What's the Difference Between Certificate and Degree Programs?

Whether you want to expand your career skills or learn how to think clearly and critically, college can be a useful option. With so many programs available, though, it might be difficult to choose one. In general, you could enter a certificate program if you want to learn a cluster of career-specific skills or a degree program if you want a well-rounded education with the opportunity to specialize in a particular field.

About Certificate Programs and Degree Programs

Both certificate and degree programs are designed to focus on and teach you about a specific subject. The education you'll receive in each type of program can prepare you to enter a career field or give you a competitive advantage in your current career. There are differences between the two, however; certificate programs tend to be shorter, cost less and cover a more specific range of subject matter.

Important Facts About Certificate and Degree Programs

Prerequisites Degree programs generally carry academic requirements; certificates may require professional and/or academic experience
Online Availability Degrees and certificates both available for select programs
Education Levels Undergraduate and graduate degrees available; certificates available at the undergraduate and graduate level; career prep and continuing education certificates also available

Differences in Length

In general, a certificate program will take you less time to complete because you won't have to meet general education requirements in addition to subject-area requirements. For example, you could earn a certificate in less than a year, whereas you'd need at least two years to complete an associate's degree program and four years for a bachelor's degree. This is true with graduate-level certificates as well. Graduate certificates take less time to earn than master's or doctoral degrees, although you'll still need to hold a bachelor's degree to enter a graduate certificate program.

Differences in Uses

You might enter a certificate program if you'd like to learn additional skills to change careers or update skills in your field. Certificate programs are very narrow in scope, focusing on a specific subject, like paralegal skills or business management. While degree programs also allow you to add to your current skill set, you'd be given a broader education, one that could prepare you for several careers instead of one specific position. Certificate programs are sometimes used by professionals to keep their licenses or certifications up to date as well.

Differences in Cost

Because you'll have to complete a smaller number of courses to earn a certificate, you probably won't pay as much tuition. Some programs also let you transfer some of your certificate credit into a degree program, which could save you money.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

The schools in the listing below are not free and may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users. Tuition and costs will vary across programs and locations. Be sure to always request tuition information before starting a program.

Popular Schools

  • George Mason University

    George Mason University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at George Mason University:

    • Master
    • Certificates

    Online Programs Available

  • Strayer University

    Strayer University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Strayer University:

    • Master
    • Bachelor Degrees
    • Associate Programs
    • Certificates

    Online Programs Available

  • Johns Hopkins University

    Johns Hopkins University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Johns Hopkins University:

    • Doctoral
    • Master
    • Certificates

    Online Programs Available

  • American University

    American University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at American University:

    • Master
    • Certificates

    Online Programs Available

  • University of Saint Mary

    University of Saint Mary responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at University of Saint Mary:

    • Master
    • Bachelor Degrees

    Online Programs Available

  • The George Washington University

    The George Washington University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at The George Washington University:

    • Master
    • Certificates

    Online Programs Available

  • Lincoln Tech

    Lincoln Tech responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Lincoln Tech:

    • Certificates

    Campus Locations:

    • Maryland: Columbia
  • Kaplan University

    Kaplan University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Kaplan University:

    Online Programs Available

  • Georgetown University

    Georgetown University responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at Georgetown University:

    • Master

    Online Programs Available

  • University of Delaware

    University of Delaware responds quickly to information requests through this website.

    Popular programs at University of Delaware:

    • Master

    Online Programs Available

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