GIS Certification: Is It Worth It? GISP vs Esri Technical Certification

GIS certification
The two primary GIS certification types are the GIS Professional (GISP) and Esri Technical certifications. But is it worth your time, effort and money to be GIS-certified?

Last Updated: Feb 15, 2018

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.

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

Either way, you’ve come to the right place because we show you step-by-step the programs available for GIS certification.

If you’ve read our top 10 GIS career tips to get a job, this can help you weigh the good and bad of each GIS certification. On top of that, is it even worth the time, money and effort to be GIS certified?

Let’s take a look:

GIS Certificates

The two primary GIS certifications that employers want are:

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

The main difference between the two is that Esri technical certifications are test-based. Even though GISP has exams, it also checks your work and volunteering experience.

Now, let’s look at both GIS certifications with a bit more detail.

What is GISP Certification?




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 around the world.

The GISP application manual highlights all the requirements on attaining this GIS certification. For example, you need at least 4 years of full-time experience in the field of GIS.

Before you send your application, you need to meet the education requirements. It also looks at how many contributions you have made to the GIS community. For example, this could be anything from presentations to journal articles.

Lastly, you have to pass the GISCI Geospatial Core Technical Knowledge Exam. 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.

Once you earn your GISP, it’s for a three-year period. This means that you need to re-certify after this period is over.

Esri Technical Certification




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

There are three domains where you can attain GIS certification:

  • For the Desktop exam, it tests basic ArcGIS concepts such as visualizing, managing and analyzing geospatial data.
  • The Developer exam evaluates engine application development for ArcGIS and building desktop or web GIS applications.
  • Lastly, the Enterprise exams evaluate enterprise geodatabase management, system design and 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.

If you don’t want to commit to this certification, there is also Esri’s free training and MOOC to boost your skillset.

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.

Nowadays, it’s rare to see any type of GIS certification as a requirement in a job description. For the surveyor profession, it is often essential to certify yourself and is a job requirement.  In the case of GIS, many employers are less familiar with the GISP and Esri Technical certificates. If the company uses another GIS software, that means your time, money and effort for Esri certification was wasted.

But there’s a lot to get out of GIS certifications though. For example, it can help you differentiate yourself when applying for a crowded GIS position. Not to mention, the extra credentials may push you one spot ahead of other candidates. GIS certifications helps you become an expert in your field and gives you confidence. Lastly, you get the necessary experience and knowledge to climb the GIS career ladder in your job.

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

Are you thinking about getting a GIS certificate? Let us know with a comment below.

24 Comments

  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.

  13. Hello, I had my BTech in Transport management (Aviation major) and I’m thinking of getting my masters degree in GIS(a professional masters). I don’t know if I’m on the right part. Pls I need your advice. Though, I intend getting another masters degree in international Aviation management(when I can afford it)

  14. I don’t agree with getting certified unless you do not have a background in GIS with professional experience or if you are starting a GIS business doing freelance work. Getting certified does not guarantee you a job or guarantee you’ll be the selected candidate. If you go to a 4 year accredited college or university for GIS, that is your certification and you become a professional when you gained experience. I don’t see the cost outweighing the benefits.

  15. I always had an interest in Cartography, and have a long career in graphic design. I would like to start a career using GIS but I’m unsure if I should take an online GIS certification program through UCI, Univ. of Michigan or Michigan State University, (or another university) or pursue a Masters degree in GIS. I have a bachelors in Art with a minor in Computer Science. Does anyone have a suggestion for my desire for some type of education in GIS and what kind of job I could strive for after completing the classes? And what the pay scale might be? I have over 30 years of experience in design and would like to change fields.

  16. I think a Bachelors in Art and minor in computer science are two great complimenting subjects for specializing in cartography/GIS. As for salary expectations, we have put together an infographic with payscale ranges – https://gisgeography.com/gis-salary-expectations-gis-career/

    There’s a lot to consider between a Masters program and GIS certification. Maybe, some of the people on here can chime in to help

  17. Did you know there is an Esri Technical Certification space in GeoNet? This is where the certification team posts specific information about the program. For those of you that have specific education focused questions there is also an Education space where you could ask your questions. Here is the link to learn more about GeoNet and the Education space, https://community.esri.com/docs/DOC-9165-what-is-geonet
    https://community.esri.com/community/education

  18. Interesting article. At first glance, It seems that most of the certifications are designed for someone with a degree in a GIS related field, or at least for someone with a professional degree. I am curious about certification programs for the non-professional and where someone might start in this field.

  19. I believe that GISP and ESRI certifications are a farce. Yes, I actually said it. I could not get GISP certification BECAUSE I did not have community service hours because I did not take time off from my work that pays the bill to teach students for free. I did not pass my ESRI technical certification exam and was told that I lack basic fundamentals in GIS despite being in industry for 15+ years prior to taking the test. I did not pass BECAUSE most of the questions were webgis/ArcGIS portal/sharing and caring stuff. Nothing to do with ArcGIS or ArcCatalog or knowledge of geography (in which I have a degree in from ivy league school). Only couple of ArcGIS questions that were actually asked dealt with what drop down list says on what random tool most people never use. How am I supposed to know what checking a box on Getisorg tool does if I have not had to touch the darn thing in 15 years? You can’t learn what you do not use on the daily and even if you want to learn, you have to figure out on your own because most companies do not have every extension purchased. I had questions on Hazmat and networking and schematics. I do not have any of those available to me.

    Here is a fact: It is easy to sell people idea of what they need. It is easy to sell employers an idea of what they should be looking for. And then there is reality. Every time I go to ESRI conventions and look at deer in the headlights GISP professionals asking basic 101 level questions or programmers who never even touched ArcMap or so called GIS certificate people who paid $1000 to learn the software without having a basic understanding of geography struggling to grasp why water flows down hill….

    It is all mostly a farce. It will continue being a farce for as long as GIS careers continue paying low wages and not recognized as significant and for as long as other careers dabble in it and call themselves experts and for as long as it is possible to get GIS certificates without having a degree in geography and for as long as certification process caters to “sharing data” (ie government agencies using web gis).

    Most of us in the private world never get to share and if we do, it is a shapefile or a database feature class, maybe a layer file or something… hardly ever well polished online portal thing because sharing is not what we do and you can be a 30 year GIS professional doing GIS 10 hours per day and still fail exam because you do not know webgis or ineligible for GISP because you don’t volunteer.

    Employers do not magically say: “Ohh well Susie has a GISP… we need to give her a $10,000 pay raise”. No… all GIS jobs pay pittance in comparison to what it costs to get a degree in the field and ceiling for GIS jobs is pretty low too. Sure programmers get paid more but they are programmers, not GIS professionals.

    I know people in logistics using arcmap without knowing how to use arcmap. I know people in land management and compliance using arcmap without knowing how to use it. I know people in engineering screwing things up profusely because they believe they know how to use GIS.

    And then there is reality in which people who know do not get paid all that much and employers refusing to pay adequately.

    Tampa Bay GIS salaries pay $38-57,000 for government and $45-58,000 for education sector and $38-68,000 for private. (High numbers are after 20 years on the job).

  20. I was wondering what the best online schools are for a certificate for the money and time. Someone told me I could take a 3 wk course but I am not really sure where they were talking about?

  21. I have completed Bachelors in Architecture from india recently and planning to do a GIS course from Canada, which particular GIS course should I go for and certified from ESRI or GISP.. Pls help me out here

  22. You will need a minimum of 4 years experience for a GISP so you’re only option would be the Esri certifications

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