Cartographer: Career Definition, Employment Outlook, and Education Requirements

Explore the career requirements for cartographers. Get the facts about job duties, employment outlook, education requirements and licensing to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Culture & Media Studies degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Cartographer?

Cartographers create maps using geographic information gathered from various sources; data is used in engineering, surveying, environmental protection and other industries. These professionals work to provide user-friendly maps. After they have collected the geographic information, they will develop visual representations of the information and prepare maps for the desired industry.

Cartographers will often need to revise and update maps, again using information from surveys, satellite images, reports and more. They may use different kinds of technology, such as geographic information system (GIS), to provide digital formats of maps and charts. The following chart gives you an overview of what you need to know about entering this field.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Computer science, geography, physical science, forestry
Key Skills Cartography, GIS, surveying, remote sensing, data analysis
Licensure Required Varies by state; some states may require cartographers to earn a surveyor's license; voluntary certifications available
Job Growth (2014-2024) 29% (for cartographers and photogrammetrists)*
Average Salary (2015) $65,410 (for cartographers and photogrammetrists)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

What Would I Do as a Cartographer?

As a cartographer, you would be responsible for researching, collecting and interpreting data relating to the Earth's surface. Some of the tools you'd use to gather data include GIS and related technologies, including light-imaging detection and ranging, geodetic surveys, aerial cameras and satellite data. You would use this information to create charts and maps for a variety of commercial and industrial needs, including mapping, surveying and drafting. Cartographers also work as conservation scientists, environmental scientists and wildlife technicians.

What Is the Employment Outlook?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that job growth for cartographers is projected to increase 29% between 2014 and 2024, which is much faster than the average for all U.S. occupations (www.bls.gov). As of May 2015, the annual average salary for cartographers was $65,410. Your salary will be based on factors such as your employer, location and experience.

Also in 2015, the industries with the highest number of cartographers were local government agencies and architectural, engineering and related services. The states that employed the most cartographers were California, Texas, Colorado, North Carolina and Florida, according to the BLS.

What Are the Educational Requirements?

To work as a cartographer, you'll need to complete a bachelor's degree in cartography, computer science, geography, physical science, forestry or a related discipline. In addition to general education requirements, you may need to complete major coursework that covers geographic information science, cartography, geospatial visualization, GIS project management, principles of remote sensing, biogeography and wilderness techniques.

Will I Need a License or Certification?

Licensing requirements for cartographers vary, although related professions, including surveyors, must have a state license. Some states may require cartographers to obtain licensing as surveyors. This can be done by passing a series of examinations administered through the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying. Certification is voluntary and available through trade organizations such as the National Society of Professional Surveyors and the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Those interested in related careers may want to investigate geographers, landscape architects and civil engineers, all of which require at least a bachelor's degree. Geographers study various aspects of Earth, including land features. They may work on a local or global scale. Landscape architects design and develop different kinds of outdoor spaces, such as campuses or parks. Civil engineers oversee the design and maintenance of an array of construction projects like roads, bridges and dams.

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