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Best Online Bachelor's in GIS Degrees

By the OnlineU team | Updated 3/2/2022

An online bachelor's degree in geographic information systems (GIS) aims to familiarize students with the tools and techniques commonly used to document the earth's surface. Prospective distance learners can review our list of the best online GIS programs to find schools that offer the greatest return on investment. Graduates of GIS programs might go on to pursue geographic or cartographic work for government agencies, universities, or architecture and engineering companies. Below the rankings list, we provide information about online GIS programs, potential careers for GIS degree graduates, and GIS industry certifications.

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2020 Best Online Colleges Offering Bachelor's in Geographic Information Systems Degrees

2020 Best Online Colleges Offering Bachelor's in Geographic Information Systems Badge

The schools featured on this list offer the best value options for obtaining an online bachelor's degree in GIS based on alumni salaries and low tuition rates. Graduates of the highest ranked school, the University of Arizona, report earning a median salary of $89,300 after earning their Bachelor of Science in GIS Technology. With the lowest tuition on the list, Delta State University offers two bachelor's degrees in GIS, with each costing $7,501 per year. Alumni from this school reported a mid-career salary of $66,653.

Alumni salaries were provided by PayScale. View our methodology for more details or learn more about OnlineU.

RankSchool Annual Tuition Mid-Career Salary
# 1 #1 University of Arizona $15,750 $89,300
# 2 #2 Oregon State University $13,905 $81,900
# 3 #3 North Carolina A&T State University $17,280 $82,393
# 5 #5 Delta State University $7,501 $66,653
# 6 #6 Florida Atlantic University $21,595 $69,300
# 7 #7 Western Illinois University $8,883 $59,600
# 8 #8 Unity College $14,100 $59,983
# 9 #9 Arizona State University $15,900 $54,200
Salary data provided by Payscale Logo
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2020 Online Colleges Offering Geographic Information Systems Degrees - Ranking Details

#1 University of Arizona

  • Annual Tuition: $15,750
  • Median Salary: $89,300
  • Locations: Tucson (AZ)
  • Accreditation: HLC

The online Bachelor of Science in Geographic Information Systems technologies at the University of Arizona is designed to prepare students for GIS and geospatial sciences careers. The 120-credit-hour program provides a solid foundation in the discipline with coursework that includes map science, cartographic design and production, GIS, advanced GIS, and remote sensing. Students use the Desire2Learn (D2L) learning management system to submit assignments, check their grades, and collaborate with their classmates. The program follows a semester schedule and is typically completed in four years. The curriculum is based on the US Department of Labor’s competency model to prepare graduates for careers in the private, public, or nonprofit sectors. Distance learners have access to IT support for D2L, academic advising, networking opportunities, and tutoring. Admission to the online GIS bachelor's program requires prospective students to submit an online application and official transcripts.

#2 Oregon State University

  • Annual Tuition: $13,905
  • Median Salary: $81,900
  • Locations: Corvallis (OR)
  • Accreditation: NWCCU

The Bachelor of Science in Geography and Geospatial Science offered at Oregon State University aims to provide students a comprehensive and diverse education in the subject matter. Students receive instruction on the broad topic of geography with coursework in human geography and climatology. The curriculum also includes more focused geospatial science topics, including the foundations of geospatial science and remote sensing. Students have the opportunity to select from a variety of minors to enhance their education. The online curriculum is available through Oregon State University’s eCampus, which is an extension of Canvas. The Canvas learning management system houses students’ calendars, assignments, grades, and communications with their professors and classmates. Students may also use Zoom and other conferencing tools. Program courses are designed to be interactive and collaborative and may include pre-recorded lectures. This 180-credit-hour online GIS degree can prepare students for careers in cartography, urban planning, or teaching. Interested students can apply for a winter or spring start date by submitting an online application, academic transcripts, and college entrance exam scores. Academic resources for online students include exam proctoring, success coaching, virtual tutoring, and technical support.

#3 North Carolina A&T State University

  • Annual Tuition: $17,280
  • Median Salary: $82,393
  • Locations: Greensboro (NC)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

The 124-credit-hour Bachelor of Science in Geomatics at North Carolina A&T State University is available entirely online. It provides students a comprehensive education in the theories, practices, and technologies of measuring and determining Earth's surface locations. Coursework completed in the online GIS bachelor's degree includes geographic information systems, land surveying, boundary and survey law, and photogrammetry. Students access their online classes, email, classroom announcements, virtual tutorials, and grades through the Blackboard learning management system. The program may also include quizzes and small-group exercises. Before beginning the program, students can take a Blackboard orientation course to become familiar with the online platform. Students can also benefit from career support, tutoring, program coordinator assistance, and library resources. Graduates can pursue careers in boundary surveying, aerial surveying, or surveying and mapping management. To apply, prospective students must submit an online application to the university. Admission is based on the strength of students’ transcripts and test scores. Dedicated admissions advisors can help students through the process.

#5 Delta State University

  • Annual Tuition: $7,501
  • Median Salary: $66,653
  • Locations: Cleveland (MS)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Delta State University offers an online Bachelor of Applied Science in Geospatial Analysis and Intelligence for students that wish to pursue an education in the field of geographic information systems. This 120-credit-hour degree program is designed in line with the fundamentals of the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation. Students complete coursework in a wide range of topics that offer instruction on the theories and technologies used in the industry, including geospatial project planning and topographical mapping. Classes are delivered through the Canvas learning management system and may include written assignments, real-time and pre-recorded lectures, presentations, and quizzes. Students can pursue the degree on a part-time schedule, taking 1-2 classes at a time. The online format is introduced through a single general education course, which counts toward the program requirements. For those without a computer capable of running GIS software, virtual computing support is available. Additional support for distance learners includes career services, health services, and academic tutoring. To apply, interested students must submit their SAT or ACT scores, an online application, and all previous transcripts indicating successful completion of the College Preparatory Curriculum (CPC) with at least a 2.0 GPA.

#6 Florida Atlantic University

  • Annual Tuition: $21,595
  • Median Salary: $69,300
  • Locations: Boca Raton (FL)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Florida Atlantic University (FAU) has a Bachelor of Arts in Geoscience for individuals seeking an online geographic information systems degree. Housed in the Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, the MA in Geosciences has a focus on geography and three possible concentrations: Environmental Systems, Human Systems, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). The major requires 55 credit hours, with classes deriving from each of the concentrations. The full bachelor’s in GIS degree is 120 credit hours. Online students have access to academic advising, the Center for Learning and Student Success, and a writing center. The Center of eLearning provides virtual tutoring, career services, disability accommodations, and FAU library resources. Online classes use the Canvas Learning Management software and may be delivered either asynchronously or through live stream using WebEx video-conferencing tools. Incoming first-year students must meet the admission requirements, which include general education credits and a foreign language component. Students qualify as transfer students if they have earned at least 60 college credits. Transfer applicants must have at least a 2.5 GPA upon applying. Interested candidates complete an application form (with fee) and submit ACT/SAT scores. FAU also has VA-approved programs for military students.

#7 Western Illinois University

  • Annual Tuition: $8,883
  • Median Salary: $59,600
  • Locations: Macomb (IL)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Western Illinois University’s online bachelor programs are designed for working adults and students in the military. Classes are flexible and delivered asynchronously, so online students are responsible for completing class assignments on their own time, without regular attendance required. Online learners have access to academic advising and career services. Additionally, students can access the uTech Support Center for technical assistance. Tools provided include a live chat feature for IT questions. The online Bachelor of Science in Geographic Information Science from Western Illinois University is offered through the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, & Geographic Information Sciences. Students in the program learn how to effectively use GIS software and analyze the data. A 4+1 BS/Master of Science in GIS degree is available for students with a high GPA. The BS can be completed in four years, though transfer students can complete the major in two years. The traditional program requires 120 credit hours to graduate. Online GIS bachelor’s degree applicants need a 2.75 GPA from high school work. Students must submit standardized test scores (ACT or SAT) and official transcripts. Applicants qualify as transfer students if they have more than 24 credits of college-level courses completed. Transfer students must have a minimum GPA of 2.0.

#8 Unity College

  • Annual Tuition: $14,100
  • Median Salary: $59,983
  • Locations: Unity (ME)
  • Accreditation: NECHE

Individuals pursuing an online geographic information systems degree have four options from Unity College: a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Emergency Management, a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies, a Bachelor of Science in Sustainable Business Management, and a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Conservation. Each of these programs has a concentration in Environmental GIS. Each degree requires 120 credit hours to graduate and a final capstone project. Online programs are designed to be flexible and accommodate working professionals. Case studies and fieldwork are crafted so students can complete assignments in their own communities. Students may take classes on a part-time or full-time basis and complete work at their own pace. Course materials are housed in the Canvas learning management system. Online learners receive career advisement, personalized attention from professors through Skype office hours, resources from the Unity College Library, and 24/7 technical support. Unity College has been recognized as a Military-Friendly school. There are multiple start dates throughout the year, depending on which degree is chosen. Applicants must have completed a high school degree. Students with previous college experience may transfer up to 90 credits toward the Unity College degree.

#9 Arizona State University

  • Annual Tuition: $15,900
  • Median Salary: $54,200
  • Locations: Tempe (AZ) (and 4 others)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Arizona State University offers three online undergraduate programs for individuals searching for a degree in geographic information systems (GIS): a Bachelor of Science in GIS, a Bachelor of Science in Geography, or a Bachelor of Arts in Geography. The geography programs offer a concentration in GIS Software. Students take classes in GIS skills and research methods, as well as statistics. The BA in Geography includes a social perspective regarding how humans interact with the physical environment. Classes are taught in 7.5-week sessions. There are six start dates throughout the year. Each program requires 120 credit hours to complete. The BS in GIS includes a final requirement of an internship, capstone seminar, or independent research project. ASU's online classes share the same faculty as the on-campus programs. Most classes are asynchronous and rely on students to hold themselves responsible for completing assignments by the due dates. Online students will be assigned an academic advisor and have access to a 24/7 IT help desk. Graduates from ASU Online are invited to attend the on-campus graduation ceremonies. First-year student applicants must meet a 2.5 GPA requirement and receive a minimum 22 ACT score or an 1120 SAT score (24 and 1180 respectively for non-Arizona residents). The complete application requires transcripts, test scores, an application form, and a fee. Students who don't meet these requirements can access the Earned Admission Pathway, a program that allows students the opportunity to complete some online courses. These individuals must maintain a minimum 2.75 GPA during this period.

Frequently Asked Questions About Online GIS Degrees

What Is a Geographic Information System?

GIS applications are computer systems that gather and display geographic information. These systems consist of software and hardware components that collect location data — such as elevation, forestation, or political boundaries — and present it in a user-friendly way. A common example is a map app, which is available on most smartphones.

Is a GIS Degree Worth It?

Although there's no definite answer to this question, it's important to note that several of the most common career fields for GIS graduates have low projected growth rates through 2030, so it may be difficult to land a job after graduating. For example, geographers can expect a 1% growth rate and surveyors can expect a 2% rate, both of which are below the 8% average for all U.S. jobs.

If you're unsure whether GIS is suitable for online learning, keep in mind that much of the coursework is computer-based and includes a more practical application of technical skills rather than emphasizing class dialogue.

Is a GIS Program Hard?

A GIS program's difficulty depends on your aptitude for the knowledge and skills required of the GIS field, which typically include spatial analysis, math, science, and field research. Even if you excel at the core GIS courses, you still need to take required liberal arts classes to complete a bachelor's degree, and some of these subjects may be more difficult for you.

Can You Get an Accredited Bachelor's Degree Online?

All nine schools on our rankings list are regionally accredited, which means that an independent agency has certified the quality of their education and services. Regional accreditation qualifies schools to accept federal financial aid and makes transferring credits between colleges much easier. There is no broad programmatic accreditor for GIS, but the U.S. Geospatial Intelligence Foundation (USGIF) and Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) accredit programs in the narrower specializations of geospatial intelligence and geomatics, respectively.

Overview of Online GIS Programs

GIS programs aim to instill knowledge that includes creating maps, measuring physical characteristics of the earth, and extracting information from structured sets of geographic data. Students interested in GIS can earn both undergraduate and graduate degrees in the subject. Many jobs in the field require a bachelor's degree, but some colleges also offer GIS master's degrees that can help prepare students for senior roles in more specialized areas. Students can complete this graduate program in just two years at a full-time pace, though many choose to enroll part-time while they work. Professionals who don't want to commit to a full master's program can pursue a GIS graduate certificate program, which might take a year or less.

Online Bachelor's Degrees in GIS

A GIS bachelor's degree usually consists of 120 credit hours and can take as little as four years to complete with a full-time schedule. Students take core courses in geospatial programming, photogrammetry, software development, and computer platforms to develop their skills in math, data science, coding, and decision-making. Students may also study Python programming and web mapping, along with important processes, such as GIS data analysis, visualization, and quality control. They may be able to specialize by taking electives in a concentration, such as resource conservation or app development. Some programs conclude with an internship to give students practical work experience.

Students take core courses in geospatial programming, photogrammetry, software development, and computer platforms to develop their skills in math, data science, coding, and decision-making.

Applicants typically need to submit their high school diploma or GED transcripts, letters of recommendation, and a personal essay. Colleges often require a minimum high school GPA of 2.5. Some schools ask for ACT or SAT scores, but this is becoming increasingly less common.

Interested in learning about similar degrees? Explore online bachelor's degrees in engineering, environmental science, or web development.

GIS Careers

A background in GIS may help alumni qualify for a range of entry-level job opportunities. GIS degrees are designed to impart knowledge and skills that help graduates enter fields such as cartography, surveying, and geospatial data and intelligence. These may be satisfying careers for people who enjoy using complex technology to visualize data for a variety of purposes. But as mentioned above, several related fields are growing slowly, which may be due to improved GIS technology increasing individual employees' efficiency.

Below, we've listed several occupations that alumni of an online bachelor's degree in GIS can pursue. All salary and job outlook data for the 2020-2030 period come from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Median Annual Salary: $68,380
Job Outlook: 5%

Cartographers design and produce maps. A degree in GIS might help potential applicants learn to gather data from satellites, aerial photography, and ground surveying equipment so they can visually represent territory. About one-third of cartographers work for local governments, with another 25% working for architecture and engineering firms.

Conservation Scientists
Median Annual Salary: $64,010
Job Outlook: 7%

Conservation scientists monitor natural resources and make plans to increase their health and quantity. GIS education could familiarize these professionals with tools to measure deforestation, water levels, and the effects of natural disasters on resource management efforts.

Median Annual Salary: $85,430
Job Outlook: 1%

Geographers collect and report on data about the earth's features, including humanity's physical and cultural impact on the land and water. More than half of them work for federal agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Geographers frequently visit field sites to take measurements using GIS and other tools.

Median Annual Salary: $68,380
Job Outlook: 5%

Photogrammetrists render detailed landscape images from photographic data. They make frequent use of aerial and satellite photography and often help turn two-dimensional images into three-dimensional interactive maps. Some photogrammetrists work as analysts for U.S. intelligence agencies.

Median Annual Salary: $65,590
Job Outlook: 2%

Surveyors record landscape measurements. Nearly three-quarters of them work for architecture and engineering companies determining property lines. They often spend long periods taking measurements outdoors, including using GIS technology. Surveyors must earn a license before they can move into senior positions, and becoming licensed requires passing an exam after years of work experience.

GIS Industry Certifications

Earning a GIS certification can lead to increased job prospects and salary potential, and some employers may not hire candidates without professional certifications. Candidates must pass an exam to earn a credential, usually after working in their field for a specified period.

We've listed some certifications that might interest GIS graduates below, along with the kinds of jobs they might benefit.

Certifying Organization Certifications Cost Relevant Jobs
American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing
  • Mapping Scientist
  • Photogrammetrist
  • $300 for members
  • $450 for nonmembers
  • Cartographer
  • Geographer
  • Photogrammetrist
GIS Certification Institute
  • Certified GIS Professional
  • $450 plus $95 annually
  • Cartographer
  • Geographer
  • Photogrammetrist
Society of American Foresters
  • Candidate Certified Forester
  • Certified Forester
  • $260 for members
  • $375 for nonmembers
  • Conservation scientist

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