how to become a cartographer

If you are interested in becoming a cartographer, you have come to the right place. Cartography is a great field to begin a career in or make a switch to from your current career. It is a profession involving science, art, and technique to precisely produce a visual representation of a specific place or location. A cartographer spends majority of their days drawing and creating maps. This is a needed field, as humans use maps to get from place to place and to find out information about a certain area. Read on to learn about the steps to become a cartographer, the education requirements, the job duties and career projections, salary expectations, the areas of specialization, and related career fields.

Steps to Become a Cartographer

To successfully become a cartographer, there are specific steps that must be taken. It may seem like a long process, but it will be worth it in the end. The following are the steps to follow to become a cartographer:

1. Graduate high school and earn a diploma.

Math is important in the cartography field. Therefore, students should try to focus on courses such as algebra, geometry, calculus, and trigonometry during high school. Other essential courses are computer science, drafting, and earth science. Computer and art classes are great elective courses to choose because cartographers spend a lot of time on computers as well as drawing and visualizing maps.

2. Go to college and receive a bachelor’s degree.

Majority of all cartographers have earned a bachelor’s degree in cartography or a closely related field. During their degree program, students will learn about geography, surveying, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), and computer mapping. Some colleges and universities offer a concentration in cartography if they do not offer a degree program in this study. It is recommended to select the cartography concentration if you are unable to major in it.

3. Get a certificate in cartography.

If you earned a degree in a different field, you can choose to become certified in cartography. Some individuals who are unable or not ready to pursue a degree program will often choose to get a certificate in cartography to show that they are committed to the field. Certification is usually not required to get a cartographer job, but it is recommended if you are unable to go to college at the moment. However, it is important to note that most organizations require you to have some working experience related to cartography to take the exam to become certified.

4. If your state requires it, you must get licensed in cartography.

Check your state requirements to determine if you will need to become licensed before working in the cartography field. To receive a license, you will be required to pass exams before starting a career in cartography as well as after working in the cartography field for several years.

5. Find a cartography job.

When you begin your job search, start by looking at engineering and architectural companies because they are the top employers of cartographers. If you are unable to find a position at one of those companies, other top employers are federal, local, and state government companies. Government companies tend to offer the best paying roles for cartographers.

Education and Certifications Required

How to Be a Cartographer

According to, an individual who wants to become a cartographer will need to go to college and earn a bachelor’s degree in cartography. If cartography is not offered at the college you are planning to attend, you can earn a degree in geography, surveying, geology, geomatics, or a related program.

While earning a bachelor’s degree in cartography or a closely related field, you most likely will take courses in computer programming, math, engineering, GIS technology, geography, and surveying. You also will be taught web-based mapping technologies, which will teach you how to assemble data to create maps for Global Positioning Systems (GPS) in vehicles as well as on cellular devices. Upon completion of your bachelor’s degree program, you should fully understand the geographies of areas, the principles of cartography, how to read and process aerial photographs, and how to analyze and collect data.

It is important to keep in mind that some states require cartographers to have a license. Although the license requirements vary by state, most professional licenses will require you to earn an education in cartography, get licensed in surveying, and pass an exam. Some states require individuals to take two exams to become licensed. One exam is given in college and one is given after working in the field for four years.

Earning a certificate in cartography is voluntary. However, if you are unable to pursue a bachelor’s program right now, it is recommended to get a certificate in cartography. This shows that you are serious, dedicated to the field, and possess some knowledge on gathering and analyzing data to create maps. Most certificate programs in cartography consist of courses in GIS applications courses. GIS is the study of collecting, managing, and assessing data to determine the characteristics of locations, while using that information to create maps for visualization. A couple places to check out if you are looking to become certified in cartography are the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing and the United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation.

Once you have earned some type of education in cartography, you should possess the following skills which are essential to the demands of this type of job: computer skills, critical thinking skills, decision making skills, detail oriented, problem solving skills, programming language skills, spatial thinking, written and oral communication skills, organization skills, analytical skills, design skills, punctuality, and more.

Job Duties

A cartographer’s job is to gather and collect data, measure objects and land, and interpret and organize all the information and data found into maps. They typically rely on information taken from photos, surveys, and reports from those who are doing fieldwork around the location to create these digital maps. Another specific job duty required of the cartography is to constantly update maps to make them a perfect replica of the location, as areas of the world continue to change. These maps are used to help businesses and leaders decide where to place things, to help people navigate, and to educate the public on certain areas. Some of the tools that are commonly used to produce maps are GPS systems, computer-aided design (CAD) programs, and other mapping software programs. Majority of cartographers are found working in office spaces, but every once in awhile they may be required to travel to the actual locations and analyze the area themselves.

Salary Expectations and Career Projections

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics stated in 2019 that the annual median salary for a cartographer is around $65,470, which is $31.47 per hour. This is a good paying wage for those who are entering this field or have worked in the field for a few years. However, with years of experience, you may be able to earn more.

The lowest 10 percent who reported their cartography salary made around $41,000, and the highest 10 percent made more than $100,000. Therefore, the salary of a cartographer can vary tremendously. Cartographers working for the federal government made a median salary of $90,800, cartographers working for the local government reported making $64,780, and the state government cartographers earned around $58,000.

The career field is expected to grow around 4 percent by 2029, which is about average for any other occupation. However, a lot of jobs are expected to open up for cartographers because the government is increasingly using maps for their planning purposes, which is outstanding news for those already employed or interested in becoming part of the cartography industry. If an individual is looking to pursue one of these cartography jobs for the government, they will be focusing on using GIS systems to help with natural disasters around the country.

Areas of Specialization

Be a Cartographer

There are a variety of specializations to choose from in the cartography field. The following are a few of the most popular specializations chosen by students and employees:

  • Engineering
  • Real Estate
  • Travel
  • Telecommunication
  • City Planning
  • Transportation
  • Environmental and Earth Science
  • Space Exploration
  • Law Enforcement
  • Health Care
  • National Security
  • Marketing
  • Rescue Operations
  • Recreation
  • Natural Resource Exploration

You must decide which specialization fits you and your goals by deciding what type of maps you would like to produce and what you would like to achieve in your career. For example, if you decide to be a cartographer that specializes in city planning, you will spend most of your days generating maps for the city to decide what types of businesses to place in specific areas. If you specialize in travel, your time will be spent creating maps for people to use while traveling around the world and enjoying activities for leisure. As a real estate cartographer, you will produce maps for individuals to decide where to build a house or apartment complex on a piece of land.

Depending on which type of specialization you decide to pursue, you may end up working for a private company, the state or local government, or a federal agency. Private companies focus on surveying and GIS, Web-based mapping, telecommunication, marketing, education, environmental science, and more. The state and local government typically employ individuals who are interested in focusing on city planning, transportation, law enforcement, and utilities. Federal agencies are interested in hiring individuals who specialize in parks, environmental protection, space exploration, geospatial intelligence, oceans, national security, fish and wildlife, forests, weather, and more.

Closely Related Career Fields

If you do not feel like cartography is the job for you but are looking for something similar, there are several related career fields that may match your needs instead. Below, I will provide a list of closely related career fields along with their required education levels and median salaries.

How to Become a Cartographer and Related Fields
  • Surveyors: A surveyor’s job is to accurately measure land to determine property borders.; Required Education Level: Bachelor’s degree; Median Salary: $63,420
  • Environmental Scientists and Specialists: Environmental scientists and specialists provide protection to humans and the environment by using their knowledge of science.; Required Education Level: Bachelor’s degree; Median Salary: $71,360
  • Geographers: Geographers focus on the Earth and study its land, features, and everything that occupies it.; Required Education Level: Bachelor’s degree; Median Salary:$81,540
  • Landscape Architects: A landscape architect specializes in creating parks and other outdoor recreation spaces for the public to use.; Required Education Level: Bachelor’s degree Median Salary: $69,360
  • Forest and Conservation Workers: Forest and conservation workers spend their days measuring, improving, and upgrading forests.; Required Education Level: High school diploma; Median Salary: $31,770
  • Mapping Technicians: A mapping technician gathers data around the Earth and makes maps of what they see.; Required Education Level: High school diploma; Median Salary: $45,010
  • Urban and Regional Planners: Urban and regional planners spend majority of their time determining what to use land space for as well as making the community a better and safer place by implementing businesses and facilities.; Required Education Level: Master’s degree; Median Salary: $74,350
  • Civil Engineers: A civil engineer is responsible for creating, building, and overseeing projects and systems being put in place.; Required Education Level: Bachelor’s degree; Median Salary: $87,060
  • Geological Technicians: A geological technician is expected to help engineers and scientists with duties such as exploring, analyzing, and removing natural materials on the Earth.; Required Education Level: Associate’s degree; Median Salary: $51,130


As you can see, becoming a cartographer is an excellent career option. It involves many components such as science, art, math, and technology. With the modern use of digital maps increasing and evolving, cartography is an essential field. By choosing to become a cartographer, you will spend your days helping create visual maps for individuals to use to find their way around, to decide where to place facilities and businesses to improve neighborhoods and communities, to learn information about different areas, and so much more. Cartographers relatively enjoy a low-stress career, designing maps that contribute to the political, engineering, educational, cultural, environmental, and marketing industries.

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