What to Know About Online Certificate Programs (Complete Guide)
If earning a college degree is too time-consuming and costly for you right now, consider pursuing one of the many online certificate programs that are available. It may be just the right choice to get you started in a rewarding career or help you advance in the field you’re in!
What are online certificate programs?
Online certificate programs are short, online training programs, dubbed “mini degrees,” that can provide immediate entry into a career field, or help professionals advance in their current field.
There are two types of online certificate programs:
- Undergraduate – For individuals who have a high school diploma or GED and are looking for basic career skills in order to obtain an entry-level position quickly
- Graduate – For individuals who have a bachelor’s or masters degree and want to brush up on technology or industry trends in order to transition into a new role or advance in the field
One of the great benefits of online certificates is that they can be earned quickly. Most programs take less than a year to complete, and some can be completed in a matter of weeks.
Because they are so short and highly specialized, they generally cost much less than traditional degree programs.
How do online certificate programs differ from an online degree?
Online certificate programs provide valuable education and training, but they’re not the same as an online degree.
Here are some ways the two differ:
- Length of program
Certificate programs are focused on the development of specific professional skills, and do not require students to complete general education courses. For this reason, certificate programs usually take less than a year to complete, and some can be earned in just a few weeks. Online degree programs, on the other hand, take much longer. A standard associate degree takes about 2 years, and a bachelor’s about 4 years.
Online programs – both certificate and degree programs – can be accelerated and take less time to complete.
Because the programs are shorter and more specialized, online certificate programs typically cost much less than online degree programs.
- Title / Job Eligibility
Earning an online certificate will boost your resume, can give you a leg up against other job applicants and can help you stay relevant in your field. However, some jobs explicitly state applicants must hold a degree, and if that’s the case a certificate will not qualify to you for that position.
- Earning Potential
Earning potential, of course, depends on many factors, including the field, location and education level. Most might assume someone with a degree would earn more, but that’s not always the case. Construction and Building Inspectors, for example, have a 2018 median pay of $59,700 per year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which is well above what many degree-holding professionals earn.
Can an online certificate program count as credit toward my degree?
Generally your online certificate does not count toward a degree.
If you plan to pursue an associate, bachelor’s or master’s degree after completing your certificate program (or if you’re working on them simultaneously), be sure to look for a program that offers academic credit and speak to an advisor about your plans.
What types of online certificate programs are in demand?
Continued learning is valuable across the board, but it’s especially in-demand in industries that rely heavily on technology, have frequent inventions or discoveries, or are often changing their policies.
Some of the most in-demand online certificate programs are in the following fields:
- Health Care
A certificate can get you into the healthcare profession quickly, or help you keep current on all the important changes in the field. After completing a certification program, you could become a Medical Office Assistant, Medical Billing or Coding Specialist, Medical Transcriptionist, Occupational Assistant, Dental Hygienist, Fitness or Wellness Trainer, Nursing Assistant or Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), to name a few.
Technology is essential in every industry, and there’s an incredible demand for people who can service, use and secure computer systems. If you’re interested in technology, you might consider a certification Computer Installation and Repair, Computer Software Technology, Computer Programming, Database Administration, or Computer Systems Security.
If you’re working in the multi-faceted field of business, certificates in these areas could help you move into a new role or earn a promotion: Finance, Accounting, Administrative Assistant, Human Resources Management, Sales, Marketing, or E-Commerce.
- Skilled Trades
Through a skilled trade certification program, you can learn a specific trade and land an entry-level job quickly. Some of the most popular options include: Automotive Service and Repair, Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) Repair, General Construction, Plumbing and Welding.
But these are just a few of the most popular programs. You can find certificate programs in nearly any field or discipline.
What types of colleges offer online certificate programs?
Online certificate programs are available at all types of schools, including:
- Career Colleges / Trade Schools / Vocational Schools
- Community Colleges
- Online Schools
- Public and Private Four-Year Universities
For example, Central Texas College offers 33 online certificate programs, including chemical dependency counseling, cyber security, emergency management, medical coding and billing, network server and cloud administration and more. Online classes have monthly start dates and range from 8-16 weeks.
At Fayetteville Technical Community College, you will find an impressive 65 online certificate programs that can be completed in just one year! Fields include business, computers and information, criminal justice, emergency management, engineering and applied technology, fire protection, health, intelligence studies and public service.
At Purdue University Global, the online extension of Purdue University, you can choose from online certificate programs in business, criminal justice, health science, education, information technology, legal studies, nursing, and social and behavioral studies.
These are just a few examples showing the many programs available at colleges and universities throughout the country!
As you consider your options, first look for a program that offers the skills necessary for your field. Be sure it’s an accredited program, and that you understand the costs and duration associated. You might also want to consider whether the credits you earn will transfer, in case you later decide to pursue a degree.
Will earning a certificate help advance my career?
It sure can! In an article about post-baccalaureate certificate programs – programs designed for individuals who hold a bachelor’s degree but don’t want to pursue a master’s – the Washington Post reports that the credential can add “an average 25 percent in earnings.”
But the value of a certificate really depends on the field.
In some fields, like health care, technology and teaching, certification may be mandatory for jobs or promotions. Professionals must have the most up-to-date training, so certification programs like these are precisely what you need in order to advance.
In other fields, however, such as public relations, journalism, or fashion design, for example, a certification is not essential. However, it will show employers your passion and drive, which can give you a leg up against other job applicants.
Is a certificate program right for me?
Certificate programs can open doors for you professionally, without the time commitment and cost of a college degree.
If you have a high school diploma or GED and want to get into a rewarding career field with opportunities to advance, a certificate program may be right for you. In a year or less, you can learn about the field and gain the skills necessary to land a well-paying job.
If you’re already working in your field, an online certificate program will allow you to fit classes and training around your existing commitments. The certificate program will help you keep up-to-date on new technology, discoveries or advancements in the industry so that you are eligible for new positions or promotions. You may also pursue a certificate that will enable you to transition into an entirely new field!
Earning a certificate can help individuals looking for a new career, or those hoping to advance the one they’re in!
How to pay for your online certificate program?
Though online certificate programs aren’t as expensive as college degree programs, they still come with a price tag! Here are some ways to help pay for your education:
Did you know FAFSA can help with funding non-degree programs? That’s right, there are federal and state loan and grant programs that cover continuing education courses. Plus, the FAFSA can help you access federal loans, which offer lower interest rates than private loans. So don’t neglect to fill out the FAFSA!
- Employer Contribution
If you’re currently employed and you’re interested in earning a certificate to enhance your job skills, check with your employer about reimbursement programs. Even if they don’t offer tuition reimbursement, they may open to considering it if your skills are likely to benefit them in the long-term.
- Payment Plans
Many online colleges offer payment plans so you can make reasonable contributions toward your tuition without taking out private loans and drowning in debt! Check with the financial aid offices at the school(s) you’re considering.
Don’t have the time or money to earn your college degree? You can still get ahead.
Earning an online certificate is a quick, affordable way for anyone to jump into a new career or jump-start the one they’re in!