Online GIS Certificate and Certification Programs

Find out about online GIS courses and in which programs they're most commonly offered. Get course descriptions, program info and online requirements to make an informed decision

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Essential Information

Online educational certificate programs in geographic information system (GIS) are relatively common. They may be offered fully online or in blended formats. Such programs may require applicants to hold a bachelor's degree in geography or a related field. Prior to enrollment, students need to make sure they have access to specialized cartographic software that enables them to use certain GIS tools.

Mapping technicians typically need some formal postsecondary education, although surveying technicians may be able to find jobs with only a high school diploma. Certification for GIS technicians is voluntary, but preferred by many employers. The American Society of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing offers professional certification in GIS and land information system (LIS). Certification requires hands-on experience as a GIS technician.

GIS Certificate and Certification

A GIS integrates and studies various forms of geographic data for the purpose of geographic research. GIS certificate programs train students in building and using GIS tools. Many schools offer online certificate programs in GIS, which generally take 1-2 years to complete. Online certificate programs are typically instructor-led, with coursework that is to be done via the Internet.

GIS certification is conferred by a professional organization of scientific peers. Certification requires on-the-job experience in the field.

Information and Requirements

Students pursuing a GIS certificate are typically required to have a bachelor's degree, usually in geography or a related field. GIS certificate programs are vocational; thus, students usually have to complete some field work and perform data analysis in a lab setting. GIS certificate programs are typically meant to provide students with the theoretical knowledge of cartography and computer skills needed to perform original work in the field.

In an online GIS program, students access readings and lectures from a course website. They interact with instructors and fellow students in chat rooms or on discussion boards. They may need access to specialized cartographic software for using GIS tools.

Common Coursework for a GIS Certificate

GIS certificate programs tend to place heavy emphasis on cartography, spatial analysis and statistical methods. Higher-level courses focus on analysis and theory.


Students will learn how to think critically about cartography, and will learn the basic tools and skills needed to create maps. Topics covered typically focus on spatial analysis, data organization, mapping and cartographic design.

Quantitative Methods

This course typically focuses on statistical methods used in GIS. Non linear models, clustering methods, time series analysis and computer methods are subjects that tend to be covered.

Spatial Analysis

Students explore geographic abstraction and modeling. They learn about data and spatial analysis operations used in GIS.

Career Information for Graduates

The most common career options pursued in GIS are surveying and mapping technicians, cartographers and photogrammetrists. As of May 2015, the median annual wage for cartographers and photogrammetrists was $61,880, while the median for surveying and mapping technicians was $42,010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics ( The BLS reported that between 2014 and 2024, job opportunities for surveying and mapping technicians were expected to decline by 8%.

Continuing Education Information

GIS certification typically requires an applicant to engage in on-job training and experience. A peer instructed examination process tests the applicant on his or her overall knowledge on a specific topic of interest and on GIS in general. Certification is offered by professional organizations such as the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (

Overall, graduate certificate programs offer advanced cartography and technology training for experienced geography students who want to pursue advanced positions in the field. After finishing an online program, graduates may take professional certification exams.

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