GIS certifications validate an individual’s knowledge and skills within specific areas of GIS such as the applications of GIS or geospatial intelligence. Given the number of different options, it can be difficult to determine which provide the most benefit to you— especially when you start to examine both graduate certificates and professional GIS certifications. While not all careers within GIS require specific certificates or certifications, they can be beneficial in several ways. Gaining the broadly applicable research knowledge and exposure to GIS techniques covered in graduate certificate programs, for example, can equip you with the essential skills you need to take on more complex geospatial and other geographic information science projects. While often narrower in scope, professional GIS certification can yield a competitive advantage when pursuing jobs with organizations that prefer candidates with additional credentials, as earning these showcases advanced proficiency within a specific domain. Professional GIS Certifications vs. GIS Graduate Certificates Summary Professional GIS Certifications · Offered by nonprofits and businesses within the GIS field, such as the GIS Certification Institute or GIS software providers like Esri. · Typically focused on a specific skill set or GIS software application; designed to showcase proficiency beyond the minimum · Often require a combination of GIS education and work experience as well as a passing score on an exam created by the certification organization Graduate GIS Certificates · Offered by academic institutions as part of education programs and can also be an excellent starting point before entering a GIS master’s degree program · Knowledge is more broadly applicable to the GIS or geospatial intelligence disciplines · Programs can often be entered after completing a bachelor’s degree and may also lead to professional certification Do You Need GIS Certification? While everyone’s professional needs and certification goals will vary, common GIS certifications have proven benefits, such as higher salary potential. For example, URISA’s 2017 GIS Salary Survey shows that professionals with the GIS professional (GISP) credential from the GIS Certification Institute (GISCI) earn an average of $10,000 more when compared to those without. Your employer and the industry you work in can also significantly impact how valuable earning a certain professional GIS certification may be. For example, if your company leverages a specific GIS tool or software, you can research certifications related to that particular skill set to bolster your career. However, keep in mind that many of these credentials, such as Esri certification, may be focused entirely on using a specific set of tools and will not have as broad of an application as many graduate GIS certificates. Graduate GIS Certificates Graduate GIS certificates offered by universities typically provide a balance of broadly applicable GIS skills and specialization options. For example, the graduate GIS certificate programs at USC feature a core curriculum and a selection of electives to fine-tune your path of study.