A graduate certificate is a specialized program available through institutions of higher learning that increases students knowledge and skills in a specific area. This is a common and affordable alternative to earning a full graduate degree. A traditional graduate degree can take a minimum of one to two full years of courses, whereas a graduate certificate can be completed in one year. Most graduate certificates require 12 to 24 credit hours to complete. Anyone considering earning a graduate certificate needs to first identify their interests and goals, then search for a program that will help them reach their goals. Some students use the certificate to change their career path, while others utilize it to advance the career they are currently in.
What is a Graduate Certificate?
Colleges and universities across the nation provide graduate certificates as a means to enhance a students knowledge in a specific aspect of their discipline. Students enrolled and participating in a certificate program will learn new skills that help them remain competitive in their discipline. As with graduate programs, students will learn leadership skills that are necessary for students in managerial roles.
With specialized understanding of a particular topic within their field, students become a greater asset to their employers. For example, if a student is a business professional enrolling in a course for data analytics they can greatly apply their understanding and application of the data a company is gathering. If they are trying to optimize a site online; having a greater understanding of reading, analyzing and making future decisions based on the data received will be greatly beneficial for not only the student/employee but the business as well. Whereas an information technology major would benefit from taking a graduate certification course in cyber security if they want to move into a more specialized position.
Is a Graduate Certificate the same as a Master’s Degree?
They both require a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and students will need to meet the admissions requirement for both. After that they are different. To be admitted to most graduate programs students will need to submit a standardized test score such as a GRE or GMAT. A Master’s degree will require a minimum of two years or 48 to 60 credit hours to be completed in order to complete the program and earn the degree.
A certificate program might require experience in their professional field prior to applying to the program. A graduate certificate however is a specialized program that does not require students to submit standardized test scores and is typically between 12 to 24 credit hours. That means a student can complete the certificate program in one year. They will earn a specialized certificate for the particular program they completed.
Certificate Program VS Master’s Degree
Certificate Programs are shorter and therefore cheaper than a graduate degree. With the 12 to 24 credit hours students take they gain specific knowledge in their target field in less time.
Certificate programs generally cost less than the traditional graduate program per credit hour, thus saving money again for students. Many students can complete the graduate certificate program while they remain employed, unlike many master’s programs that require full-time attendance to complete the program in two years. Certificate programs contain much more specialized content and courses that pertain just to that particular specialty. For instance, a student of healthcare administration might earn a certificate in healthcare information technology.
Master’s Degree programs will cost more, first because it is a graduate degree, and second because it will take a minimum of two years to complete. It may also have the cost of a student needing to stop or limit employment while pursuing the degree. Master’s degrees also include research or some other practicum in order for a student to complete the program. For some professionals this is the only option for career advancement. For other professionals a Master’s degree is the better option for advancement. In cases of an MBA students can choose to specialize in finance, accounting, management etc. and will receive the specialized courses as well as exposure to leadership and communication skills essential in their profession. Since the graduate degree is longer and will include more “face-time” that also means students have more opportunities to network. Degrees that enroll students in as a cohort often see students work collaboratively together for years after they complete their degrees. The last benefit of the graduate degree is that it opens the pathway for students to earn a doctoral degree should they choose to advance their education to that level.
What Can I do with a Graduate Certificate?
As students expand their knowledge into a specific area of their career field they will have opportunities to either advance their current career or make a career change with a graduate certificate.
Some students use the graduate certificate program to get a taste of what the graduate program would be like in a particular field, before they make the commitment to applying and enrolling in a full graduate program. Still others use the certificate as a means to stay up to date and knowledgeable in their field with specific topics. If continuing education and certification is required in their field of employment this is a fabulous way to earn credible certificates and education. Certificates also help professionals stay on top of emerging technology. Certificate in areas such as cybersecurity and online teaching have become nearly essential for some professionals. Last, graduate certificates can lead to professional licensure. Many education administrators can become licensed through a graduate certificate program. Since most colleges and universities align their programs with standards established by government agencies, or accrediting bodies students can expect the curriculum to also be aligned with requirements for professional certification.
Careers that may Require a Graduate Certificate
Licensure requirements exist within some fields, a graduate certificate can oftentimes meet those requirements and add to a resume. Some employers may take those with graduate certifications over those without that additional education in some fields. Below are fields that are increasingly looking for potential employees with a graduate certificate.
(An Education Administrator can be employed in school at every level, from elementary school through colleges and universities. They oversee operations at the institution, monitor budgets, and work alongside students and faculty members. The most common certificate is the Educational Leadership certificate that teaches administrators how to resolve challenges that may arise as well as improve curriculum development.)
Average Salary: $94,340
(Project Managers have many responsibilities in overseeing budgets, personnel, and directing projects within an organization. Project managers will learn to utilize communication and managerial skills so they can supervise resources, deadlines, and project activities.)
Average Salary: $83,289
(A budget analyst will manage finances in both the public and private sectors for institutions. They require qualitative managerial skills that will drive data driven business decisions and transactions. Programs will also often teach them how to apply analytics skill to marketing, operations, and more.)
Average Salary: $85,260
Health Informatics Specialist
(In a nutshell, they are responsible for keeping health information of patients safe and private. They are part of developing policies to ensure privacy of patients as well as creating regulations and optimizing the standards for healthcare informatics. They will work closely with medical, administrative, and support staff.)
Average Salary: $98,000
(As a Cybersecurity Analyst professionals will plan and implement measures to protect computer networks and computer systems secure. They will also identify threats and breaches to networks. This is an ever evolving field where professionals must stay current on policies, practices, objectives of organizations. Graduate Certificates can be earned in cyber risk management, information security, and cybersecurity management.)
Average Salary: $90,000
(Marketing Analysts will learn to analyze demographics and other data to help businesses reach their marketing goals. They will utilize profiling and other statistics to provide marketing plans. Digital marketing has created a new specialty for marketing analysts as well. Those with current digital marketing skills will remain competitive in today’s world.)
Average Salary: $61,000
Would a Graduate Certificate Program Beneficial?
It is important to first identify why you are considering a graduate certificate program. Are you seeking to begin your career, advance your current career, or switch careers entirely?
Those just embarking on their career may find that they will need more experience in the career field prior to entering a program. Most will require a minimum of one to two years of hands-on experience. Those just starting a career can be as young a recent college graduate or adult learners that are now setting down roots in a particular field.
Those seeking to advance their current career and that already have some experience in their field will likely have more knowledge as to what classes and certificates would be the most beneficial according to their personal goals. These students are often able to continue their employment while pursuing advanced education. A graduate certificate can be valuable to their expertise and their earning potential.
Those seeking to change the course of their career can greatly benefit by earning a certificate without having to earn an entirely different degree. Oftentimes these students have experience and knowledge in another field that they can contribute to their new career direction. These students can become dynamic employees and increase their earning potential while pulling from their previous experience and their new knowledge.
How To Apply
First it is important to note that requirements may differ from one program and university to another. Be sure to thoroughly check the institution’s admissions requirement for the program you are seeking. Most follow relatively the same admissions process though. As it is not a full graduate program most will not require standardized test scores such as the GRE or the GMAT.
Nearly every graduate certificate program will require the completion of a bachelor’s degree program. Applicant’s will need to submit official transcripts from their undergraduate degree to the school and program they are applying for. Be prepared to submit transcripts from every institution for higher learning you have attended. Some programs do have a minimum GPA requirement as well, be sure to know what that is and if you qualify.
Letter of Recommendation
Applicants may need letters of recommendation. These letters are often from either academic professionals or professional work associates that have had experience with the applicant. For some programs this may be optional.
A resume will help admissions to know of an applicant’s academic and work experience and what their intentions are in earning a graduate certificate. Most programs will require a professional resume.
Some programs require a personal essay. It is important to follow the directions for the essay exactly. Some request to know why you are applying for the program, what your previous work experience is, and your intended plans once you complete the program. Applicant’s may also need to answer specific questions regarding their background and professional experience.
How To Choose a Graduate Certificate Program
First those considering applying to a graduate certificate program need to evaluate what their professional goals are and what program will help them reach those goals. Since these are specialized programs that magnify knowledge and skills in a particular topic students need to know which program will best meet their needs and search for the best fit.
Second students that are full time professionals may consider enrolling in an online program that will allow for greater flexibility while they continue their employment. If a student lives near a college or university that offers a program that they desire to enroll in they may find that to work better. In person courses do allow for greater networking and personalized education.
Last, cost is another thing that every student will need to consider as they search for a graduate certificate program that will work for them. Some use a per-credit tuition model in calculating the cost of the program others charge a full amount for the entire program regardless of how many credit hours a student enrolls in.
Graduate Certificate Program Models
Traditional on Campus, Full-time
Just like it sounds, students attend their courses on campus during the and perhaps evening classes will be available. They will meet in person with their professors and other students within the same program. They will attend lectures and class projects and activities on campus several times per week.
Traditional on Campus, Evenings and/or Weekends
Students attend their courses, lectures and activities on campus during the evening and perhaps even on the weekend. Classes will typically be 3 to 4 hours long. This option allows students a little more flexibility if they remain employed.
A hybrid format blends both on campus learning with online learning. Students may meet on campus for lectures a couple times each week and complete the remainder of their coursework online. Group assignments or discussions may take place on an online forum rather than in person. This format allows for more flexibility for students to meet other personal and professional obligations while they earn their graduate certificate.
The most flexible of all the models is an online format where students can access course material such as lectures, group discussion, and projects all online. There are two main methods for online learning, either students will participate asynchronously or they will have to login in and attend class virtually at specific times. This option is great for those who do not live near an institution that offers the program of interest as well as for students that need the extra flexibility.
Best Online Graduate Certificate Programs
While online graduate certificate programs can be found across a wide array of fields there are six that have been the most popular with high enrollment rates.
Online Graduate Certificate in English Language Learning
This popular program emphasizes techniques and tools to teach English to non-native speakers. This particular program will allow students to either choose to focus on teaching children or adults. Students will take courses in linguistics, phonetics, and the principles and practices of language acquisition. Those that benefit from this graduate certificate are current teachers, new teachers, and instructional coordinators.
Online Graduate Certificate in Finance
This graduate certificate is popular with business and banking professionals. Students will attend courses that emphasize analytics, extended financial theory, and principles. Participants develop specialized knowledge and skills as they study more deeply into economics, international finance, financial reporting, and financial analytics. Students typically move forward to become financial advisors or financial planners.
Online Graduate Certificate in Human Resources
This graduate certificate program trains students to effectively and efficiently communicate and coordinate administrative and personnel functions. Courses in this program often include employment law, staffing, training and development within a company using its most valuable resource, its employees. They often will also receive training on compensation programs.
Online Graduate Certificate in Accounting
Unlike finance a graduate certificate in accounting often focuses on taxation, auditing, and research. Students of this program gain the necessary skills of deeper accounting knowledge for business and management practices. Students will find coursework in critical thinking, communication skill and analytical thinking.
Online Graduate Certificate in Health Informatics
Prospective students of this program are currently working in the healthcare system and are seeking a greater knowledge and understanding of electronic health records systems and records security. Students will develop analytical and managerial skills as well. With a blend of healthcare, business, and information technology there is a lot to learn to effectively manage healthcare information. Students learn how to understand a medical computer, medical network systems as well as the current regulations and standards specific to health information.
Online Graduate Certificate in Educational Technology
This program is specific to utilizing technology in educational settings. Participants can utilize this program to help them develop more effective training material utilizing technology or they might be educators that are developing educational material utilizing technology to improve student outcomes. Courses included are instructional design, online teaching methods, and web tools for learning.
Estimated Time to Complete a Graduate Certificate
Along with most graduate courses the timeline will be similar where courses either run the full length of the semester or are chunked up into eight week terms. As has been mentioned before, since certificates require fewer courses most programs can be completed within one year. Those attending an online graduate certificate program will need to take more than one course at a time to maintain that time line. With most online programs allowing students to take one course at a time, doing so will take longer to complete the overall program. Students will also find that a certificate program will not allow them to transfer any previous credits they may have taken and apply them towards the certificate. However those that complete the certificate and later desire to earn a Master’s Degree can apply and transfer those credits towards their graduate degree.
Cost of Graduate Certificate Program
The cost will vary from institution to institution as well as form program to program. Costs that should be considered are textbooks and materials, those attending on campus will need to consider the cost of commuting and parking, other costs may include laboratory or facility fees. Be sure to check what the exact cost will be at the institution you choose to attend for the specific program you are applying for. Many offer a cost per credit hour while still others have a overall cost for the entire program.
Those seeking to enroll in an online program will need to check the cost of tuition if the cost for resident and non-resident is the same or not. Some programs keep the tuition the same across the board regardless of residency while others will charge non-resident tuition for those not living within the state.
Most students will find that there won’t be grants available for graduate certificates as those are reserved primarily for degree seekers. That being said, students can still seek out and apply for a variety of scholarships from private sectors. Student loans can be used to pay for graduate certifications as well. Some are able to receive tuition reimbursement from employers. Another source of financial aid could be through the Veterans Affairs agency for those that qualify