Students who want to learn a new skill, beef up their resume or prepare for a new career often choose to earn a professional certificate in lieu of — or in addition to — a traditional degree. Although the benefits of doing so vary from student to student and across industries, there are a variety of reasons why professional certificates are becoming such an attractive option. These include:

  • First, professional certificates can typically be earned in a fraction of the time it takes to earn a traditional degree — in some cases, it can take as little as 12 weeks.
  • Second, certificate programs tend to cost less for enrollment than traditional degree programs, mainly because the programs are shorter and generally less-involved.
  • Third, professional certificates are often incredibly specialized, meaning that they focus solely on the skill or topic at hand. This not only saves the student time, but saves them from having to study related topics that they may not further their career.

What is a certificate?

You might be wondering, "Is a certificate a degree?" It isn't. There are similarities between traditional two-year and four-year degree programs and certificate programs. In a sense, a certificate program is often just a mini-degree program. However, unlike traditional degree programs which offer a broad education on a variety of topics, certificate programs tend to educate students about an advanced topic or teach a specific skill.

Because certificate programs generally take less time to complete and are focused in one area, they can be an attractive option to students with different goals. For example, unskilled laborers who want to advance in their careers may choose to earn a certificate program that teaches an advanced skill. Those already in the workforce sometimes choose to earn a professional certificate to keep their skills up-to-date or transition into a new career. And students who have already earned a bachelor's degree may also flock toward graduate certificates, particularly those that are offered online. Doing so allows them to continue pursuing their educational goals while working either part time or full time.

Which careers benefit from a certificate program?

Certain occupations may require professional certificates in order to gain employment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the following occupations require the highest percentage of employees to earn a professional certificate in their field:

  • Massage Therapists: 88%
  • Hairdressers, Hair stylists, and Cosmetologists: 74%
  • Automotive Master Technicians: 72%
  • Heating and Air Conditioning Mechanics and Installers: 72%
  • Pipe fitters and Steamfitters: 69%
  • Tool and Die Makers: 68%
  • Dental Assistants: 68%
  • Mobile Heavy Equipment Mechanics, Except Engines: 57%
  • Machinists: 50%
  • Surgical technologists: 44%

Other careers may require professional certification for advancement or promotion. Accountants are a perfect example, according to U.S. News & World Report, since they can often advance in their career by completing a certificate program and earning a Certified Public Accountant designation. Financial advisors are in a similar situation as well, since they often invest in special credentials to set themselves apart. The three most popular certifications earned by financial advisors are Chartered Financial Analyst, Certified Public Accountant and Certified Financial Planner.

Those who work in Information Technology are also prime candidates for professional certification and training since their line of work is constantly evolving and changing. Some of the most popular IT certificate programs involve expert training in the following programs: Microsoft certifications (MCSE, MCITP, MCTS), CompTIA certifications (A+, Network+, Security+, Linux+) and Cisco certifications (CCNP, CCNA, CCiE), among others.

What does it take to get started?

Prerequisites for certificate programs vary, and it's important to research specific requirements before choosing a program. It's also equally important to understand the time commitment and cost involved in specific programs you may be considering. However, many students across the country are finding that the investment is worth it. Professional certificates have the potential to improve job prospects, provide a gateway to a new career or help students brush up on their skills. And since schools with certificate programs now offer many professional certificates online, they are more convenient than ever.

Article Sources
Article Sources
  • "Certificates: A fast track to careers," Occupational Outlook Quarterly, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Winter 2012-13, http://www.bls.gov/ooq/2012/winter/art01.pdf
  • "What is a Certificate Program?" Diane Goettel, WiseGEEK, April 23, 2014, http://www.wisegeek.org/what-is-a-certificate-program.htm
  • "5 Certificate Programs That Can Advance Your Career," Greg Scott Neuman, U.S. News & World Report, 2012,http://www.usnewsuniversitydirectory.com/articles/5-certificates-for-career-advancement_12352.aspx#.U1p9sE7D_IU
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