How do I Become a Cartographer?

Simone Lawson

Cartographers are responsible for collecting, analyzing and mapping geographic information by using data collected from surveys and photographs. These mapmakers then develop maps that represent physical and social characteristics of the land. To become a cartographer, one may want to focus on some type of formal study, additional specialized training and obtaining licensure.

Individuals interested in cartography may be well served to take art classes.
Individuals interested in cartography may be well served to take art classes.

Many cartographers hold a bachelor’s degree in engineering, physical science, cartography or geography. Those who aspire to become a cartographer may find it helpful to take art courses in college or high school to begin developing skills for presenting information in visual images. Math and science are heavily emphasized in this field, so natural abilities in geometry, trigonometry and drafting are often helpful for those seeking to become a cartographer. A very limited number of cartographers enter the field after working several years as surveying technicians.

Many cartographers hold a degree in geography.
Many cartographers hold a degree in geography.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are an important component to cartography. Cartographers use GIS to assemble and analyze display data regarding various locations and convert this information into digital format. GIS is also used to develop maps that combine information relevant to planning, business, environmental studies or engineering.

Due to the heavy emphasis on GIS, computer experience and early training on this system is generally recommended for one seeking to become a cartographer. Training in GIS may be found in some colleges or vocational schools, but it is typically understood that the best way to undergo GIS training is through field study at an internship or summer job. Some may find it necessary to take additional courses in computer science.

Many areas require cartographers to be licensed surveyors before beginning any type of employment. Once the degree program and training have been completed, one may want to contact the area they are seeking employment in to see if licensure is required to become a cartographer. If testing is required, it is typically offered through the National Council of Engineers and Surveying.

Generally, the first test cover the Fundamentals of Surveying and is followed by a trial period of work supervision. Those seeking licensure typically work under supervision for about four years before acquiring eligibility to take the second exam. The final exam is called the Principals and Practice of Surveying. Most areas have a continuing education requirement for those who obtain a license.

Additional certification programs are offered through various agencies. The National Society of Professional Surveyors offers a certification program for those looking to begin their careers as surveying technicians. The American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing (ASPRS) also offers certification programs in GIS and remote sensing.

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