What are professional certificate programs?

July 09, 2021 · 2 min read · By ASU CareerCatalyst

Learn about the key differences between a professional certificate and degree programs. Find out which can help you get a job and which is right for you.

What are professional certificate programs?

Professional certificate programs are a great way to gain focused study in a specific area of interest such as data analytics, web development, UI/UX design, and more. Undergraduate certificates can be completed on their own, to prepare you for an associate’s or bachelor’s degree, or to supplement your current degree program. Graduate certificates can be completed in place of or along with graduate degree programs. The best professional certificate for you ultimately depends on your interests and career goals.

Professional certificate vs degree: What’s the difference?

Before you decide to pursue a professional certificate vs a degree, consider how much time you have to earn your credentials, your financial resources, and the career you want to enter.

  1. Time Commitment

    Professional certificates require less time to complete than degree programs. An undergraduate certificate can typically be completed in a few months to a year, whereas a traditional undergraduate degree takes four years to complete. Online professional certifications may also offer greater flexibility in the number of courses you can complete at once.

  2. Cost

    Certificate programs require fewer courses to complete and can therefore be significantly less expensive than full degree programs. Although there are financial aid options for both certificate programs and degrees, the lower price point of a certificate program may be a draw for those looking to enter professions that require technical skills and/or those looking to pivot from one field to another.

  3. Job Opportunities

    Certificate programs are tightly focused to prepare you to enter specific fields. For example, a data analytics certificate can help you get started in the high demand field of user design, so you can gain professional experience before moving on to a full degree program. Or you may want to pursue a certificate to advance within your existing career.

Is it better to get a certificate or a degree?

Deciding to pursue a professional certificate, a degree, or both depends largely on your career goals.

  1. When to get a professional certificate

    For many occupations, a professional certificate may be all that you need to obtain industry-required accreditation to get started in a field. A professional certificate is also an excellent way to advance your skills within your current occupation.

  2. When to get a degree

    An undergraduate degree can lead to greater job opportunities and is often a minimum requirement of a majority of companies and organizations. Individuals with a bachelor’s degree earn a higher average salary than those with an associate’s degree or high school diploma. In addition to earning potential, an undergraduate degree increases your likelihood of career advancement. It is also a prerequisite for most graduate programs.

Do professional certificates help you get a job?

Yes, professional certificate programs can help you get a job, because they help you learn new, typically in-demand skills, allowing you to qualify for new opportunities. They also demonstrate to employers that you have a specific skill set, which can help you stand out in the job market.

Professional certificates can also help you pivot from one career field to another. There are many well-paying jobs that require only a certificate; for example: web developer, HVACR technician, surgical technician, and others.

Additionally, pursuing a professional certificate is an excellent way to engage in lifelong learning opportunities.

Are professional certificates worth it?

Professional certificates let employers know that you have gained a quantifiable understanding of a field of work. For careers that do not require a degree, a professional certificate demonstrates that you have received the training and skills necessary to succeed in your field. Further, certificates can match current standards better than traditional degree programs.

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