Accredited Online Certificate Programs

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From Undergraduate to Graduate, Find Online Certificates in Fields Such as Paralegal, IT, and Accounting

Students can earn certificates through qualifying, non-degree courses of study at colleges, universities, and technical schools. Postsecondary certificates are a popular option, likely because they take significantly less time to complete than degrees.This guide explores the best online certificate programs and the reasons that certificates are so popular. The following sections review how to transfer a certificate into a degree program and provide information about accreditation for students earning certificates online.

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Top 10 Accredited Online Certificate Programs

Rank School Location
1 Coastal Pines Technical College Waycross, GA
2 Georgia Piedmont Technical College Clarkston, GA
3 Champlain College Burlington, VT
4 Georgia Northwestern Technical College Rome, GA
5 Southern Regional Technical College Thomasville, GA
6 Bismarck State College Bismarck, ND
7 Pamlico Community College Grantsboro, NC
8 Regis University Denver, CO
9 Charter Oak State College New Britain, CT
10 Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College Shell Lake, WI

Data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that a college degree remains the goal for most graduating high school seniors and even many nontraditional students. Postsecondary institutions all over the country awarded more bachelor’s degrees (1.9 million) than associate degrees (one million) or certificates (approximately 900,000).

However, several factors, such as rapid technological advancement and increasing globalization, have impacted the current educational landscape in the United States. An increasing number of students opt for alternative academic options, including pursuing an online certificate program. Enrolling in a certificate program offers several advantages in terms of time, affordability, and professional options. You can read about these advantages in greater detail below.

This guide provides information that can help you decide whether enrolling in an online certificate program is right for you. Learn more about some of the most popular certificate programs available to students today. Before making a final decision, explore key aspects of certificate programs, including accreditation, cost, and school ranking. Continue reading below to learn how you can benefit from the academic and career advantages of online certificate programs.

Accredited Online Certificate Programs Overview

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) classifies a certificate as a postsecondary nondegree award. An educational institution awards a certificate to a graduate who has completed some type of postsecondary schooling or training. A certificate is not the same as certification, which is given by a certifying body or a professional organization.

Many people associate certificate programs with trades like automotive repair, welding, and plumbing. Schools offer certificates in these fields but increasingly in other professional arenas as well, such as healthcare, computer technology, and education. Without disregarding the value of a broad-based education, career opportunities abound for skilled workers in the modern workforce.

Technological advances allow students to earn a certificate fully online in certain fields. Programs that require students to complete an internship typically allow them to meet this requirement within their geographical area. Each program maintains its own set of admission criteria. Considerable differences exist between schools offering the same type of certificate, so be sure to contact a prospective school to be clear on their admission requirements.

Certificate programs typically offer career-oriented and skills-focused classes. Because of this, few courses transfer readily to an associate or bachelor’s program. However, some two-year community colleges accept certificate courses earned from an accredited program. If you plan to use your certificate coursework for a degree later on, make sure you know the transferability of the courses you plan to take for the certificate.

BLS lists several on-campus and online certificate programs that are in high demand in today’s workforce. Certificates in healthcare, information technology, and protective services currently rank high in terms of giving graduates marketable skills.

Why Get an Online Certificate?

Students opt to pursue an online certificate for professional and personal reasons. Some are listed below:

Shorter Completion Time
Many online certificate programs take only a year to complete, meaning graduates enter the workforce sooner than if they pursued a two-year associate or a four-year bachelor’s degree.
Focused Learning
A certificate program allows students to develop a specific set of skills required in a job or industry. They graduate from the program with readily marketable skills.
Affordability
Since online students often live and study from home, they incur no additional transportation and boarding costs, which makes online certificate programs much more affordable than traditional onsite programs.
Flexibility
Many online programs offer asynchronous coursework, which makes it easier to attend class and maintain personal and work responsibilities at the same time.
Professional Requirement
Some positions require applicants to be certified in a specific practice area within their field, such as special education or emergency room nursing.

Accreditation for an Online Program

There are currently three types of higher education accreditation in the United States. Regional accreditation focuses on degree-oriented nonprofit institutions, which may be public or private schools. For-profit trade or sectarian schools often seek national accreditation. The third type, programmatic accreditation, focuses on specific programs offered by schools that hold national or regional accreditation.

The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) oversee the accrediting process and make sure accrediting agencies apply the same rigorous standards to all the schools and programs that fall under their rightful jurisdiction.

Accreditation signifies more than quality education. Students can only receive federal financial assistance if they are enrolled in an accredited institution. Accreditation also matters when transferring credits. Schools with regional accreditation only accept credits earned at another institution that holds the same type of accreditation. They seldom accept credits earned at a school with national accreditation.

In evaluating online programs, consider those offered by an accredited school. If you are looking for an online school (and not just a brick-and-mortar campus offering online programs), look for accreditation by the Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC). ED and CHEA recognize DEAC as the main accreditor for online schools.

Common Online Certificate Programs


  • Healthcare

    With an aging American population and thousands of healthcare workers reaching retirement age, the need for well-trained healthcare workers in various subfields is greater than ever. Several healthcare occupations require the completion of an accredited certificate program for entry-level employment. Some of these include jobs as pharmacy technicians, licensed vocational nurses, and medical assistants.


  • Protective Services

    Professionals providing protective services, including firefighters, law enforcement, and private security officers, typically require certificate-level training to qualify for ground-level positions. Advancement in the field, especially for homeland security professionals, often depends on accumulated relevant experience and higher-level education. Mid-level professionals seeking to change to a career in protective services can earn a certificate in a specialized field to help them transition.


  • Precision Production

    Schools offer several certificates in this varied field, including programs for machinists, welders, and tool and die makers. Technology advances continue to create new specialization areas, including electromechanical equipment assemblers and computer-controlled machine tool operators. Precision production certificate programs typically last 6-12 months with many requiring hands-on training or apprenticeship.


  • Construction Trades

    BLS projects a 10% growth rate for jobs in this industry between 2018 and 2028, which is twice as fast as the average growth rate for all other occupations. Certificate programs cover the gamut of jobs available in this industry, including construction and building inspectors, electricians, and hazardous materials removal workers.


  • Computer Information Technology

    Several stand-alone schools offer online certificate programs in this field for students who want to start working in the computer technology field. Popular programs include certificates to become computer support specialists, programmers, and information security analysts. BLS projects a growth rate of 10% for jobs in this sector between 2018 and 2028, which is faster than average.


Online Certificate Requirements

Trade and manufacturing certificates often require applicants to have at least a high school or GED diploma. Certificate programs related to computer technology may require the completion of specific foundation courses in math. Reach out to a prospective school to get clarification on their admission requirements if these are not clearly stated on their website.

Accredited institutions offering online certificate programs require the submission of a transcript from the school where applicants completed their secondary education. Students who attended more than one high school likely must submit transcripts from each school. Transcripts are mailed (electronically or by post) directly to a prospective school, so give your secondary institution ample time to accomplish this within the deadline.

Students pursuing an online certificate program in high-need areas (such as healthcare or education) often qualify for some type of federal financial assistance. You must complete the FAFSA to find out your eligibility status. Note that ED channels federal funds only through accredited schools.

FAQ


  • What are the best online certificate programs?


    As a rule, accredited institutions offer some of the best online certificate programs, regardless of the professional arena. This is often true for schools that hold national or regional accreditation.

  • Are online certificate programs worth it?


    Online certificate programs differ from their on-campus counterparts only in terms of delivery. You get the same quality of instruction and training often while saving money at the same time.

  • What certificate programs are in demand?


    High-demand fields often differ between states, so the need for certificate programs will vary as well. Find out which states have the largest share of employment for certificate holders
    from this BLS website.

  • Are there any grants for certificate programs?


    Yes, there are grants for certificate programs from federal and private sources. Complete the
    FAFSA to determine your eligibility for financial assistance.

Best Online Certificate Programs

Online certificate programs can help students with busy schedules access higher education. Distance learners typically complete coursework at convenient times. Online learning also allows students to pursue online certificate programs through out-of-state institutions without relocating.

The list below includes the best online certificate programs in the United States. The ranking considers factors including class sizes, availability of student services, and student success rates.

  1. Coastal Pines Technical College
    Location

    Waycross, GA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    At CPTC, students can pursue online certificate programs in accounting, business technology, criminal justice, early childhood care and education, and marketing management. These 1-2-semester programs deliver content through Blackboard using an asynchronous format. Students gain access to career services and phone counseling. Other valuable resources include Virtual Job Shadow, an online service that provides users with career assessments and detailed information concerning different career tracks. Prospective students aged 16 and older who passed the GED or possess a high school diploma may apply to any of CPTC's certificate programs. Out-of-state learners pay double the in-state tuition rate. Georgia residents may qualify for the HOPE Scholarship, which provides automatic financial aid as long as recipients maintain a minimum 3.0 GPA.

  2. Georgia Piedmont Technical College
    Location

    Clarkston, GA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    GPTC's 28 online certificate programs appeal to aspiring business, computer programming, and media professionals. Students can choose from certificates in entrepreneurship, PC repair and network technician, and design and media production specialist. All courses use an asynchronous format. At least once per semester, certificate-seekers must complete a proctored exam, presentation, or lab assignment at an approved location. Students gain access to career services, such as resume critiques, networking tips, and links to top job boards. Other student services include Purple Briefcase -- a network that connects certificate-seekers with local employers. Applicants must submit high school transcripts. Incoming learners who do not submit ACT or SAT scores must take the ACCUPLACER exam. Georgia residents save 75% on tuition compared to out-of-state certificate-seekers. New students submit only one financial aid application through AwardSpring to apply for 24 institutional scholarship opportunities.

  3. Champlain College
    Location

    Burlington, VT

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Champlain offers several online undergraduate and graduate certificate programs. The school offers an undergraduate accounting certificate and more than a dozen graduate certificates in areas like business, cybersecurity, and healthcare. Full-time students can typically complete these programs within one year. Students gain access to career resources, including internship opportunities and career transition programs. Nearly 95% of Champlain graduates find a job or enter another academic program within six months of earning a degree or certificate. Champlain prefers applicants with a minimum 2.5 GPA. All online students pay the same tuition rate regardless of residency, and active-duty servicemembers save approximately 50% on tuition. Learners can apply for federal grants and loans by submitting FAFSA results. Vermont residents may qualify for additional financial aid opportunities.

  4. Georgia Northwestern Technical College
    Location

    Rome, GA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    GNTC offers dozens of online certificate programs in areas like entrepreneurship, marketing specialist, and tax preparation specialist. The college also boasts seven programs that teach in-demand Microsoft Office skills. Most programs require 9-16 credits, allowing full-time students to earn a certificate within one year. Learners gain access to career services, such as resume pointers, typical interview questions, and professionalism best practices. Additionally, students can take a career interest test to determine how to turn online certificate courses into a fulfilling career. Applicants must hold a high school diploma or GED and complete a placement test. In-state students save 50% on tuition compared to out-of-state certificate-seekers. Learners can apply for a foundation scholarship through the GNTC financial aid portal.

  5. Southern Regional Technical College
    Location

    Thomasville, GA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    SRTC's certificate programs feature 17 tracks in areas of criminal justice specialist, Microsoft network administrator, and technical management specialist. Programs take 2-5 semesters to complete, and SRTC admits news students each semester. All students benefit from a program advisor who helps them select courses and stay on track for graduation. Through SRTC's career services, learners can receive resume critiques, sign up for mock interviews, and develop marketing skills. Applicants must submit high school transcripts and ACT, SAT, or ACCUPLACER scores. In-state students enjoy a significant tuition discount. Students earning a certificate in an in-demand field may qualify for a HOPE Career Grant.

  6. Bismarck State College
    Location

    Bismarck, ND

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    BSC offers online certificate programs in electronics technology and water and wastewater technology. Electronics technology students complete 28 credits that cover topics in manufacturing and information technology. The water and wastewater technology program requires a job shadowing experience and includes coursework in applied math and laboratory procedures. Full-time certificate-seekers in both programs can graduate in one year. Nearly 100% of students who earn a certificate at BSC find a job within one year of graduation. Students can start preparing for life after graduation through Job Seekers Network and Kuder Journey, a software suite that offers interest assessments and job search strategies. Prospective students can apply for the spring, summer, or fall semester. In-state students and active-duty servicemembers pay approximately 50% less in tuition than out-of-state students. The BSC Foundation awards more than $600,000 in scholarships to eligible students each year.

  7. Pamlico Community College
    Location

    Grantsboro, NC

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    PCC offers some of the best online certificate programs in the country in areas of criminal justice technology, early childhood education, and human services technology. Students can log in to WebAdvisor -- a software platform that connects learners with a PCC advisor -- to receive academic and career guidance. Additionally, the school offers specialized resources for students with disabilities, such as career skills training programs. New students without ACT or SAT scores must take a placement test before signing up for courses. PCC charges out-of-state learners more than three times the in-state tuition rate. Certificate-seekers need only submit the Scholarship General Application to apply for all institutional financial aid opportunities.

  8. Regis University
    Location

    Denver, CO

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Regis boasts over 24 undergraduate and graduate certificate programs in areas like executive information technology, healthcare informatics, and project management. Many certificates feature an optional accelerated track, allowing students to graduate in less than one year. More than 85% of Regis alumni find a job within 12 months of earning a degree or certificate. The Center for Career and Professional Development offers Handshake software, one-on-one career counseling, and interviewing tips. Regis uses a different application for prospective undergraduate and graduate students. Tuition varies by program, but Regis does not differentiate between in-state and out-of-state tuition. Undergraduate certificate-seekers may qualify for one of five institutional scholarships.

  9. Charter Oak State College
    Location

    New Britain, CT

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Charter Oak offers some of the best online certificate programs in the country. Students can pursue certificates in areas like project management, public safety, and victim advocacy. All programs feature 5-8-week accelerated courses. Certificate-seekers must earn a minimum "C" grade in each course to remain in good academic standing. Students gain access to career services, such as resume and cover letter guides, job boards, and networking sites. CS also promotes learners' academic and career success by providing free virtual tutoring through Tutor.com. Admission materials include high school transcripts or GED scores. Connecticut residents save approximately 25% on tuition compared to out-of-state students. In-state learners may qualify for one of three institutional scholarship programs.

  10. Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College
    Location

    Shell Lake, WI

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    WITC's seven online certificate programs include unique topics like broadband customer service specialist and nonprofit essentials. Part-time students can typically earn a certificate within one year. The college classifies some online certificates as Career Pathways Programs. In these programs, students complete hands-on experiences to gain in-demand skills. Students gain access to career services, such as job openings, resume critiques, and interview help. Over 90% of WITC students find a job or enter another academic program after graduation. Application requirements include a high school diploma or GED scores. Incoming learners without standardized test scores must also take the ACCUPLACER exam. WITC extends in-state tuition to Minnesota and Michigan residents. Learners interested in institutional financial aid should submit a scholarship application by the April 6 deadline.

Undergraduate Online Certificate Programs Learning Center

Learners can pursue online certification programs in a variety of lengths, academic levels, and subject areas. Many schools offer online undergraduate, graduate, and professional certificates in professional fields such as business and healthcare. This section includes information about various types of certificate programs in popular subject areas.

Online Graduate Certificate Programs

Online IT Certification Programs

Online Business Certificate Programs

Online Paralegal Certificate

Online Accounting Certificate

Online Teaching Certification

Earning an Online Certificate

Certificate programs typically comprise 4-8 courses, which most learners complete in three months to a year. Students typically need only a high school diploma to enroll in an undergraduate certificate program.

Applicants to graduate-level certificate programs may need a bachelor’s degree, graduate test scores, and professional experience. Like on-campus options, online certificate programs help learners develop specialized career skills. Online programs often deliver more flexible scheduling options, and some provide accelerated coursework.

How Online Certificates Are Taking Off

According to the National Center of Education Statistics, schools awarded nearly 1 million certificates during the 2016-2017 academic year. Institutions awarded more certificates than master’s or doctoral degrees.

The popularity of online certification programs likely stems from the minimal time investment and the significant potential for career advancement. Certificate programs require less time and are less expensive than degrees, making them ideal for professionals changing careers.

Also, earning a certificate can lead to additional career opportunities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, certificate-holders have a 86.5% employment rate, compared to a 49.1% rate for those without a certificate or license.

Students can pursue professional, undergraduate, and graduate certificates in a variety of career-focused and academic fields. Popular certificate programs include medical insurance coding, computer software technology, and legal assistance. Professionals in some fields need a certificate rather than a degree to qualify for employment. Learners in other industries must hold a bachelor’s or master’s degree to receive admission to a certificate program.

Transferring to a Degree Program

Some students transfer their online certificate into a degree program. Learners can typically transfer credits between accredited institutions. However, students should consult academic advisors at both schools to ensure that their certificate will transfer. While general education courses usually transfer easily, major-specific classes may be applied as elective credits.

Learners planning to pursue a bachelor’s or master’s degree often choose an associate program instead of a certificate program to improve their transfer options and maximize the financial value of their education. Those who already hold a higher degree, however, may find certificate programs to be more cost-effective.

Online Certificate Programs

Universities, liberal arts colleges, and technical colleges offer online certification programs at various academic levels. Certificates vary in length, cost, and value. Students may complete a career-oriented program at a technical college in a few weeks, while a graduate certificate in a complex field could require two years.

Some community colleges offer free tuition to state residents, but a graduate certificate from a private university could cost several thousand dollars. The professional value of a certificate depends on the field and the positions graduates qualify to pursue.

Although online certificate programs require an investment of time and finances, a certificate can help professionals advance their career without earning a degree. Additionally, many employers offer reimbursement programs for professionals pursuing certificates.

Online learning offers benefits including flexible scheduling options, location independence, and the ability to work or raise a family while in school. Some programs include in-person requirements. However, distance learners typically complete these components at locations in their community.

College Accreditation

Accreditation demonstrates that an institution or program meets set standards for academic quality. Many employers only recognize degrees earned from accredited schools, and students must attend an accredited institution to qualify for certain types of financial aid. The accreditation process involves evaluation by an independent agency. The Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation oversee accrediting agencies in the United States.

The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges awards regional accreditation to two-year schools. Programs and departments can also receive specialized accreditation. For example, the American National Standards Institute accredits technical certificate programs. Online certificate programs may also receive accreditation from the National Distance Learning Association.

Popular Resources

Whether you’re looking to earn your online degree or you’re a parent looking for answers, you can find all of your questions covered here. Explore these resources to help you make informed decisions and prepare for whatever is thrown your way.


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