Top 10 On-line GIS Master’s Degree Programs

May 16, 2014 at 12:30 pm  •  Posted in Education, Geography by  •  105 Comments

Since posting various rankings of Geography graduate programs and GIS graduate programs I’ve received a number of requests to review on-line GIS graduate programs.

First, let me say I’m not a fan of 100% on-line education unless it’s the type of education where you go on-line and teach yourself something for free. To me, the future of formal education involves a huge dose of on-line resources but still also includes face-to-face interaction with a Professor or Learning Coach of some sort. Maybe an 80-20 split with 80% of your time learning from on-line resources and 20% of your time working directly with a knowledgeable person who can both enhance your learning and verify your level of knowledge acquisition. Until such options are more widely available I recommend pursuing the traditional graduate school model, in person, on campus and learning from a Professor who you can have coffee with on a regular basis.

That said, I fully understand the demand for 100% on-line education because, for one thing, there aren’t many hybrid or blended learning options available (hopefully this will change) and the flexibility is essential for working adults (especially parents) who want to further their education and move up the economic food chain.

So, for on-line GIS education, I’ve identified 10 Universities offering a 100% on-line program leading to a Master’s Degree in GIS (or similar). Note: I did not review graduate “certificate” programs and I don’t have plans to do so unless I hear otherwise from readers. Also note that while tuition and time to completion are key elements, I did not take them into consideration for the purposes of ranking. I don’t have a formal methodology for the rankings themselves; rather, this represents a qualitative review of the curriculum and faculty as observed on each program website. So, please take this list for what it’s worth – it represents my opinion and nothing else.

Rank Program
1 Penn State University
2 University of Southern California
3 University of Denver
4 Johns Hopkins University
5 North Carolina State University
6 Northern Arizona University
7 Northeastern University
8 Northwest Missouri State University
9 University of Central Arkansas
10 Salisbury University


If I’ve omitted a worthy program please let me know in the comment section below.


  1. Stanley / May 17, 2014 at 7:14 am / Reply

    First I’d say that it would be good if you could discuss your criteria more fully. Second, it is important to note in your title that you have included only US programs. There are several UK programs open to any English speakers. Also I wonder if cost was one of your criteria?

  2. bob / May 17, 2014 at 10:48 am / Reply

    Wow that was quick, thank you! I have been doing a lot of research for online GIS masters degrees lately. You have several online degrees that I did not know were available listed here. Unfortunately, the college where I am getting my undergrad does not offer a GIS masters program and relocation is not an option at the moment. I am glad to see Northwest Missouri State made your list, I am currently considering this school. If you have any personal thoughts on their program I would love to hear it. From my calculations the total cost is only around $15,000 for out-of-state students, which seems like a bargain.


    • Justin / May 17, 2014 at 1:12 pm / Reply

      Hi Bob. By my estimates the program at Northwest Missouri State would cost closer to $23,000 for non-residents and about $14,000 for residents (both figures are for tuition only). This particular program looks pretty good but I would be concerned about too much focus on ESRI software and insufficient exposure to open source technologies. Something to ask about before you commit. But, generally speaking, I like what I see in terms of course offerings and faculty. If you’re just finishing undergrad I would see what you might be able to find in the way of job opportunity and perhaps spend some time learning independently. So much to explore and learn. Check out QGIS, CartoDb, Leaflet, PostGIS, Python, PySal – all good stuff. Best of luck! -Justin

      • bob / May 21, 2014 at 12:40 pm / Reply

        Thank you for the response. You are correct, I was thinking the degree could be completed in a shorter time than is actually required.

        • Katy / May 8, 2015 at 8:43 am / Reply

          Bob, if you are still considering an online GIS program, I’m about to start Salisbury’s and I love it already. It’s more GIS management than it is advance GIS but every student gets instate tuition and the professors are always available to be reached. Hope this helps!

          • Justin / May 8, 2015 at 7:00 pm /

            Thanks for sharing your experience, Katy!

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  5. mike / May 19, 2014 at 2:12 pm / Reply
    • Justin / May 19, 2014 at 2:26 pm / Reply

      Thanks for posting this link, Mike! Looks like a good option to explore for people in So Cal.

  6. Phillip Davis / May 19, 2014 at 4:16 pm / Reply

    The new Masters program at Texas A&M University Corpus Christi is first rate.

    • Justin / May 19, 2014 at 4:26 pm / Reply

      I looked at Texas AM Corpus Christi but the program appears to be geared more toward Surveying/Engineering rather than GISci.

  7. Pete Aniello / May 20, 2014 at 11:11 am / Reply

    I think you left out what I believe is the original online GIS Master’s program, which is at the University of Colorado – Denver (since 1999):

    • Justin / May 20, 2014 at 11:23 am / Reply

      Hi Pete – thanks for posting this link. I’m aware of the program and it may be a good fit for many students, especially if you’re interested in GIS applications within Civil Engineering. That said, it’s housed in the Engineering School and this makes it difficult for me to evaluate. Also, generally speaking, I consider geographic information science to be a sub-discipline of geography and I don’t recommend becoming well-trained in GIS technology without also completing some training in geography. So, with that in mind, I don’t consider UC-Denver to be a top GIS program. Thanks again, Justin

  8. Robert / May 20, 2014 at 9:02 pm / Reply

    Don’t forgot University of California Riverside GIS Extension program.They are as good as anywhere and they have 3 months intensive courses in the summer.

    They have GIS Certificate that you can find here :

    • Justin / May 20, 2014 at 10:28 pm / Reply

      Thanks for sharing this link, Robert. I only looked at programs awarding Master’s degrees upon completion. I guess maybe I’ll need to do some research on Certificate programs. I’ll be sure to put this one on the evaluation list. Thanks again! -Justin

  9. Rachel / May 28, 2014 at 9:25 am / Reply

    The University of Leeds (U.K) offers an MSc in GIS which is studied completely online. The course is very well established (running for 10 years) and takes 3 years to complete. Students are accepted from across the globe and the cost is £8000 (approx $13 400). They also offer a Postgraduate Certificate (1 year), a Postgraduate Diploma (2 years), and short courses in GIS (3 months). Find out more at

    • Justin / May 28, 2014 at 10:41 am / Reply

      Hi Rachel – thank you for submitting this comment! Leeds has a great history as a center (I suppose I should spell it centre in this case) of excellence in geocomputation thanks primarily to the pioneering work of Stan Openshaw. I haven’t taken time to review the program but it’s definitely worth a look! I suppose I will need to do a list of programs from across the globe at some point. If/when I get around to it Leeds will be on the list of programs to consider. Thanks again, Justin

  10. Doug / June 7, 2014 at 11:42 am / Reply

    Justin – thank you for this site. I recently found it and it has been immensely helpful in my GIS education research. I really appreciate you taking the time to provide this awesome resource. Do you know anything about the University of Washington’s Masters in GIS with a focus in Sustainability Management? It is a mostly online program, with two intensive in-person summer sessions. Any thoughts on how this program compares to UW’s more traditional grad program in Geography with a specialization on GIS.

    My undergraduate degree was in International Development Studies from UCLA. I recognize that my BA is not directly related to GIS, but I think much of what I learned is applicable and useful to GIS work. In short, I am looking to stay in the Seattle area to pursue a grad degree in GIS. Do you have any suggestions? I have not seen any Seattle-area schools on your lists.

    • Doug / June 7, 2014 at 11:47 am / Reply

      also – I forgot to add that the GIS career path I am looking to pursue is Geospatial Analyst. I researched the different paths through your Spatial Career Guide (thank you!) and other sites, and I think it would be the best fit for me. I mention this because I know it’s relevant when selecting the best program for my goals.

      • Justin / June 7, 2014 at 1:10 pm / Reply

        Hi Doug – the Univ of Washington’s geography department has a long tradition of excellence with a primary focus on human geography. The GIS + sustainability management program looks intriguing but it also sounds somewhat experimental. If your primary focus is sustainability it could be perfect. But, if your primary focus is GIS, I would suggest either the traditional 2-year MA program or one of the on-line programs listed here. Thank you for the kind words – I’m delighted to hear my blog has been helpful. Best wishes! -Justin

  11. Doug / June 7, 2014 at 1:44 pm / Reply

    wow, that was quick – Thank you! That was my initial hunch too, that the GIS + sustainability management program is really focused on environmental issue. I am interested in that type of work, but would prefer to have a broader GIS focus at this point. thanks again.

  12. Doug / June 8, 2014 at 1:14 pm / Reply

    I am wondering if I might ask you one more question. Since I did not take any GIS or other technologically focused courses as part of my undergrad, I would like to take a course or maybe two this summer and fall. I feel that the courses will help prepare me for graduate work and will also improve my chances of acceptance into a good graduate. My question is this – which subjects would you recommend I focus on first? I have been looking at courses with titles such as Intro to HTML, Intro to Programming, etc. Many of the courses then specify further, so if taking a programming class, what programs should I look out for if my main goal is to beef up my knowledge of GIS and grad school chances in time for the December 2014 application deadlines? Python, ArcGIS, MySQL, HTML5? Thanks so much for your help!

    • Justin / June 9, 2014 at 6:30 pm / Reply

      Python is probably the best place to start. Maybe add some self study for Web mapping with leaflet or svg. Or try automating ArcGIS with Python.

  13. Shannon / September 14, 2014 at 11:47 am / Reply


    As other followers have mentioned I to am grateful for this topic of discussion. My background is in systems engineering and I´m interested in switching career fields into spatial analysis focused on response and recovery efforts from a disaster of humanitarian perspective which i feel will be a more satisfying field. I´m currently trying to decide between Penn State´s and USC´s online masters program and would like to know more on why you rated Penn State higher than USC. I have been researching the two and from a quality perspective it is hard to tell exactly what I would be signing up for. USC´s course reading material seems to be more update than some of the text books Penn State lists but of course the faculty will have a much larger impact. One of your readers on a previous article of the Top 20 Rated GIS program spoke very highly of the USC program´s in depth spatial analysis and I´m having a hard time trying to compare it to Penn State´s. If i could pull it off I would relocate and attend Clark´s program but this will most likely not be a viable option for me. One more personal point for me is I´m a VET and Penn State ( on the surface) appears to offer more support to veterans. The coding and in depth spatial analysis for problem solving seem to be a key point with members I have spoken to in the field. Any insight into the different strengths of these two programs or further information for selection is appreciated.

    • Justin / September 14, 2014 at 3:56 pm / Reply

      Hi Shannon,
      I don’t think you can go wrong either way so I would make the decision based on which program would provide a better individual fit given your career objectives and learning style. I really like what I see at USC and I would give the program a very serious look. That said, Penn State will have better name recognition within most GIS/Geography circles.
      Hope this helps!
      Best, JH

      • Annie / October 22, 2014 at 1:13 am / Reply

        Hi Justin,
        Can you speak any more as to why you rated the Penn State program more highly? How does it have more name recognition? I had originally been trying to decide between Penn State and the USC program before realizing the USC program was almost double the expense. However, the Johns Hopkins program is priced between the two and seems to have the much superior course selection than Penn State (in my opinion). I felt like several of the Penn State required classes seemed to be a bit “fluff-y” for a graduate program and equivalent to classes one could take at a community college, whereas the JH courses seemed much more rigorous. I know you stated the rankings were your opinion but I would really like to know more regarding what you based the rankings on.

        • Justin / October 24, 2014 at 12:04 pm / Reply

          Hi Annie – Penn State’s Dept of Geography has a long history as a leading GIS program, both the “traditional” program and the on-line program are generally thought of as flagships for the discipline. John’s Hopkins has a great “Regional Science” tradition but no geography department and, as far as I know, their GIS program is relatively new. Also, when I looked at faculty for JH they were almost entirely adjunct. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it adds to my perception of the GIS program at JH as something that’s been pulled together to take advantage of demand for degree programs in this area whereas Penn State has been in the business of GIS education for decades. JH may be the best offering for you but these are the reasons I ranked it lower. Hope that helps. Best wishes, Justin

        • JL / January 22, 2015 at 3:20 pm / Reply

          I’m currently enrolled at JHU and I have to give them the highest recommendation. I’ve completed a full semester and it was very rigorous and I learned so much more than I expected. I have many, many years in the field so I think that has helped me get the most out of the program. If you have little to no experience, the classes could be a little overwhelming because there are no training wheels to this program.

          To answer the question about faculty – yes, they are adjunct, but I think that is actually better. They are doing this stuff every day. Plus, they have some really qualified people – the program administrator is a 10 year employee of Esri and is really, really knowledgeable. They also have some instructors from NASA and the USGS. Really top notch. I’m very glad I chose to go here and I would highly recommend it if you are looking for a challenging program.

          • Justin / January 22, 2015 at 5:54 pm /

            Hi JL – great to hear of your positive experience! Thanks for sharing! Just to clarify – I have no problem with adjunct instructors (I’ve been one!) but it’s good to have someone regular/full time to steer the curriculum and pedagogical ship. Thanks again! Best wishes, Justin

  14. Sara / November 9, 2014 at 9:24 pm / Reply

    Hello, I was wondering, is online master degree is acceptable like other traditional on campus programs? I am considering of the online GIS program at USC, but was thinking if it is going to be worth it..

    • Justin / November 11, 2014 at 11:06 am / Reply

      Hi Sara – it all depends on your professional goals. If your objective is to work as a GIS analyst or programmer in the private sector then the program at USC (or another comparable program) may be better for you than a traditional program. If your objective is to become a scientist/researcher then I think you need to be in residence with a faculty mentor and a traditional program would be better. Does this help? Best, JH

      • Sara / November 15, 2014 at 7:56 pm / Reply

        Thank you so much for your reply! Indeed your thoughts are very helpful. Since I got rejected by graduate schools that I wanted to attend last year (particularly UCSB and UCLA), I kind of lost on what I really want to do. I am 100% sure that I want to continue with GIS but am not sure if I want to stay in academia to do GIS. I want to just work in GIS related fields, but at the same time, I think of how the life of a researcher is like.. This is the reason why I started looking for other GIS programs, such as USC.. Do you think I should still try traditional on campus programs to study GIS or just start online programs to get more skills?

        Also have you heard of University of Washington’s (Tacoma) MS in Geospatial Technologies? I think it is a new program. Seems to be little pricey but it is only one year and have decent list of courses. I was wondering what are your thoughts!

        Thank you for your awesome blog!

        • Justin / November 17, 2014 at 9:02 pm / Reply

          Hi Sara – I think you should give the traditional on-campus route one more try, especially since you’re still considering a research career. If you only applied to UCSB and UCLA I think you need to try submitting more applications or focus in on a more specific research thread. What aspects of GIS interest you most? You need to articulate a good fit with a particular program and advisor to maximize your chances for admission and funding. I’m not familiar with the Tacoma program but if you decide to do an online program I would stick with USC. Hope this helps. Best wishes, Justin

  15. J / November 15, 2014 at 10:04 pm / Reply

    Hello Justin!
    Have you heard of University of Penn’s Master of Urban Spatial Analytics or University of Washigton’s Master of Science in Geospatial Technologies? both seem very interesting but was thinking if any information is out there. I have a BA degree in Geography and minor in GIS. I want to study more and then have a job related to GIS. Also, have you heard of the GIS program at CSULB? THank you always for your amazing postings!

    • Justin / November 17, 2014 at 9:14 pm / Reply

      Hi J. Penn has an outstanding Urban Planning program and they’ve done a great job of incorporating spatial and GIS effectively. If you’re interested in Urban Planning this would be an excellent way to go. Otherwise, probably stick with geography departments. Don’t know much about the Geospatial Tech program at UW nor the GIS program at CSULB (I assume Cal State Long Beach?). These are very different tracks within GIS. Maybe you need to clarify career objectives? Check out my Spatial Career Series and let me know if it helps:
      Best wishes, Justin

  16. A / December 10, 2014 at 2:32 pm / Reply

    Hi Justin,
    great article. I’m curious about your thoughts on Delta State’s MAS-GIT program? Did you evaluate it or was it from too small a university to seriously consider? Thanks-A

    • Justin / December 10, 2014 at 3:14 pm / Reply

      Hi A. I guess it wasn’t on my radar screen. I found the program website here:
      I see only one faculty member with PhD level GIS expertise and it looks one other recent hire with a Master’s. It all depends on those two individuals. If they’re good, it could be a great program. If not, it could be a big waste of time, energy and money. Generally speaking, I prefer programs within a department focused on geography/spatial so I can’t recommend Delta State unless perhaps you want to look at biology applications. Doesn’t mean it’s not a good program. I just don’t know enough to say with any confidence. Hope this helps. Cheers, JH

  17. Nils / January 2, 2015 at 2:31 pm / Reply

    Hi Justin,
    Your site is an incredible resource. Thank you.
    I am looking at that PSU and Northeastern programs you listed. While PSU is a clear leader for the reasons you laid out in the threads above, the advantage for me of the Northeastern program is that I am from Boston. While I currently live in the Middle East, I could combine my occasional visits home with face time with professors. If both PSU and NU would be a fit, in your opinion how does that added opportunity (limited) to connect weigh against the superiority/pedigree of the PSU program?
    Best, and thanks,

  18. Anthony / January 9, 2015 at 2:58 pm / Reply

    With regards to employability and career potential, do you think it makes sense for someone with a MS in Geology (no thesis) and four years experience in the environmental consulting industry to go for a MS or certificate in GIS. Even though in my current job we really don’t use much GIS, I am strongly interested in work in remote sensing and spatial statistics, and a career that involves GIS work is what I would rather be doing. It seems to me that obtaining a graduate certificate or a MS in GIS would take me farther and offer me more opportunities for advancing my career than just self-study would.

    • Justin / January 11, 2015 at 1:33 pm / Reply

      Hi Anthony,
      I would recommend keeping your current gig and pursuing GIS/spatial skills on the side. A certificate might help but, in my opinion, a second Master’s would be overkill. Better still would be to work with your current employer to incorporate more RS and spatial into your work; or, look for opportunities to move to another position where you can do the type of work you want to do.
      If you decide for more formal education start slow. Begin by taking just one class, probably on-line, and see how it goes. There are many great benefits that come along with pursuit of a Master’s degree. Content mastery in a specific field is one of several. You already have probably reaped the reward of all the others benefits, e.g., general intellectual growth, good writing, research skills, computing skills, etc. So, there are fewer benefits a second time around. The advantage of self-study, especially for you, would be the ability to tailor your learning to complement your existing skill set. So try both. Take a class and study on your own. But don’t quit your job. Not yet anyway.

      • Anthony / September 20, 2015 at 6:19 pm / Reply

        Justin, thanks for your input. I figured my best bet would be to self-study and try to work GIS into my current job or find one that does.

  19. Jason / January 28, 2015 at 8:42 am / Reply

    Hi Justin,

    If I want to focus more on cartography, which on-line programme would you recommend?


    • Justin / January 28, 2015 at 10:56 am / Reply

      Hi Jason,
      If you can’t do a traditional program, I would recommend USC. They offer a few different “Tracks” and one of them is called, “Spatial Data Analysis and Visualization”. I think that would be your best bet. Penn State would be next in line.

  20. Bob / February 25, 2015 at 8:33 pm / Reply

    I am very interested in hearing how people in this forum have gone about searching for online GIS Masters programs. Where do you all go for information? I am currently considering Northwest Missouri State’s program (heard good things from others that have attended) as well as some others. I’d be interested to hear where everyone goes to become informed and compare programs.

  21. John / March 9, 2015 at 4:52 pm / Reply

    Hi, I found your site today and must say that I am really impressed, what a great resource! Do you have any thoughts on the University Of Maryland’s program? I don’t have much experience with GIS, but as a high school science teacher, I have used some GIS applications with my students and would like to research a possible career change. Thanks!

    • Justin / March 9, 2015 at 5:21 pm / Reply

      Hi John, Maryland is outstanding! Just be aware the program is focused on physical geography (minimal human geography) in terms of research areas and GISci application areas. Best of luck with the career change! Cheers, Justin

      • John / March 9, 2015 at 9:26 pm / Reply

        Thanks for the quick response, Justin! So physical geography would be my primary interest, as I already have a MS in environmental science and policy. What specific advice would you give to an older (40 year old!) person interested in changing careers into the remote sensing/GIS industry? I have experience in the military and professional interest in the environmental field, but primarily I’d be interested in breaking into a position with a federal agency. I live in the Washington DC suburbs and that was one reason for the interest in Maryland. Maybe I’m a bit if a dreamer, but I’ve always loved maps and my MS thesis centered on land use and water quality. I’d be interested in your thoughts or advice. Thanks!

        • Justin / March 10, 2015 at 8:36 am / Reply

          Hi John,
          My advice would be start small but as soon as possible. Maybe take just 1 class on-line. I’ve heard good things about the “Geospatial Revolution” class via Penn State. I think it’s free. Or just download a copy of QGIS and start playing around. Or login to MapBox and see what you can do. If you already have a Master’s I would *not* recommend getting another one. In your case a certificate in GISci might be the ticket. I don’t know if it’s still the case but the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency always seems to be hiring Geospatial Analysts for positions in DC (and St. Louis). With your military background it’s certainly worth a shot.
          Best of luck!

          • John / March 12, 2015 at 8:25 pm /

            Thanks again, for the advice and info. I actually found that course that you mentioned right before you suggested it and signed up for the next session (which starts in two weeks!), so that is awesome! As for a quick follow up question about Maryland’s program: I noticed their geography graduate programs offers a PhD (sadly, too late for me), a certificate, and a Masters. The Masters degree is an MPS (Master of Professional Studies) – do these types of Masters have the same credibility in the geospatial/GIS field as a Master of Science degree? Just curious about that. I don’t want to sink money into a flimsy or cursory program, but as you mentioned previously that I probably would just go for the certificate program as I already have a master’s (two actually, one in teaching and one in environmental). I’ve really enjoyed reading through your blog and thanks again.

          • Justin / March 15, 2015 at 11:59 am /

            Hi John,
            In my opinion, the MPS is a step down from the MS or MA …. but perceptions will vary and many won’t know there’s any difference.

  22. Marynia / March 25, 2015 at 7:56 pm / Reply

    I just wanted send some love for including John Hopkins on your list! I graduated from the (newish) MS in GIS & Cartography cohort last year and really loved the experience, courses offered, and many of the faculty I worked with. The online environment makes for a pretty intensive experience as you are required to explicitly participate, and I also got to learn some open source software and expand my programming abilities. I hope they get more interesting faculty to add to their ranks! It definitely is what you make of it, too, as so many things are, but it was the right thing at the right time for me. I’m at ASU working on PhD now, and so I’ll have to write about that in a few years as well. 🙂

    • Justin / March 26, 2015 at 1:21 pm / Reply

      Marynia, thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience at Johns Hopkins! Great to hear it was positive for you. Also, congrats on the PhD admission. ASU has a lot of big brains to learn from – keep me posted! Best wishes, Justin

  23. Jana / April 3, 2015 at 10:26 am / Reply

    I just recently came across this website, and find it to be an incredible resource. I work in natural resource management (non-profit) and have intermediate GIS experience, primarily ESRI applications. Several years ago I completed an undergraduate certificate in GIS through the University of West Florida’s online campus, which was pretty basic. I am interested in moving towards a GIS based career, and have been considering additional education in order to make that happen, since I have little to no opportunity to improve my GIS skill set through my current position. I don’t intend to quit my job, so online programs (or hybrid programs) are my primary focus. Do you have any recommendations on the type of education to pursue? I am not convinced a certificate program will be enough, but am concerned about the cost of many of the full Master’s programs.

    • Justin / April 3, 2015 at 11:05 am / Reply

      Hi Jana,
      You might want to read my “Spatial Career” series of posts to determine which GIS path suits you best. If software development or spatial statistics/analytics interests you I would start by taking on-line courses in Python programming and/or spatial analysis using PySAL or similar. Unless you are seeking government or academic jobs you don’t need anything formal beyond a Bachelor’s degree. You just need proficiency and a little bit of luck finding a company with the right opportunity.
      Best wishes,

  24. Cam / April 21, 2015 at 1:01 pm / Reply

    Hey Justin,

    Thank you for the blog, I’ve found it an invaluable resource when looking at GIS and geography graduate programs, and exploring geography in general. My questions for you are if you think online programs have the same credibility as traditional on-campus programs? And do you think the same job opportunities are available to graduates from online programs as those from traditional ones?

    Thanks! Also, hello from Boulder! Go Colorado!


    • Justin / April 21, 2015 at 2:52 pm / Reply

      Hi Cam,
      No, I think traditional on-campus programs are more highly regarded in general. On-line programs are improving but you’re still missing out on regular direct interaction with researchers. For the same reason, I think job opportunities are more limited coming out of an online program.
      Just my opinion and won’t hold true for every student and every program.
      Hope this helps. Go Colorado!
      Best wishes,

  25. AG / April 22, 2015 at 9:00 am / Reply

    Hi, I’d like to take up GIS masters with basic skills and a B.Sc degree in geography from India. The cost of the program, together with financial aids/ scholarships offered is a very important deciding factor. Keeping that in mind, which university programs do you recommend?

    • Justin / April 23, 2015 at 12:22 pm / Reply

      I recommend “traditional” programs where you might find funding opportunities in exchange for research or teaching assistance.

  26. Tao / June 2, 2015 at 8:09 am / Reply

    Thanks for posting all the necessary information about the top Online GIS master program. I currently work in the oil and gas industry as a geoscience technician. I use arc GIS on a daily basis for surface and sub surface mapping analysis. I was considering of getting my masters degree in GIS. My question is which one of the school you listed will be a good fit for sub surface data management and mapping? Maybe work as a GIS analyst. Thank you

    • Justin / June 2, 2015 at 11:24 am / Reply

      I’m not aware of any program specifically tailored to the Oil & Gas industry. Maybe look at Texas A&M Corpus Christi. But’s that’s not online. Best wishes, Justin

  27. Tony Economou / June 10, 2015 at 1:35 pm / Reply


    Give your thoughts on this. I am looking for a mid-career change (I am 48) and wondering what my prospects might be after graduating from a GIS program. Does age factor in here?


    • Justin / June 12, 2015 at 12:13 am / Reply

      Hi Tony,
      It won’t be easy but it really depends on your background. Is there a way to blend your professional experience with GIS? That will be your best bet for making a move. If you try to start from scratch I’m afraid age might indeed work against you.

      • Tony / June 13, 2015 at 11:32 pm / Reply

        Thanks for your honesty. I do not have prior experience. It seems like I cannot get an honest answer from program directors. I would rather know now that go through the process just to find disappointment.

  28. Tony Economou / June 10, 2015 at 3:42 pm / Reply

    Hi Justin,

    I am looking to make a mid-career change (I am 48) to GIS and am wondering what the prospects are. Do you see a lot of older folks entering GIS?


  29. Ray Jolly / July 15, 2015 at 9:17 am / Reply

    Hi, Tony

    Thank you for the insight in this article. I was wondering if you had any insight, opinion, or commentary about the GIS graduate certificate program at Ryerson University which is based in Toronto, CA. This is an online program but I have not yet heard back from their program coordinator.

    Although programs like USC, Johns Hopkins, and Penn State may be prestigious I cannot ignore the fact that the US dollar is very strong right now against the Loony. In fact, even when adding international fees, one class at Ryerson saves me approximately $1000 compared to the program at PSU.

    Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.


    • Justin / July 15, 2015 at 3:24 pm / Reply

      Hi Ray – I know people who attended Ryerson and were very pleased with the program. It has an excellent reputation in applied spatial analysis. I don’t know anything about its online offerings or GIS program but I would expect it to be first rate. Best wishes, Justin

  30. Matthew Zook / July 24, 2015 at 1:37 pm / Reply

    Hi Justin,
    The Geography Department at the University of Kentucky has launched a new online, graduate program in GIS and mapping. The focus is on open source technologies for web-mapping, cartographic design and UI/UX. We are offering both a graduate certificate (11 credits) and a Master’s of Science (30 credits). All the details are at the program’s webpage including the full listing of courses and some samples of student work.

    It launches in October 2015. We also have some fun videos


    • Justin / July 24, 2015 at 4:31 pm / Reply

      Thanks for posting a comment here, Matt! I hope the new program is a tremendous success! Best wishes, Justin

  31. Pingback: New Online Digital Mapping Program at Kentucky | Geographical Perspectives

  32. Lee / September 4, 2015 at 2:17 pm / Reply

    Hi Justin,

    Thank you so much for compiling this list! I’m very interested in pursuing a Master’s of GIS and there are so many programs out there that it’s difficult to pick just one!

    What are your thoughts on attaining a GIS Master’s right after your undergraduate education?
    Do you know if these GIS Master programs more geared towards people already working in the industry (as GIS Analysts, GIS Managers, etc)?

    • Justin / September 4, 2015 at 4:23 pm / Reply

      Hi Lee, I think most on-line GIS Masters programs are compatible with full time jobs but probably varies by program. It’s a good question to ask before applying. I don’t think it will hurt to go straight from undergrad. For some people, me included, working + school is better than school only. I think you get more from doing both in parallel. But doesn’t work for everyone. Cheers, Justin

  33. Chelsea / October 26, 2015 at 10:13 am / Reply

    Hello. First off, thank you for the incredible source of information you have here! I have been researching on online option for a GIS Masters (on-campus is not an option). I have my bachelors in intelligence studies with a focus on terrorism studies – somehow I found my way into the economic world, specifically site selection and procurement of incentives for companies looking to relocate/expand. As the manage of research, my main role is to head the location modeling which we will be pushing next summer.

    That being said, I’ve been trying to find a good educational track to help advance these skills and make me more marketable in the future. It seems that GIS provides more in depth knowledge into site selection. What is your opinion? I figure I will learn a ton of extra, valuable information. Specifically, I am leaning toward Penn State’s program for name recognition, affordability (compared to other programs) and ranking. I’d love your input on GIS and site selection. Thank you and I look forward to hearing from you!

  34. Matthew / November 5, 2015 at 11:14 am / Reply

    Hi Justin,

    First of all, thank you so much for this awesome blog.
    I recently graduated from the University at Buffalo’s geography department with a concentration on International Trade. While there, I did a lot of multivariate statistics, remote sensing, and DEM models in ArcGIS.
    I want to get back into the GIS world and pivot in my career path – I’m interested in urban planning, conservation, transportation, or health geography. To be honest, I’m not picky – I just love geography and GIS is so great and exciting.
    What I would really love to be doing in the future is working internationally in developing countries to help plan infrastructure and resources. Are there any programs online which would focus on these things?

  35. Skyler / December 9, 2015 at 1:40 pm / Reply

    Hello Justin,

    This site has been very beneficial. I am currently working as a GIS Planning Technician for a Regional Planning Commission in Ohio. I do a lot of transportation planning and zoning maps. I have a BS in Geography but want to get a MS in GIS. I’ve also been teaching myself QGIS in my spare time

    I want to focus on and learn more GIS programming and web mapping. I’ve been looking at online GIS programs and was wondering if you had any recommendations and what you thought of Kent State, since it is located in Ohio.


    • Justin / December 9, 2015 at 11:14 pm / Reply

      Hi Skyler,
      I’m afraid I don’t know enough about Kent State to advise you one way or the other. It does not have a reputation as a GIS-powerhouse but that doesn’t mean there aren’t really good faculty teaching really good stuff. Ohio State is one of the top programs in the world if you want to stay in Ohio but I don’t think they offer an on-line program. I like USC and Penn State from what I’ve seen. You might also investigate the new program being offered at Kentucky. Hope this helps.
      Best wishes,

  36. Ryan / December 28, 2015 at 3:21 pm / Reply

    Hi Justin,

    Really appreciate the site, it’s been a huge help in my research and thinking about what I should value in a graduate program.

    Have you heard of the new online UW-Madison program? Any thoughts about how it stacks up compared to some on the list here? The curriculum seems to really stick to the hard skills that I think some less established programs lack, but it seems like only one instructor will be teaching the courses. Not sure what to make of that.


    • Justin / January 1, 2016 at 11:58 am / Reply

      Hi Ryan,
      Glad to hear my blog has been helpful. The geography department at Wisconsin is first class so I would expect a top notch online program. That said, all of these online programs, aside from Penn State, are relatively new and probably still working out the kinks. Only 1 instructor does sound odd. I suppose if the individual is super strong it could still be good but certainly not ideal. I’d want to know the primary instructor pretty well before making a commitment.
      Best wishes,

    • bob / January 15, 2016 at 10:58 am / Reply

      Why do you think that this program only has one instructor? That does not even make any sense.

      • Justin / January 15, 2016 at 4:56 pm / Reply

        I agree, one instructor is insufficient.

  37. Ryan / December 28, 2015 at 11:37 pm / Reply

    Hi Justin,

    Thanks for the post, it’s been really helpful in my own evaluation of what to look for in programs.

    Just curious about your thoughts on the new UW-Madison online GIS-development program and how it might stack up to some of these others (for instance, USC or Penn State). On the one hand it seems to be really progressive about teaching modern skills, on the other hand the instruction staff seems pretty skeletal in comparison.


  38. Parama / December 30, 2015 at 12:17 am / Reply

    Hi Justin,
    Thank you for posting question and answers related to GIS degree in your website. I really getting to know lot about the same.
    I have done my master degree in Environmental science from India which is little more than equal to undergraduate degree in US. My question to you is Can I get a master degree in GIS with this qualification? I did masters in 1994. If so what should be the best way? I am US citizen now.
    Your reply is highly appreciated.
    Thanks and regards

    • Justin / January 1, 2016 at 11:48 am / Reply

      Hi Parama,
      Yes, you should be qualified to apply for admission to a Master’s program. There’s no best way; it’s a matter of seeking the best individual fit with a particular program and its faculty.
      Best wishes,

  39. Chad Rowe / January 27, 2016 at 1:38 pm / Reply

    Hello Justin,
    I have just recently come across your site and absolutely love it. I am a recent graduate, (12/15) from Mississippi College with a BS in Homeland Security W/ a 3.14 GPA. I am 42 an want to pursue a career with the federal government with either the State Department, DIA, CIA,NSA, or the NGA. I spent five years in the Navy as well. My question is what would be the best Geo-spatial Intelligence program for me considering my passion being intelligence and my specific career path?
    Would a Geo spatial Information Technology Master in Applied Science be ok?? I have really looked at Delta State’s MIS GIT Program.
    I would greatly appreciate any advice you may have.
    Thank you very kindly for your time.


  40. Daniela / March 18, 2016 at 9:05 pm / Reply


    First, I would like to thank you and commend you for the tremendous quality of information you’ve provided to us on this forum, it has been extremely helpful in my research.

    Second, I would like to know your thoughts about University of West Florida’s Geographic Information Science MSA degree…? I have 2 years experience as a “GIS Specialist” in the nonprofit and government sectors. Initially, I was extremely drawn to USC’s program, but their tuition is waaaaay out of my budget. UWF is extremely affordable (and I’m a Florida resident)… still, I would like to know your thoughts (if any) on the quality of their program.

    Thank you so much in advanced!


    • Justin / March 27, 2016 at 6:53 pm / Reply

      Hi Daniela,
      I don’t know much about UWF. It may be perfect for you depending on your career goals. It’s a “Professional Masters” program so it’s a different category of Master’s degrees and, generally speaking, not as valued as a traditional M.S. or M.A. But that might not matter. Ask them about placement – are grads finding the kind of jobs you hope to obtain after graduating?
      Best wishes,

  41. Amy / June 3, 2016 at 4:50 pm / Reply

    Have you seen the new Professional GIS Master’s at the University of Wisconsin?

    I am having trouble deciding between that program and the Master’s with thesis at USC.

    • Justin / June 13, 2016 at 10:38 am / Reply

      Hi Amy,
      I don’t think you can go wrong either way. Yes, I’ve seen the new program at Wisconsin and the program director has left a comment here somewhere on my blog. I think both options are really good. Go with your gut. Or perhaps your pocketbook. It’s not easy to figure out exact tuition but if Wisc is significantly less expensive that might be a deciding factor.
      Best wishes,

      • Amy / June 15, 2016 at 4:52 pm / Reply

        The Wisconsin program does sound like a good one and I am impressed with the classes offered. It actually looks like finishing my Master’s at USC (Thesis and two more classes) would be equal in cost to the Master’s program at Wisconsin (8 classes). Wow, that tuition difference…. I am really tempted to go with Wisconsin now.

        Thanks again!

  42. Wilson / July 22, 2016 at 3:36 pm / Reply

    Hi Justin , I am currently taking my masters degree in Applied science , but will be taking two courses in introduction to GIS and Advance GIS. Do you think I can get a job with just taking this courses even if I am an Applied physics major.

    • Justin / August 2, 2016 at 12:28 pm / Reply

      Hi Wilson, probably but, of course, it depends on you and the type of job. If you have super-powered quant skills and can write code, yes for sure. If not, you’ll struggle. Good luck! Best, Justin

  43. DG Heck / September 6, 2016 at 11:19 am / Reply

    Justin: Although it was ranked #3 by you, I have not seen much commentary about the University of Denver program. I am leaning toward it because of the ranking you gave it and because, if need be, I could actually fly to Denver and meet instructors (if it so struck me to) and be back same day.

    If you get a chance could you flesh out why you ranked it relatively high?

    • Justin / September 6, 2016 at 8:59 pm / Reply

      Hi DG,
      Denver has had a traditional GIS program and the distance program in place for some time. I’ve heard from several graduates who have great things to say; haven’t heard any negative commentary. The other thing I like about U. Denver is its proximity to a strong market for GIS professionals. Denver, Boulder, Fort Collins, Golden and Colorado Springs form one of the strongest GIS hubs in the country, maybe behind only Washington DC and Redlands California for most per capita GIS careers. So, I think it’s an excellent choice if you like the idea of living in Colorado after graduation.
      Either way remember these rankings are only meant to help students explore possibilities. The final decision should be made on a case-by-case basis where the top ranked program may not be the best program for an individual.
      If it’s an easy flight from your home I would strongly encourage you to visit in person. Meet the instructors, ask about the curriculum and job placement. Be sure it feels like a good fit before you invest loads of time and money.
      Hope this helps.
      Best wishes,

  44. omoba / September 15, 2016 at 4:33 am / Reply

    Sir can Masters Degree obtained in these universities you evaluated lead to PHD in GIS

    • Justin / September 17, 2016 at 11:44 am / Reply

      Getting an on-line GIS degree won’t preclude you from pursuing a PhD. But, if your goal is a PhD, a traditional Master’s degree with a thesis requirement is the way to go. Best wishes, Justin

  45. Mannie / October 6, 2016 at 11:48 pm / Reply

    Hi Justin,
    I took time to read all the comments posted here about GIS and to be honest with you it is really fasinating and worth spending time on.

    Big thanks for your website. However I am new to GIS but I just enrolled for PSU professional development course.

    My aim is to be self employment in GIS (hands-on) in my community. So, what are the area of GIS are more practically based work?

  46. Mannie / October 18, 2016 at 3:44 pm / Reply

    Hi Justin,
    Thanks for the web link. I have read it.

    Have you heard about FME server and desktop software? If yes, do you think it worth learning it?


  47. Dana / March 1, 2017 at 8:50 am / Reply

    Hi Justin,

    I currently hold a BS in Meteorology and have been researching GIS online certificate programs for the past few months to pursue a career change. I’ve heard that the University of Wisconsin Madison has a great online certificate program. What are your thoughts?



  48. Eric / May 24, 2017 at 10:48 am / Reply


    Thank you for this list! I have been interested in GIS for many years, and I always thought it might someday be a 2nd career. I was recently downsized in a field that uses GIS, and I’m now looking into online programs. Your list has been most helpful in finding programs that are most suitable for me.

    May I ask you and/or some of your commentors something? I have a strong background in math and science, and in addition to GIS I have been considering a degree in data analytics. It seems to me that expertise in analytics would fit quite well with GIS, and I’m wondering if pursuing both sounds reasonable to you for me? I’d then pursue a position as a GIS analyst, and my hope would be to function in the capacity of a “traditional” GIS analyst, but also as one who can exploit the abundant data in the GIS to solve problems that, in the end, may or may not be spatially related.

    I am very interested in your thoughts and appreciate your response!


    • Justin / May 26, 2017 at 10:57 am / Reply

      Hi Eric,
      If it were me I’d probably consider approaching this from a different angle. I think you’ll find a larger suite of lucrative opportunities if you find a way to study data analytics with GIS instead of GIS with data analytics. Perhaps a Master’s in Statistics at a University with a strong Geography department so you can use electives to study GIS and learn to think spatially. There are far more opportunities to become a “Data Scientist” than there are to become a “GIS Analyst”. Hope this helps.
      Best wishes,

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