Careers in Cartography

Find out about the types of jobs you could pursue in cartography. Read on to learn more about career options along with salary and licensure information. Schools offering Culture & Media Studies degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is Cartography?

Cartography is a broad field that combines science and art to make maps. This is an ancient profession that has evolved with technology; today, cartographers, surveyors, photogrammetrists and mapping technicians develop essential tools for a broad range of professions. Assisting surveyors and cartographers, surveying and mapping technicians gather information and produce surface maps. Through the collection of geographic data and physical information of an area, cartographers produce user-friendly maps. Photogrammetrists do the same thing using aerial photography. Surveyors produce precise measurements of an area in order to determine boundaries and to aid cartographers in the creation of accurate maps.

The following chart outlines the requirements for different careers in this field.

Surveying and Mapping Technician Cartographer Surveyor
Degree Required High school diploma, associate's degree preferred Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Geospatial technology Cartography, geography, civil engineering, geology Surveying, civil engineering, geology, forestry
Key Skills Decision making, listening skills, physical stamina, problem solving Research, data analysis, critical thinking, problems solving Math, data analysis, detail orientated, writing skills
Licensure Required None Surveyor's license Surveyor's license
Job Growth (2014-2024) Decline 8%* 29% for cartographers and photogrammetrists* Decline 2%*
Median Salary (2015) $42,010* $61,880 for cartographers and photogrammetrists* $58,020*

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Cartography Careers Are Available to Me?

The term 'cartography' generally refers to the position of cartographer, who collects and analyzes data to make maps. However, you might also consider the related careers of photogrammetry and surveying.

Cartographers research and gather information on physical characteristics of an area or region and produce maps that display the relationships between different aspects and features of the environment. They use technologies such as satellite imagining, light-imaging detection and ranging (LIDAR), aerial cameras and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to determine spatial data such as like elevation, distance, longitude and latitude. Some cartographers incorporate information such as population density, geological characteristic, atmospheric data and land-use patterns to produce maps that graph social behaviors and change. While some cartographers spend long hours gathering data in the field, most work on computers in an office environment.

Photogrammetry is a specialized branch of cartography that involves generating precise measurements and spatial relationships from photographs. Photogrammetrists use a variety of advanced imaging technology to produce three-dimensional maps that have practical applications in many fields.

Surveyors are cartographers who develop precise maps for practical uses such as determining property boundaries and establishing a site's suitably for development and construction. Surveyors also create maps of waterways, forests, mining areas and other public resources. Although they use many of the same technologies and resources as cartographers, surveyors typically use special equipment to collect their own field data. Often, they generate reports that include historical records. Specialties within this field include marine or hydrographic surveying, geodetic surveying and geophysical prospecting surveying.

What Degree Do I Need?

Many aspiring cartographers begin their careers as technicians who assist cartographers, surveyors and photogrammetrists with data collection, calculations and computer-aided drafting. While not all technicians begin their careers with a bachelor's degree, some specialized postsecondary training is generally required, particularly in the area of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Many community colleges offer associate's degrees and certificate programs in GIS, geospatial technologies and related fields that will prepare you for a job as a mapping or surveying technician.

However, most jobs require a bachelor's degree in cartography, surveying or a related field such as geography, civil engineering, geology or forestry. Some degree programs offer the option to specialize in a specific area. For example, you can pursue a Bachelor of Science in cartography with a concentration in either geography or geotechniques. It's wise to check state's licensing requirements before selecting a program, because some states require you to complete an ABET-accredited program.

Some employers require entry-level cartographers or photogrammetrists, to complete an on-the-job training program which could last up to one year. Continuing education is also a must in this field since technology is rapidly advancing.

In addition to a degree, you may also need a license to work in a cartography career. All 50 states require surveyors to be licensed, while some states also require photogrammetrists and cartographers to be licensed surveyors. Typically, candidates for a surveyor's license must pass the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) exam. Other states have separate licenses for photogrammetrists. Check with your state office to determine the licensure requirements for your chosen cartography career.

How Much Could I Earn?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of 2015 the median income for surveying and mapping technicians was $42,010 a year. The BLS also reports that as of 2015, the median salary for cartographers and photogrammetrists was $61,880 a year, while surveyors earned median annual incomes of $58,020.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Once an area has been mapped and boundaries and features clearly defined, a landscape architect makes use of the data in order to design and develop outdoor areas that can include parks, recreation areas, campuses and private residences or businesses. Taking into consideration for the environmental and aesthetic aspects of the area, they confer with the client to determine the client's needs and desires. Entry into the profession requires either a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture (BLA) or A bachelor of Science in Landscape Architecture (BSLA).

In order to produce buildings, roadways, airports, bridges and the like within the boundaries of a particular surveyed area, the cervices of a civil engineer come into play. Prospective civil engineers must earn a bachelor's degree in either civil engineering technology or one of the civil engineering specialties such as structural engineering, geotechnical engineering, construction engineering or transportation engineering. Using information provided by surveyors and cartographers, they examine and analyze plans for an area in order to complete the desired construction. They see to it that the project will comply with local, state, federal and environmental regulations and , once approved, monitor its progress to completion.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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