Graduate Degrees vs Certifications: How to Choose

Your academic credentials can qualify you for the job of your dreams or advancement opportunities. However, postsecondary education is expensive. It can be challenging to finance several years of full-time postsecondary schooling. You may be wondering whether pursuing a graduate degree or certificate is worth the time and money and which type of program is best for you.

There are several options you can consider to prepare you for your career. You may need a master’s degree, or a doctoral degree may be required to qualify for your chosen career. Continue reading to learn about how graduate degrees and certificates differ and how to choose the best option for your career path.

There are some similarities between graduate degrees and certificates

There are some similarities between graduate degrees and certificates

Graduate degrees and certificates help you acquire the advanced skills you need to thrive in your career field. Earning a graduate certificate or degree involves completing the coursework and passing exams. Both programs can help you rise through the ranks. For example, professionals with a project management certificate have the skills needed to oversee staff, create budgets and deadlines, and manage stakeholders.

Becoming a project management professional (PMP) is an excellent option for those interested in career advancement who want to complete studies while employed. Project management certification programs require 35 contact hours of training. The required coursework includes courses in risk management, human resources management, time management, quality management, scope management, and communications management. Programs also include practice exams you can use to prepare to pass your project manager certification exam. Google “project management certification online” to learn more about online classes and PMP training options that can help you advance your career.

There are some distinctions between graduate certificates and degrees

There are some distinctions between graduate certificates and degrees

Graduate certificate programs are shorter and less expensive than graduate degrees. It’s possible to complete some certificates in a year or less, while a master’s degree typically takes two years of postsecondary studies.

Earning a doctorate usually takes between four and six years. Students may move directly to a law school or medical school program after earning their bachelor’s degree, while some doctoral degree programs require applicants to earn a master’s degree first. The requirements vary, so you must investigate the academic requirements if you’re considering a doctoral degree.

Certificate programs focus on a specialty. For example, a registered nurse (RN) may take a certificate program to acquire the skills needed to enter a specific medical field.  i.e. they might get ACLS certification for working in emergency medicine. RNs may qualify to become neonatal nurses or work in oncology. It’s often possible to complete a certificate program while employed, enabling RNs to complete courses without disrupting their career.


You may need a professional or graduate certificate for some master’s degree programs

You may need a professional or graduate certificate for some master's degree programs

Earning a master of business administration (MBA) degree equips business students with the skills needed to thrive in the business sector. A bachelor’s degree is required before you can apply for an MBA, though. Your undergraduate degree must be from an accredited program. Applicants must also have a professional certificate or license, which could prompt them to complete a graduate certificate before applying to a graduate degree program.

Earning an MBA involves completing between 38 and 42 credit hours of graduate studies. MBA program courses cover various subjects, including managing across cultures, strategic management, and marketing for managers. Google “business administration masters ” to learn more about accredited MBA programs. With an MBA, you can pursue opportunities as financial managers, marketing managers, medical and health services managers, management consultants, product manager, and business operations managers.

Earning a master’s degree or doctorate could save time and money for some career options

Earning a master's degree or doctorate could save time and money for some career options

A master’s degree or doctoral degree is required for some career options. While an RN can use a graduate certificate program to specialize in a particular field of medicine, if their objective is to become a nurse practitioner, nurse-midwife, or nurse anesthetist, they must earn a master’s degree. Since RNs must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to earn their nursing license, they already have a professional license, meaning they can qualify for admission to a master’s program without earning a graduate or professional certificate.

Earning a graduate or professional certificate can save you time and money while providing the skills and knowledge required to pursue advancement opportunities. However, applicants must have a master’s or doctoral degree for some careers. Master’s and doctoral degree programs take longer to complete, but they open the doors to more career opportunities.

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