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Online GIS Degrees and Certificate Programs

GIS stands for geographic information systems, and this field covers wide-ranging topics like using mapping to better protect wetlands from pollution or to calculate response times during natural disasters. Explore the coursework in online GIS certificate and degree programs. Find out how online learning works. Check the prerequisites for enrolling in an online GIS program.

What Types of GIS Degrees and Certificates Are Available Online?

GIS, or geographic information systems, is primarily a graduate-level program. Online degrees are available at the master's level and online graduate or postbaccalaureate certificates are also available. You may be able to transfer credits from GIS certificate programs into master's degree programs in GIS. While some programs can be entirely online, others - especially master's degree programs - may have brief campus attendance requirements.

Certificate/Degree Level Master's degree; post-baccalaureate certificate
Key Topics Discussed Project management, geospatial system design, spatial analysis, mapping principles
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree is required; depending upon the institution, an introductory course or relevant work experience may be required for admission
Learning Environment Communication is primarily conducted through discussion groups or email
Median Salary (2020)$85,430 (for geographers)*
Job Outlook (2019-29)1% decline (for all geographers)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Will I Study?

As a GIS student, you will learn skills that are useful in various industries, including natural resource management, urban planning, public utilities, transportation and emergency response. At both the certificate and master's degree levels, you'll study geospatial system design, GIS spatial analysis, GIS project management, geospatial database management, GIS mapping principles and GIS problem solving. Both programs might also require you to complete an online portfolio of projects you've worked on in your studies.

Master's degree programs might include an independent study project in which you devise a project plan, implement it and observe the outcomes. You'll then present your project to the graduate faculty. A capstone, which entails in-depth research under faculty supervision, might be required as well. Additionally, the master's degree program might prepare you for GIS Professional certification which is available through the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association.

What Admissions Requirements Can I Expect?

Admissions requirements may vary according to the program you enroll in. A master's degree program in GIS may require you to hold a bachelor's degree in a spatially-oriented discipline - such as geography, geology or environmental science - and have at least one year of related work experience. Some graduate certificate programs are designed for students with little to no experience at all in the field, and you may be required to pass an introductory course before you can be admitted to the program.

How Can I Access the Online Program?

Your work is generally delivered through course management software that offers various learning applications, such as audio and video files, graphics and print documents. You'll communicate with your classmates and instructors through e-mail or discussion groups, take quizzes online and receive feedback from professors on your progress in the course. Some course activities - such as discussion groups - may be asynchronous, while others - such as live weekly lessons - may require you to log in at specific times.