Industries are constantly in flux, adapting to the ever-changing modern world. As technology advances, so must businesses and organizations since those that don’t keep up with changing trends risk being behind. As such, professionals must make an effort to keep tabs on new technologies, concepts, and processes.
One such way to execute this is to enroll oneself in a graduate certificate program. These, in a nutshell, are short programs that offer training in a specialized field. In many cases, these programs even cover prerequisites to full-fledged master’s or doctoral programs, which makes attaining post-graduate degrees much faster later on.
Thanks to the tremendous development of internet technologies, students can now choose to enroll in accredited online graduate certificate programs and take classes in the comfort of their own homes. Compelling as this route is, many people take advantage of the opportunity.
In this article, we will discuss what an online certificate program is, how it can help you with your education and career goals, and outline the things you need to consider when choosing the right program for you. In this way, you will have an idea of how an online graduate certificate program can accelerate your career or springboard you to further graduate education.
A graduate certificate program is a short course of study that provides professionals supplemental needs for skills and knowledge to build better competence in a single area (Joubert, 2019). Many professionals opt for a graduate certificate or a graduate diploma as this also improves their chances of getting hired or promoted. Others also choose to get graduate certificates if they want to change careers.
Many disciplines, especially practical ones, offer many graduate certificate programs to cater to these demands.
The popularity of certificates has been on the rise since 2010 according to elearning statistics. In the academic year 2018 to 2019, it was found that the share of certificates being conferred by public institutions compared to associate degrees was at 71%. This is 21 percentage points higher than that of 2010 with only 50% (National Center for Education Statistics, 2021).
However, the steep rise in the popularity of graduate certificate programs started around the AY 2003/2004. In that year, 33,677 certificates were conferred in the United States (Institute for College Access & Success, 2015). This is a sharp increase from AY 2000/2001’s 25,602. By AY 2013/2014, there were a total of 56,058 graduate certificates awarded in the country.
A master’s degree usually takes up to two years to complete. Moreover, it requires a full-time commitment to complete it in that span of time. A graduate certificate program is a short course of study. There is no set time of completion. Typically, students take nine months to two years to finish. In contrast to a master’s degree, graduate certificate programs are more specialized.
Instead of covering general and fundamental aspects of a discipline or area of research, they instead focus on particular areas of a field.
There are also for-credit graduate certificates where students can apply to earn a full-fledged master’s degree.
This depends on a particular program or school. Typically, however, one needs to have a bachelor’s degree to enroll. Some programs only allow students with minimum graduate credits. Many times, graduate certificates are awarded to students for completing a set of coursework in graduate school. This shows that they have mastery of a particular area.
Yes, many institutions offer online graduate certificate programs in a variety of disciplines and professional fields. There are graduate certificate programs in accounting, HR, and even in more abstract fields like mathematics. You may even get an online certificate degree for healthcare fields like nursing.
Many reputable institutions offer these online degree programs for graduate certificates. These include Harvard University and North Carolina State University. There are programs, however, that have limited online options. These programs are typically hands-on skills-based and are better taken in an on-campus or hybrid format.
Furthermore, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Online education has been normalized, even for graduate students. Many fields of study have increasingly more students enrolled in online degree courses (Wiley, 2020). In 2020, the top three fields of study with online graduate students are Business (26%), Education and Teaching (20%), and STEM (13%).
And, within the field of business, Chen and Jiang (2020) showed in their article “Graduate Certificates in Data Science: Miss or Match for Data Scientists’ Jobs in Logistics and Operations?” published in the Journal of Supply Chain and Operations Management that “a high percentage of data-related skills in logistics, supply chain, and operations management were covered in graduate certificates and that certificates in the business area had the highest percentage of ‘match’ between skills needed and course topics.”
Source: Wiley, 2020
Yes, mostly. Online graduate certificates nowadays are taken seriously by employers. In fact, in 2021, a BestColleges (2021) report showed that one of the top reasons for choosing the online route is employer incentives or partnerships (12%). This was found to be a bigger reason than the reputation of a specific school (7%).
The top reason, of course, is that online education is the only option available because of COVID-19 (37%). Employers understand this. This gives way to many of them recognizing online credentials.
Moreover, online diploma and certificate programs are more specific to professional fields. Practical programs are designed to meet the needs of the industry. They are not degrees that allow students to get an entry-level job. They are specialization certificates that allow students to re-tool for job positions handling more sensitive processes and require context-specific skills. So, they are universally valued in practical professions.
And, when it comes to academic fields, many online programs are taken for credit. Meaning, a student can use them as a jumpstart to further graduate education.
This totally depends on your field and the reputation of your school or program. Many programs, however, are accredited by regional or national bodies. Given this, one should practice due diligence in inquiring whether their target online graduate certificate program is accredited by the Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
Accreditation is very important for two reasons: further education and getting work.
Firstly, as graduate certificates are usually used by students as a springboard to a graduate degree, schools will check whether their programs are accredited by recognized bodies. If a student’s program is not credited, they will not be able to transfer their credits to another program.
Secondly, employers who are not familiar with online education will want to verify whether a candidate’s credentials come from an accredited program (Friedman, 2016). Because of the digital nature of the whole educational transaction, it will be easier to forge and it is easier for online students to cheat. So, trustworthiness, for many employers is an issue.
There are also professions and regions in the United States that are not-so-inclined to hire online graduates.
Cole J. Engel (2020), an associate professor in Accounting at Fort Hays State University, published an article in the Global Journal of Accounting and Finance that stated that employers are less thrilled in accepting candidates for accounting professions in Kansas. In his article, “The acceptability of online degrees for obtaining entry-level employment in the accounting profession: A Kansas study,” he gave advice to higher education institutions in the area. He wrote that they “must consider that online degree graduates are not as attractive to employers as traditional face-to-face graduates.” Hence, it may “not be the right time for academic leaders in Kansas to allocate resources to develop online degree programs in accounting.”
So, if you are looking at earning a graduate certificate online for better job prospects, it is best to have an idea of the sentiments of employers in your area about hiring people with online credentials.
In the AY 2020/2021, the average in-state tuition for one-year graduate certificate programs is $8,977. This is actually cheaper than the average of AY 2016/2017 at $9,285. The average cost of additional fees is $1,360 (College Tuition Compare, 2021). Out-of-state tuition for a graduate certificate program in the AY 2020/2021 is $17,137 with an average cost of additional fees of $1,007.
For two-year certificate programs, the average in-state tuition is $9,077 with an average cost of other fees of $1,354 (College Tuition Compare, 2021). The average out-of-state tuition is $15,932 with an average cost of other fees of $924.
These averages, however, include on-campus graduate certificate programs. Online programs can cost way cheaper depending on the school and course credits. They could cost as little as $2,970. This is the cost for a MOOC-based Graduate Certificate in Digital Marketing at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
There are three popular reasons for taking an online graduate certificate program. These are (1) to accelerate their careers, (2) to change their careers, and (3) to jumpstart their graduate education. As online graduate certificate programs are a lot cheaper than their on-campus counterparts and a master’s degree in general, then enrolling in one should be considered.
For those who are interested in it for mainly employment reasons, an online graduate certificate program can fast-track their careers through promotions or lateral employment into another department or field. Better yet, it can do this not only way faster but cheaper compared to a master’s degree.
For busy working professionals who want to use it as a springboard to a full-fledged master’s degree, an online graduate certificate program is also worth considering. Firstly, it is cheaper than a graduate degree. Secondly, you can earn it faster. Just make sure that you enrolled in a for-credit program. Otherwise, all your efforts will be moot.
Different online graduate certificate programs offered at different institutions have different requirements. Generally, however, one needs to have a bachelor’s degree to get accepted. Other more advanced certificates require some graduate credits or a graduate degree. Moreover, many institutions award certificates for completing specific courses to signify mastery of a specific area.
Students at least have to have the basics. These include a working PC and a fast and reliable internet connection. However, depending on your specialization, there could be other things that you will need. For technology specializations, a subscription to pertinent online software tools may be needed. For more academic programs, you might also need textbooks and other materials.
Of course, there are also digital tools to help you organize your learning experience. These may include tools for project management, scheduling, and notetaking. Moreover, if you are having synchronous classes with your instructors and peers, then it may be better to invest in accessories. These include hardware such as a standalone microphone and noise-canceling headphones. A good quality PC camera can also be very helpful.
But, make no mistake. There are barriers to effective online learning.
In 2020, it was found that the biggest one, with 25% of survey participants agreeing, is balancing education with work, family, and other household obligations (BestColleges, 2021). Also, 11% have expressed concerns about being effectively a part of a learning community and having interactions with professors and peers. Of course, there are tools that can make online learning effective but, 14% have concerns in adapting to a remote learning environment.
So, keep in mind that you may have the right tools but technically and socially coping are two different things.
Online certificates are being offered in a wide variety of disciplines and specializations. For this reason, we cannot cover them all. In this section, we are just going to list down popular online degree certificate programs in select areas of specialization.
There are many common factors that one should look into when choosing a particular program. In 2020, American students found affordability (51%) and the reputation of the school or program (36%) to be the top two factors. Aside from these obvious considerations, one should also look into the following:
One important thing to look for is the availability of an accredited program in your area. In-state and out-of-state tuition can vary tremendously even for online programs. Of course, some institutions offer the same rates for both. But it is best to choose a program that is either nationally or regionally accredited. One can easily check this with the target school.
Secondly, it is best to find out whether your target program is fully online or hybrid. Some institutions do not offer all their courses online. This is where many extra costs come out. So, get to know ahead of time if there are crash courses, seminars, and other activities that will require you to be physically present so you can schedule ahead and budget.
Another thing to look for is the quality of digital delivery. Not all online programs are created equal just like not all learning management systems are equal. Some of these systems are clunky while others are as intuitive as popular social media platforms. Moreover, there is also the question of skills when it comes to online lesson delivery. To get the most out of your education investment, you would want to be in a program that uses the best tools and techniques to foster learning.
And, one of the best ways to get to know this is to ask current and former students of the program. You can always find them online. They may even be featured on your school’s alumni pages.
Moreover, you should also look into the quality of support services that your target school(s) offer. Look if they go beyond the normal digital resource access. See if your program has good working relationships with other organizations. A better-networked school would expose you to more job and research opportunities.
Source: Learning House, 2020
There are many considerations when it comes to choosing an online route to a graduate certificate, most of them were outlined in the previous sections. However, choosing which route to go—online or traditional—is totally up to a person. In order to know if an online route is the better choice, one should reflect on his or her strengths, weaknesses, and even preferences when it comes to learning. Finally, this should be done without considering affordability and prior commitments.
Should you feel that you can learn better full-time online, then there is no question that online education would fit you better. But if you feel that you would choose an on-campus learning experience any time over remote learning, then do not rush yet into enrolling. However, if you find that online education is the only way to get you to your career or education goals, then prepare by familiarizing yourself with the digital tools that can help you be a more effective learner.
Learning is a skill. If you think about it, it takes more prerequisite skills to learn effectively in a different context than what you are used to. So, slowly ease your way into online education by taking free online courses and see if you can keep up with the pace and other important things in your life. If you think you have found success without putting up for tuition, then, maybe, you are ready for online learning, no matter which type of degree you are to pursue.