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. 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 the government or a private company, using geographic information systems 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 geographic information systems is the perfect way to develop the essential knowledge and skills you will need to excel in this profession. This is why we’ve put together a ranking of the top ten most affordable GIS certificates online in the United States. This ranking features many fantastic schools offering this certificate program at either the undergraduate or graduate level for great prices. You can find out more about geographic information systems in the FAQ at the end of the ranking of the top GIS certificate programs online.
Ranking the Best Online GIS Certificate Programs 2021
#1. California State University Fullerton
First on our list of online GIS certificate programs, California State University at Fullerton offers a fully online GIS certificate that can be earned in just eight months. The program features courses like introduction to GIS, GIS data and formats, GIS analysis and map design, and GIS project. The GIS online program opens up career paths like GIS technician, GIS specialist, and GIS analyst. (This last one is available once you gain experience and take an exam to become a certified GIS professional).
- Tuition: $3,210
#2. Michigan State University
Michigan State University’s GIS online program has six start dates throughout the year, meaning 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, and the certificate can be earned in just one semester if you take a full course load. The classes are introduction to geospatial technology, geographic information systems, remote sensing, and cartography.
- Tuition: $3,500
#3. South Dakota State University
Graduates from the South Dakota State University 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, and cartographer. The GIS online program is 12 credits and features courses like data creation and integration, vector and raster modeling, advanced cartography, remote sensing, and quantitative remote sensing. All of the courses have a lab component.
- Tuition: $4,215
#4. College of Western Idaho
This program is a little more expensive than the ones above, but that’s partially because it requires more credits. 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 and spatial thinking; and spatial analysis with GIS.
- Tuition: $5,508
#5. Utah State University
Coming in at #5 on our list of online GIS certificate programs, Utah State University offers an affordable GIS online graduate certificate. Courses include geographic information systems for natural resource applications, advanced geographic information systems, principles of remote sensing for natural resources, and geospatial analysis. This certificate is designed to be complementary to a number of different graduate degrees and the credits from this certificate can be applied to a number of graduate programs.
- Tuition: $6,180
#6. Ohio University
The online GIS certificate 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, 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.
- Tuition: $6,372
#7. Park University
Park University offers the GIS certificate online or in a traditional classroom setting. Students in the online GIS certificate program will take courses like spatial analysis, cartography, remote sensing, GIS I, and GIS II. Graduates from this GIS online program have worked in fields like natural sciences, social sciences, business, and federal, state, and local government.
- Tuition: $6,405
#8. University of Florida
The fully online GIS certificate program 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 spatial analysis, and geospatial visualization.
- Tuition: $8,100
#9. University of Colorado
It’s important to note that if you plan to earn your GIS certificate online at the University of Colorado you will need to meet the course prerequisites for all courses offered in the certificate program. You will take courses like intro to GIS, GIS spatial database development, GIS project management, relational databases, advanced remote sensing, and interactive web mapping for GIS.
- Tuition: $8,772
#10. University of Wisconsin-Madison
This online 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.
- Tuition: $9,600
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a Geographic Information System?
Geographic information systems 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. 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. Geographic 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 geographic information 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. Geographic information 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 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 analyzing data 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 courses for the certificate, you maybe be able to simply pay for them with your regular college financial aid. If you are just taking a certificate program, however, financial aid may be more limited, though there should be some available. I would ask the university you’re planning to attend about financial aid options for students in GIS certificate programs online.
Of course, you can also take out student loans. Though, as you might imagine, it’s generally better to minimize the amount of student debt you accrue. And 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 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 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 and practices of GIS, and you already have your bachelor’s degree, then the graduate certificate is a great choice!