cartographic technician, GIS coordinator and park ranger.

Licensing and Certification Information

All states license surveyors. Requirements may vary state by state. For many states, license-seekers must have a bachelor's degree and pass exams from the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). The first and second tests are the Fundamentals of Surveying and the Principles and Practice of Surveying. State licensing boards may also have their own examinations.

Continuing Education

Graduates of a master's program can progress to a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Geographical Information Science. The in-depth knowledge of GIS technology and digital cartography from a doctorate program is useful for research in environmental geography, industrial geography and urban geography. Doctoral GIS students use and develop new techniques and software for processing, analyzing and storing geographic information. Academic positions are available for Ph.D. graduates as professors engaged in teaching and research at colleges and universities. Students who successfully complete the Ph.D. program in GIS may also be hired as researchers for private firms or government agencies.

Programs in geographical information science prepare students for future employment as survey and mapping technicians, surveyors, cartographers, and photogrammetrists.

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