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GIScience Virtual Collaboratory

Professional GIS Certification

Professional certification is important to the GIS field as it helps establish GIS as a true profession, ensures those who produce geographic information have competency in a core set of knowledge and skills, encourages long-term professional development, and promotes ethical behavior by members of the profession.  For individuals, successful certification may improve advancement opportunities, result in higher compensation and greater career mobility, and greater recognition from employers and colleagues.

It is important that GIS practicioners understand the difference between programs and organizations offering certification, licensure, accreditation, and certificates (from the GIS Certification Institute (GISCI)):

  • Certificate - an award given to an individual recognizing completion of an academic or training program.  For example, K-State offers two GIS certificate programs including the Undergraduate Certificate in GIS and Graduate Certificate in GIScience.
  • Professional Certification - a process, often voluntary, by which individuals who have demonstrated a level of expertise in the profession are recognized and identified to the public by a non-academic third party. 
  • Licensure - the granting of a license to practice a profession; often regulated by states and indoctrinated in legislation and designed to guard against incompetence.
  • Accreditation - the process of evaluating the academic qualifications or standards of an institution or program of study in accordance with pre-established criteria.

Currently, there are three major avenues for obtaining professional certification and each is unique.  Differences among them are summarized below.  Both the GIS/LIS and GISCI certifications below also have a professional experience requirement that is difficult to meet for new graduates.

  • ASPRS GIS/LIS Certification Program - sponsored by the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, GIS/LIS Certification is based on an examination using questions from the allied sciences of photogrammetry, remote sensing, surveying, earth science, and physics.
  • Esri Technical Certification - certification is exam-based, offered at both the Associate and Professional levels, and reflects competency using Esri technology.
  • GIS Certification Institute (GISCI) - an independent institute supported by representatives from national and international GIS professional organization,