Top 10 Most Affordable Online GIS Certificate Programs 2024

Best Online GIS Certificates

Author: Adam Birch
Reviewed by: Melissa Anderson
Reading level: Grade 8
Reading time: 7 minutes, 17 seconds
Original publication date: January 2021
Updates: 4

If you’re interested in the environment and its impact on society, or society’s impact on the environment, then an online certificate program in GIS is something you should consider. As a GIS professional you will have many opportunities to impact the way we understand the world around us and analyze data that affects the planet. Maybe you’ll go out in the field, collecting data, gathering and communicating the information we need to make informed decisions about our world. Or maybe you’ll work for government agencies or a private company, using geographic information systems (GIS) and geospatial technologies to create essential maps containing all kinds of custom data that can be used to make those decisions. Either way, earning an online certificate in GIS is the perfect way to develop the essential knowledge and skills you will need to excel in this profession.

This is why we’ve ranked the top ten most affordable GIS certificates online in the United States. This ranking features many fantastic schools of academic excellence offering this certificate program at either the undergraduate or graduate level for great prices. You can find out more about geoinformation systems in the FAQ at the end of the ranking of the top GIS certificate programs online.

Featured Programs

Ranking the Best GIS Certificate Programs

#1. California State – Fullerton

Fullerton, California

Website
Program cost: $3,370

California State at Fullerton offers a fully online GIS certificate that can be earned in just eight months. The program features required courses like:

  • Introduction to GIS
  • GIS Data Analysis and Formats
  • GIS Analysis and Map Design
  • Geospatial Technology

Other courses not listed here may also be required. The GIS program opens up career paths for working professionals like:

  • GIS technicians
  • GIS specialists
  • GIS analysts

Cal State-Fullerton is accredited by the Western Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Pros:

  • Supportive faculty
  • Networking opportunities

Cons:

  • Financial aid process can be difficult to navigate
  • Lack of communication from student support services has been reported

#2. Michigan State University

East Lansing, Michigan

Website
Program cost: $4,000

Michigan State’s GIS program has six start dates throughout the year. This means you’re never more than a couple of months from being able to start your classes. Each of the four classes are delivered in 7-week sessions. The entire certificate can be earned in just one semester if you take a full course load. The specialization course curriculum includes:

  • Introduction to Geospatial Technology
  • GIS software (ArcGIS Pro)
  • Information Systems
  • GIS Database
  • Cartography

Pro:

  • Graduation rate is higher than the national average

Con:

  • High number of classes are taught by TAs

#3. South Dakota State University

Brookings, South Dakota

Website
Program cost: $9,299

Graduates from the South Dakota State online geographic information sciences certificate program will find opportunities to work for private companies and federal and state governments in jobs like:

  • GIS Analyst
  • Regional Planner
  • Cartographer

The GIS online program is 12 credits and features courses like:

  • Data Creation and Integration
  • Vector and Raster Modeling
  • Advanced Cartography
  • Quantitative Remote Sensing

All of the courses have a lab component for hands on experience, and a capstone project may be mandated to meet the program-specific geographic information system requirements.

Pros:

  • Accepts credits for life experience
  • Offers a wide range of academic programs

#4. College of Western Idaho

Nampa, Idaho

Website
Tuition: $4,336

This program is a little more expensive than the ones above, but that’s partially because it requires more credits for those students who meet admission requirements. At 18 credits it will take a little longer to complete. The certificate can be earned over the course of a year and a half taking six credits per semester. Courses include:

  • Python scripting for GIS
  • Cartography
  • Mapping
  • Spatial Thinking
  • Geospatial Analysis with GIS

Pros:

  • 100% Acceptance rate
  • Supportive college community

Cons:

  • Student-to-faculty is high
  • Below average diversity of student body

#5. Utah State University

Logan, Utah

Website
Tuition: $8,960

Coming in at #5 on our list of online GIS certificate programs, Utah State offers an affordable GIS graduate certificate. Courses address emerging trends in the field and include:

  • Geo-Information Systems for Natural Resource Applications
  • Advanced Geo Information Systems
  • Principles of Remote Sensing for Natural Resources
  • Geospatial Analysis

This certificate is designed to complement several different graduate degrees and current career opportunities. The credits can also be applied to a number of graduate programs.

Pros:

  • Accepts dual and AP credits
  • Wide selection of academic programs

Cons:

  • High student-to-faculty ratio
  • Graduation rate is lower than the national average

#6. Ohio University

Athens, Ohio

Website
Tuition: $12,840

The GIS program offered by Ohio University can be started at the beginning of any school term. Applicants must have a bachelor’s degree and submit a resume. Students will take courses like cartography I and II, data analysis, and principles of GIS. The program is designed to help some of the nearly 700,000 workers in the geospatial industry develop advanced competency with geospatial hardware and software.

Pros:

  • Highly rated faculty
  • A focus on academic excellence

Cons:

  • Large class sizes
  • Individualized attention is minimal

#7. Park University

Parkville, Missouri

Website
Tuition: $12,280

Park University offers the GIS certificate online or in a traditional classroom setting. Students in the remote GIS program will take courses like:

  • Spatial Analysis
  • Cartography
  • GIS I
  • GIS II

Graduates from this GIS online program will be working professionals who have worked in fields like:

  • Natural Sciences
  • Social Sciences
  • Business
  • Federal, State, and Local Government

Pros:

  • Military friendly
  • Supportive staff

Cons:

  • Financial aid process can be difficult to navigate
  • Some issues with advising program have been reported

#8. University of Florida

Gainesville, Florida

Website
Tuition: $6,381

The fully online certificate program in GIS at the University of Florida can be completed in 12-15 months. Applicants must hold a bachelor’s degree, submit a resume, and have a 3.0 GPA. Students will take courses like:

  • Planning Information Systems
  • Web Mapping and Visualization
  • Automation for Geospatial Modeling and Analysis
  • Urban Geospatial Analysis
  • Geospatial Visualization

Pros:

  • Graduation rate is much higher than the national average
  • Ranked among the best public schools

Cons:

  • High student-to-faculty ratio
  • Competitive admissions process

#9. University of Colorado

Boulder, Colorado

Website
Tuition: $12,496

It’s important to note that if you plan to earn your GIS certificate online at the University of Colorado, you must meet the course prerequisites for all courses offered in the certificate program. You will take courses like:

  • Intro to GIS Software
  • GIS Spatial Database Development
  • GIS Project Management
  • Relational Databases
  • Advanced Remote Sensing
  • Interactive Web Mapping for GIS

Pros:

  • The school is committed to sustainability
  • Great school for entrepreneurs

Cons:

  • Out-of-state tuition costs can be prohibitive
  • Large class sizes

#10. University of Wisconsin-Madison

Madison, Wisconsin

Website
Tuition/Fees: $12,289

This remote GIS certificate program is designed for students who want to switch careers, move into a higher paying field, increase their value to their current employer, or apply the techniques and methods of GIS to their current work. While students in this capstone program may transfer the credits into a graduate degree at a later date, they cannot simultaneously be enrolled in this capstone program and a graduate degree program at the University of Wisconsin.

Pros:

  • Highly rated faculty
  • Challenging academic programming

Cons:

  • Known as a party school
  • Large class sizes

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Geographic Information System?

Geographic information systems (GIS) are an essential part of understanding the world in which we live. They are a powerful tool that allows us to record and reference vast amounts of information about the geography of our planet using spatial data. They are essential in the fields of earth sciences, biology, and resource management just to name a few. The complex and thorough data stored in geographic information systems allows professionals in these fields to make projections about everything from pollution to the likely locations of rare plants. Geo-information systems can be used to record everything from the locations from which scientific samples were taken to where all the manhole covers are located in a given city. One basic example of a geoinformation system you might use regularly is an ATM locator on your bank’s website or on their mobile app. GIS are also often used to create custom maps for researchers, city planners, and scientists looking to study specific subjects. Maps can be either general or highly specific.

Needless to say, this is an essential field that promises to grow in importance as the United States prepares to take on massive infrastructure projects. Geoinformation systems will be an essential tool for planning and executing infrastructure projects. For instance, if one wished to create a public works project to renovate bridges in need of repair, one could create a map with all the nation’s bridges included, sortable by their current condition and their maintenance history, and maybe even traffic flow reports, and then use that map to set priorities for which bridges to work on at each different point in the project.

Is this a promising career choice?

The GIS Certification Institute estimates that there are 675,000 geospatial professionals employed in the United States currently. Most (56%) work in government on some level. There are a wide variety of jobs available within the GIS field. If you prefer to work indoors using spatial analysis techniques and putting together information and maps for a variety of purposes then there are jobs for you in the industry. If you want to get outside and see the world and explore, tracking wildlife and natural phenomena, then there are jobs for you too! Maybe you’re not that interested in the countryside or the wilds but instead have a passion for infrastructure. In that case, you should explore your options in the career of urban planning. These skills will give you the ability to make a difference in the world through your career.

These GIS certificate programs online are incredibly affordable! But they still cost a lot of money. Any tips for funding them?

Yes! First, if you are already working in a related career, check with your employer about professional development funds. These funds are often overlooked and can be a great way to pay for some or even all of your continuing education on your employer’s dime!

Depending on when you are taking the certificate courses, you may be able to pay for them with your regular college financial aid. However, financial aid may be more limited if you are taking a certificate program, though some should be available. I would ask the university you plan to attend about online financial aid options for students in GIS certificate programs.

Of course, you can also take out student loans. Though, as you might imagine, minimizing the student debt you accrue is generally better. Honestly, some of these GIS online programs are so cheap you can probably just take a year and save up the money to pay out of pocket if none of these other financial aid options work out for you.

Should I look at GIS certificates online at the undergraduate or graduate level?

This depends on your level of familiarity with the field. If you aren’t directly familiar with GIS, it would be better to earn the undergraduate certificate first. This will let you access program benefits and provide you with the fundamental skills you can then build on through the experience you gain working or further education. However, if you work in the field and have some familiarity with the fundamental technologies, GIS software, and practices of GIS, and you already have your bachelor’s degree, then the graduate certificate is a great choice!

CVO Staff

Sources:

This concludes our ranking of the best GIS certificate programs online.