Online Geographic Information Systems Degrees

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An online degree in geographic information systems (GIS) will equip you with the knowledge and skills for a great career in GIS. Strong problem-solving skills, the ability to reason and think logically as well as take decisions quickly, are some important qualities for GIS professionals. Job opportunities for graduates of GIS programs are available in the education sector, where graduates with advanced degrees can take up roles in administration, research and teaching. Program graduates may also take up jobs in the business sector, in federal, state and local government as well as in the nonprofit sector. Others may venture into consultancy. Fields and industries that employ GIS graduates include archaeology, cartography, geography, land surveying, natural resource management, public utility management, regional and urban planning, and surveying. Online GIS degree programs are available at the associate to doctoral levels. Certificate programs are also available (AmericanSentinelUniversity; Association of American Geographers; BLS; Penn State Online).

Find an Online Degree:

Online Geographic Information Systems Degrees Available

  • Associate degree: 2 years to complete
  • Bachelor’s degree: 4 years to complete
  • Master’s degree: 2 years to complete
  • Doctoral degree: 4 years to complete
  • Undergraduate/Graduate Certificates: 12 months to complete

Associate programs allow students to develop a good understanding of the foundational knowledge in the field. Areas covered by the curriculum include computer science, database applications, geodatabases, map design, map interpretation, principles of cartography, and programming and utilization of GIS software.

Bachelor’s programs allow students to develop expertise in using and developing geodatabases. The curriculum covers areas such as development and utilization of geodatabases; GIS business applications; GIS project management; interpretation and visualization of spatial data; map design; remote sensing and GPS techniques; software applications; and storage and management of spatial data. Students are usually required to complete a capstone project.

The master’s curriculum aims to develop the GIS knowledge base. Students also have the opportunity to build technical competencies that prepare them to take up leadership positions in the field. Areas covered by the coursework include cartography and visualization; geographical information analysis; geospatial system analysis and design; geospatial technology project management; GIS application development; GIS database development; GIS programming and customization; problem solving with GIS; and spatial analysis and modeling. Master’s programs usually require students to write a thesis or complete a project.

Doctoral programs focus on research and technical training. Areas of emphasis in doctoral programs include data management approaches and systems configurations; GIS analytical methods; spatial database design; and collaborative spatial decision-making. Students also learn how to apply GIS technology in various areas (AmericanSentinelUniversity; Penn State Online; University of CentralArkansas;University ofWashington).

Admission Requirements

A completed admissions application should be submitted to your program of interest, along with the required application fee. Applicants to undergraduate programs must be high school graduates or hold a GED certificate. Bachelor’s programs require applicants to submit transcripts from each post-secondary institution attended. In some cases, applicants are required to submit a resume, outlining professional accomplishments. Applicants to master’s programs must have earned a bachelor’s degree while doctoral programs require a master’s degree. GRE scores, recommendation letters and a statement of intent may be required for graduate applications (AmericanSentinelUniversity; Penn State Online; University of CentralArkansas;University ofWashington).

Differences between Traditional and Online Geographic Information Systems Degrees

You can expect the same quality of education in online GIS programs as in traditional programs. The online certificate or degree you earn will be the same as that earned by a student attending classes on campus. It is true that students on campus benefit from face-to-face interaction. However, online programs employ diverse technologies that allow frequent interactions between students and instructors. In most cases, online programs enroll students from virtually everywhere. This contributes to an intellectually vibrant learning community, which enhances the learning experience and promotes positive outcomes.


Tuition for associate programs ranges from $5,000 to $23,000. Average tuition for bachelor’s programs is about $9,000. However, tuition for some programs may require as much as $30,000. Master’s programs require from $7,000 to $16,000 while doctoral programs may require about $22,000 (AmericanSentinelUniversity; GTOS).


In some cases, schools offering online GIS degrees are accredited by national accrediting agencies such as the Accrediting Commission of the Distance Education and Training Council (ACDETC), which is recognized by the US Department of Education. Many schools are also accredited by various regional accrediting bodies (AmericanSentinelUniversity; University of CentralArkansas;University ofWashington).

Choosing the Best Degree for You

Associate programs equip you with the basic knowledge and skills, to take up entry-level technician positions in the field. Associate programs also lay a good foundation for future academic advancement in the field. If you’re looking to enhance your technical skills in the interpretation and application of spatial data, a bachelor’s program is a good choice. Master’s programs are ideal for practicing professionals who aspire to take up top leadership positions in the industry. You will develop the technical competencies and leadership skills that are essential for efficiently designing, managing and utilizing geographic information technologies in various fields. For those seeking a career in the academia and research, an online doctoral program is essential (AmericanSentinelUniversity; American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing; Penn State Online;University ofWashington).



Academic Catalog 2012. Retrieved July 31, 2012. AmericanSentinelUniversity.

Career Brochure. (2012) American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing.

General Catalog 2010-2012. Retrieved August 1, 2012. University ofWashngton.

Geospatial Education. Retrieved August 1, 2012. Penn State Online.

Graduate Bulletin. Retrieved August 1, 2012. University of CentralArkansas.

How to Become a Cartographer or Photogrammetrist. (2012) Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Online Geographic Information Systems Degrees. (2012) Guide to Online Schools.

Where Geographers Work. Retrieved July 31, 2012. Association of American Geographers.

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