What Can You Do with a GIS Degree?
Is a GIS degree worth it? What types of jobs can I get with a GIS degree? Are there alternatives for GIS certification, online programs, and diplomas? YES, there are :)
If you’re asking these types of questions about a GIS degree or alternatives, then you’ve come to the right place for answers.
Because not only will you learn about career options for GIS graduates, but you’ll also find out about earning potential.
Let’s do this.
Entry and Senior GIS Positions
But there are tons more potential career options with a GIS degree. For example, this table lists typical job titles for GIS degree graduates. As you can see, positions can range anything from entry-level to senior-level.
Mid to High-Level Jobs
- Remote Sensing Analyst
- Geographic Information Systems Specialist
- GIS Administrator
- Senior CAD Designer
- GIS Developer
- Senior GIS Analyst
- GIS Coordinator
- Senior CAD Engineer
- GIS Software Engineer
- Survey Manager
- GIS Project Manager
- Senior Geomatics Software Engineer
List of 13 Careers for GIS Degree Graduates
It’s said that you don’t truly know your data until you can see it geographically. Because we can connect information to locations, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) is changing the way we do decision-making.
The main functions of a GIS are to create geographic data, analyze it and display it on a map. And this fits the three main career options you can land as a career:
- GIS Analyst: This is one of the most common roles for GIS degree holders. GIS analysts gather, analyze, and interpret geographical data to create maps, charts, and visualizations that help organizations make informed decisions. They work in industries such as urban planning, environmental management, and logistics.
- GIS Technician: GIS technicians work under the guidance of analysts and professionals to collect and manage geographical data, maintain GIS databases, and produce maps and reports. Although they’re known to do a lot of the “grunt work”, they also dabble into analysis and mapping.
- Cartographer: Cartographers design and produce maps that communicate geographic information effectively. They might work on creating topographic maps, thematic maps, and interactive online maps.
- Spatial Data Scientist: Spatial data scientists combine GIS skills with advanced data analysis techniques to extract insights from geographical data. They work on complex spatial problems, such as predicting urban growth patterns, analyzing disease spread, or optimizing transportation routes.
- Remote Sensing Specialist: Remote sensing specialists use satellite and aerial imagery to monitor and analyze changes in the Earth’s surface. They are often employed in environmental monitoring, agriculture, forestry, and disaster response.
- Urban/Regional Planner: Urban and regional planners use GIS to analyze spatial data and help plan and develop communities. They can analyze factors like population density, land use, transportation networks, and environmental considerations to guide development decisions.
- Environmental Scientist: Environmental scientists use GIS to analyze and visualize data related to natural resources, ecosystems, and environmental changes. They can work on projects related to land conservation, pollution monitoring, and disaster response.
- Natural Resource Manager: Natural resource managers use GIS to plan and manage land use for conservation purposes. They work to balance human activities with the preservation of natural resources.
- Transportation Planner: Transportation planners use GIS to analyze traffic patterns, plan efficient transportation networks, and optimize routes for vehicles and public transit systems.
- Emergency Management Specialist: GIS is crucial in emergency management to assess risk, plan evacuation routes, and coordinate disaster response efforts.
- Geospatial Software Developer: If you have programming skills, you could develop GIS software, tools, and applications that help professionals work with spatial data more effectively.
- Academic/Researcher: With a GIS degree, you could pursue research or academic careers, studying topics related to geography, spatial analysis, or cartography.
- Geospatial Data Manager: Geospatial data managers oversee the collection, storage, and quality control of spatial data within organizations.
Typical GIS Employers: Which Fields Can You Work In?
A while back, I had a comment asking about which industries GIS integrates most with.
If there was one industry you could complement with a GIS degree, which one would it be?
Actually, there are too many to list. But based on job listings, here is a list of typical employers who hire GIS degree graduates:
As GIS is still a relatively new technology, there are thousands of GIS applications waiting to fuse into various industries.
READ MORE: Thinking Outside the Box for GIS Jobs
GIS Degree Salary: How Much Money Can You Make?
Like most careers, positions can range from entry-level to senior. At the lower end of the pay scale, technicians and draftsmen typically earn the least. For these types of positions, skills include databases, CAD, and mapping.
As you move into a higher pay scale, there are more specialized jobs. For example, remote sensing and LiDAR analysts are part of the mid-range pay scale. Also, we start to see GIS developers and programmers who create the GIS software that analysts and cartographers use.
At the top of the pay scale, senior GIS positions dominate the salary list. For example, GIS project managers execute and close projects. Also, senior software engineers have the experience and education necessary to design, develop, and maintain software.
If you have a higher level of education and experience, you are more likely to be at the top of the pay scale and earn more.
Career Outlook for GIS Degree Graduates
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), geographers earn an average of $88,900 annually. Currently, the outlook is stable for geographers. On the other hand, cartographers and photogrammetrists earn $71,890 per year with a job outlook to grow 3% from 2021 to 2031. Overall, this is much faster than the average rate of growth.
According to Indeed, GIS developers and managers account for the highest percentage of job postings. In this line chart, GIS has been steady for job prospects.
Even though GIS technicians, specialists, and analysts have the lowest number of available jobs, these job roles often overlap. If you added up their job postings, it would be similar to GIS managers and developers.
Even though all situations are different, Payscale gives a fairly decent quality of life ratings for GIS analysts:
- Personal satisfaction: C
- Benefit to society: B
- Flexibility: B
- Low stress: A
The Alternative: GIS Diploma / Certification
If you don’t want to go “all in” with a GIS degree, the alternatives are a GIS diploma or GIS certification. Alternatively, there are online GIS certificate programs.
These are fairly good options because you can complement other expertise such as in engineering, environment, or soil. Because GIS certification can help differentiate you from the crowd, it can also give you the extra credentials you need.
In GIS, the two main GIS certifications that employers look for are:
- Geographic Information Systems Professional (GISP) requires at least 4 years of full-time experience in GIS, contributions to the GIS community, and passing the GISCI Geospatial Core Technical Knowledge Exam.
- Esri Technical Certification (Desktop, Developer and Enterprise) is completely knowledge-focused and exam-based.
Both certification programs expect a level of proficiency in GIS and test your skill level. No matter what you choose (GIS degree, GIS diploma, or GIS certification), it depends on your current level of proficiency and what you want to get out of it.
READ MORE: GIS Certification: Is It Worth It?