GIS Certification: Is It Worth It?

GIS certification
GIS certification

What kind of GIS certification is available?

So you’re probably here because you’re wondering if pursuing a GIS certificate program is worth it (like the title says).

…Or maybe you’re trying to find all the different GIS certifications that are available today.

Well, you’ve come to the right place because all you need is someone to help you talk it through. We list the advantages and disadvantages. We weigh the good and bad.

We show you step-by-step the programs available for GIS certification. On top of that, is it really worth the time, money and effort to be GIS certified.

Let’s take a look:

GIS Certificates

The two primary options for GIS certifications that employers are looking for are as follows:

  • Geographic Information Systems Professional (GISP)
  • Esri Technical Certification

The main difference between the two is that GISP is based on your work and volunteering experience and the Esri technical certifications are test-based.


GISP is probably the most recognized certification in the field of GIS. According to the GIS Certification Institute (GISCI), there are over 5500 active GISPs located around the world.

The GISP application manual (under applicants) highlights all of the requirements on attaining this GIS certification. Your application will need to provide your educational background (degree, workshop courses and conference attendance). It’s also based on professional experience (GIS analysis, data and mapping). Finally, it looks at your contributions to the GIS community (organization involvement, presentations or journal publications).

After submitting your application to GISCI, you will be evaluated on these three categories (education, experience and involvement). You will also have to provide a fee and proof that you fulfilled this criteria. If you fulfill the necessary requirements, you will be GISP certified.

Until recently, another requirement is that you are required to write an exam for a GISP certificate.

Esri Technical Certification

The Esri Technical Certificate is a relatively new program. Contrary to the GISP which focuses on your experience and involvement, the Esri Technical Certification is completely knowledge-focused and exam-based.

There are three domains where you can attain GIS certification:
1) Desktop – Tests basic ArcGIS concepts such as visualizing, managing and analyzing geospatial data.
2) Developer – Evaluates engine application development for ArcGIS and building desktop or web GIS applications.
3) Enterprise – Exams are based on enterprise geodatabase management, enterprise system design and enterprise administration.

In addition, the two levels of certification are Associate and Professional. If you are interested in the Esri Technical Certificate programs, be sure to look at the beta exams to help prepare.

Is it worth it to be GIS certified?

I guess this is the big question, isn’t it? Is it worth the time, money and effort to be GISP or Esri certified?

It really depends.

It’s rare to see either any type of GIS certification as a requirement in a GIS job description. A surveyor, on the other hand, it is often essential to be certified and is a job requirement.  Many employers are probably unfamiliar with the GISP and Esri Technical certificates. If another GIS software is being used like Intergraph, the time, money and effort of being Esri-certified is not as valuable.

But there’s a lot to get out of GIS certifications though. It can help you differentiate yourself when applying for a GIS position. The extra credentials may push you one spot ahead of other candidates. The skills you receive from these GIS certifications are useful when you are in your position. It gives you the necessary experience and confidence to move forward.

Overall, it depends on how much you think the GIS certification will benefit you and what you want to get out of it.

14 Comments on GIS Certification: Is It Worth It?

  1. Interesting article. Certification in GIS is one of my hot topic issues. There are actually a lot more than two GIS related certifications. You have professional certification such as the GISP from GISCI and GIS Technologist from ASPRS. Then you have Technical Certifications such as Esri’s and AutoDesk’s. The difference between these is wide but basically the Professional level certifications indicate an overall knowledge and capability level outside of a specific software or platform where as the technical level is focused on a specific software. The two are not mutually exclusive. Based on surveys I have conducted in 2013 and 2014, certification is still not widely accepted by the GIS industry. Education and experience are the primary keys to getting job. However it does appear the certifications are gaining a foot hold and are slowly growing in acceptance.

    eGIS Associates

  2. I think that it is important to note that the GISP now requires one to ALSO take a 172 question exam that ranges from geomorphology, high level statistcal analysis, HTML programming, geodetics and photogrammetry. They have only gone through two testing cycles to date. Further more they test on a “core knowledge” not the platform. This means that there is tons of variablity in the answers. All GIS professionals know that there is more than one way to skin a cat but the way that they have designed their exam is that there is only one way to skin a cat and its the way they want it. This makes it very difficult to answer multiple choice questions.

  3. I have entered into a certificate GSA/GIS program at a college and was wondering if this is a waste of money? Someone told me I could get certified online much cheaper. I assume the general science classes would help me in the job market? I am signed up to take intro earth science and aerial photography this fall

    I have worked in CAD for a manufacturing company for several years. I have an A.A.S. in CAD. There seems to be some connections with GIS and CAD. I feel like I would only get half value out of some of my classes, is that safe to say? Is it common to just get on the job training?

    Thanks for any advice

  4. It depends for a lot of these questions.

    I don’t think a GIS certificate is a waste of money. There are some employers who want to see this on a CV and occasionally candidates can be filtered out if they don’t have one. With that said, I think Earth Sciences and aerial photography are 2 great courses and skills to learn. If you decide to get out of the GIS certificate program entirely, you can list that you’ve taken these 2 courses on your CV.

    I personally think there are more CAD jobs available (at least North America). I’d agree that there’s a connection between CAD and GIS and having these two areas of proficiency is a bonus. Can you get on-the-job training? Yes, you could. But it’s a matter of getting your foot in the door. Tailor your CV to match the job specification for each job posting. It’s a lot of work but HR (who doesn’t know much about GIS) will filter those candidates out if they don’t see those specific keywords.

    My personal opinion is to learn as much as you can. Get to know as many people as possible in your CAD and GIS communities. Because sometimes it’s about who you know, not ‘what’ you know

  5. I took a course at college, GIS and Remote Sensing, mostly introductory. I loved it and now I want to pursue a career in the field. I have a BS in Geology. I was looking up GIS certificate courses near me and found one offered by San Francisco State University. Should I go for it?
    Are there any other courses I should take? I read that Cartography would be a great course to take. Any sort of advice will be appreciated. Thank You.

  6. i completed a GIS certificate at a regional community college. Halfway through the program, the department decided it was going to discontinue the program due to decreasing enrollment in the classes offered. There was one instructor teaching all the required classes, he had done so for a few years prior to my enrollment. (Side note: He was a professional GIS analyst–academically and professionally–and worked for the city planning dept.).

    In the middle of my 5 certificate courses, the program was suspended without a formal announcement to the students and the instructor. This caused lots of confusion among the students committed to the program. Finally, it was communicated that the program was going to resume with the remaining students, numbering 2-4 at this point. I paid in full for the last two courses, but despite my commitment to completing the program and assuming the college would do right by the students and instructor, the final three courses were a waste of time and money. The instructor was not being treated well by the administration by not processing his course materials on time, etc. By the time I completed the final “courses,” all concerned were frustrated and ripped off.

    I got an online GIS certificate on my own accord to improve my job skills since GIS has become an integral part of my job. Since this program didn’t provide the instruction or training one expects from a $600/credit hour institution, I don’t even emphasize my GIS certificate as part of my resume because, if asked to produce such products on the job, I don’t feel like I could without some serious review and having to take basic courses over again. To compound this problem, my bosses haven’t tasked me with GIS responsibilities on the job and I haven’t used the few skills I have learned.

    In the meantime, I am looking or a job that requires more GIS skills and I intend to take basic GIS courses online, as many free ones as possible since I blew my tuition budget already.

    Be wary of online certificate degree programs. Colleges want your money. I am not convinced that they are that dedicated to providing the training and education to students that they initially claim.

    Research online programs wisely.

  7. Just wondering is there good GIS & CADD Integration Certificate program in the U.S.? I have a GIS Bachelor degree but am looking for to enhance my qualification with CADD. Thank you.

  8. I have a secondary social studies and history degree but am wanting to get out of teaching. I am really interested in GIS and found a certificate program at University of Michigan for it. I was wondering if the certificate program would help me obtain a job in the GIS field or if I’d have to pursue a second bachelors degree.

  9. I am in my last semester at Fanshawe College (ontario) in the online GIS graduate certificate program. If anyone is looking into this program it is great! I really learnt a lot of skills that will be helpful to land a job!

  10. I’m finishing up my last few assignments in NC State University’s GIS graduate certificate program. This is also an excellent program. NC State offers a graduate certificate, MS, and PhD degrees in GIS for any that are interested. All courses for the graduate certificate are available online, but you’d have to ask about the MS and PhD programs. If so inclined you could probably couple it with our College of Engineering’s Computer Science programs as well.

  11. Hello all….excuse me if my comment is irrelevant….. I participated in the ESRI technical exam about two months ago and passed this exam…. Now I want to know if it’s possible to order my certificate?? If yes, how???

  12. GIS certification is vital. For the industry, more so the private sector, getting work, contracts and all other related tasks, might require a certification. This should be the first thing to pocket before venturing into any business in the GIS field.

    Again it depends with your interests and career. Technical knowledge is different from non-technical knowledge and requires different levels of understanding. It’s always good to gauge yourself and analyse the need for this certification.

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