No GIS Certification Programs in my area...Are Online Certs worth their weight?

Background Information:

Currently a Computer Science student, with 3 semesters remaining. My college doesn't offer any GIS courses, and there aren't any local certificate programs available. Would it be worth trying an Online Certification Program?

Or should I try to teach myself as much information as possible and try to get into a position after graduation without any formal GIS info on my resume?

closed as primarily opinion-based by PolyGeo Jun 8 '16 at 6:44

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.


ANY .... exposure to GIS is a good thing! It will do you no harm, especially in alignment/combination with your chosen acedemic background. GIS & an area of expertise -- a killer combination!

You can get a free trial download of ArcView by ESRI HERE (suggested by Mark Ireland). As Artwork21 said, this is the Microsoft of the GIS World. Underdark also has some strong suggestions. Open Source GIS development could prove both interesting & lucritive as well. I think it's fair to say that such skills will be in high demand when you finish your schooling. Personally, I would focus on ESRI as a starting point, and take it from there (that's just me - others may suggest otherwise). Perhaps you'll want to look at the Open Source side after getting your feet wet.

You can get a basic intro to the concepts HERE. If you look at the pane to the left, there are all sorts of resources at those links too. I would start with some reading to get an idea what GIS is all about, then try some of the exercises once you have a feel for things. Hold off on downloading the software until you're ready to start some actual exercises. When the trial runs out, check out other free software packages like Quantum GIS.

This is a way for you to get a feel (even if it's just to see if you enjoy GIS) without spending a penny.

  • Thanks for the suggestion Dano. Will do some reading later before I spend the time installing and configuring software. – waterwizard11 Aug 24 '11 at 20:13

It depends on what you want to do after college. If you want to become a developer, it might be more helpful to get involved in some open source GIS development.

That doesn't mean that a certificate would be of no use but your time might be better spent getting some code into a GIS project.

  • Good suggestions! – Dano Aug 24 '11 at 17:50
  • Thanks for the suggestion. Open source sounds like a great way to start on the path to development. I understand I still have a bit of college left, which means still time to decide what I want to do after college. I never want to stop learning, so it's difficult to label myself as "developer" or "analyst" or "DBA". I just want to be everything... – waterwizard11 Aug 24 '11 at 20:10
  • @ waterwizard - if your greatest desire is to be a "life-long learner", then GIS (and the fields you mentioned above) are ALL great choices. To be of any worth as a professional in any of these areas, you will constantly have to keep up with changes/advances in technology, you will need to be a born problem solver ----> on-and-on. Your career path will be the arbitor of where you take these skills, and as you build on them, new doors will start to open. You sound like someone who should "dabble" as much as possible during your undergrad, and make concrete decisions at the post-grad phase. – Dano Aug 25 '11 at 0:13

Since ArcGIS is the most common GIS, some of the basic courses in their Virtual Campus would be good to have on the resume - even if they might be a little too basic for you.

If you are a computer sci student then I guess you could figure a lot of it out for yourself (using a GIS I mean, not necessarily geographical concepts). But it never hurts to have a little ArcGIS on the resume!

  • Thanks for the resume tips. Does their Virtual Campus give some kind of print-out or verification of course completion to back up my resume? Sometimes it feels cheap putting "did this" on my resume with no real proof other than the ability to recognize buzz-words. – waterwizard11 Aug 24 '11 at 20:15
  • It did the last time I took some courses. Very well organized. – Mark Ireland Aug 24 '11 at 20:58

Most GIS certificate programs primarily focus ESRI ArcGIS, which is the Microsoft of the GIS world. Pursuing a certificate will get you up to speed with their technology, which is still in high demand in the job market. You may also download a trial version of ArcGIS and take some of their free Virtual Campus courses as @Mark Ireland has stated.

An alternative lower cost option would be to learn an open source (OSGeo, Open Source GIS) GIS program. Open source GIS has a strong base and is continuing to grow and compete with major GIS software packages, both in desktop and web based programs.

With either option I would highly recommend that you create a portfolio to market what you have learned.

  • Virtual campus courses, and they're free to boot! You mentioned cost...is it a cost for the ArcGIS software you meant, or the cost for certification? Or maybe both? – waterwizard11 Aug 24 '11 at 20:12
  • ArcGIS is expensive - for the desktop versions I think the cheapest license is ~$3000, for more functionality it is more like $10000 per year. – djq Aug 24 '11 at 20:43
  • if you're still in college, you may be able to find free (or cheap) access to ESRI software, as they offer generous student subsidies/freebies. Perhaps try your Geography/Geomatics department to see whether they can get a licence for you – Stephen Lead Aug 24 '11 at 23:50
  • I believe for ArcGIS 10.1 there is a free beta trial that you can join. beta.esri.com/community/… – artwork21 Aug 25 '11 at 0:08

I would agree with most of the answers that were already provided; figure out what you want to focus on in the GIS field and then find training that fits your needs.

From personal experience I can say that the Postbaccalaureate Certificate in GIS program from Penn State University would be an excellent choice. The required courses build from the ground up and there is a large selection of elective courses that focus on just about everything - cartography, analysis, development, etc (course list). I completed the postbacc program in 2009 and was able to apply lessons from the program to my job immediately. You also get an educational copy of the ArcGIS software (1 year license) with the courses as well, so you can play around with it after the courses are over.

Others have mentioned the ESRI Virtual Campus courses. Having just finished my first three-day course, I can say that, in my experience, the course was very thorough and informative. These courses focus on a particular subject, like ArcGIS Server or the JavaScript API, and there are lots of free classes available (112 as of this morning), and it might be a good idea to sit through some of those to get an idea of what subjects you would like to get more information on.


I started doing a free tutorials online from Harvard and Yale. ESRI has the Tutorial Level I,II,III books available that I am doing. I also take every GIS MOOC I see online. Statistics, Data Mgt, and Urban Planning are other MOOC's I am doing. I have taken the courses selected from three GIS certificate programs, selected the best course that apply to me and am doing them. I will also be learning 3-D analysis, and remote sensing. ESRI has some great free courses as well. I will be doing the Turning Data into Information course next. I document all my training of course, and aim at the Certified Associate of Desktop test in a year. I have a job in GIS that I obtained from all my training I have done on my own as well. Good luck. I compete with people with B.S degrees in geography here.

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