Careers in Cartography How do I Become a Cartographer?

It used to be possible to become a cartographer by joining a mapping agency and learning on the job, but this is rarely practicable any more. Today, cartography is so complex that you need formal training, both to master the complexities and to compete in the job market with those who do have such training. In Canada you can acquire this one of in two ways, either by pursuing a diploma program in a college or by studying for a degree at a university. Lists of colleges and universities offering training in cartography appear in the appendix to this booklet, and you should write to individual schools for details of programs and entry requirements.


The colleges offer specialist programs geared specifically to the training of cartographers. Depending on the period of study (usually two or three years) they lead to qualification as a technician or technologist. Typical programs consist of courses in cartography and the cartographic sciences, as well as courses in support areas such as mathematics, computers, photography and communication. They have a strong practical orientation, and students gain experience with the very latest mapping methods. A student graduating from one of these programs is well-equipped to move straight into a job in cartography, though initially of course this is likely to be at a junior level.

Colleges also provide programs in related fields such as surveying, remote sensing, photogrammetry and GIS, and these can also serve as a route to a career in cartography. Some of these programs have a major cartographic component, and some are designed to cater to students with degrees or with previous work experience as well as students coming direct from high school.


University programs, at least at the undergraduate level, have a broader aim. There are no universities in Canada that offer an undergraduate degree in cartography as such, but cartography is taught as a component of various degree programs. These are of two kinds: first, programs in the cartographic sciences (these go under various names, such as survey engineering), and second, programs in geography and to a lesser degree geology and civil engineering. In some programs the student can pursue a cartography stream, or can by careful course selection emphasize cartography, but in the end his or her degree is in geography or some other discipline. Three years of study lead to a pass degree, and four years to an honours degree. The degree is usually a BSc, though geography programs can lead to a BA or BSc.

University students do not necessarily receive the intensive practical training of their college counterparts, but they graduate with a stronger theoretical background and a broader, more academically-orientated education. An undergraduate degree can be a stepping-stone to a wide range of mapping-related jobs, and some graduates increase their marketability by transferring after three years to one of the colleges (at the same time as some college graduates do the reverse). An undergraduate degree can also lead to further university study at the graduate level. Several universities have programs leading to MA or MSc degrees, and some have PhD programs. These degrees almost invariably involve a major research component as well as course work, and are becoming increasingly important for top-level jobs in cartography.