As you’re exploring the job market and reading up on expected qualifications, you may be at a crossroads, wondering whether a master’s would be beneficial in increasing your salary potential. If you’re already actively job-hunting, you may wonder if a master’s could make you more competitive in the job market.
But there is another option that may make sense depending on what industry you’re in — a certificate program. Not as long (or as expensive) as a master’s program, a certificate can prove highly-specialized competency in certain areas. This could open doors to further professional opportunities.
But a certificate program, which typically requires the completion of three and five graduate-level courses, can still cost thousands of dollars. It may also require significant study time, which can be hard to balance if you’re also working full time. In a job market where companies are fighting for top talent, however, you may find that your company might pay for a certificate program, rather than you going out and paying for it yourself. Read on for more information on post-grad certificate programs so you can assess whether one fits with your financial goals.
What Is The Value Of A Post-Grad Certificate Program?
A post-grad certificate program is a program that provides specialization in a field. While the program may not take as long to complete as a master’s degree and may be less expensive, it can also be intense, requiring a significant amount of time set aside to study.
Post-grad certificate programs can be found in all fields, from medicine to economics to marketing. These programs may cost anywhere from several thousand to tens of thousands of dollars. People may complete these certificates because they may be quicker and less expensive than a degree, and may either boost income or boost your competitive value as a job candidate. Post-grad certificate courses may be done online, in-person, or a combination of both, and often, people balance managing a certificate program with working full time.
Because a post-grad certificate can be beneficial, you may find that employers may potentially be willing to subsidize the cost of training. It may be worth it to ask your manager or your HR department. It can also be beneficial to talk to people who have done the certificate program to hear about any pros and cons. It can also be helpful to understand the level of commitment required in the program, and how people have managed to set aside time to study to prepare for any testing.
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Graduate Certificate Versus Master’s Degree
If you’re right out of college, you may be wondering what the next step is, professionally. While that depends on your career goals, many post-grads find it helpful to explore the professional lay of the land by getting some work experience right after their bachelor’s degree. Also, if the labor market is tight when you get out of college, there can be advantages to looking for a job immediately after graduation, before you get any higher degrees or pursue certification. In some cases, employers may subsidize or help pay for higher education.
A certificate program tends to be in a niche area, so it may be good to explore your field and decide whether that certification is right for you. A master’s program may be more intense, but of course, can be a requirement if you want to pursue a job in a certain field, such as law.
Bottom line: No certificate or graduate degree can “guarantee” that you’ll make a certain amount of money or get a certain kind of job. Every career path is different. That’s why it can be helpful to speak to alums of certain programs or people who have received certain certifications, to hear their experience and advice.
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Is a Graduate Certificate Equal to a Master’s Degree?
Is a graduate certificate equal to a master’s degree? That depends on how you define “equality.” The two are different paths that help you achieve certain goals. In general:
• A certificate is less expensive than a graduate degree.
• A certificate takes less time to complete than a graduate degree.
• A certificate provides targeted knowledge and a specific skill set about a certain subject area. Generally, a certificate may be about 10 to 15 hours of coursework compared to the 30+ required for graduate programs. Requirements vary based on school and program.
• A certificate generally requires a less comprehensive application process.
• A graduate certificate may or may not be affiliated with an accredited degree program. In some cases, certificate coursework can count toward degree hours for a higher-ed degree.
• Not all graduate certificate programs qualify for federal student loans. You may be able to use a private graduate student loan for a certificate program, or could also explore a personal loan to cover a certificate program.
Is a Graduate Certificate Worth It?
A graduate certificate can be worth it, especially if you’re passionate about the field. It can be helpful to get some “real world” knowledge under your belt and understand exactly how the certificate will benefit you and your career goals.
Because a graduate certificate can be a lot of work, it’s also important to make sure you carve out time to be able to do coursework, study, and complete the certificate exam. Asking any questions prior to applying for the certificate program, or asking to speak to people who have completed the program, can be helpful.
Because graduate certificates can be expensive, and may not be covered by federal aid, you may be wondering how to pay for it. Some financing options include:
• Subsidization through your current employer
• Saving up to pay for the program
• Applying for scholarships or financial aid through the certifying organization
• Exploring other scholarship programs that may be available for you (such as graduate scholarships for military veterans)
• Considering federal or private student loans for a certification program
Some certification programs may be eligible for federal student aid, including federal student loans and work-study. If this is the case, students can fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see what types of aid they qualify for.
Private student loans may be another option for students to consider. These loans don’t always offer the same borrower protections (such as deferment or forbearance options) that come with federal loans. But some private lenders do offer student loans for graduate certificate programs.
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Estimating the Value of a Certificate Program
You may wonder how much a certificate will increase your market value as an employee. And of course, that answer depends on your field and the certificate program you are pursuing. To estimate the value of a certificate program, it can be helpful to:
• Read review sites and salary ranges on employers you’re interested in.
• Talk to people who have done the certificate program.
• Talk about your career trajectory with your current manager or HR department.
• Speak with the career development office at your alma mater for their perspectives on potential certificate programs.
But in addition to financial value, there’s also the educational value. Is this a topic you find interesting and feel you can lean into? Does the material inspire you and excite you? Because you’ll be spending a significant amount of time working on the material, it can be important to have some motivation to do so.
Costs Associated with a Certificate Program
It can also be important to carve out associated costs with the degree program. In addition to the certificate program itself, you also may need to pay:
• Application fee
• Exam fee
• Certification fee, which may be several hundred dollars and may be required that you renew your certification annually
• Fee for any materials, including text books
Making sure you know exactly what is required of you financially before you enroll can be helpful in planning how you’ll cover the degree.
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How to Decide on a Certificate or Post-Grad Studies
So how do you know which path to take? The answer depends on, you guessed it, your individual goals. But answering these questions may help you decide:
• What do I want out of my studies?
• What do I want my work-life balance to look like as I study?
• What do I hope to gain out of my degree/certificate? What would be the best/worst-case scenario?
• What are my short-term professional goals?
• What are my long-term professional goals?
• What do I like about my work right now? Is there anything I want to dive into more deeply?
• What is the lack of a degree holding me back from?
• How will I pay for it? Am I already juggling student loans from undergrad and how comfortable would I feel adding to my debt?
These can be some big questions, and it can be helpful to get perspective by speaking with a mentor, career coach, or someone from your school’s career development office.
You could also consider a certificate program that could go toward credits for a master’s degree. This can be helpful in allowing you to lean into the material and have a head start if you do decide you’d like to pursue a full master’s degree.
💡 Quick Tip: It’s a good idea to understand the pros and cons of private student loans and federal student loans before committing to them.
A certificate isn’t taking the easy road — the courses can be intense, and it can be challenging to balance coursework with career obligations. But a certificate can potentially set you up on the path to success and can help you further define your career goals.
Because certificates can be expensive, consider having a discussion with your employer and see if they would be amenable to paying for part or all of your certificate, or discuss the path in which to do so. A certificate can be a way to further your education without stopping your career, and it can be a good in-between step for you to decide whether or not to pursue a master’s degree in your chosen field.
Depending on the certificate program, students may potentially qualify for federal aid, including federal student loans. If that aid isn’t enough, however, some students may look into private student loans.
If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.
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