The Most Affordable Online GIS Master’s Programs

What’s the most affordable GISc master’s program? Get the answer and learn more about program options on Kent’s GIS blog.

Woman typing on laptop

The term “geographic information science” (GISc) might be unfamiliar or seem a little obscure, but it’s actually a rapidly growing profession with careers in high demand. The world is increasingly reliant on GISc graduates with skills in geographic information systems in a wide variety of industries. From software development and law enforcement to climate scientists and urban planners, GISc is an important field of study.

What Does Geographic Information Science Entail?

At its most basic level, geographic information systems (GIS) create, manipulate, analyze, and help visualize geospatial information. Today we generate massive amounts of data used by businesses, governments, and individuals, but in its raw form, that information isn’t very useful. Geographic information systems take all of the disparate data and connect them in ways that allow people to use it to make important decisions about development, engineering, health, safety, climate, and more.

GIS combines several different disciplines and fields of study, including:

  • Cartography – the science of drawing maps1
  • Geography – information about the Earth’s surface2
  • Environmental studies – study of interactions between humans and the environment
  • Earth sciences – study of meteorology, hydrology, oceanography, and geology3
  • Spatial analysis – the relationship between geography, maps, and data4
  • Data analysis – compiling information and presenting it in a form that people can understand and use to make decisions
  • Computer science – developing and managing the hardware and software to create maps and analyze data

The field of GIS is very broad, which is part of what makes it an attractive option for someone interested in reinvigorating their career with new expertise. You can pursue several different disciplines within GIS based on your own expertise, interests and skills.

How Does GIS Differ From GISc?

Geographic information systems (GIS) and geographic information science (GISc) might seem like the same thing, and indeed sometimes they are used interchangeably. But there are some key differences.

To put it another way, GIS looks at the “what” and the “where” of geographic data. It takes information from several data sets and provides maps, charts, and tables based on the information it can pull from databases and software systems.

GISc is the “how.” Geographic information scientists look at how all of the data in a GIS interact, and use it to create meaningful information.5 A city planner needs several different pieces of information as they are considering various new developments in the area. They might analyze information like:

  • Traffic patterns
  • Existing roads
  • Buildings
  • Zoning laws
  • Population density
  • Crime rates, and more

A GISc professional can take all of these disparate datasets and put them together to find the best place for new residential or commercial development.

The same principles are used in a variety of industries to gather vast amounts of data that on their own are not helpful, and translates it into something that colleagues, researchers, and even individuals can use to improve public health and safety.

For example, a GIS analyst could compile information about populated areas, rivers, lakes, and waterways, topography, elevation, and weather data to create a map of areas at the highest risk for flooding when a storm is coming. This helps local governments and weather stations warn residents and help them evacuate if necessary.

GIS and GISc Masters Programs

A master’s degree program is the best way to acquire the skills necessary for a career as a geographic information scientist. In these programs, you will learn about cartography, geovisualization, programming, and data analysis to develop practical skills that will set you up for a successful career in GIS or GISc.

When you graduate, you will have an advanced understanding of theories and techniques for working with geographic information systems. You will also understand how to build and use maps, and how to incorporate algorithms and software tools to analyze geospatial data.


To enroll in a GIS or GISc master’s program you first need a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university. It’s helpful to have some undergraduate experience in geographic information systems, or related fields such as:

  • Earth sciences
  • Computer sciences
  • Data sciences
  • Mathematics
  • Physics

However, an undergraduate degree in these specific fields isn’t required. Some work experience in geospatial technologies or fields is also helpful, but not usually required. In addition to an application and official transcripts, you will need a resume and letters of recommendation from professional colleagues or professors.


The curriculum for a GIS or GISc master’s program typically includes core courses, electives, and practicum.

Core Classes

These classes are designed to help you understand the capture, input, storage, and management of geographic data. Next, you learn how to use that information to develop 2D and 3D models to detect and analyze patterns in the data.

Cartography classes help students learn basic principles of map design and how to effectively construct maps using GIS and graphic software.

The final core credits center around environmental remote sensing, using aerial photographs and satellite images to analyze and interpret information. It includes a special focus on environmental applications for land use mapping, vegetation, and water on Earth’s surface.


These courses provide more specialized knowledge in specific industries or areas of study, for example:

  • Urban planning
  • Public health and global health
  • Data science
  • Environmental science
  • Statistical analysis
  • Algorithms and computer programming


In many cases, the final course in a GISc program is the practicum. Students take everything they learned and apply it in a real-world professional setting, with a professional report describing their experience due at the end.

What Can You Do with a Master of Geographic Information Systems?

One of the reasons so many students are considering a master of GISc or geographic information systems degree is the versatility of career opportunities available when you graduate. Graduates are prepared to work in a wide range of industries and professions:

  • Agriculture
  • Construction
  • Consulting
  • Electrical and telecommunications utilities
  • Emergency management
  • Engineering (environmental, mechanical, aerospace, and civil)
  • Energy
  • Environmental studies
  • Government (federal, state, and local or regional)
  • Military and law enforcement
  • Mining and energy
  • Pharmaceutical and biotech
  • Public health
  • Transportation
  • Urban and city planning

Some of the specific job titles of GIS and GISc graduates include:

  • Anthropologist
  • Cartographer or photogrammerist
  • Data analyst
  • Environmental and climate scientist
  • GIS analyst
  • GIS database specialist
  • Land surveyor
  • Landscape architect
  • Logistic manager
  • Researcher
  • Software developer

Where to Find the Most Affordable Online GIS or GISc Master’s Programs

Students interested in pursuing an advanced degree in geographic information systems need to find the top GIS and GISc masters programs with affordable tuition and flexible class schedules.

Kent State University’s online Master of Geographic Information Science is available completely online to accommodate working adults and busy schedules. All the courses are available online, with a practicum at the end where you have a chance to work in a professional setting and apply what you learned in the program. Most students can complete the entire program in two years.

Students complete the program with a wide range of theoretical knowledge on how to utilize geographic information systems, and specific skills to apply that information in your profession.

Start Your Career in GISc with a Master’s Degree from Kent State University

Get started in the field of geographic information systems and science with a degree from the top GISc master’s program in the nation. Kent State University has a broad curriculum covering all aspects of GISc taught by experienced faculty members.

Start your career as a GISc professional today by enrolling in the online Master’s in Geographic Information Science program at Kent State today.


  1. Retrieved on 10, June, 2021, from
  2. Retrieved on 10, June, 2021, from
  3. Retrieved on 10, June, 2021, from
  4. Retrieved on 10, June, 2021, from
  5. Retrieved on 10, June, 2021, from
Latest Blogs
Felesia McDonald, ’14 is an adjunct instructor in the iSchool, teaching courses in the 100% Online Master of Science in User Experience. McDonald is also the Sr Manager UX Design at Optum, a branch of UnitedHealth Group.
As one of the newest faculty members in the iSchool, Professor Dong Whi Yoo is encouraging students to see the potential of interdisciplinary research.
Kelsey Pytlik serves as an adjunct professor for the Kent State University School of Information, teaching courses in UX, UX principles and concepts, principles of interaction, and more.