Which Schools Offer the Top Online GIS Programs in the US?

Learn about GIS, the benefits of an online graduate-level GIS program and which schools offer the top online GIS programs in the US.

Man and woman recording research on a computer by the water

A whole variety of career opportunities are available for professionals in the field of geographic information systems (GIS) and geographic information science (GISc). These fields are among the fastest-growing disciplines, requiring a broad spectrum of skills in environmental sciences, digital technologies and project management. There are exciting, high-paying GIS and GISc careers for every interest, whether you enjoy being outdoors and exploring natural environments, have a passion for sustainable urban development or prefer the challenge of operating high-tech digital tools in an office setting.

By enabling comparisons of natural environments and phenomena with human activity, GIS technology empowers geographic information scientists to better understand and help resolve many of the complex environmental and logistical challenges of our time.1 With so many excellent opportunities to make a positive impact in the world, the decision to study geographical information science is easy. Deciding on which graduate program to enroll in, however, may require a bit of research.

Keep reading to learn more about GIS and GISc, the many benefits of an online graduate-level program and which schools offer the top online GIS programs in the US.

What Is a Geographical Information System?

A geographic information system (GIS) is a computer-based system used for storing, analyzing and visualizing information or data that includes a geographical location on the surface of the earth. Location information can be expressed as a street address or zip code or expressed as latitude and longitude coordinates. A GIS is comprised of both computer hardware and software systems. GIS software applications enable the capture or input of cartographic, photographic and digital data, including tabular data such as population demographics and other types of spreadsheet data.1

A geographic information system is a powerful and essential tool for recording, referencing and understanding the geography of our world. By performing complex analyses, geographic information scientists are able to make data-driven projections and decisions related to such diverse topics as climate change impacts, infrastructure renovation projects, crime waves and even the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.1, 2

How is GIS Different From GIScience?

Abbreviated as GISc, geographic information science is also known as GIScience. Although they are sometimes used interchangeably, it’s easy to distinguish between the terms GIS and GISc. Simply, GISc is the science behind the GIS. Top-level GIS professionals are often scientists with a Master of GIScience degree.

As you will read below, schools with the top online GIS programs equip students with all the necessary scientific skills, knowledge and training to input, analyze and visualize GIS data via geographic information system technologies.3

What Do Top Online GIS Programs Entail?

Top online GIS programs provide the best of both worlds, training students in the use of geographical information systems and in the fascinating scientific processes made possible by these high-tech systems.

Some programs may offer specialization options such as environmental GISc, cyber GIS, or GISc for health care or electives that allow you to hone in on a particular application of GISc. Courses will likely include topics like data science, survey methods, analytics and more. Of course you will likely have several courses on using GIS and many programs will conclude with a practicum project giving you an opportunity to apply your skills.

While some university programs may exist only online, the highest rated GIS programs tend to have the same faculty providing education for on-campus as well as the online programs, so you know you’re receiving a high-quality education. Online GIS programs offer many advantages and benefits. Given the freedom of learning online from wherever you’re located, you don’t have to limit yourself only to programs in your area or worry about making it to campus in the middle of the day. The flexibility of online courses also allows many online students to continue to work full or part time jobs while they pursue their degree. Depending on the program and specialization options you choose, you can likely finish a Master of GISc degree in five semesters.

What Can You Do With a GIS Qualification?

Earning your qualification from a top online GIS or GISc program will assure employers of your technical and scientific expertise with geographical information systems. Your ability to view the world from a geospatial perspective will place you in high demand for careers in such varied areas as climate change, agriculture, military and defense, public health, public safety and disaster risk management and response.

There is a tremendous variety of interesting GIS and GISc careers in the public, private and nonprofit sectors because GIS technologies are commonly used in nearly every field of endeavor. The following is a list of the wide-ranging fields in which Geographic Information Science professionals are called upon to utilize geographic information systems. Some of them may surprise you, including:1

Marketing—Advertisers use GIS to develop marketing campaigns, such as for restaurants and retail stores

Retail Businesses—GIS may help determine the best location for a new store

Biologists—May identify animal migration patterns with GIS

Computer Engineers—GIS technologies are used in the design, implementation and management of internet and telecommunications networks

Civil Engineers—May use GIS to develop transportation infrastructure and road networks

Public Safety—GIS maps help federal, state and city officials plan efficient responses to natural disasters, identifying escape routes, locations for emergency shelters, communities most likely to be impacted and other related tasks.

Ready to View the World From a Geospatial Perspective?

If you’re ready to view the world from a geospatial perspective, consider how an online GISc program can help enhance your expertise and boost your professional potential to positively impact the world from a specialized high-level position. Whether you’re interested in an online Master of GIScience or GISc certification, Kent State University’s online programs are among the top-ranking graduate-level programs in the United States.

Our world-class 100% online GISc programs are affordable and flexible, offering you the freedom to schedule your studies to meet your unique needs and will give you the knowledge, skills and training to set you up as a leader in a wide variety of fascinating fields.


  1. Retrieved on 8 June 2021, from nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/geographic-information-system-gis/
  2. Retrieved on 8 June 2021, from sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0048969720335531
  3. Retrieved on 8 June 2021, from discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/10053533/3/Longley_version%202.0_Manfred%20geocomp_PAL.pdf
  4. Retrieved on 8 June 2021, from gradschools.com/programs/geographic-information-systems/online?programid=292641
  5. Retrieved on 8 June 2021, from geteducated.com/online-college-ratings-and-rankings/best-online-gis-master-programs/
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He is an Associate Professor in the Evaluation and Measurement program within the College of Education, Health and Human Services at Kent State University. He is also the program coordinator for the online Master of Education degree in Research, Measurement, and Statistics.
Dr. Astrid N. Sambolín Morales is an Assistant Professor in Kent State Online’s 100% Online Master of Education degree in Cultural Foundations. She received her PhD in Educational Equity and Cultural Diversity from the University of Colorado Boulder and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research provides a more nuanced picture of the agency, resistance, and empowerment enacted by displaced Puerto Rican m(others) in the U.S., and her work was funded by several grants, including the University of Colorado Natural Hazards Center, the BUENO Center for Multicultural Education, the URBAN Research Network, and the NAEd Spencer Foundation.
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.