If you already have a bachelor’s degree under your belt and are looking to take your education to the next level, you might think a master’s degree is the logical next step. However, one alternative you may want to consider is pursuing a graduate certificate. Not only does a graduate certificate take less time to complete than a degree, but this type of program also allows you to really home in on some specialized knowledge and skills.
By having a better understanding of what a graduate certificate is and what obtaining this credential entails, you can more confidently decide whether this is the ideal path for you.
What Is a Graduate Certificate?
A graduate certificate refers to a credit-based academic credential available as part of a college or university’s graduate school. Graduate certificates are popular among those who want to focus their expertise in a certain industry or learn a new set of skills without the commitment of a full-fledged master’s degree.
Admission and Prerequisites
Each school has its own admission requirements for individuals interested in a certificate program. Generally, you would need to have completed an undergraduate degree program, such as a bachelor’s degree, before you could be considered.
In some cases, there may be GPA requirements in place for admission as well. For example, you might only be considered for a certificate program if you maintained at least a 2.5 GPA or higher during your undergraduate program.
To ensure you can keep up with the curriculum, you may also need to have some relevant classes under your belt. These are known as prerequisites.
Curriculum and Coursework
Different certificate programs can also vary in the scope of their curriculum and coursework. Some may require as few as nine credit hours to complete, whereas others may require up to 24.
In general, the classes in this type of graduate program are focused and specialized. They may cover a very particular and technical skill in your field in depth, and they tend to be focused more on practice than theory. Coursework may be hands-on, ensuring you have the opportunity to practice new skills before the completion of your certificate.
Duration and Time Commitment
Many graduate certificate programs can be completed in as little as one semester to one year, but it really depends on the structure of your specific program and your enrollment status. If you’re in a program that requires 15 credit hours to complete but only able to take two classes per semester at three credit hours each, it would take you a year and a half to complete a certificate program.
From a cost perspective, a graduate certificate is often one of the more affordable graduate education options because it doesn’t require a lot of credit hours to complete. Because the majority of your schooling cost will be tied to tuition fees based on your number of credit hours, it’s easy to see how a graduate certificate is much more affordable than a graduate degree.
Is a Graduate Certificate Worth It?
Ultimately, whether or not a graduate certificate is worth it will depend on where you are in your career and your aspirations for the future. If you’re looking to make a career pivot or hone specific skills in your line of work, then a graduate certificate can be an excellent way to do that. This is especially true if you want to pursue a higher education than your undergraduate degree but aren’t quite ready to commit to a master’s degree program.
Benefits of a Graduate Certificate
There are many potential advantages to enrolling in a graduate certificate program, including:
- Career advancement and specialization – A certificate program focuses on extremely specific skills and concepts, so you can explore the areas of your field that are most interesting to you.
- Skill enhancement and upskilling – By gaining new skills through a graduate degree program, you could set yourself apart in the job market. As a result, you may be more qualified for promotions and new positions as they become available. You can also add your certificate and new skills to your resume and LinkedIn profiles for a better chance of being recruited for jobs.
- Flexibility and affordability – Compared to a master’s degree program, a graduate certificate is much more affordable and versatile. You don’t need to enroll in several classes at once, nor do you need to commit all of your already-limited free time to completing your program. Many find that working toward a graduate certificate while continuing to work and fulfill other obligations is rather feasible. A graduate certificate can also be a great stepping stone to a formal degree program if you do choose to pursue a master’s degree down the road.
Types of Graduate Certificates
If you’re thinking about pursuing a graduate certificate, there are a few different types to explore. By understanding the differences between each, you can decide which may be right for you.
- Academic – These certificates are typically more focused on academic concepts and theories, allowing you to explore certain areas within your field at a deeper level.
- Professional and industry-specific – These certificates tend to be particular to a precise industry or field of work, offering classes that cover practical skills you can use on the job.
- Interdisciplinary and hybrid – These certificates teach concepts and skills that may apply to a variety of industries or disciplines.
How to Choose the Right Graduate Certificate Program
Interested in enrolling in a graduate certificate program? The most important thing is to choose the one that’s the best fit. After all, while many colleges and universities offer graduate certificates, they are not all created equal.
Begin by making sure the school and program you’re looking at is accredited. This means that the institution has voluntarily met the standards to be accredited by a reputable third party to ensure its classes and curriculum are up to par.
From there, consider which graduate degree program best suits your needs. It can be helpful to think about why you wish to further your education in the first place. Are you hoping to gain a new skill that you’ll be able to apply to your work? Are you hoping to make yourself eligible for a promotion? Maybe you’re even looking to shift fields altogether. Regardless, it’s key to find a program that offers a curriculum to meet your needs and help you achieve your goals.
Be sure also to consider the admission requirements for a graduate degree program. You may need to submit transcripts, letters of recommendation, and other documentation to be considered. Likewise, plan ahead and determine how long it would take to complete your certificate program based on the number of credit hours you would need and how many classes you’d be able to take at once.
Finally, don’t overlook the format of the program. Do you need something 100 percent online, or can you commute to campus for an in-person class? Some programs may even offer hybrid options, so find something that works with your schedule.
Increasing Popularity and Future of Graduate Certificates
In recent years, graduate certificates have become increasingly popular, especially compared to formal degree programs. This is likely because more people are looking for ways to further their education with less time and financial commitment—and a graduate certificate checks off both of those boxes.
More schools now offer a wider range of graduate certificate options, and this trend is only likely to continue into the future. If you’ve been interested in advancing your education beyond an undergraduate program, this is definitely something you’ll want to look into.
EXPLORE GRADUATE CERTIFICATE OPTIONS FROM JOHNSON & WALES UNIVERSITY
As you can see, a graduate certificate can be an ideal way to hone your skills without the commitment of a full-time degree program. Plus, you could save money by enrolling in fewer credit hours. At the same time, you’d get to build your skill set and take steps to advance your career.
If you’re interested in graduate certificate programs, Johnson & Wales University has options to help you succeed—including our popular Graduate Certificate in Hospitality (which is available in a 100 percent online format for your convenience).