Learning about geographic information systems (GIS) as a specialization allows students to explore software tools, delve into concepts, and understand the terminology used for spatial modeling and analysis. I explored the best online GIS certificate programs to help you chose the one that works best for your circumstances. I reviewed the ones offered by continuing educational systems such as Coursera or Udemy, and the ones offered online by universities and colleges.
Best GIS Certificate Online Programs:
- Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Specialization (Coursera) →
- GIS, Mapping, and Spatial Analysis Specialization (Coursera) →
- GIS Certification Course: Geographic Information Systems (Udemy) →
- An introduction to GIS and QGIS (Udemy) →
- Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Geographic Information Systems (Pennsylvania State University) →
- GIS and Geospatial Technology (UCLA) →
- GIS Certificate (Michigan State University) →
- Online Geographic Information Science Undergraduate Certificate (Arizona State University) →
- Geographic Information Systems (NC State University) →
- Undergrad. Certificate, GIS Use in Non-Profit Organizations (Brandman University) →
- Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Certificate (Elmhurst College) →
Online Platforms Certificate Programs
Price: This course may be audited for free. You must pay for enrollment if you wish to get a certificate of completion. Financial aid is available. The paid course offers a seven-day free trial, which converts to a monthly subscription of $39 to $79 per month depending on the courses taken. A full-year subscription is $399. A one-year, non-commercial, student license for ArcGIS is included.
Duration: This course is part of a five-course program for a certification in the specialization. However, you can take this course separately. Students complete this single course in four weeks.
Having skills in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) allows you to pursue a career in agriculture, public health, and many other industries that operate globally. This course teaches how to analyze spatial data and use some techniques of cartography to communicate results via maps. Understanding GIS allows collaboration with peers working on a GIS-dependent project.
What certificate you will get: Upon completion of the course and submitting the hands-on project, you will get a certificate in Geographic Information Systems (GIS)
You will learn:
- How to work and create with raster data.
- How to use ModelBuilder to handle a large processing-workflow.
- How to develop data and analyze it for a geospatial project.
- How to create a hypothesis or question using GIS.
- How to explain and interpret practical results compared to the GIS hypothesis.
- How to use Data Visualization (DataViz).
- How to work with satellite imagery to conduct imagery analysis.
“If you want to learn ArcGIS this is a great course for a beginner or for those who wish to brush up on their skills. The professor gave lessons that were clear and easy to understand. I was able to keep up with the pace of the course and it was interesting and challenging. I appreciate being able to access courses through Coursera from top-notch professors even though I live in a small village halfway around the world.”
Best for: Beginners, who are learning ArcGIS, and those who have little experience with GIS. This course is good for architects, engineers, sociologists, surveyors, planners, miners, scientists, and many others who use GIS as a tool for their projects and work.
Price: Free auditing of this course is permitted. To get a certificate of completion, you must pay for the course. The paid course has a seven-day free trial. A monthly subscription for Coursera is $39 to $79 per month depending on the classes you take. A full-year subscription costs $399. Financial aid is available.
Duration: This course is part of a four-course program to gain a certification in GIS mapping. Each course takes six weeks to complete (a total of 14 hours.).
This is a beginner’s course to learn about GIS, mapping, and spatial analysis for those interested in learning how real things in the world are represented in maps. After you take this course, you can create a 2-D map from the information describing three-dimensional earth.
What certificate you will get: If you complete all four courses including the project assignment you will get a certificate in GIS mapping.
You will learn:
- What is GIS?
- What terminology is used for GIS.
- How to get started with ArcGIS software (software is not included).
- How to describe locations using their coordinates.
- How to map anywhere in the world using vector and raster data.
- How to flatten the globe with map projections.
- What it means to be a GIS analyst.
- How to create GIS data from a location of your choice.
“I used ARCMap before so I had some slight experience with GIS. I enjoyed learning about ArcGIS because the software is popular. For me, this first course in the series of four to get a certificate was very interesting. I especially liked the parts about coordinate systems and how to make map projections. This was a source of confusion for me before. Now, I really understand how all that works together. I plan to take the other three courses. Excellent course, highly recommended.”
Duration: Seven hours of on-demand video.
The course teaches Photogrammetry, which is used to make a 3-D model by taking measurements from photos and analyzing certain points on an object. The data generated from applying Photogrammetry is used along with GIS to solve problems and manage information about exact locations.
What certificate you will get: Students who finish the course will get a Certificate of Completion.
You will learn:
- The basics about GIS.
- How to elaborate different kinds of GIS maps.
- The general applications of Photogrammetry.
- How to use Photogrammetry with aerial photographs.
- How to complete a project using Photogrammetry.
- How to interpret aerial photographs and identify features.
- How to explain an engineering drawing with a 3-D perspective.
“This course starts without assuming you know anything about mapping or GIS. Much of the instructions are how to do basic things. This is meant to be an easy course to get a taste of how to use GIS to make maps, so it does not go into much detail about how to use the advanced features of the GIS software tools. For me, it was a bit too basic, but as an entry-level course for GIS certification, it makes sense to start at the beginning.”
Best for: geography students and students studying engineering, land surveying, aerial photography, and map mapping. Professionals, in related sectors, benefit from obtaining GIS certification and can study GIS as continuing education.
Duration: This course contains one and one-half hours of on-demand video. It takes only about two hours to complete; however many students like to continue to use the software for longer to become more familiar with it.
This introductory course covers GIS and QGIS at the beginner’s level. No previous experience with GIS is necessary prior to taking this course. It covers the fundamentals and offers a practical experience using sample data with QGIS.
What certificate you will get: Students who finish this course will get a Certificate of Completion.
You will learn:
- To understand the principles that are fundamental for GIS.
- To be familiar with GIS terminology.
- How to use GIS software at the beginner’s level.
- How to use the functional basics of QGIS.
“This course was a nice brief introduction to the QGIS interface with some use of ArcGIS. The map visualization was nice. The course was just what I was looking for because assumed I knew nothing and even explained basic functions like right-clicking, so even someone new to computers would not get lost. As an introductory course, it is very good. It was easy to understand and the lectures were engaging.”
Best for: Students who have little or no prior experience with GIS. This is a basic course not suitable for advanced GIS students. It would be helpful to take this course for those switching from a different GIS software program to QGIS because it is a nice introduction to how QGIS works.
The Universities and Colleges Online Certificate Programs
5. Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Geographic Information Systems (Pennsylvania State University) →
Price: $924 per credit. The certificate requires 12 credits for a total of $11,088.
Duration: This program has four courses of three credits each. Each instructor-led course is for ten weeks. Each course requires 10 to 12 hours of studying per week. It is possible for a full-time student to finish the program within one year.
Study geospatial topics and work with up-to-date software to gain direct experiences with GIS mapping. If you are already a professional with some GIS experience, you are allowed to bypass the introductory courses and choose elective courses from more advanced levels.
What certificate you will get: Take this program for certification by PennState in GIS. This is a stand-alone certificate that also serves as the entry requirement for the PennState Masters program in GIS.
You will learn:
- The scope, impact, and projections for the geospatial industry.
- How GIS facilitates data collection, data analysis, and communication efforts when working with common geographic problems.
- GIS database development.
- How to design a GIS database.
- How to maintain a GIS database.
- Data integration using desktop GIS software.
- Elective courses in this program include cyber-geography, remote-sensed imagery, understanding lidar systems, and many more.
“My experience taking this program and getting a certificate from PennState was that the skills I learned are in high-demand. I was able to use what I learned and the qualification certificate to get a job working for the government in Thailand to help map the areas with the most refugees to understand the root causes of their displacement.”
Best for: Beginners or experts working in the industry sectors of facilities management, environmental resources, urban planning, regional planning, local government, transportation planning, or another related field. Applicants for this program must have a BA from an accredited educational institution.
Price: $8,475 (estimated total) – $200 (application fee), $7,875 tuition, and $400 for textbooks.
Duration: This certification program requires completing five courses. There is about 150 hours of course instruction plus students spend an additional 10 hours per course per week. Full-time students can complete this certificate program within one year.
The required courses in this program are Introduction to Geographic Information Systems (GIS), GIS Databases and Enterprise GIS, Cartography, Intermediate Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and Advanced Geographic Information System. This program introduces GIS and geospatial mapping using GIS software.
What certificate you will get: Students who finish the program get a GIS certificate.
You will learn:
- How to create maps using GIS open-source software.
- How to analyze GIS data.
- How to work with the popular software including ArcGIS, Esri, and QGIS.
- How to think spatially and communicate with cartography.
- The design and usage of geospatial databases.
- How to work with multi-user geo-databases.
- How to conduct advanced spatial analysis and use data visualization tools to solve global problems.
“I had no knowledge of GIS when I started this program. After a year, and completing the program, I have excellent GIS skills, feel very confident, and have plenty of job opportunities to choose from, where having a GIS certificate looks impressive on my resume.”
Best for: Students entering the fields of GIS technology who want to acquire highly-marketable GIS skills. Professionals working with geospatial technology and those who want to learn more about working with maps and conducting spatial analysis.
Price: Core courses cost $875 each. Specialization courses cost $500 each. There is a $200 discount for completing all four courses, so the total cost for just the certificate program is $3,500.
Duration: There are many seven week courses to take individually or combined to earn a professional GIS certificate.
The GIS Certificate requires successfully finishing four courses, which are Introduction to Geospatial Technology, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Remote Sensing, and Cartography.
What certificate you will get: Students who finish the four courses get the Professional GIS Certificate.
You will learn:
- Tools and technologies geospatial professionals use to work with geographic information.
- About geographic information systems (GIS), global positioning systems (GPS), and remote sensing.
- To create maps using free open-source mapping programs.
- How to gain proficiency using the popular GIS software called ArcGIS.
- How to apply GIS analysis to solve global problems.
- The technical skills needed for interpreting aerial images.
- Cartographic map design, including graphic design, fonts, and using visual cues
“I increased my knowledge with new skills that have practical use in my future plans to work with GIS and geospatial projects. My experience with this online program was excellent. I feel like I have an advantage over others in my field that do not have GIS certification, as my GIS skills are highly marketable. I plan to continue using ArcGIS until I am an expert.”
Best for: Students wanting to work in GIS and professionals wanting to improve their careers with knowledge and certification in geospatial technologies. These courses provide continuing education and training for teachers. International students benefit from having certification from an American university.
Price: The price for this program is $530 per credit hour. There are 20 total credit hours needed to complete this program.
Duration: This program has six classes. There are seven and one-half weeks per class.
Studying for this GIS certificate teaches you the skills needed to utilize geospatial technology to create a visual model from geographic information and spatial data. The GIS certificate works well for those seeking degrees or working in geography, urban planning, life sciences, anthropology, and other specialties that use geospatial technology.
What certificate you will get: Students who finish the six courses get an Undergraduate GIS Certificate.
You will learn:
- Cross-disciplinary applications of geographic information systems.
- How to interpret geographic data.
- How to create visual representations of the geographic information.
- The terminology used for GIS.
- Opportunities for specialization.
- How to program the GIS databases.
- Cartography and aerial photo interpretations.
“Attending ASU course online allowed me to gain college credit at a much lower cost than in-person attendance. I have always been a fan of continuing education. I have a full-time job as an engineer and I wanted to get my GIS certificate so I can do more government contract work that requires knowledge of geospatial tools like ArcGIS.”
Best for: Students who are pursuing related degrees. Professionals who want to expand their competence levels with ongoing education and certification. Those who have an interest in mapmaking as a marketable skill.
Price: The cost to take courses for this program is $462 per credit hour for North Carolina residents and $1,311 per credit hour for non-residents. The total cost is $5,544 for North Carolina residents and $15,732 for non-residents.
Duration: The certificate requires four graduate courses. The time to complete the certification program is one year as a full-time student and up to two and one-half years as a part-time student.
The Graduate Certificate in Geographic Information Systems provides students with a graduate school level credential. This degree program is for serious students of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and their applications.
What certificate you will get: Students who successfully complete this program receive a Graduate Certificate in Geographic Information Systems.
You will learn:
- How geographic information systems are used for communication and data analysis to solve geographic problems.
- How to develop expertise in geographic data modeling.
- How to use desktop GIS software and cloud-based solutions.
- Spatial problem solving.
- How to use GIS data analysis to guide decision making.
- How to integrate and analyze geospatial data in different formats.
- How to find opportunities for geospatial data analysis.
“I relocated to North Carolina so I could work there and then I found this online program. I brought up the idea to my boss of taking the online courses to get a certification and my boss fully supported the idea. I was not in a rush so I enjoyed taking one course at a time and completed the program over two years while working full-time and studying at home at night.”
Price: $250 per unit. Courses are three units. The total cost for this course is $750.
Duration: This is a single course and is taken online and completed during a single semester.
The undergraduate Certificate in Nonprofit GIS trains students using the GIS tools for geospatial strategies. It improves a student’s geospatial thinking. Using GIS gives non-profits and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) more ways to analyze Big Data that affects their stakeholders.
What certificate you will get: Students who finish this course program will get an Undergraduate Certificate in Nonprofit GIS.
You will learn:
- About geospatial theory in relation to society.
- How to build a data-driven report.
- How to collect geospatial data for your presentation.
- How to improve your presentation skills using GIS information.
- How to create maps with cartography tools.
- How to interpret aerial photography to use GIS information in NGO efforts.
- How to map refugee flows.
“I took this course because the following year I was scheduled to volunteer to help a medicine delivery program in Africa that delivers emergency medicine by using remote-controlled flying drones. Learning about GIS was a valuable thing to do for helping out with my volunteer efforts.”
Price: $810 per semester hour. A total of $16,200 to complete the certificate program.
Duration: To get a certificate, a student must complete five courses for five credits (20 semester hours). Courses are accelerated, which allow this certificate program to be completed in less than one year.
This GIS certificate course program is entirely online. There is no need to visit the campus or to download software. The school provides state-of-the-art GIS software tools on a cloud server that is easily accessible from anywhere with a decent Internet connection.
What certificate you will get: Students who complete the course get a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) certificate.
You will learn:
- How to collect GIS data.
- How to analyze GIS data.
- How to create maps.
- How to solve spatial problems.
“I love this program. It was interesting and fun to learn about GIS. I am confident that having this certificate will help me with my job and perhaps help me find a better one.”
Best for: Adult students and professionals who want to expand their marketable skills by learning about GIS, which has applications in many industries such as emergency management, crime analysis, and national security.
If you are like me, once you get started learning about GIS, you will be hooked and want to learn more. It is possible to take a low-cost introductory course to learn some of the basics. If you want to use your GIS skills in your job or to get a high-salary job, it pays to complete a certificate program from a major school that is a recognized leader. Whatever you decide, it is fun to have at least a working knowledge of GIS. I hope I have encouraged you to explore GIS.