With the current rapid rate of technological progress, you might wonder if dedicating four years to obtain a degree is worth it anymore. For this reason, the debate of certificate vs degree has never been more relevant than it is today.
Compared to other viable options like best coding bootcamps and certificates, a degree might not be the path for everyone. However, it does have its advantages. This article explores the difference between a certificate and a degree and helps you determine which is better suited for your career path.
What Is a Certificate?
A certificate is a credential or document that shows employers that you have satisfactorily completed industry-relevant or job-specific training in an educational setting. Certificate programs are instrumental when switching career fields or advancing your specialization within the same career field. You can even obtain some certificates while pursuing a formal degree.
Certificate programs are usually flexible as you get to choose your credit hours and learn at your own pace. They open the door to various skill-based job opportunities in line with your career goals. Additionally, there’s a wealth of online certificate programs, like the online certificate programs from Cornell University, that will aid your career advancement.
Types of Certificates
- Technical and career training certificates
- Undergraduate certificates
- Graduate certificates
- Massive open online course (MOOC) certificates of completion
Is a Certificate Different from a Certification?
Yes, a certificate is different from a certification. An educational program issues a certificate to show that the certificate holder has completed a course of study. By contrast, certifications are standardized credentials in an industry and are awarded by professional associations and other independent organizations.
What Is a Degree?
A degree is an academic honor awarded by an educational institution, typically a college or university, that shows potential employers that you have completed relevant coursework in an area of study. Broadly speaking, degree programs can range from associate degrees and bachelor’s degrees to master’s, doctoral, and other advanced degrees.
An undergraduate degree typically takes about four years to complete, while advanced degree programs can take one to three years or more, depending on your level and field of study. In addition, there’s also the possibility of part-time or full-time study when selecting a degree program. You can even decide to opt for an online degree program.
Types of Degrees
- Associate degree
- Bachelor’s degree
- Master’s degree
- Doctoral degree
- Professional degree
Is a Certificate Faster Than a Degree?
Yes, obtaining a certificate is faster than obtaining a degree. Certificate programs take weeks to months to complete, often entailing a shorter program of study. On the other hand, obtaining a degree usually takes a minimum of two years. Even the fastest online degree programs require about a year.
Is a Certificate Easier Than a Degree?
Yes, a certificate is easier to obtain than a degree. When you consider the cost, duration, educational path, and base knowledge to qualify, it becomes pretty clear that certificates are easier to obtain than degrees. A degree program involves numerous educational requirements that a student typically must meet over several years.
Is a Certificate Better Than a Degree?
Depending on the academic programs available, the job market, and your professional goals, it could go either way. A certificate might be a better choice if you’re inclined toward specialization within a particular field or transitioning to a skills-based field.
However, if you want to reach the pinnacle of academic achievement and advance to the very top of your field, a degree is your best bet. Moreover, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, higher levels of education lead to higher salaries and more adequate compensation packages.
In some cases, due to job requirements, the absence of an advanced or undergraduate degree can prevent you from applying for an entry-level position with reputable companies. Consequently, a degree program, while more rigorous, is the best option for your long-term career prospects.
5 Key Differences Between a Certificate and a Degree
This factor is one of the critical considerations in the debate between certificates and degrees. Regardless of the type of program, certificates generally take weeks or months to obtain, even at the graduate level. However, degree programs normally take at least a few years to complete.
2. Cost of Program
One of the critical differences between certificate and degree programs is the cost of enrollment.
According to the US Department of Education, the average tuition for four-year degree programs is $28,597 for private, not-for-profit schools and $8,462 for public schools. By contrast, most certificate programs cost only a fraction of that amount.
Degree programs are the best choice for career advancement and academic and professional authority. While certificates give you technical skills and specialized knowledge relevant to a particular field, they do not compare to degrees in terms of the authority that they confer.
All degree programs have education requirements for enrollment, whether a high school diploma or a bachelor’s degree. Conversely, most certificate programs require no prior educational background or technical know-how. This factor makes it easier for professionals to switch career paths by obtaining a certificate in a new field.
5. Salary and Compensation Packages
Generally speaking, a higher level of formal education leads to an increase in salary, better entry-level positions, and preferable compensation packages. As such, the completion of degree programs gives you access to a better salary range in your career niche.
Jobs That Require Certificates
- Web Developer. Web developers are among the most highly sought professionals in this digital age. This profession deals with the creation and maintenance of websites and web applications. If you want to pursue this career, there are many certificate programs at bootcamps such as Springboard, General Assembly, and BrainStation. This career only requires a certificate for entry.
- Project Manager. Project managers draw on their professional skills to ensure that projects finish on time and within budget constraints. They are familiar with project management frameworks like Agile, Waterfall, and Scrum.
- Instructional Designer. Instructional designers create training and elearning experiences in all sorts of contexts, from academic programs to corporate onboarding. A certificate program in instructional design can help you move into instructional design from another role in the education industry.
- Computer Scientist. While computer scientists often have a degree, they also need to have different certifications. These certifications can be vendor-specific or vendor-neutral. Obtaining a computer science certification makes job seekers more employable.
Jobs That Require Degrees
- Physical Therapist. A physical therapist is a licensed medical practitioner who analyzes, diagnoses, and treats body injuries and illnesses. To pursue a career in physical therapy in the United States, you would need to obtain a Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from an accredited program.
- Engineer. An engineer is an analytical specialist capable of applying scientific methods to diagnose and resolve various electrical, mechanical, and software problems. To begin a career in engineering, you would need a bachelor’s degree in the engineering specialization of your choice.
- Architect. An architect is a creative individual who oversees the design and construction of various structures. If you want to pursue a career in architecture, it would be best to obtain a Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture.
Should You Get a Certificate or a Degree?
If you’re looking to start a career in tech, a certificate is the best choice for you. However, technical specializations and senior careers will require a degree. It largely depends on your career aspirations, openness to taking student loans, and the time you’re willing to spend. If you’re considering a career change or a specialization within your field, a certificate program is the fastest way to go about it.
On the other hand, if we’re talking about long-term career prospects, and your goal is to reach the peak of your field and earn a lucrative salary, a degree program is your surest bet. Even though degree programs are often demanding and have a rigid timeline, the rewards are worth it.
Certificate vs Degree FAQ
No, you don’t need to get a degree to change careers. If you’re considering a closely related field, industry-relevant certificates should suffice. However, if it’s an entirely unrelated field, and the job requires a college degree, you have to obtain one or try another area.
Generally, no. Accelerated degree programs are often demanding and mentally exhausting. This is because you’re attempting to complete a standard degree program in a shorter period.
Not particularly. Certificate programs are a reasonable option for working professionals seeking career advancement. However, students can also pursue these programs in tandem with their degree programs. Ultimately, certificate programs can suit people in various situations.
Yes. Certificate programs cost relatively little, whereas degree programs can cost tens of thousands of dollars per year. For many degree programs, you also have to pay for lodging, textbooks, and student fees.
About us: Career Karma is a platform designed to help job seekers find, research, and connect with job training programs to advance their careers. Learn about the CK publication.