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When you are looking to advance your skills or transition into a new career, the number of education options vary as widely as the costs associated with achieving them. Online learning subscriptions offer low-cost and even free options to self-learn a new skill while a master’s degree can take years and thousands of dollars to learn directly from people in the field. 

The options are endless but when you are trying to prove value to an employer either in the form of interviewing for a new job or asking for a raise in your current position, a credential can be a valuable resource in your pursuit. Which one, however, depends on where you are currently at in the workforce and what you want to achieve. Explore all the pros and cons for earning a degree, certificate and certification in the guide below to help you decide which is best for you.

What Is A Degree and Why Would You Need One? 

A degree is typically awarded by an accredited university and represents successful completion of a combination of coursework commensurate to the level of the credential. Typically speaking, degrees align to a specific area of study and they each take several years to achieve. 

Degree LevelAverage Time to Complete Completion Time for Full-Time EnrollmentTypical Prerequisite
Associate 2 yearsHigh school diploma or equivalent
Bachelor’s 4 yearsHigh school diploma or equivalent
Master’s 1-2 yearsBachelor’s degree
Doctoral 2+ yearsMaster’s degree 

While not all, many jobs request a degree of some level or equivalent documentation of knowledge as a requirement of the job. A degree can be a great starting point for young adults trying to decide on a career path. At the Associate level and early on in the Bachelor’s degree level, students can earn qualifying degree credits from an assortment of study areas. This exposure allows students to find an area of particular interest to concentrate on for their final Bachelor’s degree. 

The process of earning a degree can also provide valuable career shadowing opportunities in the forms of internships to students. Again this allows a student to gain exposure to the field and find an area to pursue as a career after graduation. Additionally, professors and other on-campus support staff are available to coach and mentor students through the transition from college to the workforce. 

Pros of Earning a Degree

  • Provides validation of knowledge in a particular study area
  • Can offer valuable career shadowing and mentor opportunities 
  • May be a requirement for a job your seeking 

Cons of Earning a Degree

  • Large investment of time and money 
  • Depending on your focus, technology and tools change quickly and your knowledge may become outdated before you enter the workforce 

Summary: Who Should Get A Degree? 

A young adult with little to no formal work experience is the best suited for a degree program. 

What Is A Certificate and Why Would You Need One? 

A certificate validates knowledge in a specific study area. Typically, a certificate program is shorter than a degree-seeking program and more concentrated in the area of study. These programs typically take a few months to a year to complete. The price can range from $5,000-$50,000 depending on the school. 

A certificate program is great for career changers. If you have already been in the workforce and have developed key soft skills but need to learn specific technical skills a certificate program can help you achieve that in less time than a degree program. In this instance, certificate programs geared towards career changers would be the best suited.

On the other hand, if you are looking to give your resume an added educational boost but don’t want to invest the time and money into a graduate degree, graduate certificates can help you do that at a fraction of the cost. Programs from big names such as Harvard, Georgetown, and Michigan can gain you access to the university network and status without as large of an investment as a degree would run you. These programs are ideal for building upon your existing work and skill set.   

Pros of Earning a Certificate

  • Provides the skills you need to make a successful career transition 
  • Can significantly enhance your current resume, skill set and network depending on the school 

Cons of Earning a Certificate 

  • Depending on the program, it can be a significant financial investment  
  • Unlike a degree or a certification, a certificate is often not a job requirement so you may need to explain its value and how it aligns to other industry certifications to potential employers

Summary: Who Should Get A Certificate? 

A person trying to change careers should enroll in a certificate program focused on career transition, while a person who wants to enhance their resume and network in their current field should pursue a graduate certificate from a notable institution. 

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What Is A Certification And Why Would You Need One? 

An industry certification validates successful completion of a certification exam in a very specific skill area. Certifications are available in Cybersecurity, Network Administration, Project Management, Marketing, Sales, HR, Finance, Accounting, and countless other areas. Preparation for a certification usually assumes you have developed some of the skills on the job and then further refinement of your knowledge and application of them is achieved through a training course and/or self-study. Certification training courses typically run 40-80 hours and cost an average of $2,500/40 hour course. 

Unlike degrees and certificates, certifications often expire if a credential holder does not maintain a specified amount of continuing education units on an annual basis. This provides prospective and current employers confidence that your skills are up-to-date and likewise certifications can often be a requirement for some jobs. 

Certifications are ideal for maintaining job specific skills and oftentimes can be covered by your employer’s learning and development funds, if you have them. 

Pros of Earning a Certification 

  • Provides the skills you need to stay up-to-date in your field  
  • Can be employer sponsored (read: free to you) 

Cons of Earning a Certification 

  • You will need to maintain continuing education units for every year you want to maintain your certification 
  • The courses are rapid paced and sometimes require additional self-study to be fully prepared for the certification exam, so self-discipline is key to getting the work done

Summary: Who Should Get A Certification? 

A person who is in a specific field should maintain 1-3 industry recognized certifications that are either required or highly regarded by their specific industry or field. 

Still Not Sure What You Need For Your Career Goals?

Join us for an upcoming webinar and chat with a Subject Matter Expert or Career Coach on what your next professional development move should be.

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