GIS Certification: The GISP


Professional certification is nothing new.  It is a requirement in many fields to help regulate professional practices in specific industries and maintain high standards of practice for professions, particularly those of responsibility where ethics and liability play a large role, such as doctors or engineers.  Certification in GIS is a relatively new concept that has evolved and developed since the 1990’s, and there are currently a few different types of optional certification available to Canadians.

The largest and most widely recognized of the GIS certification options is called the GISP, or GIS Professional, designation, offered by the GIS Certification Institute (GISCI).  It is an American certification but is available to professionals worldwide.  At present, 407 Canadians are currently active GISP members, and the retention rate is 50-60% over the last decade, trending upward.  Holding a GISP is a valuable asset that provides international recognition of professional achievement amongst peers.  As a result, it can provide career advancement opportunities, in addition to looking great on a resumé, reassuring employers that they’re hiring a competent candidate, and encouraging professionals to maintain a high standard of achievement.

Who is the GIS Certification Institute?

The GIS Certification Institute is an American non-profit organization based out of Des Plaines, Illinois, USA. They are a standardized regulatory body whose purpose is entirely devoted to providing a voluntary certification program to GIS professionals around the globe. The GISCI was formed in 2004 as a separate body created by the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA).

What are the GISP Requirements?

The application process is done online and consists of three components: 4 years equivalent of full-time geospatial work experience, a Portfolio Review approval, and completion of a GISCI Technical Exam.   A GIS professional can apply for a GISP at any time in their career, and the three components of the application can be done in any order, including the exam, but once the application process begins, an individual has 6 years to complete all requirements. A GISP certification lasts for 3 years and must be renewed at the end of the term.

The Portfolio Review Process

The Portfolio requirements for a GISP consist of online registration, a transcript submission, a signed Ethic Statement, and a letter from a current supervisor. In addition, an applicant must fulfill requirements in educational achievement, professional experience, and contributions to the profession in a points-credit based system.

Educational contributions consist of post-secondary degrees, diplomas, and/or courses, as well as certificates of completion/participation, awards, publications, course catalogs, class syllabi, class reports/projects, workshops, and conferences.

Work experience contributions are grouped into three tiers and are credited according to complexity. Tier I categories consist of Analyst, System Design, and Programming; Tier II includes Data Compilation, Data Maintenance, and Teaching; Tier III consists of GIS User level experience. Bonus points are awarded for Supervisory/Management positions.

Field contributions include publications, professional association involvement, conference participation, awards received, volunteer efforts, providing workshop instruction, and giving conference presentations, for a few examples. Work-related publications and sales presentations do not count as contributions.

The GISCI Geospatial Core Technical Knowledge Exam

This exam is computer-based and is currently offered only in the United States at various locations, although in 2016 the GISCI is working towards adding testing locations for Canadians and International applicants. The exam contains approximately 200 questions, lasts 4 hours, and the passing score needed is 75%. Topics include Conceptual Foundations, Cartography & Visualization, GIS Design Aspects & Data Modeling, GIS Analytical Methods, Data Manipulation, and Geospatial Data. Exam preparation materials and additional information are available on the web site.


GISP holders must remain in good standing (by complying with ethics and regulations) to keep their certification as well as make contributions to their field over their certification period. In order to be recertified, they must submit mandatory educational and professional contributions in their field in addition to optional work experience contributions to meet a minimum point requirement over the last 5 years. There is a 1-year grace period for recertification after expiry, and if a GISP holder doesn’t recertify within that period, they must re-apply for certification.


GISP-related fees include an Application Fee of $100 (USD), $250 Exam Fee, $100 Portfolio Review Fee, and an annual maintenance fee of $95/year.


There are many benefits to holding a GISP, but several factors must be considered in order to decide if it’s right for you.  First, it is most specifically catered towards professionals in GIS as opposed to other areas of geomatics.  Second, it encourages a specialized career path in GIS, which may restrict your career options.  In a slow economy, this may make it harder to find relevant work in your field–you may have to relocate to another city or country to find the right jobs to advance your career, in order to maintain a GISP standing and continue to make contributions to your field.  Third, you must weigh the costs and amount of professional dedication needed to achieve and maintain a GISP against other life choices–it is not feasible or desirable for everyone.

This article will be one of a series of articles intended to provide information about different types of optional GIS certification that are currently available for Canadians. Stay tuned for more to come.

Further Reading about the GISP and the GISCI:

About our Author: Dianne Gray

Dianne completed a Bachelor of Science Honours in Earth and Environmental Sciences at UBC-Okanagan, Kelowna, BC, in 2010. She did geology work as an undergraduate and as a geologist for two years after graduation before returning to BCIT in Burnaby, BC, in 2012, where she completed the GIS Advanced Diploma program with distinction in 2013. She did GIS work in the mining, environmental, and oil and gas industries for two years before returning to Kelowna.

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