GIS, short for Geographic Information Systems, is a computerized framework for collecting, managing and evaluating data. It combines excellent mapping and visualization with a strong data integration, analysis, and modeling framework, all built on the science of geography. Based on science and built on the foundation of maps and data, GIS integrates a variety of data types, which provide unbiased, authoritative perspectives on a wide range of issues. It organizes information into layers of geographic visualizations like maps, using spatial location. Problems are modeled geographically, evaluated, and explored via spatial analysis. GIS provides deeper insights into data, such as patterns, relationships, and situations, allowing users to make more informed decisions when tackling complex problems. The masters in GIS allows students to immerse themselves in a rapidly growing field that involves a diverse set of abilities in technology, environmental sciences, and management. Graduates become specialists in charge of designing, constructing, and implementing infrastructure plans that have a significant impact on civilizations and environments around the world. GIS masters programs also provide the skills required in a growing variety of sectors, such as environmental planning, urban and regional planning, forestry, emergency response, epidemiology, and ecology.

Online GIS Masters

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Featured Online Programs

Southern New Hampshire University

PROGRAM: Online Masters Degrees

Southern New Hampshire University is a private, nonprofit, accredited institution with more than 3,000 on-campus students and over 60,000 online students, making us one of the fastest-growing universities in the country. Founded in 1932, we’ve been relentlessly reinventing higher education ever since and have gained national recognition for our dedication to helping students transform their lives and the lives of those around them.

We’re proud to provide affordable, accessible education that students can pursue on our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH, over our innovative online platform or at our regional centers in Manchester, Nashua, Portsmouth and Salem, NH, and Brunswick, ME.

SNHU has earned the Best Buy and Best of Business – Best Online Degree awards and is consistently ranked as a top Military Friendly® School by G.I Jobs®.

Best Online GIS Masters

The best online GIS masters programs should be supported by great and experienced teachers, a well-recognized and approved institution, excellent infrastructure, state-of-the-art computer laboratories, and GIS equipment, and provide good value for money. The program’s format, structure, curriculum, and specialization options are all important considerations as well. Here is a list of the best master’s in GIS programs available online, based on these and other factors:

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College Name & AddressTuitionGraduation Rate
University of the Potomac, VA Campus
7799 LEESBURG PIKE, FALLS CHURCH, Virginia 22043
North Carolina State University, Raleigh
2101 Hillsborough Street, Raleigh, North Carolina 27695
University of Washington, Seattle Campus
1400 NE Campus Parkway, Seattle, Washington 98195
University of Southern California
University Park, Los Angeles, California 90089
University of Denver
2199 S. University Blvd, Denver, Colorado 80208
Salisbury University
1101 Camden Ave, Salisbury, Maryland 21801
Kent State University, Kent
Executive Office, 2nd Floor Library, Kent, Ohio 44242
Florida Atlantic University
777 Glades Rd, Administration Bldg., Room 339, Boca Raton, Florida 33431
Northern Arizona University
1900 S Knoles Dr, Babbitt Administrative Center, Room 200, Flagstaff, Arizona 86011
Northwest Missouri State University
800 University Drive, Maryville, Missouri 64468
The University of West Florida
11000 University Parkway, Pensacola, Florida 32514
University of Central Arkansas
201 Donaghey Ave, Conway, Arkansas 72035
University of Colorado
1380 Lawrence Street, Lawrence Street Center, Suite 1400, Denver, Colorado 80217
Delta State University
1003 W Sunflower Road, Cleveland, Mississippi 38733
Texas A & M University, Corpus Christi
6300 Ocean Dr., Corpus Christi, Texas 78412
Tennessee State University
3500 John A. Merritt Blvd, Nashville, Tennessee 37209
Pennsylvania State University, World Campus
128 Outreach Building, University Park, Pennsylvania 16802

Source – Integrated Post Secondary Education Data System & University Data
*Tuition rates are for in-state and per year. Program specific rates may apply.
**NA – data not available

Understanding Masters in GIS Programs

An online master’s in GIS degree program provides accurate knowledge and the skills required to be creative and find solutions to today’s complex environmental and geographical issues. GIS is a complicated discipline that encompasses a wide range of topics, from Cartography, Remote Sensing, and Road Planning to Global Positioning Systems in GIS, Natural Resources, and Emergency Management. Students also learn about Landscape Modeling, Water Conservation, Internet Mapping, Data Collection and Digital Imaging Processing, and the functions of Geographic Information Systems, among others. Theory, Statistics, and Research are at the core of any GIS program.

Graduating from an online GIS master can throw open a whole range of job opportunities. GIS graduates are needed in public and private sectors, non-profit organizations, government agencies, academic settings, and more.

Masters in GIS Degree Types

There are two distinct degree types to pursue graduate-level GIS studies. One is the Master of Arts or MA in GIS, and the other is the Master of Science or MS in GIS.


The Master of Arts or MA in GIS takes a multi-disciplinary approach to GIS studies, often including subjects such as history, anthropology, environment & energy, etc. This degree is better suited for those who wish to take up a Ph.D. or teach in postsecondary settings.


The Master of Science or MS in GIS approaches GIS from a more technical and scientific viewpoint, often combining other subjects within the scope and sphere of science, such as physics, chemistry, geoscience, etc. This degree is better suited for those who want to advance their GIS careers or enhance their skill and knowledge for more responsible roles.

Specializations in Masters in GIS Programs

In an ever-evolving field as vast as GIS, concentrations and specializations provide students with an added advantage when carving out a good career path. The study of GIS can be broken down into specialized areas, some of which include but are not limited to:

  • GIS & Remote Sensing
  • Environmental GIS
  • Geospatial Technology
  • Geospatial Intelligence
  • Geodesign
  • Spatial Data Acquisition and Integration
  • Spatial Application Development
  • Spatial Thinking
  • Spatial Data Analysis Visualizations
  • Digital Mapping

Some other specialty areas connected with GIS include:

  1. Geophysics – the study of the Earth’s interior and its surface, in addition to its magnetic, gravitational, and electric fields.
  2. Geochemistry – the study of groundwater through physical and organic chemistry.
  3. Geology – the study of the formation of the Earth.
  4. Petroleum Geology – the analysis of gas and oil on the Earth to develop the best sites for extraction.
  5. Oceanography – the study of the physical and chemical properties of the ocean, along with the motion and circulation of ocean waters.
  6. Paleontology – the examination of geological formations and the evolution of animal and plant life.
  7. Seismology – the study of earthquakes and tsunamis, as well as other related natural disasters.

Curriculum and Skills Gained in Masters in GIS Programs

The coursework in an online master of GIS generally includes highly technical and scientific subjects. Along with standard courses, students are also required to take up electives of their choice and sometimes complete a capstone project or thesis. Here is a list of some of the courses a graduate student of GIS can expect:

  • Coastal GIS
  • International Case Studies of GIS for Sustainability Management
  • Geospatial Data Analysis
  • GIST Science
  • Spatial Analysis and Decision-Making
  • Project Planning
  • Customizing Planning Information Systems
  • 3D Geospatial Urban Modeling and Visualization
  • Internet Geographic Information Systems
  • GPS for Resource Mapping
  • Urban Applications in GIS
  • Remote Sensing
  • GIS & Public Administration
  • Coop Experience
  • Leadership in GIS Organizations
  • Remote Sensing: Earth Observing Systems and Applications
  • Development and Management of GIS Projects
  • Geospatial Ontologies and Semantics
  • Computer Cartography
  • Geospatial Modeling and Analysis
  • Surface Water Hydrology with GIS
  • Remote Sensing and Imagery Interpretation
  • Spatial Analysis and Web Mapping
  • Principles of Geodatabases
  • Geographic Information Science
  • GIS Spatial Analysis
  • Graphic Design in Cartography
  • Interactive Cartography and Visualization
  • Landscape Ecology
  • Advanced Vector GIS
  • GIS and Map Comparison
  • Advanced Remote Sensing Remotely Sensed Data
  • Python Programming

Upon graduating from the program, GIS students would have developed a host of skills, such as the ability:

  • to design databases, efficiently and accurately analyze data, and present sound solutions to global issues;
  • to understand the nature of geographic data and recognize the appropriate application of GIS technologies;
  • to solve spatial and real-world problems, and plan, implement, and initiate GIS projects;
  • to understand the nature of mapping systems, geodata, and spatial visualization;
  • to combine and use geospatial theory, hands-on applications, and client-based instruction, to deliver a wide range of expertise for local, state, national, and international organizations;
  • to analyze and implement cartographic principles to design and initiate complex geospatial designs; and
  • to demonstrate skills in project management, system implementation, and database development.

Accreditation for Masters in GIS Programs

Accreditation plays a crucial role in determining the quality of a master’s program. It serves as a symbol of reliability, trustworthiness, and superiority and signifies that a program has met or exceeded preset and defined standards. Accreditation also ensures that the master’s degree is recognized industry-wide and for college transfers. While, in some instances, a degree program may be accredited, accreditation for the college is equally valuable. Such institutional accreditation is conferred by regional accrediting agencies, such as:

  1. New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
  2. Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools (MSA-CESS)
  3. Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  4. Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  5. Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  6. Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)

Graduate students in GIS should always look for programs or online schools accredited by at least one accrediting body. More information on accreditation can be found in the Accreditation Guide.

Timeline For Graduating From Online GIS Masters Programs

The general duration of an online masters in GIS is approximately 2 years. However, depending on whether the study is part-time or full-time, entirely online or hybrid (offline and online), and the chosen concentration and coursework, the duration to complete the degree can range from 16 months to about 36 months.

Admission Requirements For Online GIS Masters Programs

The criteria for entering a master in GIS online program are pretty standard, as with other master’s programs. Most colleges look for the following requirements unless specified otherwise:

  • A completed Application Form with the requisite Application Fee
  • Official Academic Transcripts, with a Grade Point Average (GPA) of 3.0 or higher
  • A current Résumé covering relevant work/educational experience in the field
  • Three Letters of Recommendation
  • A Personal Statement

Most colleges also require a Graduate Record Examination (GRE) score to be submitted as well but is sometimes waived. Students must always read the Program Guide or check with the college’s admissions office for exact information.

Free GIS Programs

Although a GIS master’s program cannot be done for free, some learning portals offer individual courses, specializations, and certificate programs without any fee. However, it is essential to note that many such free offerings do not lead to a certificate and certainly come nowhere close to an entire master’s degree. Still, these online lessons are an excellent way for students to further enhance their knowledge of GIS or areas within GIS.

  1. Coursera
    Coursera, the popular learning portal, offers a wide selection of GIS courses and specializations, authored by well-known universities such as the University of California, Pennsylvania State University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, etc. Leaners can choose from four levels of study – beginner, intermediate, mixed, and advanced.
  2. EdX
    EdX is home to several GIS courses ranging from topics like Remote Sensing of Wildfires and Landscape Ecology to GIS Foundations and Computational Watershed Hydrology. The site also offers one Professional Certificate Program titled “Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Essentials”.
  3. Esri
    Esri’s Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) Program offers free online courses for anyone who wants to build new skills, grow professionally, and expand their horizons. Courses range from four to six weeks and are self-paced.
  4. GIS OpenCourseware
    GIS OpenCourseware is an excellent place to find free courses that cover GIS and GIS-related topics and learn about data management and software used in GIS.
  5. Udemy
    When publishing this article, Udemy offered 64 free GIS courses such as Spatial Data Acquisition and Cartography using GIS, Introduction to PyQGIS, Satellite Remote Sending for Beginners, Enterprise Geodatabases & Data Pipelines, and more.

How to Pay for Online GIS Masters Programs

It is no secret that graduate-level education costs a lot. And with each passing year, the cost of higher online education seems only to increase. Fortunately, there are several ways by which prospective graduate students can fund their advanced education. Here are a few popular options to explore:


Scholarships are available to deserving students who can use them to reduce or eliminate their education expenses. Before choosing a scholarship recipient, the university considers the student’s history and background, including letters of recommendation, work experience, and, most importantly, academic records.


Grants are funds awarded by the federal, state, or private sectors that can be used to pay for tuition and/or additional student expenditures such as books, transportation, and equipment. Most grants are given out based on financial need rather than academic achievement.

Graduate Assistantships

Teaching Assistantships

– offer a fee waiver or a stipend in exchange for university services. Working as a professor’s assistant, assisting them with instructional restrictions, or helping in a lab or workshop, as well as teaching and demonstrating for undergraduates, are all possibilities.

Research Assistantships

– allow students to help a professor with their research while also lessening their workload, for a fee waiver or a stipend.

Student Loans

Students may be eligible for federal, bank, or private lender loans, all of which involve interest payments. It’s also worth noting that missing or delaying payments will almost certainly result in increased student debt.


The FAFSA, or Free Application for Federal Student Aid, can be used to evaluate whether or not a student is eligible for financial aid. More information on FAFSA is available here.

To understand and know more about various ways of funding graduate-level education, read the best Financial Guide.

FAQs about Online GIS Masters Programs

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between Geographical Information Systems (GIS) and Geospatial?

GIS is a system that stores geographic information in layers and integrates it with geographic software programs through which spatial information can be created, saved, edited, analyzed, and visualized. Geospatial is a relatively new term and is used to describe a collection of data and associated technology that has a geographic or locational component.

Can I do a GIS master online?

Is a masters in GIS worth it?

How to become a GIS professional?

Where to do a GIS master?

Careers and Salary Outlook For Online GIS Masters Graduates

On completing a masters in GIS, graduates will be able to manage complex GIS infrastructures in fields such as urban and regional planning, environmental resource management, etc., and also work with anything related to geolocation.

Students interested in geolocation information systems and associated fields will find numerous opportunities in the GIS sector. Many graduates have gone on to work as Geospatial Analysts, GIS Data Managers, GIS Developers, and other positions. Although private businesses use GIS workers (an example being Google Maps), Government bodies, such as city, state, and federal agencies, employ most GIS professionals. A 2017 GIS Salary Survey by the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA) reveals that some 57% of GIS personnel work in the Government sector.

Some of the most common masters in GIS jobs are:

  • GIS Analyst
  • GIS Technician
  • GIS Manager
  • GIS Programmer
  • GIS Specialist
  • GIS Coordinator
  • Consultant
  • Educator/Trainer
  • GIS Business Development Executive/Manager

As far as the masters in GIS salary is concerned, the same 2017 URISA GIS Salary Survey also reports that the average yearly wage of all GIS occupations, as of 2017, is just under $71,000. The highest-paid job titles are the Independent GIS Consultant, earning as much as $114,000 a year, and the GIS Business Development, which includes sales and marketing, earning $103,000 a year.

The GIS industry is expected to reach $25.6 billion by 2030, according to a report published by Prescient and Strategic Intelligence in 2020. However, in contrast, the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) has predicted a slower than average growth rate of 5% for Cartographers and Photogrammetrists over the next ten years. (The BLS does not have a separate classification called GIS.)

Certifications and Licensure For Online GIS Masters Students

There are two ways of acquiring additional Knowledge, Ability, and Skill (KSA) in GIS. One is to take up a GIS graduate certificate program, and the other is to take up a GIS certification. While certificate programs provide knowledge and training on various aspects of GIS, certifications are endorsements of the knowledge and expertise one can demonstrate.

One organization that offers certification is the GIS Certification Institute (GISCI), which has the Geographic Information Systems Professional (GISP) Certification. Another is the Esri Academy that has technical certification exams to validate expertise in various Esri GIS and Mapping products and capabilities. Certifications are offered at four levels: foundation, associate, professional, and specialty. In all, there are 11 core exams and 4 specialty exams. (It is important to note that the Esri certification focuses on demonstrating proficiency in the ArcGIS software.)

Additional Resources For Online GIS Masters Students

With the advancements in technology, computers, software, and satellites, GIS has become a complex yet crucial part of our world. The scope of GIS is ever increasing, giving rise to newer and more significant challenges that need to be addressed. Networking with peers and connecting with people from around the world can help in the endeavor to solve some of today’s complex problems in cartography, ecology, geography, the environment, and much more. Here are a few resources for students to explore and learn how GIS is being used today, the latest developments, and communities that bring ideas together:

  1. GISGeography
    GISGeography has a compilation of resources for GIS students and professionals, divided into categories such as analysis, careers, cartography, datasets, mapping, sensors, software, and more.
  2. GIS Resources
    GIS Resources is a global platform for the latest and high-quality information source in geospatial technology. It presents the latest insights into the research & developments in the geospatial industry and academics.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has a dedicated section for GIS and Public Health resources. One can explore map making, geospatial data, GIS software & tools, GIS blogs & forums, and GIS training.
    GRASS GIS provides a free and open-source copy of the GRASS GIS software, provides manuals and tutorials, and accepts contributions to Open Source GeoSpatial through GRASS GIS development.
  5. – GIS & Planning
    The Landscape Partnership portal is an interactive platform that allows landowners and professionals from any agency, organization, or industry to share technical information, host GIS mapping products and a variety of decision-support tools, view and download online learning materials, learn about partnership activities and newly funded projects, and find technical experts who can help. To that end, the GIS & Planning section within the website offers several tools and resources.
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