Online Geographic Information Science Degree Programs

Geospatial data analysis can bring a lot of important insight to business and planning decisions, and it takes specific tools and training to properly interpret and visualize the results. Geographic information science, or geographic information systems (GIS), as they are often titled, degree programs help aspiring professionals learn how to use raw data to help administrators, colleagues and the public see the world in a new way.

Geographers and geographic information scientists work on a variety of projects and perform numerous specialized tasks for each one, but there are some duties that are common across most positions:

  • Collecting geographic data from maps, photographs, field observations and satellite imagery
  • Importing raw data into geographical information systems software
  • Applying statistical analysis and other quantitative methods to geographic data sets
  • Combining geographic data with that of other fields, such as health or economics
  • Composing maps, charts, spreadsheets, reports and other materials to present findings

GIS programs can help students gain functionality of GIS software and tools and other relevant skills before stepping out into the career market.

Coursework in Geographic Information Science Degree Programs

While GIS degrees are becoming more commonplace, the required curriculum can still differ across schools. Here are some subjects that students commonly study:

  • Spatial thinking
  • Geovisualization
  • GIS databases and interface
  • Remote sensing
  • Digital image analysis
  • Aerial photograph interpretation
  • Map design
  • Satellite and GPS data
  • Field study methods
  • Photogrammetry

Qualifying for Geographic Information Science Careers

The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that geographers and related professionals often need at least a bachelor's degree to qualify for entry-level positions. The degree subject and level varies by specialization. For example, geographers who do not work for the federal government often need a master's degree in geography in addition to geography experience or GIS training. Cartographers, on the other hand, often have a bachelor's degree in cartography, geomatics, geography or surveying and can benefit from classes in GIS technology.

Career Outlook for GIS Professionals

The BLS predicts a 29 percent national job growth for geographers between 2012 and 2022 and expects greater use of GIS and other geographic technologies to help drive this growth. Other contributing factors include a larger focus on environmental and sustainable practices and a need for geographers to offer recommendations on land use and other topics to businesses, governments and developers.

The BLS provides 2013 median annual wage data, along with projected national growth rates for 2012-22, for various GIS-related occupations. Below are a few examples:

  • Geographers: $74,750; 29 percent growth
  • Cartographers and photogrammetrists: $58,840; 20 percent growth
  • Geoscientists: $90,890; 16 percent growth
  • Environmental Scientists and Specialists: $63,570; 15 percent growth

Potential students who want further information on geographic information systems can contact schools that offer GIS degrees or visit a GIS association, such as GITA (Geospatial Information and Technology Association) and URISA (Urban and Regional Information Systems Association) websites.

Sources:
"Geographers," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, January 8, 2014, www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/geographers.htm
"19-3092 Geographers," Bureau of Labor Statistics, June 6, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes193092.htm
"Cartographers and Photogrammetrists," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/cartographers-and-photogrammetrists.htm
"17-1021 Cartographers and Programmetrists," Bureau of Labor Statistics, June 6, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes171021.htm
"Environmental Scientists and Specialists," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, January 8, 2014, www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/environmental-scientists-and-specialists.htm
"19-2041 Environmental Scientists and Specialists, Including Health," Bureau of Labor Statistics, June 6, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes192041.htm
"Geoscientists," Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2014-15 Edition, January 8, 2014, www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/geoscientists.htm
"19-2042 Geoscientists," Bureau of Labor Statistics, June 6, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes192042.htm
Geospatial Information and Technology Association, https://www.gita.org/
URISA, http://www.urisa.org/