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.
MA 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.
MS in GIS
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
- Spatial Data Acquisition and Integration
- Spatial Application Development
- Spatial Thinking
- Spatial Data Analysis Visualizations
- Digital Mapping
Some other specialty areas connected with GIS include:
- Geophysics – the study of the Earth’s interior and its surface, in addition to its magnetic, gravitational, and electric fields.
- Geochemistry – the study of groundwater through physical and organic chemistry.
- Geology – the study of the formation of the Earth.
- Petroleum Geology – the analysis of gas and oil on the Earth to develop the best sites for extraction.
- Oceanography – the study of the physical and chemical properties of the ocean, along with the motion and circulation of ocean waters.
- Paleontology – the examination of geological formations and the evolution of animal and plant life.
- 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:
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
- Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools (MSA-CESS)
- Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
- 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.