Making the decision to pursue higher education can be difficult. There are many factors to consider when deciding which route is right for you, including time and cost. Two of the most popular types of degrees are degrees and certificates, and each can be important in helping you achieve your goals.
Diplomas and certificates can be obtained as part of a study program at a post-secondary institution, such as a college or university. Learning the difference between degrees and certificates, and assessing how each aligns with your goals, can help you determine which path is right for you.
What is a diploma?
If you are looking for a comprehensive program developed around a chosen field of study, then a degree may be right for you.
“A curriculum is reflected in a specific discipline rather than a specific skill, competence or subject,” said Dr Alexandru Manus, vice president of innovation knowledge management at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). Depending on your school or program, it may also include general education courses and electives.
The four types of university degrees are:
The two undergraduate study programs are associate and bachelor’s degrees. Associate degrees are the shortest of the degrees, typically last two years, and last for 60 credits. Bachelor’s degrees are longer, typically last four years or less, and last 120 credits.
A master’s degree is a graduate degree that varies in length, ranging from 30 to 60 credits depending on the program. They are generally only available to those who have already obtained a bachelor’s degree.
The time needed to obtain a degree depends on your time commitment, your degree level, and whether you are enrolled part-time or full-time. For SNHU online students, part-time is one class – or three credits – per quarter, and full-time is two courses – or six credits – each quarter.
The final level is a doctorate, which is also considered a graduate degree. A doctorate is a type of terminal degree and requires an intense level of study in a specific field that can take up to an additional seven years.
Guillaume Pena, associate vice president of academic operations and policy at SNHU, said that degrees, compared to certificates, are “typically more important in terms of the time and amount of content and curriculum that must be completed before graduation. official award of the diploma “.
How much do diplomas cost?
The cost of the degree varies by institution, and some schools frequently change their tuition fees, while others have not increased tuition fees for more than a decade.
Actual tuition fees may vary depending on:
- Financial assistance offered
- Grants obtained
- Military releases to active duty
Financial assistance, granted through the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), may be available if you are completing a diploma program. Completing your FAFSA each year will help you determine your eligibility for government financial assistance programs. You could reduce your personal expenses depending on the amount of financial assistance to which you are entitled.
There are tools to help you determine your academic financial situation, such as net price calculators. If you have any questions, look for more information on the school’s Tuition and Financial Aid page or contact a member of Student Financial Services.
What is a certificate?
A certificate is awarded after completing a shorter program that is more focused on a specific area of expertise rather than an entire program of study. Certificates can be 12 to 36 credits in length – but are typically 12 to 18 credits, said Ryan johnson, Assistant Vice President of Academic Operations at SNHU. Although certificates do not lead to a degree, they are also awarded at the undergraduate and graduate level. And, at some universities, credits earned through a certificate can then be applied toward a degree.
Here are some examples of the many certificates available:
Certificates are the cheapest option due to their time commitment and shortened course load, but some may not be eligible for financial aid. It is important to plan accordingly and to ensure that you are aware of all costs of your program in advance by contacting the student financial services office at the school of your choice.
Are the certificates worth it? This question is based on your personal experience and goals. The value of a certificate can largely depend on how it is viewed in the specific job setting that interests you. By doing your research on valued workplace experience, you will be able to judge whether a certificate is right for you.
Obtaining a certificate could benefit your career by:
- Broaden your skills
- Build your confidence
- Improve your performance
The difference between certificates and certifications
Certificates should not be confused with certifications. “Even though they appear similar, a certification is usually awarded by a trade association or independent organization to certify someone for work in a particular industry,” Manus said, “… [while] Academic certificates are issued by higher education institutions for the completion of the selected study program.
Take Six Sigma, a business method, for example. You can choose to earn your Six Sigma Black Belt Graduate Certificate, a 12-credit (four-course) certificate program designed to help you prepare for the Six Sigma Black Belt certification exam. The certificate program is offered by an educational institution while the certification exam is administered by the American Society for Quality (ASQ), which is a professional company.
Another difference is that certificates usually do not expire, whereas certifications are often time-based and must be renewed upon expiration.
Can you get a job with a certificate?
Certificates can strengthen a resume, making you stand out in the job market. Long-term certificates increase your chances of being employed, according to a New America report (New America PDF Source). A long-term certificate is usually one that requires at least one year of full-time study.
A report by the Lumina Foundation notes that healthcare, education and government services are the main sectors in which there are employees who do not have post-secondary degrees but who have obtained short-term degrees (Lumina PDF source).
Part of the increase in the chances that a certificate will help you find a job is the increased interest in obtaining work-related degrees, such as short-term degrees. According to New America, short-term credentials are a broad category that includes licenses issued by states, certificates issued by post-secondary educational institutions, and certifications issued by industry organizations.
Community colleges have seen a trend in the increasing number of students interested in obtaining a certificate. New America reports that the number of short-term certificates issued by community colleges increased by more than 150% from 1995 to 2018, and in 2010, 41% of all degrees issued at these colleges were non-degree certificates. Short-term certificates, unlike long-term certificates, are those that typically require less than a year of full-time study.
The certificates are starting to resonate with students not only at community colleges, but also at four-year colleges. There has been an almost 30% increase in the number of certificates issued by public colleges since 2010, New America reports.
Short-term degrees, according to The Lumina Foundation, are part of a movement to increase educational opportunities and are designed to immediately prepare Americans for in-demand jobs and emerging fields.
Is it better to get a certificate or a diploma?
Each type of degree offers a different experience. Pena said that a degree, by design, is “a much larger educational experience”, while a certificate is “more focused and more specific to a particular field or area of expertise.”
It is important to know that certificates and diplomas can complement your career. Developing your skills while working full time can be difficult, but getting a degree while having a job can be a good way to hone your skills and apply what you learn in real time. And, if you’re not ready to commit to a master’s program, you can choose to earn a graduate certificate to get started.
Whether you want the basic training of a diploma or you want to boost your skills with a certificate, there is a study diploma for you.
Nicholas Patterson is a student at Southern New Hampshire University, pursuing a BA in Creative Writing and English with a concentration in Fiction. Connect with him on LinkedIn.