systems map

Postbaccalaureate Certificate inGeographic Information Systems

Program summary

This online certificate program provides students with hands-on course experiences using the latest tools in the GIS industry. Choose from two different tracks — a foundational track for the GIS novice or an experienced professional’s track for students with a strong working knowledge of GIS.

Application deadline

Apply by August 1 to start August 14

Credits and costs

12 Credits$1,017 per credit

Earn a Penn State GIS Certificate Online 

Upgrade your skills by adding a respected GIS certificate to your résumé in as little as 9 months.  

Penn State World Campus has partnered with the Penn State College of Earth and Mineral Sciences’ renowned Department of Geography to offer a fully online GIS certificate that can accommodate the diverse needs and busy schedules of adult learners. Depending on the course work you select, this online certificate can help you:  

  • learn how GIS facilitates data analysis and communication to solve location-based challenges that impact our world 
  • gain hands-on experience designing and maintaining database systems using desktop GIS software  
  • identify and resolve common ethical issues in the geographic information science and technology field 
  • understand the scope, impact, and trajectory of the Geospatial Revolution 

You have the flexibility to customize your program by exploring in-demand electives like open web mapping, real-world application of GIS, advanced Python programming, spatial data science, emerging trends in remote sensing, location intelligence for business, and more.  

Why Study GIS Online at Penn State? 

Contemporary, Real-World Skills. We integrate fresh content, emerging topics, and the latest technologies into our curriculum, so you can build a relevant skill set that you can put to work immediately.  

100% Online. Our online platform gives you the flexibility to complete weekly assignments at your own pace, while you continue to gain valuable work experience. 

Proven Leader. Our students and alumni work in more than 150 geospatial organizations around the world in every major sector of the mapping, GIS, and GEOINT industries. You can take pride in knowing you are part of a globally recognized program. 

A GIS Certificate for the Novice and Professional

Get more out of your education by creating a program that is unique to your interests, experience level, and career goals. Select from one of two tracks: 

  • Novice Track — Aspiring or newer geospatial professionals can become more skillful users of GIS software and related tools. This track requires the student to take three foundational courses plus one elective. 
  • Experienced Professionals Track — Gives current GIS practitioners the flexibility to bypass introductory courses and select electives that are more relevant to their projected career path. 

Penn State offers a robust portfolio of 30 geospatial courses online to help you customize your program. Check out our courses page for more details. 

Information for Military and Veterans 

Are you a member of the military, a veteran, or a military spouse? Please visit our military website for additional information regarding your education benefits, financial aid and scholarships, specialized support services, and application instructions. 

Courses

The 12-credit GIS certificate program's courses compose the first year of Penn State's Master of Geographic Information Systems online degree program. Students who successfully complete the certificate may apply to the online master's degree program and, upon acceptance, immediately begin the second year of study. Alternatively, students who complete at least 3 certificate courses may pursue accelerated admissions to any Penn State geospatial-related graduate degree program available through World Campus.

Required Courses (9 credits)

Novice Track: For students with little to no experience in GIS, required courses for the certificate are GEOG 482, GEOG 483, and GEOG 484.

Experienced Professionals Track: With approval from the program and instructor, experienced professionals can substitute GEOG 581 for GEOG 482 and complete additional electives instead of GEOG 483 and GEOG 484 if they already possess the required skills.

    • 3
      credits

      Case studies, student investigations, and projects reveal the scope, impact, and character of the Geospatial Revolution.

    • or:
      3
      credits

      Prepares current and aspiring professionals to recognize, analyze, and address ethical problems in the geographic information science and technology field.

      • Experienced Professionals Track

        With program and instructor approval, students may substitute GEOG 864 for GEOG 482.

      • Note

        GEOG 864 is only offered in the summer term.

  • 3
    credits

    How geographic information systems facilitate data analysis and communication to address common geographic problems.

    • Experienced Professionals Track

      With program and instructor approval, students who already have experience in this area may substitute an elective for this required course. To determine if you possess this skill set, visit the GEOG 483 final project page.

  • 3
    credits

    Traces the roots of spatial data science ethics in moral philosophy, professional ethics frameworks, and critical studies. Students will critique legal and policy issues in the U.S. and abroad.

Elective Courses (at least 3 credits)

Students must complete 12 total credits to earn the certificate. You will need 3 credits of electives if you complete all required courses. If you follow the track for experienced professionals, select 3–9 credits of electives based on the number of required courses you opt out of.

Prerequisites as listed may be waived by the course instructor if you can demonstrate the required level of competency.

  • 3
    credits

    Examines the nexus of geospatial intelligence analysis with cyberspace, the geopolitics of cyber threats, the politics of censorship and hacking, public safety, disaster response, and humanitarian relief; students will utilize a range of cyber data, systems, and spatial sciences to examine human social networks of the internet.

    • Prerequisite

      GEOG 160 or GEOG 482 or permission of program

  • 3
    credits

    Using imagery and terrain data in typical application scenarios faced by the geospatial professional.

  • 3
    credits

    Understanding lidar systems; design, operation, data processing techniques, and product generation to address typical application scenarios faced by the geospatial professional.

  • 3
    credits

    Customizing GIS software to extend its built-in functionality and to automate repetitive tasks.

    • Prerequisite

      GEOG 484 or equivalent experience

  • 3
    credits

    Theory and practice of cartographic design, emphasizing effective visual thinking and visual communication with geographic information systems. Technologies: ArcGIS Pro, Mapbox Studio, QGIS

    • Prerequisite

      GEOG 484 or permission of the program

  • 3
    credits

    Real-world applications of GIS and spatial analysis to investigate a variety of current environmental issues.

    • Prerequisite

      GEOG 484 or permission of the program

  • 3
    credits

    Learn advanced applications of Python for developing and customizing GIS software, designing user interfaces, and solving complex geoprocessing tasks using both proprietary and open source platforms. Technologies: ArcGIS Pro, ArcPy, Jupyter Notebooks, ArcGIS API for Python, QGIS, GDAL/OGR.

    • Prerequisite

      GEOG 485 or permission of the program

  • 3
    credits

    The application of cultural geography in the intelligence analysis and synthesis process by identifying prominent threats to civil security.

  • 3
    credits

    Traces the roots of spatial data science ethics in moral philosophy, professional ethics frameworks, and critical studies. Students will critique legal and policy issues in the U.S. and abroad.

  • 3
    credits

    Design, development, and implementation of web mapping applications using OGC standards and open source software.

  • 3
    credits

    Focuses on the application of spatial data science methods and tools to solve real-world problems and model geographic phenomena; build skills to design, implement, and troubleshoot analytical workflows while creating reproducible code for future adaptation.

  • 3
    credits

    Advanced topics in remote sensing and image processing, including new sensors, applications, and decision-making.

  • 3
    credits

    The role of geographic information systems in understanding disease, including relevant spatial analysis and cartographic visualization techniques.

    • Prerequisite

      GEOG 482, GEOG 483, and GEOG 484, or permission of the program

  • 3
    credits

    Understanding location technology and geospatial analysis to support an efficient and effective pathway to better business decisions.

  • 3
    credits

    Requirements analysis and proposal writing to plan and implement GIS solutions supporting emergency management activities of government agencies and contractors.

    • Recommended Preparation

      GEOG 483

  • 3
    credits

    Explores three important topics related to georeferenced data: datums, map projections, and grid systems.

    • Prerequisite

      GEOG 483 or permission of the program

  • 3
    credits

    Focuses on how geospatial professionals can create applications using industry-related geospatial APIs. Students will build applications using the core web technologies of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Technologies: JavaScript, ArcGIS API for JavaScript, ArcGIS Online, CSS

  • 3
    credits

    Theory and practical applications of using cloud computing and server resources to solve geospatial problems. Technologies: ArcGIS Server, Portal for ArcGIS, ArcGIS Online, GeoServer, CARTO, Amazon Web Services, Mapbox, Google Fusion Tables Theory.

    • Prerequisite

      GEOG 484 or permission of the program

  • 3
    credits

    Advanced topics in the storage, management, and retrieval of geospatial data using common proprietary and open-source relational database technologies. Technologies: SQL, PostGIS, ArcSDE/Multiuser Geodatabases, QGISAdvanced.

  • 3
    credits

    Understanding remote sensing systems' operation, data products, and processing techniques to address typical problem scenarios faced by the GEOINT professional.

  • 3
    credits

    Common platforms, analytical strategies, and policy dimensions of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) in public, private, defense, and humanitarian applications.

  • 3
    credits

    Addresses cutting-edge geospatial intelligence topics that impact the global academic and professional community.

Online Learning Experience

The certificate program consists of instructor-led courses in which you will complete weekly assignments using your own computer. You have the flexibility to complete weekly assignments at times and places that best suit your busy schedule. Project assignments involve reports that you will learn to publish in an online portfolio. Weekly lessons include online quizzes that provide immediate feedback. You will communicate with fellow students and instructors primarily through email discussion groups.

Program Flexibility

The GIS certificate program will operate on five 10-week terms. With two terms that partially overlap in fall and spring, and one term in the summer, you are provided with the greatest flexibility possible in completing your certificate at your preferred pace. You can choose to schedule your courses without any overlap or take as many courses as possible to finish sooner.

Description of fall, spring and summer semesters

Course Availability

If you're ready to see when your courses will be offered, visit our public LionPATH course search (opens in new window) to start planning ahead.

Costs and Financial Aid

Graduate Tuition

Graduate tuition is calculated based on the number of credits for which you register. Tuition is due shortly after each semester begins and rates are assessed every semester of enrollment.

2023–24 Academic Year Rates

Tuition rates for the fall 2023, spring 2024, and summer 2024 semesters.

How many credits do you plan to take per semester?Cost
11 or fewer$1,017 per credit
12 or more$12,203 per semester

2024–25 Academic Year Rates

Tuition rates for the fall 2024, spring 2025, and summer 2025 semesters.

How many credits do you plan to take per semester?Cost
11 or fewer$1,027 per credit
12 or more$12,325 per semester

Paying for Your Certificate

Students pursuing this certificate may be eligible for federal student aid. Find more information from the online geospatial education program office.

Additionally, Penn State offers many ways to pay for your education, including an installment plan and third-party payments. Penn State World Campus also offers an Employer Reimbursement and Tuition Deferment Plan. Learn more about the options for paying for your education.

Students pursuing a degree and meeting all other eligibility requirements may qualify for financial aid.

Financial Aid and Military Benefits

Some students may qualify for financial aid. Take the time to research financial aid, scholarships, and payment options as you prepare to apply. Military service members, veterans, and their spouses or dependents should explore these potential military education benefits and financial aid opportunities, as well.

To view the detailed list of cost of attendance elements, select “World Campus” as the location on the tuition site.

How to Apply

Deadlines and Important Dates

Applications are reviewed on a rolling basis. Due to the volume of applications received, prospective students are strongly encouraged to submit their application before the deadline:

  • Fall DeadlineApply by August 1 to start August 14
  • Spring DeadlineApply by December 15 to start January 8
  • Summer DeadlineApply by April 15, 2025, to start May 21, 2025

Admissions Help

Did you miss the deadline? If so, please email the program office immediately at [email protected] to learn how you may begin an online course as a nondegree student. Successfully completed credits may be applied toward requirements for the certificate.

Admission Requirements

For admission to the Graduate School, an applicant must hold either (1) a baccalaureate degree from a regionally accredited U.S. institution or (2) a tertiary (postsecondary) degree that is deemed comparable to a four-year bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited U.S. institution. This degree must be from an officially recognized degree-granting institution in the country in which it operates.

What You Need

Applications are submitted electronically and include a nonrefundable application fee. You will need to upload the following items as part of your application:

English Proficiency — The language of instruction at Penn State is English. With some exceptions, international applicants must take and submit scores for the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) or International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Minimum test scores and exceptions are found in the English Proficiency section on the Graduate School's "Requirements for Graduate Admission" page. Visit the TOEFL website for testing information. Penn State's institutional code is 2660.

GRE test scores are NOT required.

Start Your Application

You can begin your online application at any time. Your progress within the online application system will be saved as you go, allowing you to return at any point as you gather additional information and required materials.

Begin the graduate school application

  • Choose Enrollment Type: "Certificate Admission"
  • Choose "WORLD CAMPUS" as the campus
  • Choose "Geographic Information Systems - GIS" as the certificate

Checking Your Status

You can check the status of your application by using the same login information established for the online application form.

Technical Requirements

Review the technical requirements for this program.

Ready to Learn More?

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Ready to take the next step toward your Penn State graduate certificate?

Apply by August 1 to start August 14. How to Apply 

Start or Advance Your Career

Example of a map produced by geospatial professionals

You can use the knowledge gained from this program and the support of Penn State career resources to pursue careers in a variety of fields, depending on your goals.


Job Titles Related to This Degree

Penn State's online certificate in GIS can help you start or advance your career in:

  • urban and regional planning: architects, engineers, scientific researchers, managers, technical consultants, local government officials, GIS analysts
  • resource management: environmental scientists and specialists, transportation and logistics managers, operations specialists, and health specialists
  • surveying and cartography: surveyors, cartographers, photogrammetrists, and mapping technicians

Career Services to Set You Up for Success

Student having a virtual meeting on a laptop with a career counselor

From the day you're accepted as a student, you can access resources and tools provided by Penn State World Campus Career Services to further your career. These resources are beneficial whether you're searching for a job or advancing in an established career.

  • Opportunities to connect with employers
  • Career counselor/coach support
  • Occupation and salary information
  • Internships
  • Graduate school resources 

A Head Start toward a Master’s Degree

A figure standing halfway up a set of stairs leading towards a graduation cap

Not only can this program help create opportunities in your career, it can also give you a solid head start toward a full master’s degree.

Degree Programs Related to This Certificate

Some or all credits earned for this certificate can be applied to the following Penn State World Campus degree programs:

Gain the expertise to design and leverage geographic information systems and spatial analysis tools to tackle real-world problems that impact people and our planet. This online GIS master's degree program allows for flexibility and customization.

Learn more about the Master of Geographic Information Systems

Learn from one of the first and most comprehensive homeland security programs. Students may complete the base program or choose from a diverse range of specialization options — all designed to develop highly trained future leaders in roles that include national security.

Learn more about the Master of Professional Studies in Homeland Security

Learn to create novel solutions that leverage vast amounts of spatial data to solve location-based challenges. This online master’s degree program offers unmatched depth and breadth in spatial data science and will help you seize new opportunities in geospatial science and industry.

Learn more about the Master of Science in Spatial Data Science

Contact Us

Our program specialists are available now to help you with your application and to answer any questions you have about our online geospatial programs. Please contact us with anything you wish to discuss.

Julene Santiago, Geospatial Portfolio Program Assistant
Penn State College of Earth and Mineral Sciences
[email protected]
Phone: 814-865-2557

To see more detailed information about the geospatial portfolio, visit the program website within Penn State's College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. You can also visit Penn State’s Repository of Open and Affordable Materials (ROAM) to preview some of the geospatial courses offered online by the Department of Geography.

For general questions about Penn State World Campus, please contact:

World Campus Admissions Counselors
Phone: 814-863-5386
[email protected]

Faculty

  • Anthony C. Robinson

    • Degree
      Ph.D., Geography, Penn State
    • Degree
      M.S., Geography, Penn State
    • Degree
      B.S., Applied Geography, East Carolina University

    Dr. Anthony C. Robinson is an associate professor and director of online geospatial education at Penn State. He is also assistant director for the GeoVISTA Center. Dr. Robinson is a cartographer who designs and evaluates geovisualization tools to improve geographic information utility and usability. He has worked in epidemiology, crisis management, national security, and education domains to develop and evaluate new methods for visualizing spatial data.

  • Ryan Baxter 

    • Degree
      M.S., Geography, Penn State
    • Degree
      B.A., Geography and Environmental Sciences, Northwestern University

    Ryan Baxter advises students and teaches courses in topics including renewable energy, environmental applications of GIS, cloud and server GIS technologies, and introductory geographic information concepts. He is active in technical research projects involving spatial databases, online data discovery tools, interactive mapping applications, and cloud-based GIS services. He is also engaged in research investigating the spatial modeling of land use change, quantifying the amount of land available for bioenergy feedstocks, and assessing the suitability and productivity of energy crops.

  • Amy Burnicki

    Degree
    Ph.D., Natural Resources & Environment, University of Michigan

    Dr. Amy Burnicki is an associate teaching professor in the Department of Geography. Her research applies spatial data analysis, spatial statistics, and quantitative modeling approaches in the field of land change science and in transportation and environmental engineering applications.

  • James Detwiler

    • Degree
      M.S., Geography, University of Delaware
    • Degree
      B.S., Earth Science, Penn State

    James Detwiler is in a 100% teaching appointment and specializes in GIS programming. He teaches GEOG 485: GIS Programming and Automation; GEOG 863: Web Application Development; and GEOG 868: Spatial Database Management. His research interests are in the areas of applied GIS and climatology. 

  • Brandi Gaertner

    Degree
    Ph.D., Forestry and Natural Resources, West Virginia University

    Dr. Brandi Gaertner, assistant teaching professor of spatial data science in the online geospatial education program, joined the Penn State faculty in 2021. Dr. Gaertner is a climate change hydrologist and GIS analyst. Her research focus is on evaluating historical and future impacts of climate change on surface streamflow and climate variables such as precipitation and temperature.

  • Panagiotis Giannakis

    • Degree
      Ph.D., Geosciences, University of Arkansas
    • Degree
      M.S., Human Resource Management, Athens University of Economics & Business

    Panagiotis Giannakis is an Assistant Teaching Professor in the Department of Geography and the Dutton e-Education Institute within the College of Earth & Mineral Sciences. He received his PhD from the University of Arkansas, where he also maintained a key role in the advancement of the Online Geospatial Certificate program. His research interests lie at the intersection of Economic Geography, Strategic Management, and Social Networks. More specifically, Panagiotis’ research focuses on the relationship between organizational and physical and/or social network space.

  • Adrienne Goldsberry

    • Degree
      M.A., Geography, University of California - Santa Barbara
    • Degree
      B.A., Geography, The University of Texas at Austin 

    Adrienne Goldsberry is an instructor as well as adviser for students in the Postbaccalaureate Certificate in Geographic Information Systems program. Before joining Penn State, she was an online instructor for Michigan State University's Department of Geography, Environment, and Spatial Sciences and managed its online Professional Certificate in GIS. She also worked as an urban planner for jurisdictions in California, Texas, and Michigan.

  • Fritz Kessler

    • Degree
      Ph.D., Geography, University of Kansas
    • Degree
      M.S., Geography, Penn State
    • Degree
      B.S., Geography, Ohio University

    Dr. Fritz Kessler's teaching interests include cartography, geographic visualization, map projections, spatial analysis, land surveying, geography of health, and statistics. His research interests include map projections, geographic visualization, history of cartography, and cognitive cartography.

  • Beth King 

    • Degree
      M.Ed., Adult Education, Penn State
    • Degree
      B.S., Geography, Penn State

    Beth King is co-author and instructor of GEOG 483: Problem-Solving with GIS; GEOG 482: Making Maps that Matter with GIS; and GEOG 597G: Challenges in Global Geospatial Analytics. She is assistant program manager for Online Geospatial Education and maintains regular communication with students in the MGIS degree program to identify their questions and concerns. Previously, she worked as a GIS analyst for a private water/wastewater engineering firm, where she managed a wide range of GIS projects, from turnkey sanitary sewer conversion to 911 rural addressing.

  • Karen Schuckman

    • Degree
      M.S., Geographic Information Systems, Penn State
    • Degree
      B.A., Liberal Arts, Penn State
    • Degree
      B.S., Meteorology, Penn State

    Karen Schuckman's teaching and research interests include applications of airborne and spaceborne remote sensing to topographic mapping, land-use/land-cover analysis, positional accuracy assessment of remotely sensed base map data products, and other geospatial applications.

  • Gregory Thomas

    • Degree
      Ph.D., Administration and Leadership Studies, Indiana University of Pennsylvania
    • Degree
      MPA, Penn State
    • Degree
      B.S., Criminal Justice, Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania

    Dr. Gregory Thomas has experience developing intelligence for decision-makers, supervising the analytical process, and providing team guidance. He also has experience teaching intelligence and analytical techniques to college students as well as intelligence analysts and law enforcement personnel. He has developed operational intelligence to support criminal investigations and anti-terrorism activities, and has selected, trained, and supervised analysts in a criminal intelligence center. His teaching and research focus on geospatial intelligence analysis, homeland security, and criminal intelligence.

  • Michelle Zeiders

    • Degree
      M.S., Geoenvironmental Studies, Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania
    • Degree
      B.S., Public Administration, Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania

    Michelle Zeiders teaches GEOG 483: Problem-Solving with GIS; GEOG 484: GIS Database Development; and GEOG 487: Environmental Applications of GIS. She has been teaching introductory and software-intensive GIS courses since 1998. Prior to joining the geospatial education program, she worked as a GIS programmer/instructor for the Penn State Population Research Institute, a GIS project manager/instructor for the Institute for Transportation Research and Education at North Carolina State University, a GIS project manager at a private civil engineering firm, and a GIS analyst at MapQuest.

News

Old Main building at Penn State's University Park campus
2021 Carolyn Merry Mentoring Award, University Consortium for Geographic Information Science
A screenshot is shown of LionVu showing counties in Pennsylvania
Capstone project improves disease mapping tool for Penn State Cancer Institute,

Ready to take the next step toward your Penn State graduate certificate?

Apply by August 1 to start August 14. How to Apply