Online Graduate Certification Programs Resources & Expert Advice for Finding Online Graduate Certifications

expert contributor
LINDA F. WILLIAMS
LINDA F. WILLIAMS Linda is a Certified Personal and Profess … Read full bio

In today’s economy, a bachelor’s degree is not always enough to reach full professional potential. Additional instruction is often needed so that someone may expand their areas of work or specialize in a particular area. One way to get this additional education is through a graduate degree; however, graduate degrees typically take several years to complete and can be very expensive. Another option is a graduate certificate, which is almost always cheaper and faster to obtain – and as a bonus, it can usually be earned online. Read on for more information about online graduate certificate programs.

Graduate Certificates Vs Graduate Degrees

Graduate certificate programs serve as an alternative to full-fledged graduate degrees. But despite the advantages of a graduate certificate program, there are some tradeoffs. The following chart will go into more detail as to the differences between a graduate certificate and a degree.

Graduate Certificate Graduate Degree

A graduate certificate generally consists of between three and seven courses, cost a few thousand dollars and lasts less than one year.

The purpose of most graduate certificates is to obtain a very specialized level of knowledge about a particular area relatively quickly. Many students who decide to enroll in a certificate program require a specific set of knowledge so that they may advance professionally, such as taking on new job tasks or concentrating in a particular area.

A graduate degree typically consists of several dozen courses, carry the sometimes steep costs of full tuition and often last over two years, although two to four years is most common.

Most graduate degree programs are similar to graduate certificate programs in that they allow students to receive instruction in a specialized area. However, graduate degrees are much more comprehensive. Additionally, degree programs help establish the foundation for a wider range of professional advancement opportunities, such as management or leadership positions, or brand new roles altogether. Therefore, in addition to any job requirements that may require a degree rather than a certificate, students who get a graduate degree might choose this option for additional leadership training that is often included in the degree curriculum.

Why an Online Graduate Certificate?

We’ve briefly touched on a few reasons why online graduate certificate programs may be a promising choice for many students and professionals, as well as some of the differences between graduate degree and certificate programs. What are some of the specific reasons why an individual should pursue an online graduate certificate? We’ve listed four of the biggest reasons below.

1 Program Cost

Online graduate certificate programs are almost always going to be shorter and cheaper than graduate degrees. Most graduate certificate programs last a few months compared to a few years for graduate degree programs. Certificate programs also cost a lot less. While most students in a graduate degree program are getting a lot more for the vastly higher time and financial commitment, depending on the educational and professional goals of the student, the higher cost of a graduate degree might not be worth it.

2 Learn About a New Specialized Area

The primary reason to get a graduate degree or a certificate is to learn new information. Most of the time this will be knowledge in an area that the student already has some background in, whether through work experience, their bachelor’s degree or both. For example, an individual may have a computer science degree and work experience in database management. However, due to changes in the industry and the desire for professional growth, they want to learn more about artificial intelligence. A certificate program will provide the opportunity to gain this additional knowledge without committing so much time and money to a degree.

3 Fulfill Licensing Requirements

Depending on the industry, state and job, a graduate certificate can satisfy requirements for licensing. For instance, some states will allow the coursework and experience gained in a teaching certificate program to go towards the licensing requirements for becoming a licensed teacher. In other fields, like health administration, a graduate certificate can serve as one the requirements to becoming a licensed administrator.

4 Career Advancement

This is one of the biggest reasons a prospective student might pursue a graduate certificate. The graduate certificate may be an explicit qualification for a position; the experience and instruction received may be necessary to have the requisite knowledge necessary for a given position. On the other hand, the graduate certificate may not be a job requirement, but it shows that the person who earned it is serious about moving into a new or more specialized area and has the initiative and drive to do what it takes to get there.

Spotlight: 10 Online Grad Certification Programs

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of graduate certificate programs available online. That’s because many students who need to pursue a graduate certificate are already working and don’t have the time to leave work and sit in a classroom. To view a sampling of online graduate certificate, check out the list below.

  • Offered by: Texas State
    Cost: $11,889.05 (non-resident) $5,769.05 (resident)
    Length: Five courses
    Format: Hybrid
    Outcome: Graduate Certificate in Long Term Car Administration

    The primary objective of this program is to prepare students to become licensed nursing facility administrators. Therefore, the typical student in this program is someone already working in a nursing facility who seeks additional instruction to take on a management role. The program covers common nursing facility topics, including financial management, resident care and regulations.

  • Offered by: PennState World Campus
    Cost: $805 per credit
    Length: Three courses
    Format: Online
    Outcome: Graduate Certificate in Wind Energy

    PennState’s wind energy graduate certificate program will teach students how wind energy works, from both a technical and policy standpoint. This program is ideal for energy professionals who need in-depth knowledge on the wind turbine industry. The program’s three courses will focus on wind turbine design, engineering and the implementation process of establishing wind energy generation.

  • Offered by: Harvard Extension School
    Cost: $10,200
    Length: Four courses
    Format: Online or Hybrid, depending on specific course selection
    Outcome: Accounting Certificate

    Harvard’s accounting certificate will teach students how to organize and prepare financial information for analysis. The accounting knowledge provided is expansive, allowing students to obtain industry and profession-specific instruction. Even though the program consists of four courses, three of them are electives, allowing for a tailored online graduate experience.

  • Offered by: Arizona State University
    Cost: $675 per credit
    Length: Five classes
    Format: Online
    Outcome: Graduate certificate

    This program is designed for professionals who work with individuals with autism. Those who could benefit from this certificate include educators, counselors, psychologists and therapists, all of who could glean information that would make it easier to work with children and adults who are somewhere on the autism spectrum.

  • Offered by: University of South Florida
    Cost: $927.17 per credit hour (non-resident) $481.43 per credit hour (resident)
    Length: Six courses
    Format: Online
    Outcome: Graduate certificate in cyber intelligence

    USF’s cyber intelligence certificate program is suitable for any professional who must be aware and/or account for cyber threats. This program covers topics such as determining potential adversaries, including their capabilities, motivations and methods for potential attack. Students will also learn how to identify vulnerabilities with an organization and take steps to reduce the risk of possible cyber attacks.

  • Offered by: UMassOnline
    Cost: $570 per credit
    Length: 12 credits
    Format: Online
    Outcome: Graduate Certificate in Domestic Violence Prevention

    UMassOnline’s certificate in domestic violence prevention is intended for anyone who encounters issues or individuals dealing with domestic violence. This includes professionals such as nurses, counselors and law enforcement officers. The curriculum covers topics including victimology, intimate partner violence, family systems and healthcare laws and ethics.

  • Offered by: Drexel University
    Cost: $1,176 per credit
    Length: Five courses
    Format: Online
    Outcome: Graduate certificate

    Drexel University’s criminal law certificate provides a foundation in criminal law and the criminal legal system in the United States. This program is ideal for those working in law enforcement or any part of the prison system. In addition to providing a theoretical background in criminal law, ethical and regulatory concepts will also be presented.

  • Offered by: University of Arizona Online
    Cost: $650 per unit
    Length: 14 units
    Format: Online
    Outcome: Certificate NDP

    The Applied Nutrition certificate teaches students about advanced nutrition science topics, such as metabolism and medical nutrition therapy. Intended primarily for nutrition professionals, anyone in a clinical setting can benefit from this program, including nurses, doctors, coaches, chiropractors and personal trainers.

  • Offered by: University of Florida
    Cost: $725.75 per credit hour (non-resident) $575.88 per credit hour (resident)
    Length: Nine credit hours
    Format: Online
    Outcome: Advanced manufacturing certificate

    This certificate program teaches students about advanced manufacturing techniques. Topics covered include both traditional and non-traditional manufacturing methods, such as computer numerical control and finite element analysis. The knowledge gained from this program will allow individuals to more effectively analyze new manufacturing techniques that have yet to be implemented.

  • Offered by: University of Washington
    Cost: $4,380 and $9,420
    Length: Eight months
    Format: Online
    Outcome: Certificate in Applied Biostatistics

    This graduate certificate program is designed for anyone who needs to use biostatistics in their job, which often includes scientists and researchers. By enrolling in this program, students will earn about regression models, analysis of covariance and variance, analyzing categorical data and applying the Cox proportional hazards model.

Expert Advice on Choosing an Online Graduate Certificate Program

Linda F. Williams, MSW, is a certified life coach. She earned her graduate certificate in Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counseling concurrent with her Masters of Social Work.

What was your overall impression of the graduate certificate program?
Linda Linda F. Williams

That program was grueling because it was clinical-practice intensive. Diagnosis and intervention protocol were challenging aspects of the curriculum. Because I took this program along with my usual Master of Social Work classes (also clinically focused), I had to employ many time management techniques to maintain excellence in my assignments and internship. Thankfully, the classes took place in the evening or on the weekend, which accommodated my work and family obligations.

How has earning your graduate certificate helped your career?
Linda Linda F. Williams

While pursuing a graduate certification can truly boost your career, this is the beauty of a graduate certificate program – it does not have to be related to your current job or career. Since 1979, I have been in public administration with the federal government. Yet, my graduate degree is in clinical/macro social work. They are not directly related. The skills and competencies I gained from the management standpoint indeed facilitated my career competencies. The take-away for me, however, is movement into another career path.

Was the graduate certificate program what you expected?
Linda Linda F. Williams

I had no preconceived expectations of the program and I was already in an academic frame of mind. The only thing that I didn’t realize at the time was how much weight that certificate held in the marketplace. Based on my recent research, graduate certificates have gained even more recognition among employers.

What advice might you offer to someone who is considering a graduate certificate?
Linda Linda F. Williams

As a certified professional life coach, I recommend a graduate certificate program to those who are seeking advancement in their current careers or who are seeking a career change. Here are some benefits of doing so:

  • A graduate certification takes less time than a full master’s degree. Depending on your area of study, these can take anywhere from a few weeks to a year or two.
  • You might be able to transfer your certificate credits into a full master’s program. The ability to do so depends on the curriculum and the institution. Be sure to check with your chosen school.
  • Graduate certification is a good option when time and finances are considerations.
  • A graduate certificate program may position you for career advancement or prepare you for management-level positions.
  • You may find an online or evening program that will allow you to attend classes without interfering with your work hours.