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2023 Best Online GIS Degrees

By OnlineU Staff Writers | Updated 12/16/2022


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2023 Best Online Bachelor's Degrees in Geographic Information Systems Badge

An online bachelor's in geographic information systems can help students find work in urban planning, geovisualization, and resource management. These fields combine the utilization of technology and environmental science to map, research, and analyze the geography of Earth. The data collected by GIS professionals is vital to many scientific efforts, including our understanding of population, vegetation, and infrastructure. 

A couple of similar online degrees are computer science and information technology. While these programs also include data visualization and analyzation, they may lack a focus on geography. You can also check out our overall list of the most affordable online degrees for inspiration. View our methodology for more details about our list or learn more about OnlineU.

2023 Best Online Bachelor's Degrees in Geographic Information Systems Badge
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Online Geographic Information Systems Bachelor's Degrees You May Be Interested In

List Of Accredited Online Geographic Information Systems Schools

School Online Enrollment Annual Tuition
Arizona State University 33,410 33,410 $24,413 $24,413
University of Massachusetts Global 10,090 $12,440
Oregon State University 5,999 $31,215
Troy University 4,633 $13,520
Fort Hays State University 4,411 $15,360
Old Dominion University 3,948 $30,840
Great Basin College 2,638 $10,603
University of Arizona 2,558 $11,800
Florida Atlantic University 2,144 $17,324
South Dakota State University 1,221 $12,589

Arizona State University

  • Annual Tuition: $24,413
  • Locations: Tempe (AZ) (and 4 others)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Arizona State University (ASU) is a public university offering an online Bachelor of Science in Geographic Information Science that requires 120 credit hours. Typically, full-time students complete this program in around four years. The acceptance rate at ASU is 73%, with 52% of students earning their degrees.

At ASU, students use Canvas for their remote courses, which they can complete at their own pace (asynchronously). This program allows students to learn practical computer programming and data management skills as well as how to collect and analyze important geographical data. Required classes include Programming Principles in GIS, Geographic Information Science, and Statistics for Geography and Planning. An internship and professional seminar is also required. Graduates may explore roles as cartographers, data scientists, or forest rangers.

University of Massachusetts Global

  • Annual Tuition: $12,440
  • Locations: Multiple Locations
  • Accreditation: WSCUC

University of Massachusetts Global (UMass Global) is a private institution with an online Bachelor of Business Administration - GIS and Data Analytics requiring 120 credit hours. Students studying full time are likely to complete the degree in around four years. UMass Global also features the same degree through the MyPath program, which offers even more flexibility for working professionals. UMass Global accepts 95% of its applicants, while 57% graduate with degrees.

UMass Global uses the learning management system (LMS) Blackboard to deliver online coursework. This software allows students to finish their degrees 100% online and on a schedule that meets their needs through asynchronous course delivery. The core curriculum is designed to develop students' research, data collection, and project management skills through the lens of geography and the human experience. Required classes include Applied Data Wrangling, GIS Methods and Ethics, and Foundations in Spatial Communications. Students are also required to complete a capstone project. Career options include GIS technicians and business intelligence analysts.

Oregon State University

  • Annual Tuition: $31,215
  • Locations: Corvallis (OR)
  • Accreditation: NWCCU

Oregon State University (OSU) is a public university with a Bachelor of Science in Geography and Geospatial Science. This online degree requires 180 credit hours, which full-time students can complete in four years. Approximately 82% of students are accepted into OSU, with 65% finishing with diplomas.

OSU students use Canvas as their primary LMS, where they can complete courses online and asynchronously. The curriculum for this program engages students in data analysis and geovisualization, which are subjects that involve the study of built resources, climate, and human-environment relations. Among the required classes are Climatology, Transforming Environmental Conflicts, and The Human Planet. Additionally, students are required to complete nine credits of experiential learning. Career opportunities may be available as physical scientists, geographers, and geographic information systems technologists.

Troy University

  • Annual Tuition: $13,520
  • Locations: Troy (AL)
  • Accreditation: SACS COC

Troy University (TU) is a public university that hosts a Bachelor of Science in Geographic Information Sciences. In order to receive this degree, students must complete 120 credit hours, which is typically achieved within four years while studying at a full-time pace. TU's acceptance rate is 92%, with 37% of students graduating.

Online students at TU use Canvas to complete their coursework, which is delivered online and in a blended format of synchronous and asynchronous learning. The curriculum teaches students to identify and translate complex geographic data and how to use field equipment and geospatial database systems properly. There are a number of required courses, such as Principles of Physical Geography, Spatial Information and Analysis, and Cartography and Geovisualization. Students are also required to complete either an internship or GIS project. Graduates may find employment as surveying and mapping technicians, remote sensing scientists, and geographers.

Fort Hays State University

  • Annual Tuition: $15,360
  • Locations: Hays (KS)
  • Accreditation: HLC

Fort Hays State University (FHSU) is a public institution with a Bachelor of General Studies - Geoscience Studies requiring 120 credit hours. The average completion time for this degree is around four years for full-time students. FHSU also offers a number of bachelor's degrees with an emphasis on GIS, such as geography, geology, and environmental geoscience. Of all the students that apply to FHSU, 91% are accepted. The school also has a 51% graduation rate.

At FHSU, students use Blackboard as their LMS, where courses are delivered fully online and on a flexible timeline. The core curriculum for this program features a broad exploration of liberal arts subjects, such as mathematics, social sciences, and English composition, while the core concentration includes 21 credit hours of GIS topics. World Geography, Cartography: Theory and Concepts, and Environmental Geology are three examples of required courses from the curriculum. Alumni may explore careers as geographical scientists.

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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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