If you’ve punched an address into your GPS app or asked Siri, Alexa, or Google how to get to the nearest gas station, coffee shop, or Taco Bell, then you’ve used the services provided by geographic information systems (GIS). All that information made it into the app somehow, it just so happens there are some well-trained individuals who use geographic information science and geospatial science to provide the app with the information it needs to help people like you get to that out-of-the-way restaurant or find that quirky bookstore.
If you think the process of collecting and making sense of geography and spatial data and helping organizations better serve their customers sounds like an interesting endeavor, a degree in geographic information systems (GIS) could be a good option for you. There are a few options of title for an undergraduate degree in this field, such as a Bachelor of Science in Cartography and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) or a bachelor's in geography and geographic information systems (GIS), etc.Read More
A student pursuing a bachelor’s in geographic information systems degree (GIS degree) is going to spend a lot of time making and updating maps. Required courses in this program might include mapping, surveying, computer programs, and lots of statistics and data. An internship isn’t always required, but many programs encourage their students to attain some hands-on experience whenever possible. Internships can be performed during summer breaks with a variety of organizations. In some cases, internships can turn into permanent, paid positions. Upon graduation, a degree holder is ready for an entry-level position working as a mapper, surveyor, or other data analyst position. GIS degrees also work well in an online format, so there are a variety of online programs where students can make use of distance learning to gain vital skills from online degrees. Below you'll find more likely core courses for prospective students looking to earn bachelor's degrees in this area.
- Geospatial Science or Geospatial Information Science
- Spatial Data and Spatial Analysis
- Basic Cartogaphy and Geography
- Digital Mapping
- Remote Sensing
- Environmental Science
- Crime Mapping
- Community Planning and Urban Planning
- Digital Image Processing
- Aerial Photography
- GIS Software
- Geographic Information Technology and Geographic Information Systems Technology
- And More
If you’re considering pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Cartography and Geographic Information Systems or a bachelor’s geographic information science and cartography degree, there are some things you’ll need to consider. As with any other degree program, GIS degrees offer pros and cons to going back to school and obtaining a degree. We’ve provided some considerations, both pro and con, below, but this is by no means an exhaustive list. Before making a commitment, prospective students should decide if they are ready to take on the task, and if not, what they need to do to get ready to pursue a GIS degree.
- Students who graduate with an undergraduate degree make more money. Workers with a formal education, such as a bachelor’s degree, can request and get more money for the work they do. In most cases, a person with a degree can make more than a person with years of experience but no formal education.
- Earning a GIS degree can also set you up for career advancement. Many management positions require workers to hold at least a bachelor’s degree, so attaining a four-year degree means you would be eligible to apply for advanced positions.
- More knowledge helps with your work. A formal education can provide you with skills to help you perform your job better. The combination of experience and formal education is an ideal situation to be in.
- Going to school is not cheap. Most students either pay for each class individually, out-of-pocket (more common with online degrees) or they take out student loans to pay for their education. Going the pay-as-you-go route means that students won’t have any debt when they complete their bachelor's in geographic information science degree but, depending on your situation, it could mean you are in school for many more years than a student who takes out loans. However, as mentioned, those who take out loans will have quite a bit of debt at the end. Choosing which path to take is a question that needs to be carefully considered.
- Time constraints - Going to school is a time commitment. Between attending classes, doing homework, completing projects, and studying for exams, school can take up a lot of time. If you have other commitments, such as work and/or a family, making everything fit might be a challenge. It will be important to make sure that all the important people in your life understand what your undertaking of returning to school means.
Associate vs. Bachelor's
What Geographic Information Systems Bachelor’s Degrees are Available Online?
An online bachelor’s degree in geographic information systems (GIS) is math- and science-based so, for the most part, the online programs are bachelor of science programs. Very few are bachelor of arts programs. The designation depends on the institution and the actual focus of the program. For example, geographic information systems employees who work with mapping traffic patterns and locating geographic locations are probably going to be in BS programs, while those who help with preventing human trafficking by mapping the locations of abductions in reference to highway access might be enrolled in BA programs.
Admission requirements to enter a bachelor’s degree program for GIS can vary from one school to another, but there are certain requirements that are universal.
- High school diploma or GED
- Scores on either the ACT or SAT - whichever the school you are interested in requires
- A completed application and fee
- Transcripts from all schools attended
- References (could be optional)
- Letter of intent (also usually optional but becoming increasingly popular)
The best course of action is to pay close attention to the requirements of the schools in which you are most interested and following their directives for applying to the letter.
Compare GIS Schools
How long does it take to earn a Geographic Information Systems Bachelor's Online?
As with most online bachelor degree programs, a bachelor’s degree in GIS is expected to take four years. This can differ depending on the student and their particular abilities. Some students can finish in less than four years, while others require four years or more. Most online programs however consist of eight semesters or 16 quarters, depending on the system the school uses. How long a student takes to work through those semesters or quarters depends on the student and their particular situation.
Potential Careers in Geographic Information Systems with a Bachelor’s
Geographic information systems can land a person in many types of jobs and working with a wide range of people and organizations. Here are some career options for GIS degree holders.
- Geographic Information Systems Technician:
Geographic information systems techs create digital maps and geographic data using cartography and design software. They are employed by both civilian or military agencies and work on both land and sea.
Average Salary: $44,000
- Marine Survey Analyst:
These workers make sure that marine vessels are in proper condition to be on the waters. They also track topographical data of the waterways so modifications to marine vessels can be made as necessary.
Average Salary: $77,500
- Cartography Technician:
These professionals design maps using GPS technology. They work with businesses with logistical concerns that require up-to-date geographic graphical representation for employees and customers.
Average Salary: $50,100
- Geographic Information Systems Project Manager:
These professionals supervise others on a GIS team, including cartographers, surveyors, mappers, and other geographic information system techs. Projects can include road traffic reports, defense planning, market research, GPS updating, and other geographic projects on both land and sea.
Average Salary: $71,100
- Mapping Tech:
You’ll assist engineers with mapping and surveying areas for mapping and GPS purposes. You’ll mainly work outside in all types of elements. You can be employed by civilian and military agencies as well as work for local, state, or federal programs.
Average Salary: $51,000
Options to Advance
The ability to advance in this career depends on the direction a person wants to take. The obvious path is to continue your education and progress from a bachelor’s degree to a master’s degree in the field or a related one. This would allow a person to command a better salary and pursue additional managerial and administrative positions. However, a person in this field can also advance through experience and expertise in their field. A combination of education and experience are the best option because it proves a person has book knowledge as well as the hands-on training to advance in their field.
Find Online GIS Colleges
Best online Bachelor of Science in Geographic Information Systems Programs
University of North Carolina – Wilmington
UNC offers a four-year degree in computer science with a concentration in geographic information systems. Courses include cartography, intro to GIS, computer organization, computer networks and formal language and compatibility. The school and program are accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
- Bachelor of Science Computer Science - Geographic Information Systems concentration
University of Kansas
Students enrolled at the University of Kansas in the GIS program prepare to enter the world and help update and improve GPS and mapping software and applications. Courses offered include Geographic Information and Analysis, History and Philosophy of Science, Cartography and Visualization, Remote Sensing, and other computer programming courses.
- Bachelor of Science Geographic Information and Analysis
Ball State University
Courses include Intro to Remote Sensing, Geographic Information Systems System Design, Advanced Geographic Information Systems Analysis, and Cartography and Visualization of Spatial Data. Graduates can find work in a variety of fields and organizations and can help with better accuracy of pinpointing locations and GPS accuracy.
- Bachelor of Science in Geographic Information Systems
Northwest Missouri State University
Areas of concentration include:
- Data and Technology
- Earth Technology
- Emergency Management Response
- Geographic Data
Internships are available and encouraged, though not required.
- Bachelor of Science Geographic Information Systems with the above concentrations
The Ohio State University
Courses include Elementary Computer Programming, Intro to Statistical Analysis, Human Geography of Economic and Social Geography, and Cartography and Design. Graduates are capable of creating and updating maps and GPS locations, as well as creating new mapping locations using surveying data and software.
- Bachelor of Science in Geographic Information Systems
Traditional Schools Offering a BS in Geographic Information Systems
Southern New Hampshire University
Courses include Intro to Cartography and Mapping, Intro to Statistical Analysis, Remote Sensing, and Intro to Computer Organization. By the end of the program, graduates are trained to create new maps and GPS tools to help with directions, locating items or people, and improving other search tools.``
- Bachelor of Science in Geosciences - Geospatial Technology
- Bachelor of Science in Information Technology
Arizona State University
Courses include Intro to Statistical Analysis, Cartography, Design, and Mapping and Survey courses.
- Bachelor of Science in Geographic Information Systems
With a degree in geographic information systems, you are literally shaping the landscape all around you. Whether you are helping map coffee chop locations, or assisting first responders with more accurate 911 data, the work you do in the GIS field will be valuable.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the purpose of GIS?
These systems are used for many things, but the basic use on the front end is for capturing and storing geographical data. This data can then be accessed, checked, assessed, and displayed by these systems to provide information for a variety of purposes. This provides useful data for companies and individuals, giving rise to a whole new form of technology and technological uses.
Do I really need a GIS degree? Why not just get a certification?
If you are considering moving into the GIS industry, and you aren’t sure if you should earn a degree or a certification, you should definitely consider the degree. While certification can give you an overview of the field and allow you to use these systems in very specific ways, it does not provide you the education necessary to allow you to problem solve in various roles throughout the field. As new technologies have arisen from GIS multiple times in recent years, it may be worth it to earn a full degree so that you can be fully versed in the technology and prepared for anything new that might be thrown at you when you begin working in the field. A degree is the best path to employment in the industry. Work as a GIS analyst will actually require the degree, though some technician positions are available with certification.