Are Professional Certificates Worth It? 8 Questions to Ask When Searching for Programs

During the job hunt, differentiating yourself from the competition can be difficult. While highlighting both your years of relevant experience and diverse skill set is certainly beneficial, many employers value applicants who show a vested interest in continuing to learn and grow in their careers. But with a work-life balance that is already out of whack and a schedule that has seemingly little wiggle room, many wonder how they can demonstrate such a commitment. 

This is where certificate programs come in.

Professional certificates —commonly available through accredited colleges and universities and national associations — can equip you with the most up-to-date knowledge and abilities in a chosen field. While certificates aren’t necessarily for everyone, they are for many. When it comes time to weigh your options, use these 8 questions to determine whether or not a professional certificate is right for you.

Difference Between Certificate and Certification

The first, and arguably most important thing to understand is the difference between a certificate and a certification. The Institute for Credentialing Excellence makes the following key distinction about certificates vs. certification

  • Certificate: An educational or training program that is used to teach learning objectives and assess whether those objectives were achieved by the student.

  • Certification: Represents an individual’s professional competencies, knowledge, skills and abilities required to perform a particular job, as demonstrated by successfully passing a certification exam. In some professions, certification is a requirement for employment or practice.

In essence, a certificate is a program you can enroll in to learn about a new topic or skills

 or to enhance your knowledge about a given field. A certification, on the other hand, is taken after you have gained new skills and knowledge, and is used to demonstrate a certain standard of competence in that given discipline.

The Myths About Professional Certificates

There are a few common misconceptions around professional certificates that, once more completely understood, actually highlight the upside of certificate programs. Here are a few myths — and truths — about certificate programs.

  1. The content gets outdated quickly. For the most part, it’s quite the opposite. Because certificate programs occur more frequently throughout the year than other learning opportunities (like college courses), the curriculum is updated and refreshed more often. Many certificate programs offered by colleges and universities use this course cadence to their advantage, regularly updating materials to stay current and ahead of industry trends.

  2. You don’t get the same quality education as a degree. Because of the frequent curriculum updates, you get the same quality information and instruction in a certificate program compared to a degree program. And when you attend an accredited institution, you’re getting access to a university/professors that are experienced, knowledgeable and at the top of their fields.

  3. It won’t help you professionally. This is overwhelmingly false. Those who participate in professional certificates and formal certification programs consistently report an increase in salary. Because a certificate demonstrates your commitment to specialized and enhanced training, many employers are apt to reward such behavior. 

The Benefits of Professional Certificates

There are numerous benefits you can expect when enrolling in a professional certificate program — increased earning potential, for starters — that make certificates a worthwhile endeavor. Here are a few of the biggest upsides of pursuing a certificate.

  1. You’re getting a competitive advantage over others in your field — You’re being exposed to the latest trends and topics, you have access to industry experts and you’re learning alongside other passionate peers in the industry. When you combine those three factors, and the demonstrable fact that you’re pursuing additional education, you will clearly have a leg up on competing applicants or coworkers.

  2. You’re gaining skills that will make you better at your job — Sometimes you just need a refresher, and occasionally there’s an entirely new skill set that you need to download quickly. Whatever your motivation, a certificate program will equip you with the skills, and the knowledge, to effectively master new processes and excel in your career.

  3. You’re expanding your career opportunities — The beauty of certificate programs is that they cover such a wide range of diverse and exciting topics. And, you don’t have to enroll in a program that is in your related field. By introducing yourself to new trends, topics and industries, you’re learning new skills that can be applied to your current career and potentially set you up for a new one.

  4. You’re demonstrating your commitment to improving — All managers expect to see their employees doing whatever it takes to stay at the top of their profession. However, that’s sometimes difficult to quantify; but not when you enroll in a professional certificate. Certificate programs show your organization and your bosses that you are passionate about a certain topic and you’re doing the work to ensure you perform your job as well as possible. 

Will a Professional Certificate Help Your Career? 8 Questions to Ask [Plus 4 Follow-Up Questions]

Deciding whether or not to pursue a professional certificate is no small feat, so when the time comes ask the following questions to ensure you’re selecting the right option for you. 

  1. What are the standards around certificates for people in your industry?

  2. What types of certificates have others in your field pursued?

  3. How long will it take you to complete this certificate program?

  4. Does this certificate help you meet your professional goals?

  5. Will earning a certificate increase your salary?

  6. Will completing this program increase your marketability for future roles or help with a transition to a new career?

  7. Will your employer pay for a certificate?

  8. Is the certificate offered by an accredited institution?

Once you’ve narrowed it down to a few potential certificate programs, weigh your options based on the following four questions. These will serve to guide you toward a certificate that best fits your schedule, your budget, your expectations and your goals. 

 

Questions to Ask Answers to Look For

Can I enroll in a certificate while continuing to work full-time?

You need a flexible option — look for a program that is designed for the working professional.
Are instructors knowledgeable? The best programs will have instructors that have both expertise and years of relevant experience that they can use to improve your skills and knowledge.
Are certificates affordable? The easiest thing to do is compare the cost of a certificate to the cost of a degree — a certificate is almost surely more affordable.
What formats are certificates offered in? To suit your busy schedule, seek out programs that are offered in flexible online formats such as fixed-date or independent study.

 

At the University of San Diego Division of Professional and Continuing Education, we are proud to offer a diverse catalog of certificate programs that check the aforementioned boxes. Our certificates are both challenging and thought-provoking while also being flexible and designed for the modern professional. Whether you’re in healthcare or education, business or engineering, we have a certificate that suits your current role and aspirational career path. Please contact us today to learn more about any of our online certificate offerings.

FAQs

Q: What are professional certificates?

A: A professional certificate is “an educational or training program that is used to teach learning objectives and assess whether those objectives were achieved by the student.

Q: Are professional certificates worth it?

A: The short answer is yes, professional certificates are worth it. Just a few of the many benefits of earning a certificate include gaining a competitive advantage over peers in your field, obtaining new skills to leverage in your current role, increasing your earning potential and demonstrating to your bosses a passion for and commitment to your craft.

Q: Where can I find professional certificate offerings?

A: A quick online search will turn up a long list of certificate programs. However, the most reputable ones will most likely be available from accredited colleges and universities, so begin your search there.

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