Advantages of Graduate Certificate Programs


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Advancing your education beyond a bachelor’s degree is a critical move for many individuals who are trying to take the next step in their career. Traditionally this meant pursuing a master’s degree, but as the landscape has grown and diversified, so have the education pathways. There is no such thing as a one size fits all education or career model, and while a master’s is a great fit for many, graduate certificates present a compelling alternative to a master’s program.

If you know you’d like to further your education, but you’re unsure of where to start, a graduate certificate program may be the solution. Let’s explore the advantages of a graduate certificate and what makes them unique.

Main Advantages of Graduate Certificate Programs

Maximize Your Time and Money

Annual tuition for a graduate degree totals nearly $30,000, according to Peterson’s, and many programs can take two years or longer to finish. If the thought of spending this amount of time and money on your education just isn’t realistic for you, graduate certificates help close that gap.

Graduate certificates require fewer credits than a master’s degree. Having a shorter, focused sequence of courses will limit the amount of time spent on your studies and offer a savings benefit: fewer credits, less tuition. When you have a career advancement goal in mind, the value of being able to add a credential to your resume with three or so courses, make graduate certificates a compelling option.

It’s important to note that not all master’s degrees are expensive and time consuming. If you’ve always wanted to earn a master’s degree and time and money are a factor, explore credit-efficient master’s programs. To achieve regional accreditation, a master’s degree must have at least 30-credits, which typically equals 10 courses. Ambitious students can complete a 30-credit program in less than two years and affordable online options are available.

Specialize Your Skills

Another fantastic benefit of a graduate certificate program is that they focus on a specific area of study. In contrast, a graduate degree program will provide you with strong foundational knowledge in your area of study, with perhaps a few courses that have a specialized focus. This can be an effective way to quickly advance in your current profession, or pivot toward a new career direction.

For example, let’s say Tina is not fully satisfied at work and looking for new opportunities. When job searching, the positions that look the most interesting to her often list “project management” as a required skill. Although she’s informally managed projects for years, she wants a credential to help validate her on-the-job experience and expose her to the best practices in this field. She’s done the research on project management master’s degrees and the Project Management Professional (PMP) certification—which all look relevant to her goals in the long-term—but she’s eager to “upgrade” her resume as soon as possible so she can qualify for a position.

Pursing a graduate certificate in project management would be an excellent option for Tina, enabling her to immerse herself in project management and open up new career possibilities.

Advance Your Career

Regardless of where you are in your career, there is always room for professional development. In fact, 90% of employers would hire candidates who validate their knowledge using a certification, digital badge, or coursework instead of a college degree.

If you’ve just recently launched your career, a graduate certificate can help you demonstrate that you are committed to your profession. Since young professionals naturally have an “experience gap” on their resumes, a graduate certificate can show that you’re addressing it with a career-relevant credential.

For those further in their career, a graduate certificate shows that you are staying current on industry trends. For example, health care is a field that’s changed significantly over the past 10 years. It’s become common for managers in clinical roles to collaborate with non-clinical departments to help tackle organizational issues and opportunities using an interprofessional approach. Those with clinical backgrounds, such as nurses or respiratory therapists, may desire to strengthen their business management knowledge in order to maximize their voice around the table. A graduate certificate in health care management would be a great way to leverage the important insight that a clinical manager offers, and enhance it with an understanding in the business side of health care.

Pathway to a Master’s Degree

It’s common to go back and forth on whether you should pursue a master’s degree or a graduate certificate. The good news: it doesn’t have to be an either/or decision. There are options that provide students with the opportunity to earn a graduate certificate and apply credits toward a master’s degree!

If you are on the fence, a graduate certificate is an excellent way to test the waters, while working toward a credential that will help make your resume sing.

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