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Best Online Certificate Programs

Explore the top schools for online certificate programs. Also, learn about the different kinds of certificates, popular certificate programs, how to choose the right program, and possible career paths you can follow after you earn your certificate.

Best Online Certificate Programs

To determine the best schools for online certificate programs, one should take into consideration cost, flexibility, and the range of program options. The list below features the top schools that offer online certificate programs.

1. University of Arizona

Location Undergraduate Tuition & Fees (in-state) % Receiving Financial Aid
Tucson, AZ $12,467 92%

The University of Arizona offers several online graduate certificate programs in various fields, including in the disciplines of:

  • Accounting
  • Archival studies
  • Engineering management
  • Nursing
  • Real estate

This school also has online certificates in health, teaching, and mining. The University of Arizona's graduate tuition rate ranges from $650 - $1332 per credit. Out-of-state students pay the same credit rate as in-state students, which means no matter where students are located, they pay the same price as all of their peers. According to Payscale.com, alumni of the University of Arizona rank #1 in potential earnings among all other public Arizona universities.

2. Kansas State University

Location Undergraduate Tuition & Fees (in-state) % Receiving Financial Aid
Manhattan, KS $10,383 89%

Kansas State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and offers 4 online undergraduate certificate programs in the following fields:

  • Food science
  • Primary texts
  • Nonviolence studies
  • Conflict resolution

The 2019-2020 tuition price for one online undergraduate credit is around $436, and these online certificate programs require anywhere from 12-20 total credits. Kansas State University also offers graduate-level online certificate programs in a variety of academic areas, including some in:

  • Business, finance, and organizational leadership
  • Social justice, human services, and public administration
  • Youth development, teaching ESOL, and educational technology

These online graduate certificate programs could require anywhere from 12-20 credits, and a single graduate credit costs about $574. Kansas State University charges out-of-state and in-state the same tuition rate. Students also receive the same education as on-campus students and are taught by the same experienced on-campus faculty.

3. Missouri University of Science and Technology

Location Undergraduate Tuition & Fees (in-state) % Receiving Financial Aid
Rolla, MO $9,440 97%

Missouri University of Science and Technology's online graduate certificate programs are engineering- and science-focused and generally require 4 total courses with some limited exceptions. At this university, students can earn a graduate certificate in the following subject areas:

  • Engineering management
  • Information science
  • Business
  • Psychology
  • Computer engineering
  • Economics

To apply to these online certificate programs, students aren't required to take the GRE. Students may also be able to move onto a full master's program after completing a certificate program. For the 2019-2020 academic year, the certificate tuition and fees for in-state students is $6,152 and for an out-of-state student, it is $12,520.

4. Colorado State University-Fort Collins

Location Undergraduate Tuition & Fees (in-state) % Receiving Financial Aid
Fort Collins, CO $11,707 80%

Colorado State University-Fort Collins offers several different online graduate certificates in different disciplines, such as:

  • Business management
  • Teaching
  • Tourism management
  • Data analysis
  • IT project management
  • Computer engineering

The online graduate certificate program at Colorado State University-Fort Collins could require anywhere from 9-16 total credits, and the tuition for the 2019-2020 academic year ranges from about $600-$1,000 per credit, depending on the program. Colorado State University-Fort Collins also offers an undergraduate certificate in Spanish for those working in animal science and health. This university is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, a Commission of the North Central Association of Schools and Colleges.

5. Regent University

Location Undergraduate Tuition & Fees (in-state) % Receiving Financial Aid
Virginia Beach, VA $18,380 97%

Regent University has online graduate certificate programs in such fields as:

  • Theatre practice
  • Biblical studies
  • TESOL
  • Healthcare policy
  • Counseling

These online certificate programs could require anywhere from 9-30 total credits, depending on the specific program requirements. Regent University also offers a post-master's online certificate in advancing leadership and a post-doctoral online certificate in organizational leadership. This university is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges as well as the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs (ACBSP), the Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools, and other independent agencies.

Rank School Name Location Undergraduate Tuition & Fees (in-state) % Receiving Financial Aid
6 Ball State University Muncie, IN $9,896 97%
7 Regis University Denver, CO $36,810 99%
8 University of Cincinnati Cincinnati, OH $11,000 83%
9 Missouri State University-Springfield Springfield, MO $7,376 91%
10 University of Missouri-Columbia Columbia, MO $9,972 85%
11 Drexel University Philadelphia, PA $53,244 100%
12 Pennsylvania State University-World Campus University Park, PA $13,988 72%
13 Indiana University-Bloomington Bloomington, IN $10,681 77%
14 University of Maine Orono, ME $11,170 100%
15 University of Kansas Lawrence, KS $11,148 86%
16 Northern Arizona University Flagstaff, AZ $11,564 94%
17 Western Kentucky University Bowling Green, KY $10,512 96%
18 University of Connecticut Storrs, CT $15,730 74%
19 Washington State University Pullman, WA $11,584 90%
20 University of North Dakota Grand Forks, ND $8,695 90%
21 Oregon State University Corvallis, OR $11,166 86%
22 George Mason University Fairfax, VA $12,462 76%
23 Champlain College Burlington, VT $41,010 100%
24 University of Massachusetts-Lowell Lowell, MA $15,180 91%
25 Liberty University Lynchburg, VA $22,584 97%
26 South Dakota State University Brookings, SD $8,764 92%
27 Davenport University Grand Rapids, MI $18,414 97%
28 University of Oklahoma-Norman Campus Norman, OK $11,538 95%
29 Oklahoma State University Alva, OK $7,471 90%
30 Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Blacksburg, VA $13,620 67%
31 Indiana University-Purdue University-Indianapolis Indianapolis, IN $9,465 88%
32 Dallas Baptist University Dallas, TX $28,870 97%
33 Northwestern State University of Louisiana Natchitoches, LA $7,922 97%
34 Clemson University Clemson, SC $15,374 93%
35 University of Arkansas Fayetteville, AR $9,130 77%
36 University of Memphis Memphis, TN $9,317 98%
37 Old Dominion University Norfolk, VA $10,560 93%
38 Indiana State University Terre Haute, IN $9,090 93%
39 East Tennessee State University Johnson City, TN $8,935 97%
40 Ferris State University Big Rapids, MI $11,788 97%
41 Central Michigan University Mount Pleasant, MI $12,960 95%
42 Webster University Saint Louis, MO $27,900 98%
43 Eastern Kentucky University Richmond, KY $9,666 99%
44 Southern New Hampshire University Manchester, NH $31,136 75%
45 Georgia Southern University Statesboro, GA $6,356 90%
46 University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh Campus Pittsburgh, PA $19,080 78%
47 Minnesota State University-Mankato Mankato, MN $8,184 89%
48 Sam Houston State University Huntsville, TX $8,296 89%
49 DeSales University Lehigh County, PA $37,400 100%
50 Arizona State University-Skysong Tempe, AZ $10,317 82%

All statistics provided by the National Center for Education Statistics, tuition based on 2018-2019 school year

Learn.org's school ranking methodology categorizes and assesses data from schools and other reliable sources, such as the U.S. Department of Education, and weighs the information based on quality, cost, value and other factors critical to students' academic decisions.

Overview of Online Certificate Programs

Online certificate programs are designed to specialize students in one field of study, help them improve their job prospects, or prepare them for certifications in their professional careers. Generally, online certificate programs consist of a small set of classes focused on only one field of study.

Depending on the program and university, an online certificate could require students to take anywhere from 3-10 total classes. The timeframe for earning an online certificate can also vary, with most programs designed to be completed in a couple of months to 2 years. Most of these certificate programs can be completed 100% online, but a very limited number may require a real-world element, such as an internship.

There are three types of online certificate programs:

  • Undergraduate certificate
  • Graduate certificate
  • Post-master's certificate

Undergraduate certificates earn students undergraduate credits, and normally, students are only required to have completed high school to apply. Graduate certificate programs are for students who already hold a bachelor's degree, while post-master's are for those with a master's degree or higher. Along with having the right kind of degree, some online certificate programs require students have completed prerequisite coursework before they begin their program.

Popular Online Certificate Programs

There are online certificate programs available in most fields of study. Below, you can explore some popular online certificate programs in business, the sciences, education, and nursing.

Business

Online certificate programs in business are offered at the undergraduate, graduate, and post-master's level and come in a range of subfields, including in:

  • Accounting
  • Business management
  • Business intelligence
  • Real estate
  • HR management

In these business-focused programs, you take courses within your specialty. For example, a business intelligence certificate features coursework in data management, data analytics, and database systems.

Some certificate programs are designed to help you achieve certifications in the business field. Online accounting certificate programs help you meet the coursework requirements for taking the Certified Professional Accountant (CPA) exam.

Computer and Information Technology

The computer science and information technology field has a variety of online certificate programs designed for professionals who want to specialize their skills or earn industry-specific credentials or certifications. Computer science and information technology certificate programs are available at the undergraduate, graduate, and post-master's levels.

Here's a sampling of some of the most popular computer science and information technology certificate programs:

  • Data analytics
  • IT project management
  • Systems engineering
  • Web design
  • Cybersecurity

Certain certificate programs are designed to prepare you for taking certification exams. For example, a certificate in IT project management can prepare you to take the exam for the Project Management Professional (PMP) or the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) credential by including coursework that covers the same topics that make up those exams.

Other certificate programs, such as those in networking, develop the skills and knowledge you need to earn CompTIA, Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA), and other industry certifications.

Education

Online certificate programs in education are usually designed for teachers or other educational professionals who want to focus on one educational field, transition into another teaching subject, or who want to earn state teacher certification. It's important to note that not every teaching certificate program leads to teacher certification.

Along with certificate programs in specific grade levels and educational subjects, there are also online certificate programs in the following fields:

  • Early childhood education
  • Adult education
  • Instructional design
  • Teaching English as a second language

Some online certificate programs may require real-world student teaching or field placements along with online classes. There are educational and teaching certificates available at all levels of study. Some programs, even those at the undergraduate level, may require that you are a current teacher.

Nursing

Those in the nursing field have a lot of options for earning an online undergraduate, graduate, or post-master's certificate, including in the following fields:

  • Adult gerontology
  • Nursing management
  • Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)
  • Nursing education
  • Nursing informatics

These kinds of online certificate programs help nurses specialize in one subfield so that they can pursue a specific kind of nursing career. Usually, you must be a registered nurse to apply to these programs. While some online nursing certificate programs require only online classes, some require on-campus or real-world experiences, such as lab skills, patient simulations, or practicums. A limited number of programs may make these real-world elements optional.

Key Differences Between Certificate and Degree Programs

When researching certificate programs, it might be helpful to compare them to full degree programs to understand the difference in time commitments, credit requirements, and career preparedness.

Program Length

Typically, an associate degree takes 2 years to earn a bachelor's degree takes 4 years, and a master's degree takes about 2 years. In comparison, a certificate can take significantly less time to earn, depending on your program. Most certificate programs can be completed in a year or less.

Credit Requirements

An associate's degree generally requires around 60 credits, while a bachelor's degree requires 120-150 credits. Certificate programs, as they don't require any general education coursework, require anywhere from 9-30 total credits.

Career Preparedness

Because a college degree is the normal entry-level requirement for most careers, a degree program opens up more career paths for students than certificate programs. However, if you are already set in your chosen career and want to advance into a higher-level position or gain additional skills, then a certificate program can help you do that.

How to Choose an Online Certificate Program

There are several factors you should consider when choosing an online certificate program, including cost, the flexibility of the program's format, what certifications the program prepares you for, and whether you can apply your certificate credits towards a degree.

Cost

The cost of an online certificate program is often calculated on a per-credit basis. Generally, universities charge anywhere from $400 to $1,000 per credit. This tuition price is also dependent on whether you are attending an undergraduate or graduate certificate program.

Most programs charge additional fees on top of the tuition price. These fees can range from $15 to $200 and upwards. Common fees including technology, program, distance, and billing fees. Check with your university to find out which fees apply to the program and classes you are taking.

Flexibility

When choosing a program, also take into consideration the program's flexibility and enrollment options. Certificate programs are usually designed to be completed quickly and are geared toward working professionals. However, some programs, such as those in the education and nursing fields, may require real-world elements. You want to make sure that you can complete all the requirements of your certificate program.

Certification Opportunities

If your goal is to earn a certain certification or credential in your professional field, then you want to choose a program that prepares you to pass whichever exam you need to take to earn your credential. Most programs will let you know if the coursework prepares you for any kind of certification exam. You can also check with your chosen certificate program and ask about certification opportunities.

Advancement to a Full Degree Program

If you have plans to attend a full degree program or would like that to be an option, then it's important to check with your chosen certificate program about whether or not you can transfer credits from the certificate program towards a bachelor's or master's degree in the same field.

Many certificate programs have companion degree programs and allow you to apply the credits you have earned in your certificate program towards a full degree. However, some programs may not have this option.

Career Options for Certificate Program

While most careers require more education than just a certificate, earning one can help you advance your current career or help you transition into a different subfield. Below, you explore different career paths you can follow after earning a certificate in business, technology, education, or nursing.

Certified Public Accountant

Accountants perform a range of duties, including:

  • Preparing tax returns and ensuring taxes are paid
  • Completing financial audits
  • Offering professional tax and financial advice
  • Monitoring and maintaining accounting systems

While becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) is optional, many in the field choose to earn this credential to advance their careers. The requirements to become a CPA vary by state, but generally one must:

  • Complete 150 hours of college-level coursework
  • Pass the CPA exam
  • Have 1-2 years of accounting experience supervised by a CPA
  • Have a state license

Most bachelor's programs in accounting do not fulfill the 150 hours of coursework requirements. As such, an online certificate program in accounting can help you earn those additional credits so that you can sit for the CPA exam.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that accountants earned a median salary of $70,500 in 2018 with the number of jobs expected to increase 6% from 2018-2028.

IT Manager

An IT manager is responsible for the network and computer systems of organizations and businesses. IT managers can be tasked with:

  • Installing and upgrading software and hardware
  • Enacting security measures for network and computer systems
  • Suggesting the right technology for an organization's needs
  • Managing other IT employees, such as analysts and developers

Typically, an IT manager needs a bachelor's degree in a computer science-related field, a graduate degree, such as a Master of Business Administration (MBA), and professional experience.

As IT managers generally advance into this position from a lower-level position, an IT management certificate program can develop your project management and technology skills to give you an advantage when trying to transition into this career. Some IT management certificate programs also prepare you to earn IT manager credentials.

According to the BLS, computer and information systems managers had a median salary of $142,530 in 2018, and the number of jobs is expected to increase by 11% from 2018-2028.

Middle School Teacher

Middle school teachers usually teach students in grades six through eight; however, in some states and districts, middle school can be from 4th to 9th grade. Some job duties include:

  • Making lessons plans
  • Grading assignments and tests
  • Evaluating student progress
  • Managing a classroom
  • Helping students study for state exams

Depending on the school district, middle school teachers could teach a single subject or could teach several subjects. To become a middle school teacher, you must hold a bachelor's degree in a content area or in elementary education, and some states may require a master's degree. You must also become licensed by the state you teach in.

Certificate programs in teaching middle school can help current teachers or those earning their initial teacher certification specialize in certain subject areas, such as math or English, as well as help them develop their knowledge in teaching middle-school students.

Middle school teachers earned a median salary of $58,600 in 2018, and the number of jobs is expected to increase by 3% from 2018-2028, as per the BLS.

Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners are responsible for providing primary care to patients and have the following job duties:

  • Interact with patients and speak about their symptoms
  • Perform medical exams and diagnostic tests
  • Make health diagnoses
  • Administer treatments
  • Prescribe medications

Nurse practitioners must be registered nurses, hold a master's degree, and pass a certification exam. Certificate nurse practitioner programs allow you to specialize in one subfield of nursing, including in emergency medicine, pediatric care, or psychiatric health among others.

In 2018, the BLS reported that nurse practitioners earned a median salary of $113,930, and the number of jobs is expected to increase by 26% from 2018-2028.