What Can You Do with a GIS Degree?

gis degree

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:

Focal Operation Raster

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.

Entry Positions

  • CAD Drafter
  • GIS Technician
  • Survey CAD Technician
  • Cartographic Technician
  • Land Survey Technician

Low to Mid-Range Jobs

  • GIS Analyst
  • Geodesist
  • Geographer
  • LiDAR Analyst
  • Cartographer
  • Geoint Analyst

Mid to High-Level Jobs

  • Remote Sensing Analyst
  • Geographic Information Systems Specialist
  • GIS Administrator
  • Senior CAD Designer
  • GIS Developer

Senior Positions

  • Senior GIS Analyst
  • GIS Coordinator
  • Senior CAD Engineer
  • GIS Software Engineer
  • Survey Manager
  • GIS Project Manager
  • Senior Geomatics Software Engineer
  • Typical GIS Employers: Which Fields Can You Work In?

    Awhile 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 employs GIS degree graduates:

    • Government (Federal, state and regional)
    • Engineering
    • Utilities (Electrical, telecommunications)
    • Academic
    • 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.

    GIS Salary Pyramid - Infographic

    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.

    READ MORE: GIS Salary Expectations: Climb the GIS Career Ladder




    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.

    gis technology jobs trends

    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:

    1. Personal satisfaction: C
    2. Benefit to society: B
    3. Flexibility: B
    4. 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:

    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? GISP vs Esri Technical Certification

    8 Comments

    1. Can a student who has completed bachelors in civil engineering pursue GIS. If yes, what would the best choice of study in GIS and which would be the best place to study?

    2. Yes, they can. Best place to study GIS? Depends on where you’re situated. I might be able to help. But I need to know your location.

    3. Please tell about the best universities in North America and Europe to pursue a phd(scholarship) program. I am a post graduate in GIS.

    4. I was looking into a ASS in coastal studies and GIS, I live in New Orleans, just wondering how hard it really is to get a job straight out of school ?

    5. I’ve heard varying degree of difficulty after graduating in Louisiana and the surrounding area. Try connecting with URISA because GIS-Pro 2019 just took place in New Orleans.

      Not too sure what that abbreviation stands for in coastal studies. Please respond and let me know. But bet they wish they could’ve thought of a better one.

    6. I’m 29 and feel like I’m slowly burning out after years of working in some highly demanding human services positions. I’ve wondered for a while if something more concrete, realistic, and investigative would be a better fit for me – and simply less stressful. I’ve always loved maps, data, and computers (I’m not sure why GIS never popped up on my radar). I’ve got an MA in a completely unrelated field. My wife and I also just had a child.

      Any input on getting into GIS as a second career/as someone with a family?

    7. Hi Paul

      Great question.

      I know after having a first child it can take a lot of time out of life, especially if you are thinking about upgrading your career. That’s why it’s best to give it a try before you want to completely commit to the field.

      QGIS is completely free, open-source software (https://qgis.org). You can start simple, such as using some of the open data sources available. https://gisgeography.com/best-free-gis-data-sources-raster-vector/

      Create a couple of maps or webmaps, try editing some of the features and test out the analysis tools. These are the tasks that GIS analysts perform everyday. You’ll need a good overview of how to do all these before you apply for a job. If you need ideas what to do, probably a great place to start is your local GIS group.

      I know that having a baby is a big commitment so I would suggest online courses in GIS. It looks great on your CV/resume. When you apply, employers are really looking for it. Once you become a student, Esri has a discounted version for ArcGIS. Esri ArcGIS is the industry standard for GIS software, so it would be nice to have this for experience.

      Other than this, I’d suggest taking a looking at our article on 10 GIS career tips to help find a job. There are a lot of good ideas in here about the job market situation. There can be a lot of competition for some positions so that’s why some level of education or certification I think is necessary. https://gisgeography.com/10-gis-career-tips-find-gis-job/

      Hope this helps. Let me know if there’s anything specific you’d like me to expand on.

      And good luck!

    8. I have worked in GIS for 20 years, and have worked in many other areas with softwares other than ArcGIS, but recently was let go from a job that I had worked at for 7 years, where the bulk of my work was done with ArcGIS, MS Excel, some Geomedia, and custom apps—stuff by itself that isn’t going to advance my career.. I want to get back in the field but I recognize two problems when applying for jobs:

      1) how long can I make work that I did years ago relevant to today, when most employers are wanting to see things done with nore current software?

      2) How much can I rely on one job to explain my experience if it doesn’t cover certain things? i.e., I didn’t do application development or analysis in my most recent position. How do I cover that up?

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