Land Surveying Degrees: Bachelor, Associate & Online Training Info

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What will you learn in a land surveying degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of an associate's and bachelor's degree and potential careers.
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Study Land Surveying: Associate's and Bachelor's Degrees at a Glance

Land surveyors are licensed professionals that measure distances between land, air and water points to establish property boundaries, including airspace. In a land surveying degree program, you'll learn to use advanced math and technology, such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS), to make precision measurements. Although an associate's degree program can prepare you to work as a surveying assistant or technician, in many states you'll need to complete a bachelor's degree program to become a licensed land surveyor. Education requirements vary by state, but many states require you to complete an ABET-accredited program.

Land surveyors work in a variety of industries, including construction, mining, architecture and engineering. These positions often require outdoor work, the ability to walk and climb long distances, and freedom to travel. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, land surveyors were projected to experience a 25% job growth during the 2010 -2020 decade, which is faster than average during that time.

Associate's Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Students interested in working in entry-level land surveying jobs as assistants to surveyors Students who want to become land surveyors or advance in their careers
Common Career Paths (with approximate mean annual salary) - Surveying and mapping technicians ($42,000)* - Surveyors ($59,000)*
- Cartographers and Photogrammetrists ($60,000)*
Time to Completion 2 years full-time 4 years full-time
Common Graduation Requirements - Approximately 45 credit hours of surveying and related courses
- Field projects
- Approximately 60 to 70 credit hours of surveying and related courses
- Field projects
- A capstone project
Prerequisites High school diploma or GED, and an aptitude for math High school diploma or GED, with courses in algebra, trigonometry and calculus may also be recommended
Online Availability Yes, but ABET-accredited schools are rare Yes, but ABET-accredited schools are rare

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Associate's Degrees in Land Surveying

An Associate of Applied Science in Land Surveying Technology degree program provides you with the fundamentals of land surveying needed to qualify for a position as a surveying and mapping technician. This degree program includes math and technology courses, along with general education courses. In some states, this degree and a prescribed amount of experience may be enough to prepare you for state licensure as a land surveyor.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Preparation for an entry-level career in land surveying as an assistant or technician
  • Surveying assistants and technicians do not require state licensure
  • Having an associate's degree could make you more marketable, especially if you don't have any work experience assisting surveyors
  • You may be able to transfer credits to a 4-year degree program in surveying

Cons

  • Many states require that you complete a 4-year degree to become a licensed surveyor
  • Potential employers may prefer applicants with bachelor's degrees, even for entry-level positions
  • If your state allows you to become a licensed surveyor with only an associate's degree, you may be required to have more experience than if you had a bachelor's degree
  • Technicians may only need a high school diploma

Courses and Requirements

Students may be expected to either have a solid foundation in mathematics or be prepared to take the remedial courses before admission. Many of your courses will require using equipment supplied by the school. You'll gain hands-on experience in during class field trips and field work. In addition to advanced math courses, such as algebra and trigonometry, some of the courses typically included in these programs are:

  • Introduction to surveying
  • Boundary surveying
  • Surveying measurement
  • Mapping and topographic surveys
  • Introduction to CAD
  • Geographic information technology
  • Hydraulics and hydrology
  • Physics

Online Degree Options

Because of the hands-on nature of these degree programs, accredited schools offering this degree entirely online are rare. You may be able to find a hybrid program that allows you to take some classes online and others on-campus. The National Society of Professional Surveyors (NSPS) suggests looking for schools with ABET-accredited degree programs, for both online and on-campus programs.

Stand Out with This Degree

Work experience is required for licensure in most states, so make sure you take advantage of work experience opportunities while you are in school. This can include field work required for your degree program or a summer job on a surveying crew. If you get this type of opportunity, be sure to ask a lot of questions and make yourself available for as many work opportunities as possible. The more work experience you have, the more you may be able to convey to potential employers your real-world knowledge of this career.

Bachelor's Degrees in Land Surveying

Land surveyors can complete a bachelor's degrees in surveying or geomatics, which is the study of collecting and storing spatial data. The goal of these bachelor's degree programs is to provide you with a solid foundation in the skills you'll need to become a professional, licensed surveyor. Bachelor's degree programs cover all aspects of surveying and include more science and mathematics courses than an associate's degree program. Some degree programs cover a summary of what to expect from the national Fundamentals of Surveying exam. This exam is required to become a licensed surveyor.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Provides an educational foundation required for licensure in most states
  • Prepares you for the fundamentals of surveying exam
  • Offers field work that mimics the type of work you may do on the job
  • Considered the preferred degree by many potential employers, especially when considering applicants with no experience

Cons

  • It may be difficult to find schools offering surveying bachelor's degrees (as of 2011, there were only 10 ABET accredited bachelor's programs in geomatics and surveying)*
  • If you don't complete an ABET-accredited program, you'll likely need additional years of work experience*
  • According to the BLS, it typically takes about four years of work experience after you complete your degree before you can become licensed
  • This is a physically demanding profession

*Source: ABET, Inc.

Courses and Requirements

Some schools require that applicants have a strong foundation in algebra, geometry, trigonometry and physics during high school. Your courses will cover the use of the tools and equipment required to survey, including GPS and GIS technology. Common courses for a bachelor's degree in land surveying can include:

  • Surveying technology
  • CAD for drawing
  • Boundary law
  • Construction surveying
  • Photogrammetry
  • Surveying software and drafting
  • Cartography
  • Subdivision and site planning

Online Degree Options

Similar to the situation with the associate's degree, ABET-accredited schools that offer online bachelor degree programs are also hard to find.

Stand Out with This Degree

Having work experience is probably the best way to make a good impression on potential employers. Try to get work with surveying and construction crews, especially during the busy summer months. If you have trouble finding a paid job, see if it would be possible to work as a volunteer, either for local companies or with non-profit organizations involved with construction. Also, you can join a surveying student organization at your school, which may offer opportunities for networking.

Degree Alternatives

If you have difficulty finding ABET-accredited schools offering bachelor's degrees in land surveying, you may want to consider civil engineering or forestry degree programs. There is enough overlap between the courses required by these programs that the BLS notes that degrees in civil engineering and forestry are considered acceptable alternative degrees for surveyors. Although the job outlook for civil engineers is only expected to grow as fast as average, 19% from 2010 to 2020, the mean annual salary for civil engineers was about $83,000 as of May 2011, which is higher than that of surveyors.

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