Most employers want professionals who are experts in their field. The more knowledge, experience, and education you have the better your options. However, it’s no easy feat to complete a full graduate program, which is why many people take on online graduate certificate programs.
While not the same as a graduate degree, a graduate certificate shows that you’ve completed courses related to a specific field of study and you’re well-prepared to work in more advanced positions in your chosen industry.
What is a Graduate Certificate Program?
A graduate certificate program allows you to take courses related to a specific field of study or topic. Instead of going through an entire graduate-level program, you’ll complete a smaller set of courses that are more specialized toward your professional or academic goals.
If you’re ready to advance your career, but aren’t capable of committing to a full master’s degree or doctorate, then an online graduate certificate may be right for you.
Where Do You Take a Graduate Certificate Program?
Students can take part in a graduate certificate program online at the same colleges and universities where they earn a degree. For example, Pennsylvania State University offers graduate certificate programs in Applied Statistics, Accounting, Homeland Security, and Management Consulting.
The difference between a graduate certificate program and a graduate degree major is the specificity of the program. For a degree program, a student may work toward writing or teaching, but certificate programs are much more specific, such as programs in children’s literature or family literacy.
Graduate Certificate vs Graduate Degree
While graduate certificate and graduate degree programs are both ways for students to further their knowledge for specific career goals, the two of them are very different. Let’s explore the difference between a graduate certificate and a graduate degree program.
Time: Graduate certificate programs only take a few courses to complete. This means they take less time than a full graduate degree program. Certificate programs range from 12 to 24 credits. In comparison, graduate degree programs range from 30 to 90 credits, based on the subject.
Cost: While graduate certificate programs are overall less expensive than degree programs, they are not eligible for financial aid. This means that for most certificate programs you’ll have to cover the costs out of your pocket.
Commitment: Graduate programs take years to complete. If you’re pursuing a doctorate or master’s degree, it could take anywhere from two to six years to complete. Certificate programs take less time and courses are more streamlined toward learning a specific subject or topic.
Coursework: There’s a wide variety of courses you take in degree programs compared to a certificate. In certificate programs, you’ll do more traditional coursework, where you’ll complete assignments, sit in on lectures, etc. Graduate degree programs are much more comprehensive.
In graduate degree programs, you’ll do your typical coursework, but also participate in internships or some form of field experience work. You’ll take comprehensive exams as well. Many graduate degree programs also have capstone research projects where you demonstrate the knowledge and skills you’ve gained throughout the time you spent studying.
Reasons to Take a Graduate Certificate Program
While you don’t receive an official graduate degree from a certificate program, there are still several reasons why you should take part in one. Overall, graduate certificate programs allow you to explore subjects and fields of study in a more in-depth way. There’s also the freedom of studying at your own pace through an online format.
Let’s explore some specific reasons to pursue a graduate certificate program.
Meet Career Requirements
One key reason people participate in certificate programs is to continue their education. For many occupations, a requirement to maintain licensure is to take courses to stay up to date on changes in the field. Some working professionals take part in certificate programs to meet their continuing education requirements. This means they can continue working as a licensed professional.
Pursue Other Fields of Study
Participating in a graduate degree program is a significant commitment. Some people aren’t sure what topics or fields of study they’d like to explore. A graduate certificate program allows you to gain skills and knowledge in a new topic, even if it is completely unrelated to the degree you already have.
This allows you to look at potential career paths outside of your current occupation and evaluate if the new field of study is right for you. It’s not uncommon for people to take on a certificate program before dedicated several years toward a graduate degree in a related field.
As industries grow and evolve, so do the skillsets of professionals. Whether it’s a requirement or not, some professionals choose to partake in graduate certificate programs to stay at the forefront of their industry and advance their skills further.
These advanced skills come into play in the workplace and allow professionals to potentially do a better job or have a stronger understanding of their occupation. They can also lead to promotions or salary bumps.
Advance Your Career
Some occupations require you to have a graduate degree in order to take on more advanced positions, but there are others where a certificate is just as useful or maybe the only thing needed to take on a more senior or management position. Earning a certificate could put you over the edge when it comes to looking for a new job, showing your employers that you are up to date on the latest advancements in your career field.
If you’re interested in taking your career to the next level, but don’t want to earn a graduate degree, then a certificate program is for you.
How Long Does an Online Graduate Certificate Program Take to Complete?
Graduate certificate programs take around one to 1.5 years to complete. What determines the length of time it takes to finish these programs is how many courses a student takes each semester. Graduate certificate programs usually consist of anywhere from four to eight courses.
Keep in mind that if you haven’t taken prerequisite courses within the certificate program, your course load may increase. Online certificate programs are designed to be self-paced, which allows students to enroll in courses and complete coursework on their own time.
What Are the Costs of an Online Graduate Certificate Program?
An online graduate certificate program is typically less expensive than a degree program. The costs vary based on the institution from which you take your program. Unfortunately, unlike degree programs, there are no financial aid opportunities for certificate courses.
This means that if you’re seeking financing for your graduate program, you’ll have to acquire a loan yourself. Keep in mind that loans can have high-interest rates. Make sure to calculate the repayment costs and interest before taking on a loan.
There are other means of financing your graduate programs, such as through grants or scholarships. Take time to research or reach out to your chosen institution to find out means of financing your certificate program.
Types of Graduate Certificate Programs
Graduate certificates come in two types. The first type of certificate program is for people who aren’t in their chosen career field. These are career starter certificates. This type of certificate is for those who are either starting their first career or planning to transition to a new career field.
In these certificate programs, students develop skills for employment and expand on their network. Certificates of this type are good for emerging or growing career fields, such as cybersecurity, programming, information technology, tourism, or entrepreneurship.
If you’ve already chosen a career field, then the career accelerator graduate certificate is a better fit for you. These graduate programs further advance your skills. Students take online courses that explore specific topics in a more in-depth manner. These programs allow professionals to stay on top of any trends or significant changes within their industry.
Many people take on these certificate programs to prepare for a promotion or to take on more senior-level roles in their business or organization.
What Do You Need to Apply for an Online Graduate Certificate Program?
An online graduate certificate program requires you to meet several credentials, similar to a graduate degree program. Unlike degree programs, students don’t have to submit admission test scores.
While some programs do require you to submit a letter of recommendation, others say it is optional or not required at all. Check the application requirements for your specific school. If you are required to submit a recommendation letter, give the recommender a few weeks to respond.
Students must submit a resume or CV for most online certificate programs. This gives the institution an understanding of your professional experience and how it relates to the program you wish to enter.
Some programs do require students to submit an essay or personal statement. The type varies wildly. Some schools require students to answer a specific question while others ask you to share your reasons for enrolling in the program.
Most importantly, most online graduate certificate programs require you to submit your transcript. In most cases, you’ll need a bachelor’s degree to enter these programs. Some also have prerequisite courses as well as a minimum GPA requirement.
Should You Earn an Online Graduate Certificate?
If you want or need to further your career or move to a new career field, then a graduate certificate online program is a less expensive and time-consuming way to do so. While they don’t carry the same weight as a graduate degree, they do allow you to further your career, earn more, or even take on a new job.
Many people aren’t sure if they are ready to take on the commitments that come with a graduate degree. A graduate certificate allows you to get an idea of the courses you’ll take, and you can then choose to further your education and earn a degree afterward.
If you want to gain more skills and knowledge in a certain field of the job market, then an online graduate certificate is a great means of doing so without some of the extra requirements that come with a master’s degree or doctorate.