The Department of Geography offers a thesis-based master of science in cartography and geographic information systems. In addition, it offers two professional non-thesis options in the Cartography and Geographic Information Systems M.S. titled: GIS Development (online program) and Accelerated/ Non-Thesis (in-residence program).

Information about facilities, supporting faculty and staff, and program requirements for all graduate programs in the department can be found in the Geography listing in this catalog.

The M.S. in cartography and geographic information systems provides a broad foundation in the theory and application of mapping and geographic information sciences. Students who earn the M.S. degree are prepared to continue on for the Ph.D. in geography (thesis students), or for positions as GIS analysts in government agencies, planning organizations, environmental agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and private industry.

Fall Deadline December 15
Spring Deadline The program does not admit in the spring.
Summer Deadline The program does not admit in the summer.
GRE (Graduate Record Examinations) Required.
English Proficiency Test Every applicant whose native language is not English or whose undergraduate instruction was not in English must provide an English proficiency test score and meet the Graduate School minimum requirements (
Other Test(s) (e.g., GMAT, MCAT) n/a
Letters of Recommendation Required 3

The Graduate School sets minimum requirements for admissions. Academic program admission requirements are often more rigorous than those set by the Graduate School.

Please check the program’s website for details on how to apply. The application deadline is December 15. Note: there are no spring/summer admissions.

Graduate School Resources

Resources to help you afford graduate study might include assistantships, fellowships, traineeships, and financial aid. Further funding information is available from the Graduate School. Be sure to check with your program for individual policies and processes related to funding.

Minimum Graduate School Requirements

Review the Graduate School minimum academic progress and degree requirements, in addition to the program requirements listed below.

Major Requirements


Face to Face Evening/Weekend Online Hybrid Accelerated
Yes No No No No

Mode of Instruction Definitions


Minimum Credit Requirement 30 credits
Minimum Residence Credit Requirement 16 credits
Minimum Graduate Coursework Requirement Half of degree coursework (15 credits out of 30 total credits) must be completed graduate-level coursework; courses with the Graduate Level Coursework attribute are identified and searchable in the university's Course Guide.
Overall Graduate GPA Requirement 3.00 GPA required.
Other Grade Requirements The Graduate School requires an average grade of B or better in all coursework (300 or above, not including research credits) taken as a graduate student unless conditions for probationary status require higher grades. Grades of Incomplete are considered to be unsatisfactory if they are not removed during the next enrolled semester.
Assessments and Examinations A formal thesis is required.
Language Requirements No language requirement.

Required Courses

Most students complete the coursework for breadth requirements prior to entering the program. Students who begin the program lacking one or more of the breadth courses are expected to complete such coursework during the master’s program. One course taken for breadth can also be used to fulfill degree requirements. Typically, these courses are not seminars. Students must complete the equivalent of one under graduate-level course in quantitative methods, two courses in mathematics, and two intermediate or advanced geography courses.

GEOG 765
GEOG 766
Geographical Inquiry and Analysis: An Introduction
and Geographical Inquiry and Analysis: Techniques
GEOG 370 Introduction to Cartography4
GEOG/​CIV ENGR/​ENVIR ST  377 An Introduction to Geographic Information Systems4
GEOG 378 Introduction to Geocomputing4
GEOG 970 Seminar in Geographic Information Science1-3
Select two of the following:6-8
Graphic Design in Cartography
Geospatial Database Design and Development
Interactive Cartography & Geovisualization
Geospatial Web and Mobile Programming
Environmental Modeling with GIS
GIS Applications
GIS and Spatial Analysis

Named Options (Sub-Majors)

A named option is a formally documented sub-major within an academic major program. Named options appear on the transcript with degree conferral.

Graduate School Policies

The Graduate School’s Academic Policies and Procedures provide essential information regarding general university policies. Program authority to set degree policies beyond the minimum required by the Graduate School lies with the degree program faculty. Policies set by the academic degree program can be found below.

Major-Specific Policies

Graduate Program Handbook

The Graduate Program Handbook is the repository for all of the program's policies and requirements.

Prior Coursework

Graduate Work from Other Institutions

With program approval, students are allowed to count no more than 6 credits of graduate coursework from other institutions. Coursework earned five or more years prior to admission to a master’s degree or earned ten years or more prior to admission to a doctoral degree is not allowed to satisfy requirements.

UW–Madison Undergraduate

No credits from a UW–Madison undergraduate degree are allowed to count toward the degree.

UW–Madison University Special

With program approval, students are allowed to count no more than 6 credits of graduate coursework as defined above taken as a UW–Madison Special student. Coursework earned five or more years prior to admission to a master’s degree is not allowed to satisfy requirements.


The Department of Geography expects graduate students to progress through a sequence of benchmarks within prescribed time periods. These benchmarks constitute a reasonable rate of accomplishment for full-time students holding teaching or research appointments. The department recognizes that individual circumstances vary, and not all students progressing toward their academic goals will hit the benchmarks exactly. Thus a student’s progress is considered unsatisfactory only after a period of time elapses following an unmet benchmark. A student not making satisfactory progress is placed on probation. For detailed information about these benchmarks and triggers for probationary status, please see the department's Criteria for Satisfactory Progress.


The chair (or co-chair) of a Masters student’s Committee is the student’s Advisor. This individual must be graduate faculty in Geography or affiliated with Geography. The Committee must have at least 3 members, two of whom must be graduate faculty (or former graduate faculty up to one year after resignation/retirement). Two of the three members must be affiliated with the Geography Department. The third member may be a qualified individual from within or outside UW-Madison. Inclusion of committee members who are not UW-Madison graduate faculty must be approved by the student’s Advisor


15 credits

Time Constraints

For program-specific time constraints, please see Probation Policy above.


We consider all applicants to the M.S. for multi-year guaranteed funding packages. This funding, however, is not plentiful and it is competitive. Decisions about funding are typically made by late February. Students in the GIS Development and Accelerated/Non-Thesis named options are not permitted to accept graduate assistantships or other appointments that would result in a tuition waiver and cannot enroll in other graduate programs nor take courses outside the prescribed curriculum.

Graduate School Resources

Take advantage of the Graduate School's professional development resources to build skills, thrive academically, and launch your career. 

  1. Articulates, critiques, or elaborates the theories, research methods, and approaches to inquiry or schools of practice in cartography and GIScience.
  2. Identifies sources and assembles evidence pertaining to questions or challenges in cartography/GIScience.
  3. Demonstrates understanding of cartography/GIScience in a historical, social, or global context.
  4. Selects and/or utilizes the most appropriate methodologies and practices.
  5. Evaluates or synthesizes information pertaining to questions or challenges in cartography/GIScience.
  6. Communicates clearly in ways appropriate to cartography/GIScience.
  7. Recognizes and applies principles of ethical and professional conduct.


Department Chair: Joseph Mason

Professors: William Cronon, Robert Kaiser, Joseph Mason, Lisa Naughton, Kristopher Olds, Matthew Turner, John (Jack) Williams, A-Xing Zhu

Associate Professors: Ian Baird, Holly Gibbs, Asligül Göçmen, Erika Marin-Spiotta, Sarah Moore, Morgan Robertson, Robert Roth, Keith Woodward, Stephen Young

Assistant Professors: Christian Andresen, Song Gao, Qunying Huang, Ken Keefover-Ring, Jenna Loyd