Cartography Degrees: Bachelor's, Master's & Online Class Info

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What will you learn in a cartography degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a bachelor's and master's degree and potential careers.
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Studying Cartography: Bachelor's and Master's Degrees at a Glance

Cartography is the art of map-making. In a degree program, the field includes the entire art and science of mapping. As a cartography degree program student, you learn how to use and apply mapping technology, such as geographic information systems (GIS) and other Web-based mapping systems. A range of employers hire cartographers, including engineering companies, state or federal mapping agencies, intelligence organizations and utility companies.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that cartographers could expect a 22% increase in jobs between 2010 and 2020. The increasing use of technology as well as increased municipal public planning were two of the factors fueling this rise.

Bachelor's Master's
Who is this degree for? Those interested in pursuing an entry-level job as a cartographer Individuals interested in executive or leadership positions
Common Career Paths (with approximate annual mean salary) - Cartographer ($60,000)*
- Surveyor ($59,000)*
- Urban and regional planner ($67,000)*
- Manager ($105,000)*
Time to Completion 4 years full time 1-2 years full time
Common Graduation Requirements No additional requirements beyond those for a typical bachelor's degree Some programs require a master's thesis
Prerequisites High school diploma Bachelor's degree in cartography or related field
Online Availability No Yes

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

Bachelor's Degree in Cartography

Bachelor's degree programs in cartography focus on providing students with a familiarity of the fundamentals of map-making, including spatial data structures and analysis, satellite imagery, thermal sensing and geographical research methods. Students also study geographic information systems (GIS) and learn how to design these systems to specific user specifications.

While bachelor's degree programs in cartography exist, many programs also offer bachelor's degrees in geography with a concentration in cartography. The coursework in the two programs is similar, but the distinction is something to keep in mind when investigating programs.

Pros and Cons


  • Cartography is a growing field with faster-than-average job growth expected
  • Program provides you with knowledge in a range of fields (engineering, computer science, geography)
  • In addition to your cartographic knowledge, you also receive a well-rounded exposure to the humanities


  • In most careers, you likely have to complete the state surveyor certification process in addition to your studies
  • As a cartographer, you'll likely be conducting outside fieldwork, which could mean exposure to inclement weather
  • After graduation, you may compete with master's degree holders for available positions

Courses and Requirements

These programs are generally designed to provide hands-on experience with the latest cartographic technology. Therefore, during your studies, you spend time in computer, photo and simulation labs. Common coursework in these programs includes:

  • Remote sensing
  • Computer mapping
  • Animated cartography
  • Physical geography

Online Course Info

Online bachelor's degree programs in cartography are not currently available. This is because you must have access to a school's special cartography software and technological tools to become familiar with their use. However, some courses in these programs, such as electives or the historical perspectives of cartography, may be available online.

Getting Ahead With this Degree

As technology continues to develop, its applications become ever broader and wider. In the world of map-making, cartographers use demographic and other data gathered from social media sites to create maps. Therefore, you may want to take an elective in Web-based technologies to help you stand out against your competition.

Additionally, many states require cartographers to be licensed as surveyors (even though a surveyor is a different job than a cartographer). The licensure process varies in each state but most often includes completing a degree program from an accredited institution and passing a comprehensive exam. Some states also have a formal work experience requirement. Being licensed may increase your chances of finding employment as a cartographer soon after graduation.

Master's in Cartography

As the use of technology increases, cartography becomes more and more complex, requiring additional familiarity with and knowledge of the latest in computational mapping tools. In a master's degree program in cartography, you study advanced topics such as raster-based and vector-based GIS, geospatial data structures and advanced spatial data analysis. You also learn the leadership techniques and project management skills necessary to pursue management positions.

These programs are offered in a variety of formats. Some schools offer master's degrees in geographic information science as opposed to cartography. The educational goal of either program is similar: teach students about the theoretical, technical and applied knowledge involved in utilizing spatial data to create images.

Pros and Cons


  • Prepares you for a range of jobs that require a graduate degree
  • After graduation, you will be better positioned to assume a leadership role in a cartographic field than someone with a bachelor's degree
  • Employers value job candidates with advanced degrees


  • You may need to study for 6 years or more to complete your degree program
  • A bachelor's degree is traditionally the required degree for cartographers, meaning that you may be overqualified for the position
  • The rising cost of graduate school could result in a large amount of student loan debt

Courses and Requirements

In this program, in addition to completing core graduate-level courses, you may also be required to submit a graduate thesis. Some programs strongly recommend an internship for their students. Below are listed some of the courses commonly included in these programs:

  • Geographic information systems
  • Spatial databases
  • Internet-based mapping tools
  • Spatial analysis

Online Course Info

Online graduate degree programs in the cartographic sciences are available, but individual online graduate courses in cartography are rare. The former type of program is often designed for working professionals seeking to advance their employment. Cartography-specific programs are most often offered as part of a graduate degree or post-baccalaureate certificate program.

Getting Ahead With this Degree

As cartography continues to become more and more dependent upon technology, individuals who want to stand out in the field will need to increase their technological expertise. Therefore, you'll want to stay on top of the technological developments in the field by completing advanced computer-based mapping courses or software use classes. Having this knowledge could make you more attractive to employers.

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