Frequently Asked Questions

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

Registering for courses


Time Frame

Technology Requirements

Penn State Policies and Procedures

Learning at a Distance

Other Questions

Applying to a program

How do I apply to the GIS Certificate 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"
How will I know if I'm accepted to the Certificate Program?
Everyone with a bachelor's degree and an acceptable TOEFL score (if applicable) is admitted to our Certificate Program. The Graduate School reviews the application for academic admissibility and the certificate program determines acceptance into its program. You will get two emails. One will let you know whether or not you've been accepted by the Graduate School. You will be notified in a separate email about your acceptance to the program. You will get both of those emails within days of each other. Once you are accepted to the program, you should get an email with registration instructions. Please check your junk/spam folder if you haven't received registration instructions within 5-7 days of applying because that email sometimes goes there.
If I apply as a nondegree non-certificate student to take a class for professional development, can I earn a certificate if I want to continue taking classes?
If you apply as a non-degree, non-certificate student because you want to take just one or two classes for professional development (a $30 application fee instead of a $65 application fee), you can continue to take classes and earn a certificate. However, you will need to apply to that certificate program and pay the fee.
How do I apply to the MGIS degree program?
You can apply for the MGIS degree program by going to the application instruction page for Penn State Online/World Campus.
I am an MGIS student. Will I earn the GIS Certificate?
If you want to earn the GIS certificate and have it noted on your transcript, you have to apply to that program and pay the application fee. Many students start out in the GIS Certificate Program and then apply to the MGIS Program. If you get accepted to the MGIS Program before taking any classes in a certificate program, then you will need to apply to the certificate program if you want to earn a certificate. Graduate School rules say that students need to apply and be accepted into every program for which they want to earn a credential.
How hard is it to get into the MGIS degree program?
Admission to the Penn State MGIS Program is competitive. Applicants who have demonstrated their readiness for online graduate study by earning good grades in our certificate programs are preferred.
Can I re-apply to the MGIS Program if my application isn't accepted?
You can re-apply to the MGIS Program with your original application (and not pay the fee again) within three semesters of applying the first time. If you apply beyond three semesters, 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 if you want to re-apply.
Do you have an online bachelor's degree in GIS?
We do not currently have a bachelor's degree in GIS. For a list of the Online Bachelor Degrees that Penn State offers, please visit
Do international applicants have to submit the TOEFL or the IELTS?
Please refer to the English Proficiency Requirements of The Graduate School:
What is the code for reporting the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) results to Penn State?
Students taking the GRE should use school code 2660 to send scores to Penn State.
Can the Graduate Record Examination (GRE - required for MGIS applicants) be waived?
The MGIS Accelerated Admission option does not require GRE scores. Applicants using the Regular Admission process with at least three years of professional experience may request that the GRE requirement 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.
Can I develop a customized plan of study for a Certificate?
Yes. You can initiate this process by contacting us at 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 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 ( 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

How do I register for a GIS course?
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 a Certificate?

A student who has not earned a baccalaureate degree cannot be awarded a Penn State postbaccalaureate or graduate certificate. 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. Students who have not earned a baccalaureate degree cannot take 500, 600, or 800 level classes. Please email if you would like to ask for permission to register for a class.

I have experience in GIS. Do I qualify for the Experienced Professionals Track?

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: Making Maps That Matter With GIS. 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 . 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 . 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

Your Penn State Access Account is charged each semester based upon your total number of credits. See the Tuition Table ( for more information.

If you have any questions or concerns about your Penn State Access Account, please call World Campus Student Services at 800-252-3592 (or send e-mail to

When will my Penn State Access Account expire?
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
Which courses may be used to satisfy the 4th course elective requirement for the GIS certificate?

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.

For a current list of when each course is offered, please refer to the Course Calendar

How many courses can I take at one time?
Most of the students who enroll in our courses complete them successfully. However, our success rate is lower for students who enroll in two or more courses during the same term. 10 week classes are intense, and if you are working full time we recommend taking only one course at a time.


What do these courses and programs cost?
Costs to enroll in online GIS courses include charges for tuition and an information technology fee payable each semester. Some of our courses courses require that you purchase textbooks and related instructional materials. These items are not included in tuition, but must be purchased separately.
Do I need to pay the information technology fee?

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 LionPATH.

Does World Campus bill students or offer payment plans?
Information about payment plans is available here: payment plan options.
Can I get financial aid?

Master’s degree and Certificate students are eligible for Federal Financial Aid. Detailed information on how to apply for aid and criteria for receiving aid for Certificate and Master's students can be found at

Additionally information can be offered by a Distance Education adviser at 800-252-3592 or by visiting

I need a receipt for reimbursement. How can I get one?

Contact the staff at the World Campus, provide your social security number, and request that a receipt be sent to you.

Penn State World Campus
128 Outreach Building
University Park, PA 16802-3601
Phone: 800-252-3592
Fax: 814-865-3290

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 LionPATH. 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.
Do I need to buy books and software for my courses? If so, how do I obtain them?

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. 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.

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 benefit of being a PSU student, you can purchase a wide range of software at educational prices through Penn State at

Time Frame

How long does it take to complete the Certificate Program and the Master's Program?
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 12 credits and takes less than one year to complete. The Master of GIS (MGIS) Program is 35 credits and takes approximately two years to complete. The Certificate Program can be used to transfer in as the first year of the Master's program.
Approximately how much time should I plan to spend per week per class?
Students are expected to devote approximately eight to twelve hours of effort per week per class.
Do I have to complete a course within a certain amount of time?
Yes, GIS courses have specific start and end dates. Assignments must be completed at certain times, but there are no required login times during the week, as our courses are designed to be completed in a paced, but asynchronous manner by students located all over the world. See your course syllabus for specific dates.
What happens if I need to take time off from my studies?

Students who take an entire spring term or an entire fall term off will need to apply to resume studies. Taking the summer term off is fine. Students who take off more than one year will need additional documentation for the Graduate School during the resume studies process. Go to to start the resume studies process. Please make sure you pick the term in which you will be taking your next class when completing the resume studies application. Email us at if you have any problems.

Graduate students, including MGIS students, are allowed up to eight years from the date of admission to complete all requirements for the degree.

What if I need more time to complete a course?
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.
After completion of my final class in the certificate program, when will I receive my certificate?
There is nothing you need to do (apart from completing the class requirements) in order to receive your certificate. You will receive your certificate 4-6 weeks after the semester ends. Certificates are sent three times a year, so if you finish in the Spring 1 or Fall 1 term, it won't be sent until 4-6 weeks following the end of that semester. If you have met the certificate requirements and have not received your certificate 6 weeks after the semester, please email
What do I need to do in order to graduate with the MGIS degree?
Once you have completed all of the requirements of the degree, you must notify the University of your intent to graduate. Please refer to the academic calendar and look up the activation period for filing the Intent. Please take a look at the Graduation page in the student handbook for more graduation information. If you want to attend the graduation ceremony, there is a web form to fill out. If you want to attend the reception for students and families that is held be the department, please let the program know.
After completion of the MGIS degree, when will I receive my diploma?
The registrar mails diplomas four weeks after the graduation date. In addition to making sure your address is correct in our GIS Program Database (, you should make sure your address is correct in PSU's main database ( The registrar uses the latter when mailing your diploma.
Can I walk in a graduation ceremony that is different from the semester I graduate?
You can't walk in a ceremony prior to your graduation semester's ceremony. You can walk in a ceremony after your graduation semester. Your name will not appear in the commencement program book if you walk in a ceremony after your graduation semester. The student names are only listed in the program book of the semester they actually graduate. If there are programs left from the semester you graduated, you can request one. If you would like to walk in a later graduation (have your name to be added to the ceremony list) of a later graduation, where your name is called (but not printed), or if you want to request a program book from your graduating semester, send an email to

Technology Requirements

Do these courses require high speed Internet access?
Yes, courses in this program requires high speed Internet access to access course content, activities, assignments, and communication tools.
What kind of computer and software do I need to successfully complete these courses?
For technical specifications for our programs and courses, please see Technical Requirements.
What if I need help using the Internet to access my online course materials?
The World Campus Help Desk is available to help you online or by telephone (800-252-3592 or 814-865-0047, weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to midnight, EST and weekends from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., EST).
How do I obtain the Esri software that is required for many of the courses?

You should check the Software Requirements section of the course description in order to determine which software is required.

For classes that require Esri software, as a registered Penn State student you have access to the free Student Trial edition of the required version and extensions.

Please follow the instructions on this page to download ArcGIS Pro and/or ArcMap:

Students are allowed 2 installation support calls with a student license. You can call into the Esri support team at 888-377-4575, option 2.

If you have any questions about requesting software, please contact us at

Which software will I need to install?
Different classes will require different types of software. You'll hear from your instructor about how to access and download software for specific classes. As long as you continue taking classes in our program you will get all of the software you need free of charge.
Can I run ArcGIS on an Apple Computer?
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:
How do I have my Penn State email forwarded to an external email address?
Please note that Penn State will use your Penn State email account (i.e., to keep in touch with you. To have mail forwarded from your Penn State account to another mail server, please visit

Penn State Policies and Procedures

What is accreditation, and why is it important?
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 be counted toward the MGIS degree.
Can I transfer credits earned from another institution?

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 or MS SDS 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, MS SDS degree or a certificate program.

Students should direct requests for credit transfers to online geospatial education program director Anthony Robinson ( 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.

Can the credits I earn be transferred to another institution?
The receiving institution should be consulted for a definitive confirmation of whether a particular Penn State course would be accepted by that institution.
How do my Penn State Online GIS classes count toward GIS Professional (GISP) certification?

Currently, the GIS Professional (GISP) is a portfolio and exam based certification ( 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 12-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).

Do these classes appear as online classes on my transcript?
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.
Can I drop a course once I've begun?
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.
How will I find out my final course grade?

Upon completion of the course, your instructor will send you an unofficial notice of your final course grade through the course e-mail system. Your official course grade will be also available through the University's LionPATH system shortly after the semester concludes.

Note that grade reports are only sent to students who request them through LionPATH. This is especially important for students who must provide their employer with an official grade report to receive tuition reimbursement. If this describes you and you are enrolled in your final course with Penn State, be sure to make the hard copy request in LionPATH before the end of the term.

Directions for accessing grades in LionPATH:

  1. Point your Web browser to
  2. Click on the "Students" link in the left-hand menu
  3. Log in with your Penn State Access Account user ID and password (the same one you use to log in to our course)
  4. 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

Unofficial "advising" transcripts can also be viewed through LionPATH(select "Transcripts" from the LionPATH 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.
Can I earn multiple Certificates?
Yes. 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 (12 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 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.
How can I verify my enrollment?
Enrollment verification is available:
What is considered satisfactory academic performance in a Certificate program?
Students in our Certificate programs must maintain a grade point average of 3.0 or higher. In the event of unsatisfactory performance, our programs follow the Graduate School policy governing Unsatisfactory Scholarship (GCAC-803).

Learning at a Distance

How will this be different from taking courses on campus?
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 a professor, other students, and course materials. But the courses themselves allow more flexibility than face-to-face classes since you can work asynchronously and at a distance.
How will I interact with my instructor and other students?
You will be part of a cohort of students in our 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
  • e-mail
  • phone (one-on-one and conference calls)
  • web video conferencing
How quickly should I expect responses from my instructor?
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 the online learning environment, email, phone, discussion forums, and other means. However, unless the communication takes place in real time, the response probably won't be immediate! Our professors are working on their classes on a regular basis and will respond to students in a timely manner. They'll describe their work schedule and how to make contact at the start of your class so that you can know when to expect responses to your questions and receive feedback on your work.

Other Questions

What do I do if I have a question that isn't answered in this FAQ?
We're happy to talk to you anytime at Drop us a line!