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.
List of 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:
- First, the humble GIS technician creates geographic data.
- Second, the artistic cartographer displays it on a map.
- Next, the analytical GIS specialist and programmers analyze and automate.
- Finally, GIS managers coordinate projects and people.
But there are tons more for 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.
Low to Mid-Range Jobs
Mid to High-Level Jobs
Typical GIS Employers: Which Fields Can You Work In?
Awhile back, I had a comment asking about which industries GIS integrates most with.
Actually, there are too many to list. But based on job listings, here is a list of typical employers who employs GIS degree graduates:
- Government (Federal, state and regional)
- Utilities (Electrical, telecommunications)
- Environment and natural resources
- Military intelligence, emergency and public safety
- Agriculture and soils
- Transportation and navigation
- Surveying, engineering and construction
- Mining and oil
- Health and epidemiology
- Archaeology and history
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 higher in pay scale, there are more specialized jobs. For example, remote sensing and LiDAR analysts are in 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 $74,260 annually. Currently, the outlook is at 6% but the outlook changes often. On the other hand, cartographers and photogrammetrists earn an average $62,750 per year with a job outlook to grow 19% from 2016-2026. 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
READ MORE: 10 GIS Career Tips to Help Find a GIS Job
The Alternative: GIS Diploma / Certification
If you want to earn a GIS degree, the American Association of Geographers (AAG) Guide to Geography Programs lists undergraduate and graduate geography programs in the United States, Canada, and Latin America. Furthermore, it includes degree requirements, curricula, faculty qualifications and program specialties. From my experience, some of the best GIS programs are University of Penn State, Ohio State, Chicago and Arizona.
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. And these are fairly good options because you can compliment another expertise such as in engineering, environment or soils. Because GIS certification can help differentiate you from the crowd, it can also give 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 to pass 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.