10 Questions To Ask When Choosing a GIS Certification

We now have a few different types of GIS Certifications to choose from when it comes to the Geospatial Field.  These are ten questions that everyone should consider when choosing and comparing Certifications.  This article is meant as a guide to help the GIS community to navigate through the many options available to them when attempting to bring their talents to bear through obtaining a certification.
There are no right or wrong answers to these questions.  This is only meant to help you to understand which certification/s might be best for you given your current professional situation.  We will compare and contrast the ASPRS, Esri, and GISP certifications.  (Disclaimer: I am not the sole expert on this topic, so please leave comments if you would like to add to the conversation.)

  1. How many years of work experience do I need for this certification?

  2. GISP:  You will need at least four full-time equivalent years of professional GIS Experience

  3. Esri: None
  4. ASPRS2. Are there different tracts within this certification?

  5. GISP: None

  6. Esri: There are two levels of certification: Associate and Professional.  They cover 7 areas of expertise.  (Note: There is not a Professional lever Certification for “Enterprise Administration”)
  7. ASPRS: You can choose Certified Mapping Scientist or Certified GIS/LIS Technologist3. Is there an educational requirement?

  8. GISP:  The educational requirement measures College Degrees earned, GIS related courses and workshops, and conference attendance.  However it is almost impossible to fulfill this requirement without at least a bachelors degree, as this will account for two-thirds of the total educational requirement.

  9. Esri: None
  10. ASPRS: Education can be used in lieu of professional experience.4. Is there an examination?

  11. GISP: No

  12. Esri: There are a total of thirteen exams available to any prospective applicant.
  13. ASPRS:  Written examination following peer review and approval5. Is this a vendor neutral certification?

  14. GISP: Yes

  15. Esri: No.  The certifications are based on Esri products.
  16. ASPRS: Yes6. What is the cost?

  17. GISP: $250.00

  18. Esri: $225.00 per exam
  19. ASPRS:7. What are the re-certification guidelines?

  20. GISP:  Every five years one must re-certify.  The renewal requirements are measured by GIS courses and conference attendance, contributions to the profession, and work experience since your last certification.

  21. Esri:  Not sure.  One can assume that you would need to re-certify when a new softare suite version is released.*
  22. ASPRS:  Perpetual certification for life.  However to remain on the “Active certification List”, you must re-certify every five years.8. What is the cost to re-certify?

  23. GISP:  $115.00

  24. Esri:  Not sure.  Since there is no documentation on re-certification, one can assume that the cost would be the same as certification.*
  25. ASPRS:9. Where do I go for more information?

  26. GISPhttp://gisci.org

  27. Esrihttp://training.esri.com/certification/
  28. ASPRShttp://www.asprs.org/membership/certification/certification_guidelines.html10. Which one is best for me?This is obviously an open-ended question, and cause for much debate around the community lately.  Here are my closing observations...

* GISP*: This should be the ultimate goal or anyone seeking a GIS professional certification.  It's already written into many RFP's and job descriptions, and I doubt that will change any time soon.  The certification is portfolio/education/contribution based.  Whilst there is no exam to take,  you should set aside much time to recall all educational and professional achievements earned up to this point in your Geospatial Career.

Esri: Comparing the Esri Certifications to ASPRS or GISP is like comparing apples and oranges.  The Esri cert is meant to only prove technical expertise on Esri's suite of products.  How this cert will find it's way into RFP's and Job Descriptions is yet to be seen.  However, one can assume that it absolutely will.  Therefore, if you already operate Esri software in your current position and you are looking to further improve your resume, DO IT.  There is no peer review, experience/education/community contribution requirement; but don't be fooled, the tests are very challenging.  Also, because there is no educational/professional experience requirement, this is the best option for students as well.

ASPRS:  Offering two levels of certification is great.  The perpetual membership is nice as well.  If you are considering this certification, it would be best to become a member of the ASPRS ($135.00) before submitting an application, as you'll get deep discounts in certification the right to vote and hold office, discounts on ASPRS conference registration fees, group insurance policy, eligibility for awards, and discounts off ASPRS publications.  
*Assumptions on the Esri re-certification process are unconfirmed, as I could not find information on the Esri site regarding this.  In full disclosure I have an inquiry to the ESRI Training Team regarding this topic.

What am I pursuing?  I am going to attempt the Esri technical certification for ArcGIS, Enterprise System Design Associate, and of course my GISP certification.  The last thing that I'd like to say is that I'd like to see the ESRI cert incorporate geodesy questions.  There are unfortunately too many people in our industry (GISP's included) that have no sense of the evolution of NAD83, and vertical datums as well.

Happy Mapping!