Complete Guide to an Online GIS Degree

Quick Facts
Accreditation: Institutional
Degree Levels: Bachelor's, Master's, and Certificate
Avg Tuition: $25,229
Avg Salary: $81,508

Online geographic information systems (GIS) degrees are available at the bachelor's, master's, doctoral, and certificate levels. Geographic information systems (GIS) is the science of capturing, storing, manipulating, analyzing, and managing different types of geographical or spacial data. People study GIS because it aids in solving a number of spatial problems such as creating maps, locating geographic data, measuring physical characteristics of the earth, and extracting information from structured sets of geographic data.

Aspiring GIS professionals should seek regionally accredited programs to ensure the quality of their educations. Accreditation maintains the relevancy of programs and holds them to high standards that will give future employers the confidence that the potential employee has gained the necessary skills and knowledge needed to be an asset to their organization. Students who may need to transfer credits in their future will also find that accreditation will make the process much faster and smoother as many organizations will not accept prior credits if they are not from an accredited institution. 

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Comprehensive List of Accredited Online Schools - Geographic Information Systems Degrees ( 57)

Online Geographic Information Systems Degree Overview & Career Information

Many positions within the field will require a bachelor's degree, which will take fours years to complete comprising of 120-credit hours of coursework. Online master's degree programs are also available to prepare professionals to take on senior roles in more specialized areas. Students can receive their graduate diplomas in two years depending on their choice of full-time or part-time study. Professionals who are looking to advance their careers but don't want to commit to a full graduate degree program can participate in a post bachelor's online certificate program, which can be completed in a year or less.  

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Online Bachelor's Degrees in Geographic Information Systems

By participating in an online bachelor's degree program in geographic information systems students will learn the mapping and programing skills needed to be successful in the industry. Key courses within a geographic information systems curriculum include website design, data base design and management, cyber law and ethics, geospatial programing, information technology communications, computer platforms technology, and information technology portfolio planning. A typical online bachelor's degree program is comprised of 120 total credit hours and will take students four years to finish. Many graduates go on to work as geospatial scientists, remote sensing technologists, user interface developers, and geographic information systems analysts. Applicants who wish to participate in an online bachelor's degree program will need to submit their high school diploma or GED certificate along with transcripts. Applicants will also be required to submit transcripts from each post-secondary they attended. an admissions essay may also be required. 

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Online Master's in Geographic Information Systems

Professionals who hold an undergraduate degree may find that going back to school to earn their online master's degree will aide in career advancement. An online graduate program will take participants two years to complete the required 36 to 46-credit hours. Students will develop advanced technical competencies through classes such as advanced spatial analysis, managing organizational culture, business applications of geographic information systems, crisis mapping for humanitarian action, geospatial analysis of crime, problem solving with GIS, spatial databases, and applied multivariate statistical analysis. In some cases it may be a program requirement for students to complete a thesis prior to graduation. Admission requirements will include an undergraduate degree with a GPA or 3.0 or higher, a statement of purpose outlining the applicants educational and professional goals, a resume, and two or three letters of recommendation. Some schools also require an applicant to submit their GRE scores. Upon completion of an online graduate program, graduates will be equipped to take on designing and management roles in the areas of local government, transportation planning, and environmental resource management. Online master degree programs in geographic information systems can be pursued at the university level. 

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Online Doctoral Degrees in Geographic Information Systems

While not common, there are online doctoral programs available that focus on Geographic Information Systems. These programs typically have GIS as a specialization of the main degree, as opposed to being the focus of the degree. For instance, Walden University offers an online Doctor of Public Administration with a Geographic Information Systems concentration. Students enrolled in this type of program will take courses such as Fundamentals of Mapping and Geographic Information Systems, GIS Research Methodology, Public Policy and Finance, and Spatial Analysis and Modeling. Research and a dissertation will also be required. Students will learn the skills needed to use GIS technology to do things like come up with evacuation plans in the event of a natural disaster, create systems of transportation, study the way diseases spread across locations, and other activities that help the public. This program will require close to 90 quarter hours of work and will likely take three or more years to complete.

Upon graduating, these professionals may find work in such positions as policy analyst, consultant, and in senior management or executive positions. Individuals who have earned a PhD can also find jobs teaching at the university level and conducting research. This type of online program can be found at the university level, and admission requires a master's degree. Other typical requirements include a resume, letters of recommendation, test scores, and a writing sample.

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Online Certificates in Geographic Information Systems

Online post baccalaureate certificate programs are available at a variety of colleges and universities and can be completed in as little as a year. Participating in an online certificate program can help graduates and professionals advance their careers as architects, engineers, environmental scientists, surveyors, and mapping technicians. The courses that will aide in preparing students for such career advancements include problem solving with GIS, professionalism in GIS&T, cartography and visualization, and remote sensing techniques. Programs lengths vary and may range from 11 to 24 credit hours. Time to completion is generally less than a year. In order to qualify for a post baccalaureate certificate degree program the applicant must possess a bachelor's degree in geographic information systems or a related discipline. 

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The Importance of an Accredited Online Geographic Information Systems Degree 

Regional accreditation is the process in which an outside, non-profit organizations conducts a quality review on a a specific program or school. This is something that should be taken into consideration before making a final commitment to a school. These quality reviews ensure that the program is taking all of the necessary steps to provide the best education for the students involved. Reviews are conducted on things like curriculum, facilities, teaching material, student resources, and faculty. Students who may be in need of financial aid will want to apply for accredited programs because federal financial aide is only available through accreditation. Many employers in the professional world will not recognize a degree unless it has been received through an accredited program. For this reason accreditation can make the job search upon graduation a much easier process. Lastly, many institutions will only accept transfer credits that have been accredited. If a student feels that they may need to transfer institutions anytime in their future this must be considered. 

Careers in Geographic Information Systems

In a world that is becoming increasingly reliant on various new technologies, there are many career options available to those that earn an online degree in geographic information systems. Graduates might find work in such fields as environmental resource management, urban planning, or cartography. Those who go to work in the field of cartography using geographic information systems will likely work under the title of geographic information specialist. These specialists will use GIS to create and update maps that digitally present spatial information. These maps will be used in a variety of settings, like planning the use of land, marketing, geology, and environmental studies.

Another notable option for online GIS graduates is to find work as a geographer. These professionals can work for the federal government or private organizations, and their job involves creating maps based on a variety of geographic data. These maps are not always just maps of land features or cities; they may also include visual representation of things like cultural structures or political features. Geographers will look at geographic data and combine it with information relating to things like economics, health, or the environment, and then create a map that accurately represents this information. This information is used for a variety of purposes, from planning the layout of roads to determining the best way to respond to a disaster. Geographers usually need a bachelor's degree to find work within the federal government or in entry-level jobs. A master's will help them to advance in their career.


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