USC Dornsife Spatial Sciences Institute

Geographic Information Science (GIS) Careers

Geographic information science and technology stand at the forefront of numerous initiatives and applications. As a result, jobs in GIS are uniquely diverse, and they tend to offer a challenging blend of creative and analytical thinking; the most successful GIS professionals have the technical and analytical acumen to understand complex information and how different sets of information relate to each other, but they can also think forward to how this information can be used to solve a problem.

USC GIST students have pursued careers ranging from analyst roles at “Big 4” accounting firms, environmental preservation organizations, enterprise software companies and government organizations.

2018 USC GIST Student Outcome Survey:
More than one-third of our alumni report salaries of $75,000 or more.

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4 Reasons GIS Careers May be the Best Careers

Before starting a graduate program in geographic information science, most people want to know what the future of GIS jobs looks like. Fortunately, the prospects look extremely bright for GIS career growth.

So, why study GIS? Here are four compelling reasons to pursue a GIS career path:

A growing field with strong job prospects

With the rapidly increasing availability of geospatial data, APIs for platforms like Google Maps and integration into the Internet of Things, GIS professionals have more tools at their disposal than ever before. That growth, in turn, has made it possible for experts to address large-scale problems – from enhancing humanitarian efforts such as disease control and city planning to providing business intelligence solutions for product management and marketing.

According to P&S Market Research the global GIS market could be worth $17.5 billion by 2023. With that expansion comes greater demand for skilled surveyors, cartographers, photogrammetrists, GIS analysts and GIS experts. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projected employment for cartographers and photogrammetrists to grow 19 percent between 2014 and 2024, much faster than the average of 7 percent for all other occupations.

A variety of work to suit all styles

Not the type who’s ever dreamed of sitting at a desk all day? Or are you exactly the type who wants to sit at a desk all day? The wonderful thing about GIS careers is there are ideal roles for different working styles.

Geospatial information touches many aspects of both the public and private sectors and just about every industry imaginable, from agriculture and aerospace to ecology and economics. If you want to work outdoors tracking wildlife in the Arctic, that’s one possibility. But if you’d rather spend your days tracking down insurance fraud in the Midwestern United States, location intelligence is a hot trend in the financial services industry. Or maybe you have a passion for infrastructure: Urban planning may be up your alley.

GIS professionals qualify for occupations in myriad fields. There are climate scientists who provide analyses to all sectors of the economy, health geographers who use technology to stop the spread of diseases and developers who create interactive maps and other robust GIS applications.

A chance to make a difference

A career in GIS presents many opportunities to make an impact with the work you do. There’s no end to the spatial information to be mapped and analyzed.

You can put your GIS skills to use by helping develop a neighborhood, conserving a wildlife habitat or defending your nation as a servicemember. Whether you want to improve infrastructure, grow a business or streamline operations on a military base, you’ll have chances to shape the way humans interact with the world around them. GIS improves our understanding of the social, geological and temporal factors that contribute to some of the world’s most challenging problems.

Competitive salaries that are rising

The median salaries for GIS careers range from $54,170 per year for drafters to $137,943 for senior geomatics software engineers. In a 2017 URISA GIS salary survey of 3,000+ full-time GIS employees, the average salary of respondents was $71,000, an increase of 15 percent over 2010.

As GIS opportunities and salaries continue to grow, there will be a high demand for professionals who combine the technical acumen to source accurate spatial data with the critical and spatial thinking skills to apply that information in solving complex problems.

The list below includes salary information for many common GIS job titles. However, the potential career opportunities for professionals with a GIS degree are infinitely expansive and will become even more varied as organizations increasingly leverage spatial data and analytics.

Contact an enrollment advisor if you have questions related to your specific career goals.

(Salary data compiled from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Paysa, Glassdoor and PayScale from 2017-2019)

GIS Data Acquisition and Integration Careers and Salaries

Job Title Median Salary
Surveyor $61,140
Cartographer/Photogrammetrist $63,990
Geographer $76,860
Geographic Information Systems Technician (Entry-level) $40,908
Senior Geographic Information Systems Technician $62,000

Spatial Data Analysis and Visualization Careers and Salaries

Job Title Median Salary
Lead Geographic Information Systems Analyst $69,919
Geographic Information Systems Coordinator $55,301
Geospatial Analyst $57,565
Senior Geographic Information Systems Specialist $60,782

GIS Software Development Careers and Salaries

Job Title Median Salary
Geographic Information Systems Software Engineer $70,000
Geographic Information Systems Web Developer $60,903
Senior Software Engineer (Geospatial Mapping Services Industry) $81,095*

*Average salary reported instead of median

GIS Management and Leadership Careers and Salaries

Job Title Median Salary
Geographic Information Systems Project Manager $72,647
Geographic Information Systems Manager $68,447
Geographic Information Systems Director $95,048

Geospatial Intelligence Careers and Salaries

Job Title Median Salary
Intelligence Analyst (with GEOINT skill) $71,331*
Geospatial Analyst $57,565
Imagery Analyst $68,341
Senior Intelligence Analyst (with GEOINT skill) $96,418

*Average salary reported instead of median

Geospatial Leadership Careers and Salaries

Job Title Median Salary
Senior Staff Systems Engineer $138,569*
Intelligence Officer (with GEOINT skill) $90,000
Senior Geospatial Analyst $78,624*

*Average salary reported instead of median

Remote Sensing Careers and Salaries

Job Title Median Salary
Remote Sensing Scientists and Technologists $107,230
Remote Sensing Engineer $91,248
Remote Sensing Analyst $55,330
Remote Sensing Technicians $48,090

4 GIS Careers with Great Job Outlooks

Geographic Information Science (GIS) is a fascinating field of study that allows us to gather valuable insights from the world around us. But is GIS a growing field? Market research firm Prescient & Strategic Intelligence predicted the global GIS market will reach $17.5 billion by 2023. This growth will be primarily driven by the increased demand for GIS solutions from the enterprise sector and in developing nations.

That’s good news for graduate students, who can anticipate a positive GIS career outlook with opportunities to enter dynamic and lucrative positions. Here are some of the fastest-growing jobs that use GIS and the skills students should develop to prepare for them:

1. Geographer

Geographers study the earth’s surface, surveying how features form and change, the ways inhabitants navigate their environments and the effects of social, political and cultural norms. They gather and interpret data from a variety of sources, including field work, censuses, maps, photographs and satellite imagery. Their research involves observation, controlled experiments and surveys. They may then link their results to other fields of study, including economics, public health, politics and environmental science.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the federal government employs 54 percent of geographers, but 12 percent work in architecture, engineering and related areas. In 2017, these professionals earned a median salary of $76,860. Although many people begin their careers in gis with a bachelor’s degree, a master’s in GIS may help students bypass an entry-level position, change career paths or take on a leadership role.

2. Cartographer/Photogrammetrist

Cartographers and photogrammetrists both review geographic data to create and update maps. However, there are significant differences in their approaches. While cartographers strive to create informative maps that can be intuitively used for reference, photogrammetrists create models of the planet’s surface that can then be used to generate maps.

Cartographers and photogrammetrists use advanced geospatial technology to create visualizations that provide valuable details and support strategic decision-making for purposes ranging from geology to marketing. Specialized maps can represent phenomena such as precipitation patterns or the damage after a natural disaster. The increasing impact of weather events like hurricanes and forest fires, is one reason why demand for cartographers and photogrammetrists is expected to rise in the near future.

In fact, the BLS predicted this field will grow by 19 percent between 2016 and 2026, much faster than the average rate for all occupations of 7 percent. Cartographers can anticipate a salary of around $63,990. As with geographers, many cartographers and photogrammetrists work in local government, engineering, architecture and similar services.

3. Urban /Regional Planner

Urban and regional planners strategize land use to accommodate various populations. They record and analyze information from censuses, environmental studies and market research to help communities more effectively fulfill residents’ needs. Urban planners’ responsibilities may include helping to develop parks in urban areas, creating new options for homeless populations or working to make neighborhoods more attractive to businesses.

These professionals use GIST software to visually interpret geographic and demographic information for planning purposes. For example, an urban planner may compare the geography of an area with its population density, then use the findings to design suitable infrastructure systems. Planners work closely with government officials, engineers, lawyers, real estate developers and architects.

The median salary for urban and regional planners was $71,490 in 2017. The BLS expects the field to add jobs at a faster-than-average rate, with an anticipated growth of 13 percent through 2026. Most entry-level employees have a master’s degree and several hours of work experience in a related field.

4. Surveyor

Surveyors determine legal property boundaries, taking measurements for land transactions and engineering, construction or mapmaking projects. They use GIS software, among other methods and tools, to measure distances and angles with optimal precision. Data drawn from satellite imagery and GPS allows surveyors to create detailed maps and reports that guide planning and enable collaboration with specialists such as landscape architects, cartographers and civil engineers.

According to the BLS, the median salary for surveyors in 2017 was $61,140 with a job growth rate of 11 percent resulting in a projected 44,800 new jobs by 2026. To certify the legal documents that set property lines or establish markings for construction projects, a surveyor needs a state license, obtained through a combination of education, work experience and testing. Each state has its own regulations, but a graduate degree may help to fulfill these requirements.