Graduate Degree or Certificate: Which Is Right for You?

If you are thinking about pursuing a graduate degree, also known as a master’s degree, you may first want to consider a graduate certificate. Not familiar with the difference between the two? Here are the basics of both programs:

  • Graduate Degree
    • Generally consists of a two-year, full-time program for those holding a bachelor’s degree, with part-time options often available. Admission requirements may include specific undergraduate GPA, entrance exam, letters of recommendation, and relevant work experience.
    • Students will earn a Master of Arts (M.A.) or a Master of Science (M.S.) degree or a more specialized degree like a Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.).
    • Some careers, such as Law (J.D.) and Medicine (M.D.) require a graduate degree for employment.
  • Graduate Certificate
    • Usually a short program of study consisting of three to seven graduate-level courses in a specialized area completed in one year or less. A bachelor’s degree is typically required, however, some programs may waive this requirement with relevant work experience. Often, courses may be later applied to a graduate degree program.
    • Students will earn a graduate certificate or diploma in a specific career field.
    • Certificate may enhance skills to help find a job, advance or change careers, or fulfill state and national licensing requirements.

Now that you know the difference between a graduate degree and a graduate certificate, here are some factors to consider as you make your decision:

  • Personal Life
    • Do you have the time to commit to a graduate program of 2+ years or does the shorter graduate certificate timeline fit better with your life at this point?
    • Have you taken into account your current work and home responsibilities?
  • Career
    • Did you do some research on your career and field of study?
    • Does your career field require that you have a graduate degree or will it help you compete in a competitive job market?
    • Are you thinking about a new career but not ready to fully commit to a graduate degree program?
    • Will getting a graduate certificate make you more employable or help you advance or change your career?
  • Financial
    • Will a graduate degree translate into a higher salary and is it worth the financial investment at this point – can you afford it?
    • Is the graduate certificate a better financial option for you right now, as it could help advance your career at a much lower cost?

When considering a graduate degree versus a graduate certificate, keep in mind the difference between the two and take into account the important key factors listed above, and you’ll be able to arrive at the right decision for you.

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