Guide to the Best Online Diploma & Certificate Programs for 2022

Guide to the Best Online Diploma & Certificate Programs for 2022
Imed Bouchrika, Phd by Imed Bouchrika, Phd
Chief Data Scientist & Head of Content

High school graduates or those who have completed their G.E.D. may not always take the college path right away. Considering the current situation, when financial challenges are affecting a large portion of the population, the decision to work and earn first is a practical one. In fact, according to recent data from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, of the 2020 high school graduates who did not enroll in college, 67.2% are more likely to enter the labor force, compared to those who chose to get a two-year or four-year degree.

The staggering cost of a college education is another main reason behind young adults’ choice to postpone going to college or not go at all. Nonetheless, they have the option to earn non-degree certificates or diploma programs that offer specialized training and education in various fields in a relatively short time. In less than a year, students can develop professional skills that can prepare them for vocational roles and entry-level positions. More importantly, certificate programs significantly cost lower than an associate or bachelor’s degree.

Another advantage of online diploma and certificate programs is their accessibility anywhere there is an internet connection. This means that students—and even professionals planning to advance their careers—can attend online certificate programs even while they are working full time. If you are interested in non-degree programs, this article can help you learn more about getting a certificate or diploma online as you figure out which program is best suited to your career goals.

Best Online Certificate and Diploma Programs Table of Contents

  1. What is a certificate or diploma program?
  2. Types of a Certificate or Diploma Program
  3. Certificate and Diploma Program Requirements
  4. Cost of a Certificate and Diploma Program
  5. Why earn a certificate or diploma?
  6. Certificate and Diploma Program Jobs

What is a certificate and diploma program?

Certificate and diploma programs are academic programs geared toward providing students and professionals with a fast-track approach to acquiring skills and knowledge to start or advance their careers. Unlike college degrees, a certificate or diploma program can be completed within two years, a year, or less. While these two programs are quite similar in terms of goals and approach, they differ in the coverage of lessons and the number of credits you need to earn.

Certificate programs aim to equip students with specialized skills through hands-on training,  typically requiring nine to 30 credits (Minnesota State CAREERwise, n.d.). A diploma is similar to certificate programs as it also concentrates on skill-based training. What makes diploma programs different is a more comprehensive approach, aside from taking a longer time to complete, generally up to 72 credits (, 2021; Minnesota State CAREERwise, n.d.). Also, depending on the college or university, the credits you earned in a diploma program are transferable to a specific degree (B.C. Transfer Guide., n.d.).

Just like online degree courses, online diploma and certificate programs can be completed off-location 100%. This format offers convenience to students and professionals who have full-time jobs, as well as those who want to save time and money on transportation, parking, and other campus-related fees. Depending on the specialization, online certificate programs may still require students to attend on-campus classes or face-to-face training. Hybrid programs can also be an option for students who prefer to have both online and classroom-setting learning sessions.

number of postsecondary institutions that offer certificate and diploma programs, U.S.

Types of a Certificate or Diploma Program

There are two types of certificate and diploma programs available to non-degree and degree holders.

1. Undergraduate certificate and diploma

If you are a high school graduate or have completed your G.E.D. but do not have plans to pursue a college degree yet, you can apply to an undergraduate certificate or diploma program. These are designed to equip students with the necessary skills to start their careers in various fields. Typically offered by community colleges, technical, and vocational schools, these certificate programs concentrate on training students in specific skills they can use in various fields, such as auto repair, cosmetology, cybersecurity, programming, and others.

2. Graduate certificate and diploma

Degree holders who would like to upgrade their skills and knowledge in a specific field can take a graduate certificate and diploma program. These programs are only accessible to those who have at least a bachelor’s degree and are often taken by professionals who plan to advance their careers (, 2019).

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

Certificate and Diploma Program Requirements

The requirements for certificate and diploma programs may vary by school and program, but below are some of the general and admission requirements you may have to prepare.

Undergraduate certificate or diploma

  • High school diploma or G.E.D. certificate

Graduate certificate or diploma

  • Bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution
  • Minimum of 2.8 G.P.A.
  • Satisfactory G.R.E. score
  • Letters of recommendation

Additional requirements for international students

  • I-20 or IAP-66 visas
  • English as Foreign Language test (I.E.L.T.S., T.O.E.F.L., etc.)

Cost of a Certificate and Diploma Program

The cost of a certificate or diploma program varies depending on the school and the program you plan to take. Below is a list of average tuition fees based on student residency, program, the type of school that offers online certificate and diploma programs.

Forensic Science Degree: Top Industries for Employment in 2020

IndustryNumber of EmployedConcentrationAverage Hourly WageAverage Annual Wage
Local Government997018%$31.65$65,840
State Government463021%$31.14$64,770
Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services5504%$31.75$66,040
Medical and Diagnostic Laboratories51019%$22.63$47,060
College, Universities, and Professional Schools2301%$24.84$51,660
Source: BLS, 2021

Students can also apply for federal student aid, which offers financial assistance in the form of grants and scholarships. Some institutions also offer work-study programs, as well as student loans.

Source: Statista

Why earn a certificate or diploma?

Certificate and diploma programs are ideal higher education alternatives for high school graduates who are not yet prepared to get a college degree. These programs not only equip them with fundamental career skills but also give them an edge when it comes to hiring opportunities in positions that offer more competitive salaries. Employers tend to favor applicants with proper education and training in a particular field, which is what certificate and diploma programs are for. Some of the programs also qualify students for jobs that require certifications, such as certified nurse aides (C.N.A.). According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a C.N.A. earns an average of $30,830 per year, one of the non-degree professions with a 10-year growth rate faster than the national average at 8%.

As for bachelor’s degree holders, online certificate and diploma programs are the more flexible, convenient, and faster options to supplement their degree. And for working professionals, certificates and diploma programs can serve as tickets to enhance their skills and knowledge as part of their preparation to advance their careers.

A study by Xu and Trimble titled “What About Certificates? Evidence on the Labor Market Returns to Nondegree Community College Awards in Two States” looks at the impact on the employability and income of individuals who completed short-term and long-term certificate programs in North Carolina and Virginia.

Published in the Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis journal, the authors state: “In general, attainment of either short-term or long-term certificates on average is associated with significant earnings increases in both states compared with attending a community college but exiting without earning any credential. In North Carolina, earning a long-term certificate is associated with a $953 increase in quarterly earnings once a student exited college. Although this number is also significantly positive in Virginia, the magnitude is much smaller—the earning of a long-term certificate leads to an increase in quarterly earnings of only $200… In contrast, the economic returns to short-term certificates are more consistent between the two states. Receiving a short-term certificate is associated with an increase in quarterly earnings of $278 in North Carolina and $153 in Virginia.”

certificates that demonstarted higher payoff than high school diplomas

Certificate and Diploma Program Jobs

Certificate and diploma program jobs are often associated with entry-level positions, especially in healthcare, human resources, and other administrative offices. But because these types of post-secondary programs cover a broad range of specializations in different fields, high-paying jobs are also available to non-degree certificate and diploma holders, and here are some of them.

Job TitleAnnual Median SalaryProjected Growth (2019-2029)
Industrial Engineering Technologists and Technicians$57,3201%
Manufacturing Engineers$71,0318%
Plant Engineers$85,41410%
Health and Safety Engineers$94,4204%
Corporate Real Estate Manager$106,4350%
Senior Process Engineers$115,5698%
Agile Project Managers$136,8408%
Director of Facilities Management$109,6656%
Director of Quality Assurance$1300006%
Director of Operations$134,4006%

Which online certificate or diploma program is for you?

Choosing the right program all boils down to your interest, career, and academic plans. There are students who will choose a certificate or diploma program that is relevant to the type of college degree they want to pursue later on. Others may find online degree programs more appealing instead. On the other hand, there are students who pick a program based on job prospects and earning potential. Budget and availability are also important factors to consider because, although certificates and programs are not as intense and expensive as college degrees, they also take time and money to complete. Regardless of the reason, the decision to take a certificate or diploma program is an ideal first step toward launching, advancing, or changing careers.



  1. A.A.C.C. (2021). Fast facts. American Association of Community Colleges. Retrieved August 12, 2021.
  2. B.C.C.A.T. (n.d.). How transfer works. BC Transfer Guide. Retrieved August 17, 2021.
  3. Federal Trade Commission. (2021, May 28). Choosing a vocational school or certificate program. Federal Trade Commission. Retrieved August 17, 2021.
  4. Georgetown University. (2020, May 7). Certificates: Gateway to gainful employment and college degrees. CEW Georgetown University. Retrieved August 17, 2021.
  5. Jennings, J. (2016, August 5). An American innovation and a caution. LinkedIn. Retrieved August 17, 2021.
  6. Martinsburg College. (2017, November 7). What is a college certificate program and why are so many people enrolling in them? Martinsburg College. Retrieved August 12, 2021.
  7. Miller, S. (2020, January 1). The average cost of vocational school in USA 2020. Vocational Training. Retrieved August 17, 2021.
  8. Minnesota State CAREERwise. (n.d.). Certificates, diplomas, and degrees explained. Retrieved Minnesota State. August 17, 2021.
  9. N.C.E.S. (2021, May). COE – Postsecondary certificates and degrees conferred. National Center for Education Statistics. Retrieved August 13, 2021.
  10. (2019, September 11). Undergraduate vs graduate certificate. Retrieved August 16, 2021.
  11. (2021, February 16). What is the difference between a certificate, diploma and degree? Retrieved August 17, 2021.
  12. U.S. B.L.S. (2021, April 27). College enrollment and work activity of recent high school and college graduates summary. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved August 13, 2021.
  13. Xu, D., & Trimble, M. (2016). “What about certificates? Evidence on the labor market returns to Nondegree community college awards in two states.” Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 38(2), 272-292.

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