Besides being one of the highest-paying social science careers, geographer is also one of the social science occupations with the fewest barriers to entry. Unlike many other types of social science roles, you can start working as a geographer with only a bachelor’s degree. You also don’t need to have a license or registration to begin your career as a geographer. However, there are optional certifications available to geographers that can improve your career opportunities.
The Value of Certification in Geography
There are many professional career roles – doctor, nurse, lawyer, psychologist, teacher and many more – for which you need a license. Without acquiring the mandatory license or certification, usually issued by the state, you can’t legally work in your field. That’s not the case for geographers, who don’t have to meet any licensing requirements, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Any credential you pursue in the field of geography, such as certification from a relevant professional association, is voluntary.
Just because you don’t need certification, though, doesn’t mean that pursuing this credential isn’t worth it. In fact, Geographic Information System (GIS) certification is widely recognized as a way to improve your career opportunities and earning potential in the field of geography. Geographers with GIS certification have historically reported earning $10,000 more per year, on average, than those who don’t have this credential.
Most certifications offered in the field of geography focus on the candidate’s proficiency in using crucial technologies. GIS, the most common subject of geographer certification, refers to the use of software and an information system that holds geospatial data, according to the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS). Geographers who are proficient in GIS can use this software to display, analyze, manipulate and transform this data. Other technologies in which a geographer may become certified include remote sensing, lidar mapping and photogrammetry.
Most employers expect modern geographers to have competence in the use of GIS software and systems, according to the BLS. If you opt not to pursue certification, you may still benefit from having formal validation of your competency, such as a graduate certificate.
Getting Credentialed by the GIS Certification Institute
The GIS Certification Institute offers international certification in Geographic Information System technology, which the organization has awarded to more than 10,500 geographers all over the world. If you want to become certified as a GIS Professional, or GISP, through this organization, you will first need to meet a variety of eligibility requirements pertaining to education, experience and your contributions to the field of professional use of GIS technology. Both a portfolio review and a passing score on the GISCI Geospatial Core Technical Knowledge Exam are required for certification.
Eligibility to sit for the GISCI Geospatial Core Technical Knowledge Exam depends on a point system. In addition to needing a minimum number of points in each category – 30 in educational achievement, 60 in professional experience and 8 in contributions – a candidate for certification must meet an additional 52 surplus points in any category or combination of categories. Candidates for GISP certification must have a minimum of four years of full-time geospatial work experience. You can gain educational points through both credentials – formal degrees or certificates awarded – and through courses in subject matter directly related to GIS and geospatial information science. Your contributions to the profession points are based on everything from publications and conference presentations to volunteer efforts.
The GISCI Geospatial Core Technical Knowledge Exam covers 10 different topics. Candidates must know the conceptual foundations of GIS technology as well as geospatial data fundamentals, professional practice and cartography and visualization. Other topics covered in the content of the exam include analytical methods and data acquisition and manipulation. Test-takers should also understand application development in GIS framework and the design and management of both systems and databases. The pass rate on the exam is 60 percent, according to the GIS Certification Institute.
To keep your certification from the GIS Certification Institute up to date, you must recertify every three years.
Certification Options Through the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing
The other professional organization known for GIS certification is the American Society for Photogrammetry & Remote Sensing (ASPRS). The ASPRS offers the Certified Mapping Scientist, GIS/LIS certification to candidates who have three years of mapping experience and three years of experience with GIS technology or Land Information Systems (LIS) technology specifically.
To qualify for this credential, you must pass an exam that encompasses questions in math and science, engineering and surveying, imaging, physics, photogrammetry, GIS, ethics and more. The ASPRS also offers credentials like Certified Mapping Scientist, Remote Sensing; Certified Mapping Scientist, Lidar; Certified Mapping Scientist, UAS and Certified Photogrammetrist.
The ASPRS also offers certifications at the technologist level, as well as the scientist level, for candidates who use these technical skills in their routine work but who may not be educated as scientists or have the job responsibilities of a scientist.