Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) for the GIS Certificate and MGIS Degree Programs
Note: This FAQ document applies to the GIS Certificate and MGIS Degree programs. It does not refer to the Graduate Certificate in Geospatial Intelligence, which can be found here.
Applying to a program
- How do I apply to the GIS certificate program?
- How do I apply to the MGIS degree program?
- How hard is it to get into the MGIS degree program?
- Can I reapply to the MGIS Program if my application isn't accepted?
- Can an IELTS (International English Language Testing System) score be used instead of the TOEFL in my application?
- Can the GRE (required for MGIS applications) be waived?
- Can I develop a customized plan of study for a Certificate?
Registering for courses
- How do I register for a GIS course?
- I don't have a baccalaureate degree. Can I enroll in courses and earn the Certificate of Achievement?
- I have experience in GIS. Do I qualify for the Experienced Professionals Track?
- How do I get an "Access Account Authorization and Acceptance Statement" for my first course registration?
- When will my Penn State Access Account expire?
- Which courses may be used to satisfy the 4th course elective requirement for the GIS certificate?
- How many courses can I take at one time?
- What do these courses and programs cost?
- Do I need to pay the information technology fee?
- Does World Campus bill students or offer payment plans?
- Can I get financial aid?
- I need a receipt for reimbursement. How can I get one?
- My employer will pay for my tuition and information technology fee. What do I need to provide so that World Campus will invoice my employer?
- Do I need to buy books and software to complete my courses? If so, how do I obtain them?
- How long does it take to complete the Certificate Program and the Master's Program?
- Approximately how much time should I plan to spend per week per class?
- Do I have to complete a course within a certain amount of time?
- What happens if I need to take time off from my studies?
- What if I need more time to complete a course?
- After completion of my final course in the GIS certificate program, when will I receive my certificate?
- Can I submit my lesson assignments electronically?
- How can I create a screen capture?
- Do these courses require Internet access?
- What kind of computer and software do I need to successfully complete these courses?
- What if I need help using the Internet to access my online course materials?
- How do I obtain the Esri software that is required for many of the courses?
- What Esri software will I install?
- Can I run ArcGIS on my Apple Computer?
- What kind of web presence should I have?
- How do I have my Penn State email forwarded to an external email address?
Penn State Policies and Procedures
- What is accreditation, and why is it important?
- Would the credits I earn in the Certificate Program count toward the MGIS if I apply and I'm accepted?
- Can I transfer credits earned from another institution?
- Can the credits I earn be transferred to another institution?
- How do my Penn State Online GIS classes count toward GIS Professional (GISP) certification?
- Do these classes appear as online classes on my transcript?
- Can I drop a course once I've begun?
- How will I find out my final course grade
- What grade do I need to earn for a course to count towards the Certificate Program in GIS or towards the MGIS program?
- Can I earn multiple certificates?
Learning at a Distance
- How will this be different from taking courses on campus?
- How will I interact with my instructor and other students?
- How quickly should I expect responses from my instructor?
Applying to a program
You can apply for the GIS certificate program online by going to the application instruction page. Please be sure to select "Certificate Admission - $65.00"
You can apply for the MGIS degree program by going to the application instruction page for Penn State Online/World Campus.
Admission to the Penn State MGIS Program is highly competitive; there was a 30% acceptance rate in the 2009 - 2010 academic year. Applicants who have demonstrated their readiness for online graduate study in the GIS or GEOINT certificate programs are preferred.
You can re-apply to the MGIS Program with your original application (and not pay the fee again) within three years of applying the first time. If you apply beyond three years, you would need to pay the fee again. You need to let us know in writing if you want to have your application reconsidered. New material can be submitted (emailed or mailed) and we will update the original application. Please contact us at email@example.com if you want to re-apply.
Can an IELTS (International English Language Testing System) score be used instead of the TOEFL in my application?
Applicants who have taken the IELTS (International English Language Testing System) instead of the TOEFL may request that the TOEFL requirement be waived. Waiver requests should include the applicant's IELTS score.
Applicants who are five or more years removed from earning their baccalaureate degree may request that the need to submit GRE scores be waived. If you satisfy that criterion and want to waive the GRE, please write a sentence to that effect in the notes section of the graduate school application.
Yes. You can initiate this process by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org and requesting a time to speak to an advisor about developing a customized plan of study. The following policies apply to Certificates that deviate from the standard set of courses:
- You must have approval from a program advisor in order to proceed on a specialized plan of study to earn a certificate. Contact email@example.com for details.
- GEOG 482 or GEOG 864 must be included in any GIS Certificate plan of study.
- Only classes listed on our course calendar page (https://gis.e-education.psu.edu/programs/class_calendar) count toward the Certificate in GIS (e.g. HLS classes do not count).
- All GEOINT courses except for GEOINT capstone classes will count toward the Certificate in GIS.
- GEOG 882 must be included in any GEOINT Certificate plan of study.
- Completing a capstone is required to earn the GEOINT Certificate.
Registering for courses
Visit our Start Today page for information on how to register for one of our courses.
I don't have a baccalaureate degree. Can I enroll in courses and earn the Certificate of Achievement?
Courses that lead to Penn State's Certificate of Achievement in GIS are offered at the 400-level. Penn State's policy is that a student who has not earned a baccalaureate degree, but who has earned at least 60 semester credits from an accredited higher education institution, is eligible to enroll in 400-level courses without being admitted as a degree-seeking undergraduate student. Students who have earned fewer than 60 semester credits may be permitted to enroll in 400-level courses, but only with the consent of an academic adviser or instructor. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to ask for permission to register for a class. Students who don't have a baccalaureate degree need to apply as a non-degree undergraduate student. Furthermore, students without a baccalaureate degree will only be able to transfer academic credits from Penn State to another institution toward a baccalaureate degree, not toward a graduate degree.
A student who has not earned a baccalaureate degree cannot be awarded Penn State's postbaccalaureate Certificate of Achievement in GIS. Successfully completed courses may be counted toward the education point requirements of the GIS Certification Institute (http://www.gisci.org), a professional organization that certifies practitioners as Geographic Information Systems Professionals. Additionally, Penn State will provide a general letter of recommendation to students who complete the requirements of the Certificate Program but who lack the baccalaureate degree needed to qualify for the postbaccalaureate Certificate of Achievement.
The typical course sequence in the GIS Certificate Program is GEOG 482, GEOG 483, GEOG 484, and an elective. The Experienced Professionals Track enables certified or licensed professionals and other experienced professionals to earn the GIS certificate by taking more elective courses and fewer prescribed courses. Certified GIS professionals, mapping scientists, photogrammetrists, licensed professional surveyors, and other experienced professionals may take GEOG 864: Professionalism in Geographic Information Science and Technology. This course addresses the legal and ethical issues that confront practitioners in the geospatial field and can be taken in place of GEOG 482: Nature of Geographic Information. Because the professionalism course is offered only once per year, it does not need to be taken first, but anyone who wants to earn the certificate must take either GEOG 482 or GEOG 864 before completing the program.
Experienced professionals may self select out of GEOG 483 if they believe they possess the knowledge and skills needed to successfully complete the project at http://www.e-education.psu.edu/geog483finalproject/ . Students may also self select out of GEOG 484 if they believe they possess the knowledge and skills needed to successfully complete the project at http://www.e-education.psu.edu/geog484finalproject/ . Students who self select out of GEOG 483 and/or GEOG 484 will substitute electives for those classes.
How do I get an "Access Account Authorization and Acceptance Statement" for my first course registration?
In order to obtain a Penn State Access Account, a unique identification code and password combination that enables you to connect to Penn State computer systems and online courses, you will need to complete an "Access Account Authorization and Acceptance Statement" form. That document is available electronically in PDF format - see http://www.worldcampus.psu.edu/search/forms/access_form_01.pdf.
An information technology (IT) fee, which will provide you with a Penn State Access Account, is assessed when you register for a course in the program. If you have any questions or concerns regarding your Penn State Access Account, please call World Campus Student Services at 800-252-3592 (or send an e-mail to email@example.com).
You can take almost of any of our course offerings to satisfy the 4th course elective for the GIS Certificate. For links to course descriptions, see these Curriculum pages: for the GIS Certificate; for the Master of GIS programs. You must heed any of the syllabi that indicate that a prerequisite course or permission of the instructor is needed. You can find e-mail addresses for the instructors here.
GEOG 583, 584 and 586 are open first to Master of GIS (MGIS) students. If space is available non-MGIS students can register beginning one week before the course officially begins.
For a current list of when each course is offered, please refer to the Course Calendar.
80-90 percent of students who enroll in our courses complete them successfully. However, our success rate is much lower for students who enroll in two courses during the same term. For this reason, we strongly recommend taking only one course at a time. Requests for exceptions should be addressed to the lead faculty member, Anthony Robinson (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Costs to enroll in online GIS courses include charges for tuition and an information technology fee payable each semester. Some GIS courses require that you purchase textbooks and related instructional materials. These items are not included in tuition, but must be purchased separately.
The information technology fee entitles you to a Penn State Access Account, which you will need in order to access to your online GIS courses.
The information technology fee is assessed each semester and is automatically added to your semester bill in eLion.
Information about payment plans is available here: payment plan options.
Master’s degree students are eligible for Federal Financial Aid beginning Spring 2013. Detailed information on how to apply for aid and criteria for receiving aid for Certificate and Master's students can be found at https://gis.e-education.psu.edu/student_aid.
Certificate students are not eligible for federal aid, but Certificate students may wish to instead consider payment plan options or a private alternative loan. For more information, please contact a Distance Education adviser at 800-252-3592 or visit: http://studentaid.psu.edu/
Contact the staff at the World Campus, provide your social security number, and request that a receipt be sent to you.
My employer will pay for my tuition and information technology fee. What do I need to provide so that World Campus will invoice my employer?
If your company or another third party is paying your tuition and fees, you will still need to take action to complete your registration. Submit the required documentation and then confirm the payment in eLion. You need to provide an official Authorization to Bill or voucher from your company, or a Tuition Assistance Form from the military, to the Bursar Office. It may take approximately one week to process this form, so you should be sure to submit it in time to be processed by the due date on your bill. The staff will adjust your tuition to show expected payment, and the company will be billed. Once the expected payment is reflected in your account, you will be able to pay any remaining tuition or fees not covered by the authorization and complete your registration. See our instructions on how to proceed if a third party is covering the costs of your education for more information.
Some of our courses require that you purchase textbooks and related instructional materials (such as specialized software). These items are not included in tuition, but must be purchased separately. Refer to the list of estimated text book costs. Specific information regarding what materials are required for a given course and how to obtain them will be provided when you register. (That information is also part of each course's online syllabus.) Many courses have online texts that do not need to be purchased. Some of those texts are part of our Open Educational Resources (OER) Initiative and can be found here. http://open.ems.psu.edu/courseware
Course textbooks can be purchased from MBS Direct, an online bookstore. Textbooks may be available from other vendors as well, but if you purchase your materials from a source other than MBS Direct, please check carefully prior to your purchase to ascertain that you are obtaining the exact edition and ISBN number of the text required for successful course completion.
Many courses require use of Esri's ArcGIS software. This software will be provided to you free of charge after you join the program. Detailed information can be found in the How do I obtain the Esri software section below.
As a side-benefit of being a PSU student, you can purchase a wide range of computer hardware and software products at educational prices from Penn State's Computer Store at http://computerstore.psu.edu/.
We advise students to take one course at a time and we run on five compressed semesters per year. The Postbaccalaureate Certificate Program in GIS is 11 credits and takes less than one year to complete if you don't take a term off. The Master of GIS (MGIS) Program is 35 credits and takes approximately three years to complete. The Certificate Program makes up the first year of the MGIS Program.
Students are expected to devote approximately eight to twelve hours of effort per week per class.
Yes, GIS courses have specific start and end dates. Assignments must be completed at certain times. See your course syllabus for specific dates.
If a student takes a term off, a "Resume Study/Change of Degree or Major" form must be completed registering for subsequent courses. This form is available here. This sample.pdf shows you how to fill out the form. Please write "Rush" at the top of the Resume Study Form and after you fax it to the Graduate School, please let Jan Moyer (email@example.com) know so she can update your status in the graduate student database.
Graduate students, including MGIS students, are allowed up to eight years from the date of admission to complete all requirements for the degree.
Penn State allows instructors to temporarily defer grades for students who were unable to complete course assignments on schedule due to circumstances beyond their control.
To request a deferred grade ("DF"), submit your request in writing to your instructor by e-mail. If your request for a deferred grade is approved by your instructor, you will have until the end of the deferral period to complete your assignments. At that time, the temporary grade of "F" must be changed, either to an appropriate grade if assignments were completed, or to an "F." Your instructor will give you the dates of the deferral period.
You will receive your certificate 4-6 weeks after completion of your last course. The certificates are automatically sent after completion of all the requirements. If you have met the certificate requirements and have not received your certificate 6 weeks after completing your last course, please contact Jan Moyer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 814-863-1590.
Yes, in fact, this is the preferred method. The majority of your course work in the CPGIS and MGIS programs will be submitted via electronic "drop boxes" or email within the courses.
Press the Print Screen button on your keyboard to temporarily save the entire screen image as a bitmap (BMP) image in a portion of your computer's memory called the "clipboard." To capture only the active window, you press the Ctrl + Alt + Print Screen keys simultaneously. Once you've done this you can paste the screen-captured image directly into a Word document, if that is what is called for. If, on the other hand, you just need to e-mail or post an image file, you can first paste the screen-captured image into Microsoft Paint or some other graphics package. Then you can save the image in .jpg, .gif, or other format.
Yes, courses in this program requires Internet access to access course content, activities, assignments, and communication tools.
For technical specifications for our programs and courses, please see Technical Requirements.
You should check the Software Requirements section of the course description in order to determine if the ArcGIS software is required. For classes that require the Esri ArcGIS for Desktop software you required to have the following version of the software:
ArcGIS for Desktop Advanced level, version 10.x
(Check the course syllabus for the specific version required.)
As a registered Penn State student you have access to the free Student Trial edition of the required version. It will include all necessary Extensions.
You must request access to the software through our order form at https://courseware.e-education.psu.edu/mgisdb/software.php. Be sure to confirm that the email address(es) we have on file are current accounts that you check frequently before submitting your order.
This copy of the software will cease working one year from the date you install it.
Students install the software from a file that they download. So in response to your request we will email you an authorization number and download/installation instructions.
If you have trouble with the digital download and need us to send you a hard copy of the software, let us know and make certain the postal address we have for you is correct.
If you have any questions about requesting a copy of the software, please contact us at email@example.com.
Important note: ArcGIS is a commercial software package that is restricted to personal use by the student. It is unlawful for anyone to use this software package without the appropriate commercial license from Esri to generate personal or corporate profit or revenue.
The software that you will download includes a one-year license of ArcGIS plus the following extensions:
ArcGIS 3D Analyst, ArcGIS Geostatistical Analyst, ArcGIS Network Analyst, ArcGIS Publisher, ArcGIS Schematics, ArcGIS Spatial Analyst, ArcGIS Survey Analyst, ArcScan for ArcGIS and Maplex for ArcGIS.
This Education Edition of the software does not include any data or technical support.
You can, although it's not supported by Esri. There are two options. One is to dual boot your Mac to Windows when you want to run Esri software. Boot Camp (from Apple) allows you to do this. At boot you choose to start the Mac OS or Windows. The second method is to use virtualization software such as VMware Fusion or Parallels. These two packages allow you to run an alternate operating system while booted into the Mac OS. More information on using ArcGIS on a Mac can be found here.
To see the first project students complete in GEOG 482 that gives instructions on establishing a web presence, please see https://gis.e-education.psu.edu/gis/project0. ***Please note that we do not want you to post project results to your page.***
Please note that Penn State will use your Penn State email account (i.e., firstname.lastname@example.org) to keep in touch with you. To have mail forwarded from your Penn State account to another mail server, please visit http://www.work.psu.edu.
Penn State Policies and Procedures
Accreditation is a national system of monitoring the quality of credits you receive from an institution of higher education. Because Penn State is accredited by the Middle States Association, our courses are accepted for transfer by most other colleges and universities. If there is a specific program you are enrolled in at another institution and you are hoping to transfer this course into it, you should check first with the other institution to make sure the credits will transfer.
Would the credits I earn in the Certificate Program count toward the MGIS if I apply and I'm accepted?
Those who complete the Certificate Program and subsequently gain admission to the Master of Geographic Information Systems (MGIS) degree program may count up to 15 credits earned in non-degree status toward the MGIS degree. Grades of B- or higher can count toward the MGIS degree.
A maximum of 3 credits of high-quality graduate work completed at an accredited institution may be applied toward the Certificate of Achievement in GIS. Up to 10 credits may be counted toward the MGIS degree. To be eligible for transfer, academic work must have been completed within five years prior to the date of first degree registration at the Graduate School of Penn State (as a degree-seeking or non-degree graduate student), must be of at least B quality, must appear on an official graduate transcript of an accredited university, and must be documented in a course syllabus or other authoritative description. Credits earned to complete a previous degree, whether at Penn State or elsewhere, may not be applied to the MGIS degree or the Certificate.
Students should direct requests for credit transfers to Certificate and MGIS program manager Anthony Robinson (email@example.com). Transfer requests will not be considered until you have begun taking classes in our program. Approval to apply any transferred credits toward a certificate or degree program must be granted by the program manager and the Graduate School.
Transfer credits are typically counted as elective credits. Students who request that a required Penn State course be waived in lieu of a comparable course completed at another institution will be asked to complete a comprehensive project assignment that demonstrates their mastery of the learning objectives associated with the Penn State course. This is necessary because each Penn State course depends upon knowledge and skills learned in preceding courses. Mastery projects will be administered by course instructors. [Updated 2 October 2007]
The institution should be consulted for a definitive confirmation of whether a particular Penn State course would be accepted by that institution.
Currently, the GIS Professional (GISP) is a portfolio-based certification (http://www.gisci.org/application_materials.aspx). To earn the GISP designation, applicants must earn points by documenting professional experience, educational achievement, and contributions to the profession. Educational achievements equivalent to at least 30 GISCI "education points" are required for certification.
Applicants who complete the 11-credit Penn State Online Certificate in GIS, and who previously earned any baccalaureate degree, fulfill the GISCI education requirement with 33.25 points (5 Credential points plus 8.25 Course points plus 20 points for any baccalaureate degree). In the GISP Form EDC-1, claim 5 credential points for the Penn State GIS Certificate and 20 points for any bachelors degree earned prior to the Certificate (and 25 points for the MGIS or any other masters degree). On Form EDU-2, claim 2.25 course points per each 3 credit class (enter 3 credits, 10 weeks course duration, 90 total student activity hours). 2-credit classes earn 1.5 Course points (2 credits, 10 weeks course duration, 60 total student activity hours).
No distinction is made on your official Penn State transcript that your classes were completed at a distance. The credits that you receive are exactly the same as those awarded to on-campus students. Penn State values distance education as highly as it does resident instruction.
Yes, it is possible to drop a course. Procedures vary slightly depending on your student status and the course timeframe. For specific World Campus procedures regarding dropping a course, please see "Dropping a Course." Please also see the Tuition Adjustment Schedule.
Upon completion of the course, your instructor will send you an unofficial notice of your final course grade through the course e-mail system (i.e. ANGEL). Your official course grade will be available through the University's eLion system approximately four weeks later.
Note that hard copy grade reports are only sent to students who request them through eLion. This is especially important for students who must provide their employer with an official grade report to receive tuition reimbursement. If this describes you atnd you are enrolled in your final course with Penn State, be sure to make the hard copy request in eLion before the end of the term. If you fail to do so, you are likely to lose your eLion access before your grade is posted and will need to pay the registrar for an official transcript.
Directions for accessing grades in eLion:
- Point your Web browser to http://elion.psu.edu
- Click on the "Students" link in the left-hand menu
- Log in with your Penn State Access Account user ID and password (the same one you use to log in to our course)
- Click on the "Grades" link in the left-hand menu--Select the appropriate semester for which you want to retrieve grades, then click on the "Display grades" button
(Note: Our Winter term is considered part of the Spring semester.)
Unofficial "advising" transcripts can also be viewed through eLion (select "Transcripts" from the eLion menu). Official transcripts can also be ordered through that same link.
What grade do I need to earn for a course to count towards the Certificate Program in GIS? Towards the MGIS program?
If you receive a grade of C or higher in a course, that course counts towards Certificate Program credit. If you receive a grade of B- or higher, that course counts towards MGIS credit. So, for example, a grade of C in GEOG 485 would count towards Certificate Program credit, but not MGIS credit. These grade requirements are in addition to any other relevant requirement for the program.
Yes. Only 20% of the credit hours earned may overlap between multiple certificates – therefore 80% must be unique to each certificate. For example, if you want to earn the GIS (11 cr) and GEOINT (13 cr) certificates, you'll need to earn at least 20 credits. You should follow these steps in order to earn multiple certificates:
- Please email firstname.lastname@example.org and request a time to speak to an advisor about developing a plan of study to earn multiple certificates.
- Once your plan of study has been approved by an advisor, you will need to apply for and pay the graduate school application fee for any additional certificate program.
This policy is effective from July 1, 2013.
Learning at a Distance
While it is true that your distance education courses will take place in a different kind of environment than a typical face-to-face course, in many ways your courses will be similar to on-campus instruction, with an instructor, other students, and course materials. But the courses themselves allow more flexibility than face-to-face classes.
You will be part of a group (or cohort) of students in these courses, all starting and ending the course at the same time. We use a variety of means to bring students and instructors together, including:
- online discussion forums and chat space
- paper-based letters ("surface mail")
- telephone (one-on-one and conference calls)
- a Web conferencing system that enables us to interact with one another in real-time using voice, text, and even video.
When you take a course in a traditional face-to-face classroom, you can ask a question of your professor and receive an instant response. In online courses, you can still ask questions of your instructors with ease through telephone, e-mail, online discussion forums, or other means--but unless the communication takes place in real time, the response probably won't be immediate! However, they are available on a regular basis and will respond to their students in a timely manner. You can expect your instructor to describe their work schedule and availability at the start of your class so that you can know when to expect responses to your questions and feedback on your work.
Contact us at email@example.com for any additional questions you may have. If your question is about the content of the course, you should contact your course instructor. If your question is about World Campus policies or procedures, you should contact a distance education staff member by calling 800-252-3592 or by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.