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Graduate Certification vs. Professional Certification: Which is Better?

Apr 29, 2013 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Both take less time to earn than a Bachelor’s, a Master’s, or even an Associate’s degree. And both can be useful if you’re switching careers, looking for a promotion, or interested in standing out from a crowd of people without specific certifications. So what’s the difference between a graduate certification and a professional certification—and is one better than the other?

Turns out, these programs are quite different—and are useful in different situations, although there is some overlap. Here’s an overview of both.

Graduate Certificates

A graduate certificate is one of the shortest types of academic credentials, usually taking about a year or a year and a half to earn. The certificate may require as few as three to as many as twelve courses within that time. In general, it’s similar to a Master’s, but not as rigorous and not as valuable—or common—in the marketplace. Still, it shows a level of education beyond the more common four-year degree. Some professions, such as teaching in public schools, require a graduate certificate.

See Also: Online Graduate Certification Programs

Graduate certificates typically require a Bachelor’s degree for entry. Career-wise, they have several uses. They can help you improve your positioning as a graduate school candidate, especially if your Bachelor’s-level transcript isn’t strong.  They can also help you earn college credits toward a more advanced-level degree. In addition, graduate certificates can help you strengthen your application for some jobs, stand out over Bachelor-level candidates, or support a career change.

Graduate certifications tend to be the more expensive option than professional certifications, and usually take longer to earn, as well. Teachers tend to be academic professors—who may or may not have significant professional experience in the field.

Professional Certifications

A professional certification is non-academic and generally does not provide college credits that can be applied to a graduate degree program. It’s for people who want to develop very specific professional skills. While some certification programs may require you to have a Bachelor’s or another degree, many don’t have a specific academic requirement.

See Also: Online Professional Certification Programs

Professional certifications vary widely depending on your industry. Most take a few months or even a few weeks to earn, and some require no class time at all—only the passing of an exam.

The word “certification” usually refers to a credential given out by a private industry organization. Most of the time, certifications are not required by an industry—although they are sometimes expected, and often can be used to strengthen your credentials for a new position, a career change, or a promotion. Many people earn professional certifications to progress in the careers they are already in—and for this reason, many employers will pay the cost of certification.

In some industries, however, certification is required to practice your profession. In these cases, what’s called “certification” isn’t much different from professional licensure—it’s required by law and the tests are often administered by the state.

Professional certifications tend to be both quicker to earn and less expensive than graduate certification. They are a non-academic credential that does not provide college credits. If courses are required for professional certification, they are usually taught by people who have professional rather than academic expertise in the field.

Which one is right for you depends on a variety of factors—including what’s expected or required in your industry, how prestigious a certifying organization is for a particular credential, and whether or not you want to go back to school. There are certain situations where one is clearly better than the other, however—for instance, if you’re trying to strengthen your application for graduate school, a graduate certification is probably a better choice. Do your research and find out what works best and what’s required in your industry—and you’ll be able to find the right program for your situation.



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