What Is a Graduate Certificate?

Do you need additional education to advance in your career, but don't have the time to complete a full degree program? Have you always wanted to earn a graduate-level education, but life keeps getting in the way? If so, a graduate certificate might be the answer you've been looking for.

Graduate Certificate Definition

Many colleges and universities offer graduate certificate programs. These programs generally address a focus area of a particular discipline and are composed of at least four graduate-level courses. Certificate programs may include required courses and electives. They may be part of a degree program or offered independently. The number of credits needed to complete the certificate is determined by the institution, generally ranging from 9 to 21 credit hours.

Graduate certificates may be offered in any discipline. To enroll in a graduate certificate program, you generally need a bachelor's degree and acceptance into graduate school. You don't need to be seeking a graduate degree. In addition, you must typically meet a specific grade in each course in order to graduate. Some certificate programs may also require an internship in addition to coursework

Important Facts About Graduate Certificates

Online Availability Available online and on campus
Fields of Study Available across many disciplines, including communications, education, science, nursing, social sciences, humanities, and computer sciences
Possible Careers Graduate certificates can prepare students for a certain specialty within the industry their field of study is based, such as cybersecurity within the computer science industry.
Continuing Education You may be able to apply certificate credits towards full graduate programs

Reasons to Earn a Graduate Certificate

You may choose to earn a graduate certificate to meet continuing education requirements for certification or licensure, maximize career prospects, learn new skills or keep up-to-date in your field. Often, credits earned in a certificate program can be transferred to a master's degree later if you so choose. In addition, earning a graduate certificate adds to your credentials in a particular field. Graduate certificates can be taken for professional development or personal reasons.

Comparison to a Graduate Degree

Graduate certificate programs are shorter and more specifically focused than master's degree programs. A master's degree program generally takes two years to complete. Just as with graduate programs, you usually need to complete a graduate certificate programs within a specific time frame.


Because graduate certificate programs are shorter than graduate degree programs, they tend to be less expensive. You gain experience in graduate-level coursework, so if you decide to pursue a graduate degree, you will have some familiarity with graduate school. Graduate certificate programs also provide a quicker way to change careers than graduate degree programs.

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