Guide to Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Degrees

group of adult students participating in class

Are you considering pursuing a degree in Geographic Information Systems (GIS)? Whether you're a recent high school graduate, a working professional looking to enhance your skills, or someone seeking a career change, a GIS degree can open up a world of opportunities in the rapidly evolving field of geospatial technology.

What Is a GIS Degree?

A GIS degree, or Geographic Information Systems degree, is a specialized academic program that focuses on the theory, tools, and techniques used to capture, analyze, and visualize geographic data. Geographic Information Systems are an integral part of various industries, including urban planning, environmental science, transportation, and more. These degrees provide students with a strong foundation in geospatial technology, cartography, remote sensing, and spatial analysis.

Types of GIS Degree Programs

There are several types of degree programs related to GIS that cater to the diverse educational and professional needs within this field. The three most popular degree types for GIS include the following.

Bachelor's Degree in GIS

A bachelor's degree in GIS typically takes four years to complete and provides a broad understanding of geospatial technology. Students learn how to collect, manage, and analyze geographic data, as well as develop essential GIS skills.

Master's Degree in GIS

For those seeking advanced knowledge and specialization, a master's degree in GIS is an excellent choice. These programs delve more deeply into GIS concepts and often require students to complete a thesis or project. A master's degree can open doors to leadership roles and research opportunities in the field.

GIS Certificates

GIS certificates offer a practical and focused approach to gaining proficiency in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) without the extensive time commitment of a degree program. They often cover topics such as GIS software proficiency, spatial data analysis, cartography, and database management. These skills enhance career opportunities where spatial data plays a crucial role in decision-making and problem-solving.

Exploring Diverse GIS Degree Program and Certificate Paths

GIS education has evolved to meet the diverse demands of the modern workforce. In addition to traditional GIS programs, there are specialized degrees that combine GIS with other fields to create unique skill sets. Here are some noteworthy options:

MS in GIS and Data Analytics

A Master of Science (MS) in GIS and Data Analytics is a highly specialized program that delves deep into geospatial technology and data analysis. Graduates of this program are equipped to take on advanced roles that require expertise in GIS, data analytics, and spatial intelligence.

BBA in Business Administration, GIS, and Data Analytics

For those interested in blending GIS with business acumen, a BBA in Business Administration, GIS and Data Analytics is an excellent choice. This program combines GIS expertise with business management skills, preparing graduates for roles that require data-driven decision-making in various industries. UMass Global even offers this program in a self-paced format through UMass Global MyPath which is great for those with full-time careers.

Undergraduate Certificate in Spatial Social Sciences

An undergraduate Certificate in Spatial Social Sciences is a comprehensive 18-unit program that equips students with critical thinking, problem-solving, policy analysis, and social science methodology skills essential for addressing complex social and environmental issues in society. This GIS certificate is a great addition for students already enrolled in a social sciences or environmental career program, who want to make themselves more competitive in the post-grad job market.

Graduate Certificate in Emergency Management Using GIS

A graduate Certificate in Emergency Management Using GIS focuses on the principles of strategic governance and the ethical utilization of location intelligence data when making critical government response decisions. Students actively engage in practical exercises that involve the analysis of geospatial information, a vital component in facilitating effective emergency response efforts and post-event recovery operations. This GIS certificate can provide enhanced specialization in geospatial data for careers in public administration.

These specialized programs highlight the interdisciplinary nature of GIS and its applicability across a wide range of fields, from environmental science to business management. Depending on your career goals and interests, you can choose the GIS degree that best aligns with your aspirations. Whether you opt for a traditional GIS degree or one with a unique blend of disciplines, your educational journey can lead to exciting opportunities.

What Can You Do with a GIS Degree?

One of the most exciting aspects of earning a GIS degree is the wide range of career opportunities it opens up. Some of the roles and industries where GIS professionals are in high demand include:

1. GIS Manager

GIS managers oversee organizations and teams that collect, process, and interpret geographic data to support strategic decision-making processes. They play a crucial role in fields like urban planning, agriculture, and disaster management. The average GIS Manager makes $75,000 with top earners making upwards of $100,000.

2. Cartographer

Cartographers specialize in creating maps that communicate complex spatial information effectively. They work in various industries, including publishing, government response, and environmental conservation. Cartographer salaries vary depending on experience and education, but the average salary is $72,000.

3. Climate Scientist

Climate and environmental scientists use GIS technology to monitor and analyze environmental data, helping to address issues such as climate change, conservation, and natural resource management. Climate scientist salaries range from $66,000 to $99,000 depending on location and experience.

4. Urban Planner

Urban planners utilize GIS tools to design and optimize city layouts, transportation systems, and land use plans. They contribute to creating sustainable and efficient urban environments in metropolitan cities. The average urban planner salary is $80,000 per year, but the top earners can make upwards of $120,000.

5. Remote Sensing

Analyst Professionals in this field use remote sensing technology and GIS to collect data from satellites and other sources to monitor changes in the Earth's surface, making them critical in areas such as agriculture and forestry. On average, remote sensing analysts make $97,000 per year, with the top analysts making $150,000.

Unlock Your GIS Career with UMass Global

Pursuing a GIS degree can be a rewarding journey that equips you with valuable skills and opens doors to an array of career opportunities. Whether you choose to pursue a bachelor's degree or aim for a master's, there are plenty of online options available to accommodate your educational goals and lifestyle. As the demand for GIS professionals continues to grow across industries, your GIS degree can be your ticket to an impactful career.

No matter if you're interested in going back to school as an adult and embarking on a path toward a GIS degree or you’re a freshman in college, it's important to research and choose a program that aligns with your career aspirations. Online GIS degrees provide a flexible and accessible way to acquire the knowledge and skills you need to thrive in the dynamic geospatial field. So, whether you're looking to analyze urban sprawl, study climate change, or help explain the world through maps, a GIS degree can help you turn your passion into your dream job.

Contact us to request more information or apply today.

Become a Student

Have questions about enrollment, degree programs, financial aid, or next steps?

Further your education with a few questions

Student Type
Please enter your zip code to proceed.
Please enter a valid zip code to proceed.
Please select a degree type
Please select your area of interest
Please select a program type
Please select a session
Have you served in the U.S. Military or are you a Military Dependant?
Please enter your name
Please enter your last name
Please enter your email to proceed
Please enter a valid email address
Please enter your phone number to proceed.
Please enter a valid phone number.

UMass Global is partnered with hundreds of employers like yours—learn if you’re eligible for tuition discounts by providing your work email address.

Please enter a valid work email address
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

About UMass Global

Earn your bachelor’s degree, master’s degree or certificate at UMass Global, a regionally accredited university.

We value your privacy

By submitting this form, I agree that UMass Global and/or Kaplan North America, LLC may contact me about educational services by voice, pre-recorded message and/or text message using automated technology, at the phone number provided, including wireless numbers. I understand that my consent is not required to attend University of Massachusetts Global. Privacy Policy