Credits and costs
Earn a Master of Science in Spatial Data Science — Online
As the use of location-based data becomes more pervasive and complicated, we need experts who can leverage spatial data to develop insights and improve decision-making. The Penn State Master of Science in Spatial Data Science (SDS) can prepare you to work at the forefront of the geospatial industry, where Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and spatial analysis intersect with the principles of data science, visualization, and programming.
As a student in this completely online program, you can learn to:
- leverage the science of spatial analysis and modeling to develop new workflows to solve problems that impact people and our planet
- architect and implement solutions that blend computational and visual approaches
- research, communicate, and critique data quality and the results of spatial analyses
While some degree programs target users of GIS applications, this next-generation degree focuses on developing the creators who will push the boundaries of industry and science by redefining the power of location-based data. In this program, you can strengthen your programming knowledge and higher-order thinking skills, learning how to solve complex problems that require more than off-the-shelf solutions.
The Penn State Difference
100% Online Delivery — Our online platform allows you to complete weekly assignments at your own pace from anywhere in the world.
Nationally Recognized — Penn State World Campus has been serving the geospatial industry for more than 20 years, so you can feel secure that you are partnering with a leader in online geospatial learning.
Contemporary, Real-world Skills — Students will gain experience applying spatial data science and technology in at least two application domains, such as public health, emergency management, and business analytics. Our pragmatic approach ensures you develop a relevant skill set that you can put to work immediately.
GRE scores are NOT required. Start your application without the wait.
Which Online Master's Degree is Right for Me?
While the Spatial Data Science graduate degree program is ideal for those who wish to be developers of new spatial data science solutions, students who are more interested in the applications of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in a variety of professional contexts should explore the Master of Geographic Information Systems (MGIS), also available online through Penn State World Campus. Students may also consider that the Spatial Data Science master's degree offers a potential pathway to a future Ph.D. program via its thesis option.
Who Should Apply?
World Campus welcomes applicants for the Spatial Data Science program who have prior experience with the fundamentals of GIS and may have a background in geospatial science and technology, data science, statistics or mathematics, computer science, environmental science, and/or engineering. No prior programming experience is required.
If you are interested in this program, but lack GIS experience, consider completing the Postbaccalaureate Certificate in Geographic Information Systems before applying to the M.S. in Spatial Data Science. To discuss which option makes sense for you, contact the program office to speak directly with a faculty adviser.
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 financial aid, transfer credits, and application instructions.
The Master of Science in Spatial Data Science is a customizable program that gives you the flexibility to earn a Graduate Certificate in Geospatial Programming and Web Map Development or another certificate we offer in remote sensing, geospatial intelligence, or GIS while pursuing your master’s degree online. The program is structured into four distinct areas of study:
- Required courses (15 credits)
- Spatial data science methods electives (9 credits)
- Spatial data science application electives (6 credits)
- Scholarly paper or research thesis (3 or 6 credits)
A minimum of 33 credits at the 400, 500, 600, or 800 level is required. At least 18 credits must be in 500- or 600-level courses.
Depending on course availability, you can complete the program in as little as two years of study or spread out the courses to suit your personal responsibilities and work commitments. We make it easy to pause and restart your studies at any time.
Your education will blend self-study with peer-to-peer interaction over an online learning network. You'll complete weekly assignments, readings, discussions, and occasional group work, as well as projects and other activities designed to enhance your learning outcomes, all at times that are most convenient for you. Every class is designed as a partnership between expert faculty and learning designers for optimal online delivery; courses are not just recorded lectures.
Required Courses (15 credits)
Spatial Data Science Methods Electives (select 9 credits)
Spatial Data Science Application Electives (select 6 credits)
Culminating Experience: Scholarly Paper or Research Paper (select 3 to 6 credits)
The degree operates on five 10-week terms, a structure that delivers the greatest flexibility possible in completing your degree at your preferred pace. New courses typically begin every 10 to 12 weeks, so you can get started on your master’s degree sooner — with less wait time. Students also have the freedom to take semesters off to address the changing demands of their personal and professional lives.
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 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.
|How many credits do you plan to take per semester?||Cost|
|11 or fewer||$1,007 per credit|
|12 or more||$12,082 per semester|
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.
How to Apply
Deadlines and Important Dates
Regular Admission Option:
Your degree application, including receipt of all materials, must be received by the following deadlines to be considered complete. Please check with the program office at [email protected] to make sure we have all of your materials.
July 1 to begin in the fall term
November 1 to begin in the spring term
April 1 to begin in the summer term
Questions about applying? Contact the program office at [email protected]. We have experts available to guide you through the process.
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.
Accelerated Admission Option
You can qualify for accelerated admission to the M.S. in Spatial Data Science program by earning a 3.67 GPA or above after completing your first three classes as a student in any of our online geospatial certificate programs. After completing your third certificate course, you must submit your résumé and a professional statement of purpose explaining your goals for obtaining the spatial data science degree to the admissions chairperson.
The admissions committee will review your personal statement and your academic record in the program to date, and then make a decision regarding your admission to the master's program. Admission is not based solely on GPA.
Admissions decisions will be made in this manner on a rolling basis year-round, but you must have your application complete and submitted for consideration at least 4 weeks before the term in which you intend to start the degree program. Please contact the academic home directly at [email protected] with any questions.
Regular admission is still available for those who do not wish to begin with a certificate program.
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:
Official transcripts from each institution attended, regardless of the number of credits or semesters completed. Transcripts not in English must be accompanied by a certified translation. Penn State alumni do not need to request transcripts for credits earned at Penn State but must list Penn State as part of your academic history. If you are admitted, you will be asked to send an additional official transcript. You will receive instructions at that time.
GRE scores are NOT required.
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.
References (2) — You will need to initiate the process through the online application by entering names, email addresses, and mailing addresses of two references. Upon submission of your application, an email will be sent to each reference requesting they complete a brief online recommendation regarding your readiness for graduate study.
Personal Statement — Write a statement (2–3 pages in length) that describes how your experience and goals align with the objectives of the M.S. in Spatial Data Science program.
Résumé — a one- to five-page listing of your professional experience and education.
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: "Degree Admission"
- Choose "WORLD CAMPUS" as the campus
- Choose "Spatial Data Science" as the degree
Checking Your Status
You can check the status of your application by using the same login information established for the online application form.
Review the technical requirements for this program.
Get the resources you need to make informed decisions about your education. Request information on this program and other programs of interest by completing this form.
Ready to take the next step toward your Penn State master's degree?
Start or Advance Your Career
Start or Advance Your Career
Alumni from Penn State's Online Geospatial Education programs are employed in more than 200 companies and organizations around the world. 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.
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
For general questions about Penn State World Campus, please contact:
World Campus Admissions Counselors
Anthony C. Robinson
DegreePh.D., Geography, Penn State
DegreeM.S., Geography, Penn State
DegreeB.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.
Todd S. Bacastow
DegreePh.D., Geography, Penn State
DegreeM.S., Geography, Penn State
DegreeB.S., Engineering, United States Military Academy
Dr. Todd S. Bacastow’s focus is preparing analysts to serve in the U.S. intelligence community. He has conducted active research in improving the training and education of the geospatial analyst. He was the author of the massive open online course (MOOC) titled Geospatial Revolution and Geospatial Intelligence, which has been delivered to more than 25,000 students. He serves as an expert witness. Before joining Penn State, Dr. Bacastow retired from the U.S. Army after serving in a variety of infantry, engineer, and geospatial intelligence assignments and positions.
DegreeM.S., Geography, Penn State
DegreeB.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.
DegreeM.S., Geography, University of Delaware
DegreeB.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.
DegreePh.D., Geosciences, University of Arkansas
DegreeM.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.
DegreeM.A., Geography, University of California - Santa Barbara
DegreeB.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.
DegreePh.D., Geography, University of Kansas
DegreeM.S., Geography, Penn State
DegreeB.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.
DegreeM.Ed., Adult Education, Penn State
DegreeB.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.
Douglas MillerDegreePh.D., Soil Sciences, Penn State
Doug Miller is a Research Professor and Director of the Center for Environmental Informatics at Penn State. His research interests include landscape ecology, geographic information science, remote sensing and soils. At the Center for Environmental Informatics, his team develops innovative, web-based tools and applications that allow individuals to make useful and productive decisions in numerous agricultural and environmental application settings.
DegreeM.S., Geographic Information Systems, Penn State
DegreeB.A., Liberal Arts, Penn State
DegreeB.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.
DegreePh.D., Administration and Leadership Studies, Indiana University of Pennsylvania
DegreeMPA, Penn State
DegreeB.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.
DegreeM.S., Geoenvironmental Studies, Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania
DegreeB.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.