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Cartography Degree

Have you ever looked at a globe or a map of the world and wondered how the map itself came to be? How did someone find a way to accurately display distances, sizes, borders, etc.?
Cartography is the science and study of learning both how to understand geography and then how to convey spatial information properly. Read on to get a better idea of what the field of cartography is all about.

What is Cartography?

Cartography is the study and practice of how to go about making maps. It involves aesthetics, various techniques, and science to be able to communicate spatial information in a cohesive and effective manner.

Why become a Cartographer?

Career as a cartographer can be both dynamic and highly rewarding.  You would get to understand the geography of many different regions and then use tools and software to accurately map them out.
Becoming a cartographer can be an enjoyable career option for people who enjoy geography, are good at understanding different types of computer software, and are artistically or creatively inclined. It is an interdisciplinary field which is anything but routine; individuals in this profession are constantly mapping out new regions or modifying existing maps.

Types of maps a cartographer creates

A cartographer can work to create many different types of maps. Some of these include:

  • Maritime charts
  • Road atlases
  • Political maps
  • Globes
  • Tourist maps
  • Climate maps
  • Geological maps
  • Satellite navigation maps

The work of a cartographer

As a professional cartographer, some of the activities and responsibilities you may be required to carry out include:

  • Carry out topographic surveys of land
  • Use geographical information systems (GIS) to model landscapes and features
  • Determine the height and positioning of various landscape features using aerial photographs
  • Work with surveyors and designers when making maps
  • Ensure that maps and charts are accurate and to scale
  • Collect data and analyze it from satellites, planes, etc.
  • Design different types of maps in different mediums
  • Constantly edit maps as geographic features and landscapes change
  • Use special mapping software

How long does it take to become a cartographer?

The time it takes to become a cartographer will vary from person to person. Firstly, you must consider what your particular career goals and aspirations are and how much time you are willing to spend on getting an education.
In some cases, it may be possible to seek work as a cartographer after the completion of your bachelor’s degree. You will be required to gain some experience and with time, you may be able to work as a full time cartographer.
Bachelor’s programs take 4 years to complete and master’s programs take about 2 years to complete. You will also need to factor in some time which you will need to allocate to practical experience.

Degree’s in cartography

Bachelor’s in Cartography

Those individuals interested in pursuing cartography may enroll in a bachelor’s program with a major or concentration in cartography or a degree in geography or surveying. These programs include both class-room components as well as practical laboratory components. Students can expect to get an introduction to all the key components of geography and mapping, also on how to use software and different tools to map.
Bachelor’s degree programs typically take 4 years to complete.
Entry Requirements

  • High school diploma with an acceptable GPA
  • Good SAT and ACT scores – the precise score may be determined by the university you are applying to
  • Letters of recommendation
  • It is recommended that you have taken courses in geography in high school

Throughout the course of the degree, students can expect to learn:

  • Foundational geography
  • Earth science
  • Human geography
  • Geospatial analysis
  • Introduction to cartography
  • Computer mapping
  • Aerial photo interpretation
  • Remote sensing 

Masters in cartography

Master’s degree programs in cartography give students a thorough understanding of cartography through research and practical experience. There are some universities that even offer students the opportunity to specialize in a particular area such as physical geography, human geography, or Geographic Information Systems (GIS). These programs typically take 2 years to complete.
Entry requirements

  • Bachelor’s degree, not necessarily in cartography
  • Must have taken foundational courses in either geography or cartography
  • GRE scores
  • Letters of recommendation

Through research and practical experience, students will learn about many of the tools and methods used in the field of cartography. Some of the courses which students may take include:

  • GIS modeling
  • Remote sensing
  • Advanced geography
  • The history of cartography
  • Spatial analysis
  • Graphic design in cartography
  • Geographic Information Systems

Ph.D. in Cartography

A Ph.D. in cartography is specifically intended for those who seek to explore the research and academic aspects of the field. Most often, a Ph.D. in geography is pursued with a concentration in cartography.
Entry requirements

  • Bachelor’s or master’s degree in cartography or geography
  • Letters of recommendation

It is important to note here that entry requirements may vary. Every school and program has its own set of requirements. Students must satisfy all the entry requirements to be considered as a candidate.

Job prospects and Salary

With a degree in cartography, one may choose to pursue the following careers:

  • Civil engineer
  • Surveyor
  • Photogrammetrist
  • Zoning inspector
  • Real estate appraiser 
  • Remote sensing specialist
  • Demographer
  • Cartographer
  • Geographic information specialist

Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that in 2012, the following professionals earned an annual median salary of:

  • Cartographers and Photogrammetrists - $57,440
  • Surveying and Mapping Technicians - $39,670
  • Surveyors - $56,230
  • Appraisers and Assessors of Real Estate - $49,540

The cartographer profession looks especially promising with BLS forecasting a 20% employment growth in the field between 2012 and 2022.
Cartography is concerned with geographic information and the translation of that information into the form of maps. The study of cartography involves history, geography, math, and aesthetic awareness. There are a number of different educational options to pursue if you are interested in this field. In addition, with a degree in cartography, there are a number of different career paths you may be able to choose.



States with the highest employment level in this occupation:



Employment per thousand jobs

Location quotient

Hourly mean wage

Annual mean wage

California 16600.111.2618.1337720
Florida 11300.141.6817.9737370
Illinois 9600.161.9217.937240
Texas 7600.070.7816.6234570
New York 6500.070.8520.1241840


Frequently Asked Question(s)

Q:Can I complete a Bachelors in Cartography in less than four years?

A:Yes you can. A number of schools are offering accelerated bachelor degree programs in the field of cartography. An accelerated program is designed for students who are looking for a short route to earning a degree. The coursework is covered in short time span, typically ranging between 1-2 years. Students must work hard and take multiple courses to earn the degree.

Q:What sort of thesis topics do people work on for masters in cartography?

A:For your thesis as part of a masters program in cartography, you could explore topics such as visual exploration of spatial-temporal traffic congestion patterns using floating car data, artistic decoration in early modern cartography, spatial temporal analysis of social media data; web based visual analysis of 3D lightning data or visual reconstruction of archaeological data on a particular archeological site. Keep in mind that these particular topics have already been worked on. But you can always work on something similar to these.

Q:By enrolling an online cartography program, what benefits will I get?

A:Online program have proved to be flexible and convenient for many students nowadays. High prices and employment have made it difficult for students to pursue college. However, online education is tackling this issue by enabling students to study from any location anytime. This means you can study according to your own pace and schedule. Online learning is also cost-friendly as no text book and travelling expenses are incurred.

Q:Can you name a few of the topics covered in an online cartography course?

A:A course in cartography will help you learn about the principles of map-making and design. You will learn about modern cartography that is integrated with geographic information science. The program will typically cover topics such as the following: geomorphology, hydrology, statistics, nature cartography, space cartography, geo-informational systems, map design, and more.

Q:A cartography program can be pursued at what levels of post-secondary education?

A:Cartography is an academic discipline that explores the principles of map making and designing. This area is offered for study at associate, bachelor, and masters level. Students can also pursue cartography at non-degree level. Each program is designed to provide students with theoretical knowledge and skills needed for a career in cartography. The degree requirements will vary.

Q:Can you tell me about the course requirements of a cartography masters degree?

A:A masters degree in cartography is an advanced level graduate program, designed to prepare students for careers in this field. Students are required to cover all the degree components and earn a minimum number of credit hours. The program will cover a range of topics such as geo-computing, research design, spatial analysis, and environmental modeling.

Q:What can I do with a phd in cartography?

A:A PhD in cartography is mostly for individuals who wish to go into teaching or research. You can focus your research on topics of cartography, geovisualization and geovisual analytics with specialization in interactive and web based mapping. You can apply for advanced job positions in organizations.

Q:What is the career outlook with a degree in cartography?

A:According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, cartographers earned a median annual income of $57,440 in May 2012. There were a total of 13,800 jobs available for these professionals and the employment for them, along with that of similar professions such as photogrammetrists, was expected to grow 22% between 2012 and 2021. (Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics)

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