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Online Cartography Degree Program Information

Get info about online programs in cartography. Read about program requirements, course topics and degree levels, and check out career and continuing education options.

Essential Information

Cartography degree programs prepare students for a variety of careers related to the science of mapmaking. Degree programs in this field are often very hands-on, so online programs with a major or specialization in cartography are virtually nonexistent.

However, students interested in this field can find a limited number of schools offering online programs in the related field of geographic information systems (GIS). These programs often include cartography-related courses and typically culminate in a Master of Geographic Information Systems or Geographic Information Science. GIS programs can be completed entirely online, but students typically need to have the ArcGIS software with the following extensions: 3D Analyst, Geostatistical Analyst, Network Analyst and Spatial Analyst.

Master's Programs in GIS

GIS specialists use computer programs and software to make maps and store data that can be used with geographic information. Online master's degree programs in GIS are designed to help students acquire the skills they need to manage this information and resolve geo-spatial challenges and issues. In general, the curriculum includes core topics in cartographic and GIS database design, geostatistics and project management. In this rapidly emerging field of study, students may also learn about cloud and server GIS, conservation GIS, light detection and ranging (LIDAR) technology, location intelligence and Python programming language.

In addition to having a bachelor's degree, applicants may have to submit their GRE scores. Some programs may show a preference for students with prior professional experience in GIS and geospatial technologies

Information and Requirements

Although degree requirements can vary, an online master's program typically requires 28-35 credits and takes up to three years to complete. Along with coursework, students may participate in a capstone experience or independent study project, take a final exam or write a thesis.

Students enrolled in these online programs can participate in real-time communication with peers and professors by way of telephone or Web conferencing. Asynchronous communication includes email, chat rooms and online discussion forums. Assignments, projects and quizzes are also submitted and evaluated electronically. The technology requirements can include a student edition of the ArcGIS platform with 3D Analyst, Geostatistical Analyst, Network Analyst and Spatial Analyst extensions. Microsoft Excel, PowerPoint and Word are also required.

Common Courses

Graduate students in a GIS program may complete a 12-16-credit core and a series of electives in their areas of special interest. Individual schools may offer specialized tracks in spatial application development, data analysis and visualization or data acquisition and integration, among other areas. The study of map projections and topographic mapping with LIDAR may also be available. Below are descriptions of some common courses in a GIS program.

Cartography and Visualization

Aspiring professionals become acquainted with the theoretical and practical aspects of cartographic design. Topics include how spatial cognition and visual perception assist in the development of animations, maps, multimedia presentations and virtual realities that have been created with GIS.

Geospatial System Analysis and Design

Students design and implement geospatial information systems while exploring geographic abstraction and modeling within the context of data modeling. At some schools, the study of spatial analysis may be combined with geostatistics.

GIS Database Development

In this class, students use desktop GIS software to design, integrate and maintain a database. In particular, they may have the chance to work with object-oriented, relational and other geospatial databases.

GIS Programming and Customization

This course teaches future professionals how to customize GIS software, automate repetitive operations and improve functionality.

Remote Sensing for Image Analysis and Applications

Through this course, students become acquainted with the airborne and spaceborne sensors used to collect elevation and spectral information or optical imagery. They also learn about georeference procedures and how data can be used to create scaled maps and digital information products


Career Information

Graduates of online master's programs in GIS may find employment in cartography and surveying, environmental resource management or urban and regional planning. In addition to positions as GIS analysts, they may also find jobs as mapping technicians, photogrammetrists or technical consultants.

Students who are interested in careers as cartographers or photogrammetrists (specialized mapmakers) should be aware that some states may require them to obtain a surveyor's license. Voluntary professional certifications in mapping science, remote sensing and photogrammetrics are also available through the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, which also offers a webinar series.

GIS professionals who join the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science also have access to symposiums. Similar resources, such as conferences, seminars and workshops, can be found through the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association.

Continuing Education Information

For professional development purposes, students can continue to take online courses related to cartography and GIS through specialized certificate programs. Qualified graduates interested in preparing for teaching or research positions can also consider enrolling in on-campus Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs with a specialization in cartography geographic information science.

Although online programs for cartography are basically nonexistent, interested students can gain a solid grounding in cartography by participating in Geographic Information Science or Geographic Information Systems master's programs. Such programs are available exclusively online and offer courses in cartography and related subjects such as GIS programming and geospatial system analysis.

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