How to Become A Cartographer

Should I Become a Cartographer?

Cartography is the study of making maps, by applying both artistic and scientific elements. A Cartographer specializes in the knowledge of compilation and design principles, combining product generation techniques with graphic talents. Cartographers apply their knowledge to analyze and measure the geographic world and its physical features. After collecting data, they convert it into paper maps – that are used in classrooms, as well as digital data for navigational devices. Since the field requires study of different types of sciences, a relevant college degree is the minimum requirement.

Cartography is mostly taken up by those students who have a natural aptitude in computers and Computer Aided Design (CAD). A career in Cartography allows them to implement computer modeling and integrating it with information compiling.

Education Required

Bachelor’s Degree

Major Requirement

Geography, Geology, Geographic Information Systems, Geomatics, Geological Engineering


License requirement varies from state to state and also according to the field a Cartographer wants to specialize in


Minimum 3-5 years of experience in Geographic Information Systems (GIS); quality assurance experience also preferred

Key Skills

Critical-thinking, problem-solving, decision-making; detail-oriented, excellent computer skills, experience with GIS, mapping and photo imaging software

Annual Mean Salary (2018)

$68,340 per year

Job Outlook (2018-28)

15% estimated increase from 2018-2028 (Cartographers and Photogrammetrists)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2018)

To be a Cartographer, minimum requirement is that of a bachelor’s degree in subjects like cartography, geomatics, geography or surveying. There are some states that require license especially for surveyors and satellite and aerial imaging. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment rate for Cartographers is expected to rise 15%, between 2018 and 2028. In 2018, the annual mean salary was $68,340, an increase from 2017’s $67,390 (annual mean wage).

Career Requirements

Cartographers can enter the professional field by earning a bachelor’s degree in any one of the subjects – cartography, surveying, geography, science and engineering. Geomatics is another popular degree that covers different areas like science, math, engineering and art. Interested candidates also work as mapping technicians and surveyors to enhance their skills. It’s important for Cartographers to learn technical skills like graphic information systems technology. As mapping also ends up on digital platforms, web-based mapping knowledge and technological implementation is also important.

Steps To Become a Cartographer

Step 1: Obtaining a Bachelor’s Degree

To become a cartographer, first step is to get a bachelor’s degree in related field. Select a college or university that offers programs in Cartography and Geographic Information Systems. Classes on GIS cover topics like photograph interpretation and remote sensing. There are also special courses in advanced mathematics, data collection, mapping techniques and analytic geography. Some universities encourage students to gain hands-on training in GIS laboratories.

Step 2: Complete Initial Licensure

There are some states that require graduates to obtain license after getting four years education in the field, especially surveying. For Photogrammetrists there are specific licenses that allow them to use aerial pictures and satellite imaging to map earth’s surface. To obtain a license it’s important to get formal education, followed by passing an exam. To get a license, the first step is to pass the Fundamentals of Surveying (FS) exam. This is administered by the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES). A closed-book exam, it accesses an individual’s knowledge in basic science and math principles. Students can take the FS exam before their college graduation. Other than this, there are some state specific licenses as well.

Step 3: On-Field Experience

Once a student passes FS exam, it’s important to gain at least 4 years experience in the field. Different employers have varied requirements and some even look for experience in the GIS industry. There are lucrative opportunities for those people who further develop skills in GIS software and have mapping design knowledge.

Step 4: Obtain Final Licensure

Those surveyors, who’ve gained four years experience, can sit for Principles and Practice of Surveying (PS) exam. An open-book exam, it’s administered by NCEES and tests candidates on various surveying topics like methods, legal principles and professionalism. Cartographers can also earn certification from the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) – this is a voluntary certification and not mandatory.

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