Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) for the Certificate in Remote Sensing

Note: This FAQ document applies to the Graduate Certificate in Remote Sensing and Earth Observation.

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 Remote Sensing and Earth Observation Certificate Program?
You can apply for the 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 Remote Sensing and Earth Observation 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 (bachelor's degree and an acceptable TOEFL score, if applicable). The Remote Sensing and Earth Observation Certificate Program application review committee determines acceptance into the program, based on your application materials. 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. If you are accepted you will receive a third email with registration instructions. You should expect to receive these communications within 5-7 days of applying. Be sure to check junk/spam folders in your email program if you haven't seen a response in this time frame.
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. Can I earn the Graduate Certificate in Remote Sensing and Earth Observation Certificate if I take all the required courses?
If you want to earn the certificate and have it noted on your transcript, you have to apply and pay the application fee. Many students start out in a certificate program and then apply to the MGIS Program, in which case they receive both credentials. If you are accepted to the MGIS Program before enrolling in the certificate program, then pursuant to the Graduate School rules, you still need to apply to the certificate program and pay the fee to receive the credential.
How hard is it to get into the MGIS degree program?
Admission to the Penn State MGIS Program is highly competitive; there was ~ 35% acceptance rate in the 2012 - 2013 academic year. Applicants who have demonstrated their readiness for online graduate study in a certificate program are preferred.
Do you have an online bachelor's degree in remote sensing?
We do not currently have an online bachelor's degree in our geospatial program offerings. 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?
The language of instruction at Penn State is English. All international applicants must take and submit scores for the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language) or the IELTS (International English Language Testing System), with the exceptions noted below. The minimum acceptable score for the TOEFL is 550 for the paper-based test, or a total score of 80 with a 19 on the speaking section for the internet-based test (iBT). Applicants with iBT speaking scores between 15 and 18 may be considered for provisional admission, which requires completion of specified remedial English courses ESL 114G (American Oral English for Academic Purposes) and/or ESL 116G (ESL/Composition for Academic Disciplines) and attainment of a grade of B or higher. The minimum acceptable composite score for the IELTS is 6.5. Graduate programs may have more stringent requirements.

International applicants who have received a baccalaureate or a graduate degree from a college/university/institution in any of the following: Australia, Belize, British Caribbean and British West Indies, Canada (except Quebec), England, Guyana, Republic of Ireland, Liberia, New Zealand, Northern Ireland, Scotland, the United States, and Wales are exempt from the TOEFL/IELTS requirement.

Please note that specific graduate programs may require all international applicants to submit a TOEFL or IELTS score, regardless of their academic background and country of origin.
Can I develop a customized plan of study for the Remote Sensing and Earth Observation Certificate?
You may be able to substitute a different elective for the last 3 credits. You can initiate this process by contacting us at and requesting a time to speak to an advisor. 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 480, 481, and 883 must be included in any RS Certificate plan of study.
  • Only classes listed on our course calendar page ( may be substituted as an elective.
  • The elective must be a 500 or 800-level course, pursuant to Graduate School requirements for a Graduate level certificate.

Registering for courses

How do I register for a remote sensing 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 the Graduate Certification in Remote Sensing and Earth Observation?

A student who has not earned a baccalaureate degree cannot be awarded a Graduate Certificate. Penn State will provide a general letter of recommendation to students who complete the requirements of the certificate program.

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 Tuiton 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
How many courses can I take at one time?
Courses in the Graduate Certificate in Remote Sensing and Earth Observation are designed to be taken in sequence, as reflected in the prerequisites for each course. We also see a much lower success rate for students who take two or more courses at one time. For this reason, we strongly recommend taking only one course per semester. Requests for exceptions should be addressed to the lead faculty member, Karen Schuckman at


What do these courses and programs cost?
Costs to enroll in online courses include charges for tuition and an information technology fee payable each semester. The remote sensing courses also require that you separately purchase textbooks as specified in each course syllabus. Software is provided to students free-of-charge for the term of their course enrollment.
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, you can discuss your options with a financial aid adviser at 800-252-3592 or by visiting

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

Please contact our colleages at the World Campus to 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. You will 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?
Instructions for purchasing textbooks are provided in each course syllabus. Software will be provided to you free of charge after you join the program. Please be sure to read the hardware requirements on our Technology Needed page to ensure that your computer is suitable for running the software. 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

Time Frame

How long does it take to complete the certificate program?
We advise students to take one course at a time and we run on five compressed semesters per year. The Graduate Certificate Program in Remote Sensing and Earth Observation is 12 credits and takes less than one year to complete if you don't take a term off.
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, courses have specific start and end dates specified in the Class Calendar. Assignments must be completed at certain times, usually weekly. See your course syllabus for specific dates.
What happens if I need to take time off from my studies?

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 us know at so that we can update your status in the graduate student database.

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 course in the certificate program, when will I receive my certificate?
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 us at

Technology Requirements

Can I submit my lesson assignments electronically?
Yes, in fact, this is the required method. The majority of your course work in the RS programs will be submitted via electronic mechanisms provided within the course management system, Canvas.
Do these courses require Internet access?
Yes, courses in this program requires 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 Technology Needed.
Can I use a tablet computer or smartphone to successfully complete these courses?
Some course activities (email, discussions, reading) may be performed on a tablet computer or smartphone. Course software cannot be installed on a mobile OS. Lab work requires a fast processor, at least 8 GB of RAM, and a large amount of disk space. See Technology Needed for more details.
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 software that is required for many of the courses?
As a registered Penn State student, software will be provided to you at no cost for the duration of each course.

Important note: The commericial software packages provided are restricted to personal use by the student. It is unlawful for anyone to use these software packages without the appropriate commercial license to generate personal or corporate profit or revenue.

Can I run the program software on an Apple Computer
You can, although our instructors and IT support staff cannot provide techical support. For more information, please see Technology Needed.
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 Graduate Certificate in Remote Sensing and Earth Observation 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.
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 Graduate Certificate in Remote Sensing and Earth Observation. 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 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 classes count toward GIS Professional (GISP) certification?

Currently, the GIS Professional (GISP) is a portfolio-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 Graduate Certificate in Remote Sensing and Earth Observation, 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 from the program office database. Your official course grade will be available through the University's online system approximately four weeks later.

Note that hard copy grade reports are only sent to students who request them. 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 before the end of the term. If you fail to do so, you are may lose account access before your grade is posted and will need to pay the registrar for an official transcript.

What grade do I need to earn for a course to count towards the Graduate Certificate in Remote Sensing and Earth Observation? Towards the MGIS program?
A grade of C or higher in a course is required to count towards the certificate. A grade of B or higher is required to count towards the MGIS. These grade requirements are in addition to any other relevant requirement for the program.
Can I earn multiple Certificates?
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 RS (12 cr) certificates, you'll need to earn at least 19 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.
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 an instructor, other students, and course materials. But the courses themselves allow more flexibility than face-to-face classes.
How will I interact with my instructor and other students?
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
  • e-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.
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 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.

Other Questions

What do I do if I have a question that isn't answered in this FAQ?
Contact us at for any additional questions you may have.