Master’s in Geographic Information Systems Degrees & Schools Guide

Master's Degree in Geographic Information Systems Career Options & Salary

Why Earn a Master’s in Geographic Information Systems?


Few graduate degrees offer as diverse a career path as a master’s in geographic information systems (GIS). Used in business and daily life, technology continues to expand rapidly. GIS deals with the mapping, management, analysis, and storage of data to assess and resolve real-world issues. Because GIS focuses on geographic data, its uses are virtually endless. While most people are familiar with GIS for driving directions, GIS is also used by emergency response teams, environmental scientists, marketing personnel, homeland security, and in a host of other fields. Along with its usefulness, GIS is also an intellectually stimulating area of work. Since GIS is a relatively young and dynamic field, careers in it are still evolving. It is and is expected to remain a fast-growing job sector in both private industry and government.

Computer Science & Career Paths


PROS

Career opportunities abound with a master’s in GIS. For some, GIS is the focus of their work, while for others, it is a critical component. A master’s degree in this field not only leads to a higher salary but also more career flexibility. A person with only a bachelor’s degree in GIS can have career success, but earning a master’s makes them a much more attractive candidate. Since many master’s in GIS degrees are geared toward the working professional, it is possible that companies may pay some or all of the tuition for their employees.

CONS

For someone with a true passion for a career in GIS, there aren’t a lot of cons in obtaining a master’s degree, although if there is no company tuition reimbursement, any student loans are a serious consideration. Because the technology is evolving so quickly, GIS professionals need regular certifications, and for some employees, obtaining multiple certifications may make more sense than getting a master’s degree.

Overview of a Master's in Geographic Information Systems


What Geographic Information Systems Master’s Degrees are Available?


GIS Master’s degrees are available under a variety of names and specializations. The most common GIS graduate degree is a Master of Science (MS) in Geographic Information Science.

Other GIS master’s degrees include:

  • MS in Geographic Information Systems Management – This degree is geared specifically for those looking to move into a technical management degree in their industry. GIS managers work in various fields, including public planning, natural resource management, economic development, law enforcement, and public health.
  • MS in Geographic Information Science and Technology – This degree is similar to an MS in Geographic Systems Management.
  • MS in Cartography/GIS – Maps are essential, and an MS in Cartography/GIS focuses on creating the maps used by consumers, government agencies, and private industry for everything from location apps to national defense and retail development.
  • MS in Human Security and Geospatial Intelligence – This degree focuses on those working in GIS in the military, defense industry, disaster relief, national security, and climate change fields.
  • Master of Professional Studies in Homeland Security Geospatial-Intelligence Option – this degree concentrates specifically on the homeland security aspects of GIS.

Admission Requirements


While admission requirements vary by school, in general candidates for a master’s degree in GIS might have earned a bachelor’s degree in cartography, geography, environmental science, or a similar field. Schools often require a minimum B or 3.0 average for consideration.

This is a field in which work experience in GIS weighs heavily. If the candidate does not have the quantitative background academically for admission to a master’s program, profession accomplishments may still permit provisional admission. Candidates with a strong professional GIS background may find themselves credited with certain core courses for the degree.

Along with standard admission requirements such as college transcripts, resume or Curriculum Vitae, academic references, and possibly professional references are necessary.

How long does it take to earn a Geographic Information Systems Master’s?


Most people can earn a master’s degree in geographic information systems with two to three years of part-time study. If studying full-time, it takes a year to earn this degree. Many master’s degrees in GIS are designed specifically for completion in either one or two years.

Potential Careers in Geographic Information Systems with a Master’s


  • Cartographer -
    With GIS, cartographers do more than create maps. With GIS technology, cartographers create the best routes for personal and business transport, develop terrain information, and build and maintain geographical databases.
    The average salary of a cartographer is $49,800 annually.
  • GIS Analyst -
    This position combines cartography, programming, and data analysis. Duties include database maintenance, map creation, research, and report preparation.
    The average salary for a GIS analyst is $53,300. The average salary for a senior GIS analyst is $69,655 annually.
  • GIS Manager -
    This role entails managing GIS employees and projects and focusing on business development, database management, and spatial analysis.
    The average salary of a GIS manager is $70,400 per year.
  • Geospatial Analyst -
    In this role, employees often work in both an office analyzing data and go out into the field to collect data. The work may involve examining the historical and environmental shifts in a particular landscape, and geospatial analysis is an important component in archaeology. Data examined include old maps, soils, satellite data, historical scientific literature, and environmental samples.
    The average salary for a geospatial analyst is $58,600 annually.
  • Urban/Regional Planner -
    Using GIS is an integral part of an urban or regional planner’s job. Planners develop land use plans for cities and communities, focusing on population and infrastructure changes, including the revitalization of underused or dilapidated facilities or areas. The job outlook is expected to grow by 13% in the decade between 2016 and 2016, much faster than the average job.
    The average salary of an urban/regional planner is $56,100.
  • Keep in mind that many potential careers in GIS do not focus solely on GIS technology.

Options to Advance


While there are a few PhD programs in GIS available, they are relatively rare. For most GIS professionals, the highest GIS-centric degree they will earn is a master’s. However, those seeking advancement in their fields may want to pursue another master’s degree or doctorate in a field related to their primary GIS work, such as environmental science or geomatics with a GIS concentration.

Since GIS technology changes so rapidly, it is critical that employees keep up with these changes and receive regular certifications in particular GIS areas. Those who want to advance in fields that include GIS but are not GIS per se may find receiving certification as a Geographic Information Systems Professional (GISP) could boost their careers, along with the newer Esri technical certificate. Esri has two certificate levels: associate and professional. Both the GISP and Esri are regarded highly by employers.

Best Master of Science in Geographic Information Systems Programs


  • Clark University
    Worcester, Massachusetts

    This degree program is based on a collaboration between the university’s Graduate School of Geography, the International Development, Community and Environment Department and Clark Labs, based at the university, a leading GIS software developer. Students learn from international leaders in GIS.

    Degrees Offered:

    • MS In Geographic Information Science
  • Florida State University
    Tallahassee, Florida

    Students must complete at least 30 graduate credit hours for program completion while maintaining at least a B average in required classes and a B- in electives. Required courses include Introductory GIS Lab, Remote Sensing Lab, Advanced GI Science, and GI Science Capstone.

    Degrees Offered:

    • MS in Geographic Information Science
  • Indiana University
    Bloomington, Indiana

    Students considering this degree should have a bachelor’s degree in geography or a closely related discipline, with a minimum GPA of 3.0. The curriculum requires a minimum of 30 credit hours, with core, advanced and research requirements as well as electives.

    Degrees Offered:

    • MS in Geographic Information Science
  • University of Minnesota
    Minneapolis, Minnesota

    A degree program of the University’s College of Liberal Arts, this program has earned an international reputation for its high quality. One of the first schools to offer a master’s degree in this field, its program has set national standards for similar GIS programs.

    Degrees Offered:

    • MS in Geographic Information Science
  • University of Redlands
    Redlands, California

    This program is designed for the professional and recent graduate desiring to enhance their GIS analysis and management knowledge. Available as either a one- or two-year program, students must complete a major individual project to graduate. Core courses include Fundamentals of Geographic Information, Project Concept, and Scope and Project Management.

    Degrees Offered:

    • MS in Geographic Information Systems

Traditional Schools Offering an MS in Geographic Information Systems


  • Johns Hopkins University
    Baltimore, Maryland

    This online degree program, geared to part-time professionals, focuses on the types of employment available in the field of next-generation geospatial technology. The degree requires the successful completion of 10 courses and is designed for 12 to 24 months of study.

    Degrees Offered:

    • MS in Geographic Information Systems
  • Pennsylvania State University
    University Park, Pennsylvania

    Along with a standard master’s degree in GIS, Penn State also offers a master’s degree focusing on mapping and geographic data analysis to identify and assess potential threats and consequences geospatially. In addition, PSU offers various graduate GIS certifications.

    Degrees Offered:

    • MS in Geographic Information Systems
    • Master of Professional Studies in Homeland Security – Geospatial-Intelligence Option
  • Salisbury University
    Salisbury, Maryland

    Designed for working professionals, this program is the only fully online program in the nation which focuses on GIS administration. The program also features a collaboration between the university’s undergraduate GIS program and its graduate school of business. Graduates receive the necessary credits for GIS professional certification upon program completion.

    Degrees Offered:

    • MS in Geographic Information Systems Management
  • University of Southern California
    Los Angeles, California

    Taught by world-renowned faculty in environmental sciences, geography, business analytics, and military operations; graduates of this program go beyond GIS data analysis and onto solving world-class problems. Students use the latest technologies and GPS and GIS remote sensing software to deal with spatial data in the real world.

    Degrees Offered:

    • MS in Geographic Information Science and Technology
    • MS in Human Security and Geospatial Intelligence
  • University of Wisconsin
    Madison, Wisconsin

    Online students may choose to complete this program in one year of full-time participation or two years studying part-time. The program consists of eight courses, each of which is worth four credits for a total of 32 credits. The curriculum is revised continually to keep it relevant in the rapidly evolving field of applied GIS and map design.

    Degrees Offered:

    • MS in Cartography/GIS