Surveying or land surveying is the technique, profession, and science of accurately determining the terrestrial or three-dimensional position of points and the distances and angles between them, commonly practiced by surveyors, and members of various engineering professions. These points are usually on the surface of the Earth, and they are often used to establish land maps and boundaries for ownership, locations (building corners, surface location of subsurface features) or other government required or civil law purposes (property sales).

Furthermore, land surveying is the gathering of information through observations, measurements in the field, questionnaires, or research of legal instruments, and data analysis in the support of planning, designing, and establishing of property boundaries. It involves the re-establishment of cadastral or real estate boundary surveys and land boundaries based on documents of record and historical evidence, as well as certifying surveys (as required by statute or local ordinance) of subdivision plats or maps, registered land surveys, judicial surveys, and space delineation.

The modern instrument is a total station which consists of a theodolite (precision instrument for measuring angles in horizontal and vertical planes) with an electronic measurement device (EDM). Current top-of-the-line total stations no longer require a reflector or prism to return the light pulses used for distance measurements. They are fully robotic, and can even e-mail point data to a remote computer and connect to satellite positioning systems, such as Global Positioning Systems (GPS).


Associate’s Degree

An associate degree is the most typical degree program available for land surveyors and can best prepare them for entry-level positions surveying land for construction and zoning projects. Before working on their own, surveyors must be licensed by the states where they practice. Requirements vary, but generally include passing exams and acquiring supervised experience in the field.

Individuals interested in becoming professional land surveyors can earn an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Land Surveying, an Associate of Applied Science Degree in Mapping Sciences, an Associate of Science Degree in Surveying Technology, or a similar degree. Students enrolled in such a 2-year program learn the basics of mapping and mapping technologies, so that they might collect and analyze physical data from the land and create accurate maps prior to the beginning of construction projects. In this program, the student spends most of the time outdoors applying the techniques learned in class.

Typical curriculum at this level:

  • Mathematics
  • Physics
  • Technical Drawing
  • Surveying Concepts and Principles
  • Surveying Instrumentation Studies and Practices

Bachelor’s Degree

This four year program is usually referred to as a Bachelor of Science in Surveying Engineering. Sampling of courses:

  • Photogrammetry (aerial photography)
  • Data Analysis and Adjustment
  • Satellite Imagery
  • Legal Principles related to Land Surveying
  • Geographic Information Systems

This program requires the proficient use of mathematics, comprehension of technical information, leadership, and ability to be a member of a professional team.


There is a National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS) whose objective is to provide a “platform by which members can share their thoughts and opinions about our common interests through business meetings /committees, regional groups, and student chapters.” The NSPS also offers an array of certification programs, such as:

  • Certified Survey Technician
  • Hydrographic Surveyor
  • Flood Plain Surveyor
  • Certified Federal Surveyor

In addition to the national association, most states have their own land surveying association.


The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in 2012 that the median annual income was $56,230 with a bachelor’s degree. The  projected growth/change rate in this occupation through 2022 is 10% or 7,300 jobs.

There are various employers who hire surveyors. There are federal governments, local governments, and state governments looking to hire surveyors. Within these governments include the Bureau of Land Management, the US Geological Survey, Coast Survey, and Forest Services. Other employment prospects are in the surveying of land which has to do with planning of construction sites and building projects. Surveyors also work with transportation agencies like with railroads, highways, and major roads. Surveyors work with urban planning, which is the surveying of cities and major metropolitan areas.


It is recommended that the student, considering this as a career, conduct his/her own research into the employment prospects. It may vary by state and industry. One excellent source of information is available at www.landsurveyors.com. This site also lists job opportunities by state.