GIS master's degree

Masters in GIS Programs Online: A Look at the ROI?

GIS Education – opportunities to advance your GIS Training skills

All of the GIS industry trends point to a tech sector that is growing fast and gaining more popularity as a career.  Since all tech is evolving, it’s become a must to advance your GIS skills.  Your peers are doing this: unemployed college graduates with time on their hands, graduates in non-GIS disciplines wanting to re-skill into GIS, and older professionals with outdated GIS skills.  One of the first thoughts to increase your competitiveness is to pursue a GIS master’s degree or a GIS certificate.  The good news is that there are lots of great programs.  Let’s take a look at Return on Investment (ROI) as you shop through the options.  

GIS Masters – describing the advantages

The candidates who have a GIS master’s degree often stand out more than others who don’t.  You’ve spent more time around geospatial academics.  You have taken higher level courses.  And you have proved that you can develop a research thesis using a variety of techniques and software.  A thesis is an independent project that you must independently drive forward and is no easy feat.  About 8% of the current GIS related jobs listed on Indeed, require a masters degree and are typically higher paying.  This is especially true in the government sector.  A GIS master’s can add to a more professional image in your profile.  The tradeoff is time (2 years), and the cost (average out of state is $41,500, College Tuition Compare)

GIS Certificate – quicker alternative

If you are not willing to invest the time and money into a masters degree, then there are several certificate GIS options that you can attain in 6-12 months.  Maybe you have a family or a current job, and you like the flexibility shown in a growing number of online programs.  The average GIS job salary for people with a GIS Certificate in the United States is about $60K a year.  There are plenty of GIS job positions such as GIS technician, analyst, developer, and project manager who accept GIS certificates. 

If you like engaging with other students, find a nearby college program certificate offering.  Else if you are a good independent learner, then you can do the online option.  After looking at 76 college programs in the USA, the average cost is $10,959.  This path can be very rewarding especially in the commercial sector where the trend is to ‘show what you know’ rather than the brand name on your diploma.  We advise looking at programs with applied classes with a strong IT integration into web development, scripting, and cloud.

GIS Master’s Programs

GIS master’s programs now are both in person and online.  We have some suggestions for you here.

GIS Master’s Programs

Item Program Duration Cost
1 The University of Arizona Online
This program focuses on learning emerging technologies used in GIS.
18 mo $24,600
2 Penn State GIS Master’s Degree
They are well known for having GIS specialties in science and intelligence with good adjunct faculty.
30 mo $34,200
3 Northwest Missouri State University (NWMS) 
This program offers a pay per course as you go model with a comprehensive set of courses.
20 mo $10,500
4 Salisbury University (SU)
This program has a nice focus on GIS for business and management.
13 mo $22,610
5 Florida State University’s (FSU)
This program offers an internship with real-life experience from organizations that are using GIS.
12 mo $14,380

GIS Certificate Programs Online

As I mentioned above, GIS certificate programs are another helpful choice for you to advance your career. Here are my suggestions for some top GIS certificate programs for you.

Online GIS Certificate Programs 

Item Program Duration Cost
1 Bootcamp GIS
You get a project-based approach from instructors working in industry that teach complete workflows. Start anytime which includes career placement assistance.
6 mo $5,982
2 Denver University
Their program can be a stepping stone into a MS GISc degree.  Apply and enter on their quarter system. Career services included.
12 mo $18,384
3 Penn State
You can enter as a novice or experienced user with a potential path to Masters in GIS Science or GeoINT. Apply for 3 entry periods per year.
9 mo $11,400
4 University of Washington
You benefit from group interactions with the instructor and other students.  They offer data handling and application focus on the NW region. Apply in May for September start.
8 mo $5,820
5 UCLA Extension
You get a traditional program of intro to advanced courses in the main GIS technical areas  Apply for semester offerings.
12 mo $9,450

Conclusion – Focus on GIS skills and projects 

You can be successful in any of these educational programs.  No matter what you choose, our advice is to come away with the essential GIS industry skills that job announcements are asking for. Try not to let your technical abilities be limited to ‘I learned to use GIS software in class’. This means that you should be articulate at describing how to use software and date enroute to a solution to a problem.  Getting a GIS master’s degree requires more significant investment so shop wisely to see if it is worth the educational ROI.

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