Graduate Certificate vs Masters Degree + Benefits & Differences

If you want to have a good education, you will need to invest both time and money. Time is money, as they say, which is why an education is such a serious investment. While getting a bachelor’s degree is considered to be a good investment, because it sets up for a worthwhile career for the rest of your life, not everybody feels that achieving a graduate degree is also worth it. However, sometimes, a job requires having some additional skills, which can only be obtained at graduate level. An alternative, in that case, is to complete a graduate certificate.

What Is a Graduate Certificate?

Professional or graduate certificates give people very specific skills, usually in a short period of time, by focusing solely on that one skill. Typically, these programs are offered as an opportunity to complete interdisciplinary work, or to enable students to get a taste of a master’s program, enabling them to decide whether they want to go for the full degree or not.

It is common, as well, for students of a master’s degree program to get a graduate certificate in a different field that complements their study. For instance, if you are studying physics, you may want to complete a graduate certificate in mathematics if you are interested in applying mathematical theories to physics. In this case, you may not be interested in become a master in mathematics, but you want to have at least some advanced knowledge.

Additionally, when you hold a graduate certificate, you show your current employer or prospective employers that you have been properly prepared on a specific subject, even if you don’t hold a degree in that subject. Where a master’s degree takes around two years to complete, a graduate certificate usually only takes half of that. Most require 12 to 15 credit hours. Different schools have their own requirements, but it is common to see graduate certificates with two core courses, enabling students to complete the further 10 to 13 credit hours through elective courses. The list of elective courses tends to be significantly more restricted than those in a master’s degree.

What Is a Master’s Degree?

A master’s degree, by contrast, is a full education program that is provided by an accredited, recognized institution. Holding a graduate degree means that you can prove that you are a master in a field of study, rather than a single subject. Universities offer a wealth of different degrees in all types of field, but the three most common types are the:

  1. Master of Arts (MA)
  2. Master of Science (MS)
  3. Master of Business Administration (MBA)

It usually takes one or two years to complete these degrees when enrolled full time. The MBA usually has the heaviest coursework. Master’s degrees are available for any type of subject, including engineering, health care, business administration, communication, physics, English, and mathematics. Jump to 260+ Best Online Master’s without No GRE

During the program, you will have to complete between 30 and 36 credit hours in a certain specialization. Some degrees, like the MBA, require more credits, with MBAs regularly requiring 50 or more. Each university has its own requirements in terms of which foundation courses have to be completed in order to make sure that students understand the material covered by the program.

Choosing between the two is a personal decision. To make that decision, however, you need to understand how the two differ, and what the pros and cons of both options are. The following information may help you to determine that.

The Benefits of a Graduate Certificate

If you want to build specific skills suitable to your industry, or if you want to make a complete change of career, then a graduate certificate could be beneficial. For instance, if you are currently employed in the field of health care, you could study obtain a health care management certificate so that you move from clinical to administrative duties. Or, if you own a business and you want to push it towards further growth, then you may consider a business management certificate.

The main reasons why people opt to complete a graduate certificate rather than a master’s degree are time and money. As such, the key benefits are:

  1. It doesn’t take as long to complete a graduate certificate, with them taking between just a few weeks to two years tops.
  2. It generally costs less to complete a master’s degree, which is an important consideration particularly if you are someone with significant financial responsibilities.
  3. A graduate certificate can help you gain professional career advancements in particular fields and industries. For instance, a paralegal requires a graduate certificate, as does someone who wants to teach English to foreign students, which is an ESOL certificate.

While these benefits are significant, giving you the opportunity to advance in your field or to move on to another one, there are some significant differences between employment rates for those with a graduate certificate, and those with a master’s degree. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that just 6% of all jobs require a post-secondary non-degree award, which a graduate certificate is.

The Benefits of a Master’s Degree

So does this mean that a master’s degree is a better option? If you were to focus only the statistics, then yes, a master’s will give you more employment opportunities. Whether you want to apply for a master’s degree or a graduate certificate, you will always need to have at least a bachelor’s degree and the reality is that the master’s simply weighs heavier than the certificate.

Key benefits of the master’s degree:

  1. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that master’s degree holders earn 20% higher salaries than bachelor’s degree holders.
  2. Numerous positions now require, or prefer, those who hold a master’s degree. These include the health care industry, which is one of our country’s largest employers.
  3. Schools now offer flexible ways of completing a master’s degree, targeting busy professionals in particular. You can, for instance, earn an MBA, the most prestigious of business degrees, in less than one year though intensive studies, or in a much longer period of time by studying flexibly.

Clearly, a master’s degree has some important benefits over the graduate certificate. However, the reality is also that they cost a lot of money and, generally, a lot of time. As a result, they are not for everybody.

Graduate Certificate vs Masters Degree – How to Choose

In order to decide between a graduate certificate and a master’s degree, you need to consider what your personal career goals are. If you are happy to stay on your current career path for the rest of your life, and are only looking for a way to increase your responsibilities or salary, then a certificate is perhaps all you need. However, if you feel that you keep missing out on that promotion because others have a master’s degree, or if you want to take on completely new challenges, then a master’s degree program is better for you. Both options have costs associated with them, and both have particular benefits. You need to decide in which one of the two options the benefits outweigh the costs.

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