How to Become a Cartographer

Cartographer Key Stats
Avg. Salary / year $70,720
Avg. Pay / hour $34.00
Education 4+ Years
Job Outlook 15%

The use of maps has existed for thousands of years.

With the advent of computers and online services, the possibility to create accurate maps and images has become easier for many mapping experts.

Cartographers and similar professionals are experienced at mapping, measuring and surveying the surface of the Earth.

People use maps for a variety of purposes.

This creates the need for highly trained professionals to create geographically correct maps.

Experienced Cartographers will know how to use advanced technology to take images of the earth.

These professionals will then use all of the gathered information in order to interpret and analyze the information and then create or update maps.

Students who are interested in this type of career can also look into the following similar jobs:

  • Surveyor
  • Photogrammetrists
  • Geographer

If you are a student who is interested in Geography and the Earth, you may want to read the following information regarding this profession.

Included below are the educational requirements, a general job description, the job outlook through the year 2018 and salary information.

Education Requirements to Become a Cartographer

In order for candidates to become a Cartographer , they must begin and complete a Bachelor’s program at an accredited university or college.

Some popular fields of study include: Geography, Engineering, Forestry, Surveying, Physical Science, Computer Science, or any related degree.

If students know they want to become a Cartographer while in high school, they can begin on this career track by taking some helpful courses.

These courses include mechanical drawing, computer science, trigonometry, algebra, geometry and drafting.

Cartographers commonly use Geographic Information Systems (GIS) tools to fulfill their job responsibilities.

In order to use GIS, Cartographers must be highly skilled in using computer software and other technology.

Therefore, candidates who want to become a Cartographer should take courses to strengthen their technical skills.

Potential Cartographers can also seek certification in GIS in order to stand out among other candidates.

This is a voluntary certification offered by the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS).

Make sure to visit ASPRS’s website in order to learn more about GIS certification programs and requirements.

Some helpful skills a future Cartographer can work on are include: perfecting their interpersonal skills, having a good eye for picturing distances and sizes and having strong attention to detail.

Cartographer Job Description

Cartographers are experienced professionals who use several techniques in order to inspect, measure, map and chart the surface of the Earth.

The first step is to collect information, images, geodetic surveys and photographs of the Earth’s surface.

They will use this collected information to analyze, interpret and accurately draw geographical data.

In order to create accurate maps, Cartographers will perform geographical research and gather information regarding regions.

The type of information Cartographers gather includes social features, physical attributes, and non spatial and spatial data.

The type of non spatial data a Cartographer collects includes the following:

  • Information how the land is being used
  • Precipitation information regarding each region
  • Demographic information
  • Population numbers
  • Population density

The spatial data a Cartographer gathers includes the following:

  • Elevation
  • Latitude
  • Longitude
  • Distance

Cartographers will gather all of this information using several types of technological equipment.

Some of equipment a Cartographer may use includes: aerial cameras, ranging (LIDAR), Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and light imaging detection, satellites, remote sensing systems and other types of technology.

After the information is gathered, analyzed and interpreted, Cartographers will use all of the data to plan graphic and digital forms of maps.

Cartographer Salary and Career Path

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual median wage for Cartographers and similar careers was $51,180 in 2008.

The salary range for these professionals is approximately $31,400 to $87,000 per year.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also reports that the expected growth for Cartographers and similar careers looks strong.

These careers are expected to grow by approximately 19% through the year 2018.

Candidates with a Bachelor’s degree and some technical skills will be more sought after by employers.

BLSThe below information is based on the 2021 BLS national averages.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary


Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
District of Columbia$104,560
New Hampshire$64,830
New Jersey$87,200
New Mexico$68,330
New York$65,050
North Carolina$65,440
South Carolina$62,520
South Dakota$62,950
West Virginia$46,610

The top earning state in the field is District of Columbia, where the average salary is $104,560.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

District of Columbia - $104,560
California - $91,680
Alaska - $89,380
New Jersey - $87,200
Maryland - $86,190
* Salary information based on the May 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Cartographers and Photogrammetrists, OCC Code 17-1021, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a cartographer?

Cartographers create and update maps and charts.

Their job duties include collecting geographic data, creating visual representations of the collected data, and preparing and updating maps.

The maps and charts designed by cartographers are used mostly for regional planning and for educational purposes.

Cartographers usually create user-friendly maps.

Mapmakers who use technologies to build models of the Earth’s surface and its features are called photogrammetrists.

Cartographers may use Geographic Information System technologies to combine spatial features with data; those who use these technologies are usually known as geographic information specialists.

Most cartographers work full time and may work overtime during fieldwork.

Cartographers need a variety of skills, including computer skills, critical-thinking skills, and problem-solving skills.

How much does a cartographer make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for cartographers and photogrammetrists was $64,430 in May 2018.

However, salaries vary widely, depending on the field of expertise and the employer: those working for the state government earn a median annual wage of $57,990, while those who work for the federal government earned around $91,910 a year.

How much does it cost to become a cartographer?

Most cartographers need a bachelor’s degree in cartography, geography or a related field.

Cartographers may also need to take classes in computer programming, engineering, and G.I.S technology.

Most students also benefit from internships during college.

The average out-of-state total cost for a four-year bachelor’s degree program in Geographic Information Science and Cartography is around $130,000 but costs vary widely depending on the college you choose.

Some states require cartographers to be licensed as surveyors.

Cartographers may also need certification from the American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing.

The initial certification costs $300 for ASPRS members and $450 for non-members.

The United States Geospatial Intelligence Foundation offers certification in G.I.S.

What is the demand for cartographers?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for cartographers and photogrammetrists is expected to grow 15 percent from 2018 to 2028 but, because it is a relatively small profession, this growth will result in only about 1,700 new jobs.

This expected growth is explained mostly by the growing number of mobile and web applications that use web-based map products.

The growth is also explained by the expanding use of maps for government planning.

How long does it take to become a cartographer?

Cartographers need a bachelor’s degree in cartography, geography or a related field; the degree can usually be obtained in four years.

A certificate may be a requirement in some cases and can also help you prove your skills to a potential employer.

In order to obtain certification, you need to pass a test and to meet experience requirements.

Experience requirements vary depending on the type of certification you are seeking.

For instance, if you want to become a Certified Mapping Scientists you will need around 6 years of experience.

Jamie Willis
Career Specialist at BecomeopediaHi, my name is Jamie Willis, and I have been helping students find their perfect internships and education paths for the last ten years. It is a passion of mine, and there really is nothing better than seeing students of mine succeed with further studies.

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