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What Is a Professional Certificate?

Professional certificates are a continued education option that prepare students to take on specific jobs. As these programs are usually faster and more focused than degree programs, and are often less expensive, this is a great option for anyone interested in a more technical or skills-focused career.

Typical Requirements

Unlike most degree programs, being accepted into a professional certificate often comes with very few requirements. Besides the expectation that students have a high school diploma or a GED, in most cases joining a certification program simply requires that you pay for it.

As far as expectations throughout a certification program go, they generally take anywhere from a few months to two years to complete, which is much shorter than most degree programs. Certification programs also do not require students to take general education courses, unlike most degrees -- you will be allowed to focus entirely on the skillsets you're in school to learn.

Why Earn a Professional Certificate?

For anyone interested in a more skills-based job, earning a certificate is a great option. Certificate programs are often significantly less expensive than degree programs, can usually be completed in a matter of months as opposed to the years a degree requires, and can provide you with a much clearer job path in many cases. You'll be training with the end purpose of a specific career -- and this defined path can mean a huge reduction in employment anxiety. Here are just a few of the careers that a certification program might be right for:

  • Nursing
  • Dental Assistance
  • Web Development
  • Construction
  • Real Estate
  • Physical Therapy
  • Cosmetology

Certification programs are also a great way for people who've already earned degrees to supplement their careers or change their fields altogether. Given how inexpensive certificate programs are, and how fast they can be completed, it can be much easier to balance work, life, and school in one of these programs than it would be in a degree program, and this is what draws in returning students. Depending on your current role, a certificate can mean higher pay or a promotion, or it can lead you to an entirely new career that pays more or gives you a greater sense of satisfaction. In any case, a certificate program is a great option for anyone looking for a change.

Certificates vs Associate Degrees

For many prospective students, choosing between an associate degree and a professional certificate can be difficult, as both are inexpensive options for continued education after high school. An associate is a great fit for anyone that thinks they might be interested in earning a bachelor's or higher down the line, as your associate credits can usually be transferred and used towards that purpose. Additionally, although you will need to pick a major for your degree, earning an associate still allows for a more open-ended employment experience than a certificate might -- the latter typically provides training in a very specific occupation, while the former includes a mix of general education and some major courses. If you are still unsure of your future, an associate degree may be the right choice as it has the potential to open several doors.

While associate degrees are a good option for those potentially interested in pursuing a bachelor's down the line, or for those hoping to study multiple subjects, a certificate is a faster and more direct path towards a career. Though there is not a certificate option for all job paths, there is generally a track available for those looking to work in a skills-focused or trade-based work. In a certificate program, your training will be entirely focused on the job you are trying to become certified in, which is a major bonus for anyone not wanting to waste time or energy on courses that are less relevant to their future job. For many students, a certificate is the less anxiety-inducing option because it leads to a predictable outcome -- a job in the type of role you've prepared for. If knowing exactly where your career is headed is important to you, this might be worth considering.

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