Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is a hybrid of Information Technology and Geography studies. There are a few different tiers of GIS careers, but they all meld together the theories behind information systems, databases, and programs with geographic and geospatial observations and data.
An online GIS degree is particularly useful in industries such as the military, emergency response teams, agriculture, or city planning and government committees.
Not all of the industries are expecting the same amount of GIS career growth as others in the coming years, and the background, education, and qualifications that are required for each career can vary. Thus, it is especially important to look into the specific requirements for each potential career of choice when deciding to go into GIS.
THE CAREER PATH
Keep your career options in mind when comparing online GIS degrees:
- Mapping Technician
A career as a mapping technician demand the least amount of education. Typically, employers require an associate’s degree and some may prefer a certification from The American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing. Mapping technicians are professionals who use geographic data to create maps. They may work in a position that assists surveyors, cartographers, and photogrammetrists. With little-to-no prior education, mapping technicians make an average of about $42,010 each year.
Although mapping technology requires the least amount of education of all of the GIS careers, it still requires a lot of hands-on training while on the job. In addition, it is the only GIS career that is anticipated to see a decline of 10% in the coming years. Take all of these factors into consideration when weighing your options.
- Photogrammetrist / Cartographer
A bachelor’s degree in geography or computer science may lead to a couple of options, with more potential opportunities within the GIS field, such as a career as a photogrammetrist or cartographer.
This is the fastest-growing GIS career, anticipating a drastic 29% increase in opportunities over the next few years, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics. These professionals get paid an average of $61,880 each year to collect and interpret geographic data in order to create and troubleshoot maps and charts.
- GIS Technician / Technologist
A bachelor’s degree can also prepare you to be a GIS technician or technologist. GIS Technicians will often assist other professionals in creating, maintaining, and using GIS databases, while GIS technologists research and develop GIS technology and may specialize in a certain area such as military or agriculture. These particular opportunities are expected to increase in the future, but slightly slower than the national rate of employment. The average salary for technicians and technologists is the highest among the GIS careers, at $85,240.
Across all of these options, most GIS professionals encounter similar tasks in their daily work life. Some of the responsibilities that you may have as a GIS professional are:
- Collect geographic data
- Select the needed information from databases in order to create maps
- Create visual representations of data
- Prepare maps in digital and graphic form for educational and environmental purposes
WHO IS THE IDEAL CANDIDATE?
No matter which direction of GIS that you decide to go in, you should be prepared to demonstrate not only computer skills, but also an attention to detail, the ability to make decisions, solve problems, and think critically.
While the concept of “geography” leads some people to believe that these professionals spend most of their time outside, this job is mostly spent indoors, at a computer or collaborating with other professionals.
If you are interested in technology and the data that makes maps possible, this is a great career for you.
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR?
If you know a GIS career in for you, there are a few options to prepare yourself for the job. Aside from mapping technicians, most professionals in the field have a bachelor’s degree of some kind. In addition, most specializations within the field usually require some kind of additional certificate or licensure.
There are a variety of broad bachelor’s degrees that lay the foundation for this career path, such as surveying, forestry, or computer sciences. However, it would be especially wise for those who are interested in this career to consider an online GIS-specific degree program.
Online GIS degrees will provide most of the background education that is needed to pursue professional certifications and will not limit the types of GIS-related opportunities that can be pursued after graduation.
Online GIS degree programs will introduce students to topics such as:
- Object Oriented Programming Languages (OOP)
- Topographic Mapping Systems
- Data and Imagery Analysis
- Analyzing Spectral Signature Statistics
Alternatively, universities that don’t provide a degree in GIS may provide some of these courses as electives to students in different programs. There are plenty of options available for those who are interested in GIS, so make sure to weigh them all before settling in on a decision.
Some universities offer the opportunity to receive a certification in conjunction with a degree. Give such programs some consideration, since you will need to obtain a certificate in your specialty from the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) before entering some careers, or give you a “leg-up” in others.
Our Best Buy cost rankings reveal an online bachelor’s in computer science to cost just under $50,000, while the most affordable options cost around $20,000. Click on a degree program below to see the total cost estimate including fees. Keep in mind whether you’ll be an in-state or out of state student and if the school is for-profit or non-profit.