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Graduate certificate programs can be cheaper, faster alternatives to grad schoolhere's everything you need to know about how long they take to finish, how much they cost, and how they compare to master's degrees

Published by Business Insider on Sun, 22 Nov 2020

<bi-shortcode id="disclaimer" class="mceNonEditable" data-type="insiderpicks"></bi-shortcode><bi-shortcode id="summary-shortcode" data-type="summary-shortcode" class="mceNonEditable" contenteditable="false">Summary List Placement</bi-shortcode><bi-shortcode id="table-of-contents-sticky" class="mceNonEditable" data-type="h2">Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky</bi-shortcode><p><img src="https://static3.businessinsider.com/image/5fb2f4dd1c741f0019aca22b-2400/GettyImages-1128908945.jpg" border="0" alt="GettyImages 1128908945" data-mce-source="damircudic/Getty Images"></p><ul class="summary-list"><li><strong>While not the same as a master's degree, a graduate certificate can offer some of the same career and skill-boosting benefits as <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-decide-go-apply-graduate-school-now-pros-cons-2020-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener">grad school</a>, without the time commitment or cost. It can also be a stepping stone to eventually earning a full degree.</strong></li><li>Below are answers to frequently asked questions about graduate degrees, including how much they cost, how remote classes work, and how long they take.</li><li><strong>Read more: <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/edx-vs-coursera-which-is-better-comparison" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Coursera and edX are two popular online learning platformshere's how they compare in terms of price and programs offered</a></strong></li><li><strong><a href="https://newsletter.businessinsider.com/join/4np/insider-picks" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Sign up for Insider Reviews' weekly newsletter for more buying advice and great deals</a>.</strong></li></ul><div></div><div></div><p>As the pandemic continues, many people are wondering if <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/how-to-decide-go-apply-graduate-school-now-pros-cons-2020-6" target="_blank" rel="noopener">graduate school is a good investment of time and money right now</a>. While graduate degrees can provide chances to pivot to new careers, they also can take a few years to complete and charge high tuition, depending on the school and program.</p><p>While not the same as a master's degree, graduate certificates can sometimes be a more affordable option that requires less of a time commitment. Depending on the intended profession, they can help you learn new skills to transition into a different fieldwith official certification to show employers on LinkedIn or your resumeand some even have built-in portfolio assignments so you can exit the course with new samples of your work.</p><p>On some occasions, graduate certificates can double as college credits towards a related master's degree, since you technically completed graduate coursework. However, certificate credits are not automatically accepted by all schoolsit varies on the university and program.</p><p>Here's everything you need to know about graduate certificates, how they compare to master's degrees, and some of the most popular graduate degree programs:</p><h2><strong>What's the difference between a graduate certificate and a degree'</strong></h2><p>Unlike finishing a full master's degree program, certificate program students take a few master's courses around a subjectlike <a href="https://click.linksynergy.com/deeplink'id=EHFxW6yx8Uo&amp;mid=40328&amp;murl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.coursera.org%2Fmastertrack%2Fsustainability-development-umich" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored">Sustainability and Development</a> or <a href="https://go.skimresources.com'id=35871X943606&amp;xs=1&amp;url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.edx.org%2Fmicromasters%2Fuc-san-diegox-data-science" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored">Data Science</a>and receive a certificate of completion upon passing the program.</p><p>Because certificates involve taking fewer classes (and don't usually have an admissions process), they're not considered the same as having a master's degree or PhD. However, they can help you stand out to prospective employers, especially if you're looking to transition into a different field and want to demonstrate that you learned the required skills.</p><h2><strong>How do I apply to a graduate certificate program'</strong></h2><p>Most certificate programs, such as the ones offered through <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/edx-affordable-online-micro-masters-programs-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener">edX's MicroMasters</a>, don't require a formal application process. If the course requires prerequisite knowledge, that information will usually be in the course description.</p><p>That being said, graduate certificate programs, such as <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/coursera-mastertrack-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Coursera's MasterTracks</a>, can cap off after a certain number of applicants, so it's good to bookmark the enrollment date and sign up as soon as you can.</p><h2><strong>How much do certificate programs cost'</strong></h2><p>Graduate certificate programs can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000, depending on the school, program, and length. The price of a graduate certificate can be a fraction of <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/personal-finance/average-college-tuition#annual-average-tuition-at-public-4-year-colleges-and-universities" target="_blank" rel="noopener">the cost of traditional college degrees</a> (including online ones).</p><h2><strong>How long do certificate programs typically take'</strong></h2><p>Graduate certificate programs vary in length. Some, like <a href="https://go.skimresources.com'id=35871X943606&amp;xs=1&amp;url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.edx.org%2Fmicromasters%2Fmitx-supply-chain-management" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored">MIT's Supply Chain Management MicroMasters</a>, can take a little over a year. Others, like the <a href="https://click.linksynergy.com/deeplink'id=EHFxW6yx8Uo&amp;mid=40328&amp;murl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.coursera.org%2Fmastertrack%2Fux-design-minnesota" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored">University of Minnesota's UX Design MasterTrack</a>, only take four months to complete.</p><h2><strong>Can I pick some of the classes in the certificate'</strong></h2><p>Usually, no. Coursera and edX's graduate certificate offerings pick the classes for you and you have to pass all of them to get the certification.</p><p>There are exceptions, though. <a href="https://www.extension.harvard.edu/academics/graduate-certificates" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Harvard's extension school</a>, for instance, lets you choose a few electives as part of your certificate.</p><h2><strong>How does grading work'</strong></h2><p>While graduate degree programs operate via GPAs, graduate certificates are often Pass/Fail. Coursera, for example, gives you a percentage grade on each assignment and then a final combined score.</p><p>Depending on the program and size of your class, your written feedback on assignments might also be shorter and more brief than it would be in a graduate degree program.</p><h2><strong>What if I want to get a master's degree after finishing a certificate program'</strong></h2><p>Specific programs in the <a href="https://go.skimresources.com'id=35871X943606&amp;xs=1&amp;url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.edx.org%2Fmicromasters" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored">edX MicroMasters</a> and <a href="https://click.linksynergy.com/deeplink'id=EHFxW6yx8Uo&amp;mid=40328&amp;murl=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.coursera.org%2Fmastertrack" target="_blank" rel="nofollow noopener sponsored">Coursera MasterTrack</a> series have different guidelines regarding college credits. Some might only accept the certificate classes as college credits if you pursue a degree in the same school and program you completed the certificate in; others provide a list of schools that will take the credits.</p><p>One upside to completing a certificate before continuing a degree in the same field is that the certificate credits are typically cheaper and can save you some money down the line.</p><h2><strong>Can I get financial aid for a certificate program'</strong></h2><p>It depends. Coursera MasterTracks don't currently offer financial assistance. And while <a href="https://support.edx.org/hc/en-us/articles/215167877-What-courses-offer-financial-assistance-" target="_blank" rel="noopener">edX lets you apply for financial aid</a> for most of its programs, for MicroMasters, you'll have to audit each course first and apply for financial aid every time.</p><h2>The bottom line</h2><p>If you're looking to save time and money, graduate certificates can be a great alternative to graduate degrees, especially if you're just looking to pick up some new skills, such as accounting or coding. Online certificate programs can also offer some flexibility in terms of scheduling and can help you decide if you want to pursue a full degree later. <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/coursera-mastertrack-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Here's a review of one of Coursera's MasterTrack programs</a>.</p><div></div><div></div><p><a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/what-is-graduate-certificate-vs-masters-degree-faq#comments">Join the conversation about this story &#187;</a></p>
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