What is a Graduate Certificate?

A graduate certificate—or a graduate 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.

Graduate certificates usually cost more than undergraduate certificates. There is no real reason for this other than the tradition that professors who teach at the graduate level may themselves be better educated and command higher salaries to develop and teach courses.

To qualify for a graduate level certificate you usually must already hold a terminal undergraduate degree (a bachelor’s degree). Some advanced or graduate level certificates will accept students who do not hold bachelor’s degrees. Check the “admissions” section of each college in GetEducated’s directory of online colleges for more details.

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When you …
• Need to acquire skills quickly to launch a new career
• Already hold a bachelor’s degree but seek to launch a new career not related to that degree
• Need to meet state or national licensing requirements
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.


You want to qualify to work as a project manager as quickly as possible—ideally within a year. In this case, you’d be wise to focus your studies on a certificate in project management.



Perhaps you hold a bachelor’s degree in counseling. You earned that degree a decade ago. You’ve been working at a youth home but want to specialize in working with a new, better-paying population. You’ve heard there are lots of job openings for counselors who specialize in drug addiction.

Enrolling in a graduate-level certificate in addiction counseling would be a cost-effective and fairly rapid way to re-focus your career. Focusing on the certificate would also allow you to “try out” this new skill area without the hassle or additional paperwork of formally applying to a master’s degree program.

Also, certificate programs often offer open admissions, letting you bypass the need and wait of gathering and submitting old transcripts or taking admission exams.

TIP: You could also consider earning a second bachelor’s degree, but unless a second degree is absolutely required for some sort of state licensing requirement, you’ll achieve your career change quicker and more cost effectively if you limit your studies to a certificate program.


A certificate in addiction counseling would be an idea educational program in the above situation.

TIP: In many cases, the credits earned while completing a graduate certificate online can be transferred later toward a master’s degree (this is not always the case, so check carefully if you want to use your certificate as the foundation for a master’s degree in the near future).


Below is a certificate offered by the University of Massachusetts Online in Security Stuides. It is aimed at several types of students: those with a general interest in homeland security, professionals who are currently employed in security-related jobs, and others interested in pursuing careers in security.

UMass Online logoUMassOnline Graduate Certificate in Security Studies


Required Courses:
Overview of Homeland Security

Elective Courses (Choose 2):
Crisis and Emergency Management
Domestic Terrorism and Hate Crimes
Threat Assessment and Risk Management
Crime Analysis and Mapping
Criminal Justice Organizations and National Security
Criminal Justice Intelligence & Information Sharing

SEARCH the complete GetEducated.com database of online graduate certificate programs.

Find Online Graduate Certificates Here

What is an Undergraduate Certificate or Diploma?
What is a Master's Degree?
What is a Doctorate Degree?


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