A certificate—or a diploma as it is sometimes called—is the shortest course of study. It is also the least expensive type of academic credential.
Certificates consist of courses that help you develop career competency in a single subject.
A certificate typically consists of from three to twelve courses, all commonly completed within a year or a year-and-a-half of study.
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When to Seek a Certificate or Diploma
When you …
• Need to acquire skills quickly to launch a new career
• Already hold one degree but seek to launch a new career not related to that degree
• Need to meet state or national licensing requirements
• Have no college degree but probably will earn one later. (Right now, though, your goal is to acquire skills as quickly as possible to launch a new career.)
If any of the above criteria mirror your circumstances a certificate will be your quickest—and least expensive—course of study.
A certificate will help you get educated—and get on with your life.
Launch a New Career — Fast
Most people enroll in certificate programs in hopes of quickly changing careers. For example, you might be employed as a retail clerk but want to qualify for a new job as an accountant. You want to qualify as quickly as possible—ideally within a year. In this case, you’d be wise to focus your studies on a certificate in bookkeeping.
Update Your Degree – Re-Tool
If you already hold a college degree but want to expand or update your skills you might also enroll in a certificate program.
Perhaps you hold a bachelor’s degree in art history. You earned that degree a decade ago. You’ve never actually worked in the field of art history and now want to try your hand at computer programming. Enrolling in a certificate in computer programming would be a cost-effective and fairly rapid way to prepare for an entry level position in this new career field. Focusing on the certificate also would allow you to try out this new skill area without the hassle or additional paperwork of formally applying to a degree program.
Certificate programs often offer open admissions, letting you bypass the time-consuming need to gather and submit old transcripts or take admission exams.
TIP: You could also consider earning a second bachelor’s degree, but unless a second degree is absolutely required for a state licensing requirement, you’ll achieve your career change quicker and more cost effectively if you limit your studies to a certificate program.
Meet Licensing Requirements
Some careers are regulated by state licensing boards. Counseling is one such career area. In some states, such as New York, you can qualify to enter one of America’s fastest growing career niches—drug and addiction counseling—by taking a handful of courses related to counseling and addiction along with working as a supervised counseling intern for a short period of time.
A certificate in addiction counseling would be an ideal educational program in the above situation.
TIP: In many cases, the credits earned while completing a certificate can be transferred later toward a college degree (this is not always the case, so check carefully if you want to use your certificate as the base or foundation for an associate or bachelor’s degree).
Show Me a Certificate
Below is a six-course certificate offered by Liberty University.
Like all certificate programs, this one focuses on a single career field—International Business.
The courses in this 18-credit program can later be applied toward an undergraduate degree such as an associate in Business or a bachelor's degree in one of several fields.
Liberty University Online Undergraduate Certificate in International Business
Total credits required: 18 (using a semester credit hour system)
This Certificate plan is effective for those starting in fall 2015 through summer 2016
Core Competency Requirements (18 hrs)
International Business (3 hrs)
Principles of Management (3 hrs)
Contemporary Issues in International Business (3 hrs)
Global Industries & Operations (3 hrs)
International Market Integration & Trade Agreements (3 hrs)
Export Management Strategy (3 hrs)
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