Practical Advice for Earning a GISP Certification

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that 675,000 geospatial professionals will be employed in the U.S. by 2020. One way to make yourself and your company more competitive in the growing geospatial services market is earning a Geographic Information Systems Professional (GISP) certification. Holding a GISP certification proves that you’ve met industry standards in GIS and provides assurance to anybody using your services.

If this valuable certification has been on your to-do list, I offer the following pieces of advice based on my own experiences earning the GISP certification.

What is the GISP certification?

The GISP is a complete certification program endorsed by the GIS Certification Institute (GISCI) through a peer-reviewed evaluation. It reflects that an individual that has met set standards for ethics, educational achievement, professional experience, and contributions to the profession.

According to GISCI, a GISP has “had their professional background scrutinized and reviewed by an independent, third-party organization” comprised of “leading non-profit associations (AAG, NSGIC, UCGIS, GITA, URISA, and GLIS) focused on the application of GIS and geospatial technology.”

Who can become certified?

You can start the GISP certification process at any time in your career, but the minimum requirements for certification include:

  • Having 4 years of full-time geospatial experience.
  • Passing the GISCI Core Technical Exam.
  • Completing the requirements for a portfolio review.

GISPs can reside anywhere in the world, and anyone who uses GIS for their job should consider getting certified. The exam questions will cover your knowledge in conceptual foundations, geospatial data fundamentals, cartography and visualization, data acquisition, data manipulation, analytical methods, database design and management, application development, systems design and management, and professional practice.

What is the application process?

The registration and application process can be completed online. GISCI provides the following outline of the GISP certification process:

Full details are available in the GISCI Procedures Manual.

Once you have completed the application, you have up to 6 years to complete all requirements for full GISP certification, or else you will have to start the process over again.

How should I prepare for the exam?

I suggest that you manage the schedule leading up to the exam. Make sure that you know when the exam is offered in your region and sign up a couple of months in advance. Information about GISCI’s exam testing locations can be found here.

Also, make sure to gather all of the required documentation and submit it well in advance of the exam, as this will give you time to address any comments or questions that GISCI may have.

Many companies will pay for the expense of earning a GISP (provided you pass the exam), so be sure to find out if that is offered at your company.

GISCI offers practice exams, so definitely take one of those and, based on the results, decide whether you need to take any preparation courses or workshops to brush up on your gaps in knowledge. I suggest taking the practice test before signing up for the exam in case you need to take courses that can’t be scheduled before the exam.

GISCI also provides an unofficial study guide to help you prepare for the exam.

What should I expect on and after exam day?

When I saw that test takers are given 240 minutes to complete the exam, I thought it was a typo. But it’s no typo; the exam really is up to 4 hours long. Be sure to get a good night’s sleep before you go!

You will be notified by email with your exam results. Certification lasts for 3 years; recertification is required every additional 3 years. As long as you are in good standing and recertify within grace period allowed, you will not have to re-take the exam.

How will earning the GISP benefit my career?

On a personal level, earning the GISP can help boost your self-confidence and elevate your position among your peers. Knowing the process now, I see anyone who has earned their GISP certification with different eyes. I know I can respect and rely on their technical ability.

A higher salary may be another added benefit. According to GISCI, professionals who hold the GISP certification tend to earn more on average than non-GISP professionals.
Employers and clients alike will recognize the value of GISP certification, giving you a competitive advantage in the field.

Andrew is a senior GIS analyst for geographIT, a division of EBA Engineering, Inc., with 30 years of experience providing GIS technology solutions. He can be reached at 717.510.9637,, or on LinkedIn.


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Andrew Ross