Certificate vs. Degree: Which is Better?

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Every person is unique, but the quest for knowledge is an instinct for many of us. Whether this is by heading across the country to attend a dream college or by taking a few online classes as part of an online program, as people we are inherently hungry to learn more. For many, this is because they have career goals and professional pursuits that are assisted by higher education. Many employers look at educational experiences to determine eligibility, so understanding all options as a student is crucial for maximizing investments and properly equipping students for a successful future. A common question that comes up when students first begin is what level of education they might need to complete, and the debate between certificates vs. degrees is a common one. 

In this article, we’ll explore the differences between a degree and a certificate, as well as how to determine which of these options would align best with a student’s career goals. Every student is different, but this helpful guide is universally helpful. 

What’s the Difference Between a Degree and a Certificate?

Before comparing degrees and certificates it’s crucial to understand what each of them entails, as many students may get confused about the terminology. A degree is an academic title earned after completing a specific level of education in a specific field. The four most common degrees pursued are associate’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and Ph.D.’s. Each degree type takes a certain amount of time, with associates degrees taking the least amount of time to complete. A common question asked is “should I get a certificate or associate’s degree? Associates degree programs are designed for students to complete some general education requirements as well as concentrated areas of studies for their field. Bachelor’s degrees take this degree one step further and are completed in approximately four years. It’s very common for those with associate’s degrees to later earn their bachelor’s degree. 

A certificate program is much more concentrated, with a strong focus on students gaining specific knowledge and skills for a specific field of study or trade. Certificate programs vary widely based on the course subject, some courses cover a broad idea of industry-related subjects while others provide hands-on experience and skills needed to prosper with the field. Certificate programs feature limited general education courses and are typically completed in a year to allow students to immediately apply their new skills within the field. 

Advantages of Degrees

There are numerous benefits of earning a degree, making this a very popular go-to option for young professionals looking for fulfilled careers. Especially with the practicality and experience gained through an associate’s degree program, it makes sense that it’s a popular option. Some of the biggest advantages of enrolling in a full degree program include:

  • Students gain access to a well-rounded curriculum of general education and major-concentrative courses
  • Students can easily shift gears and study other areas of interest if desired
  • Degree programs typically provide many opportunities for networking with peers
  • Graduates have better chances of entering non-entry level careers with well-paying salaries
  • Graduates can have access eligible to a more broad selection of careers

The main disadvantage of choosing a degree vs. a certification program is that earning a degree is much more expensive, takes much longer to complete, and generally consumes much more of a student’s time. Acceptance qualifications also tend to be more rigid in comparison to a certification program. While some jobs prefer that applicants possess a degree, young professionals have started to see the value in instead pursuing a certificate. 

Advantages of Certificates

While many might think of “higher education” as a means for earning a degree, alternative options and avenues for success have become more and more popular. While many careers may require a degree (doctors, lawyers, etc.), many employment opportunities accept certification as a solid indicator of eligibility. Besides, every student is different and many careers do not require a degree but prefer hands-on experience (real estate, web development, etc.). Some of the biggest benefits of choosing to pursue a certification program include:

  • Students can accelerate their education process and enter the field faster than those still finishing a degree
  • Students access a career-centric learning experience
  • Students gain real-world experience and working knowledge of their desired trade rather than a broad concept of the industry
  • Many online certification programs exist, further simplifying the process of strengthening a resume
  • Certification programs allow students to connect with peers and colleagues within their chosen industry effortlessly

The main disadvantage of choosing a certification program is that many careers value a degree, and a certification cannot be applied to a degree later on in the way an associate’s degree can easily support a bachelor’s degree down the line. 

Compare & Contrast: Degree vs Certificate

Now that we understand the differences between a degree and a certificate program, it’s important to consider which of these two options best aligns with a student’s goals for their future. Choosing either of these options indicates a desire to professionally tune in to their skills and gain knowledge for their journey. Many questions arise when debating between a degree vs. certificate and understanding all options is key to making the right decision. 

Is an Associates Degree Better than a Certificate?

There’s no way of determining that an associate’s degree is any better than a certificate, but they do tend to be some of the most similar options. At the end of the day, this question can only be answered by the future student by reflecting on what they want their career journeys to look like. Are they on the fence regarding their career path or are they sure they want to enter a specific trade? What topics is the student looking to master and gain more insight surrounding?   

An associate’s degree is a better option for students who are not entirely sure of the field they’d like to enter, as an associate’s degree can easily apply to a bachelor’s degree program down the line. Earning an associate’s degree is also a good option for students who would like to keep their options open and get their general education requirements out of the way early on. 

Should I Get a Minor or Certificate?

Another maneuver that many students make while taking part in a degree program is to declare a minor before their graduation date. Minor degree programs allow students to indicate specialization in a field of study outside of the student’s declared major. For example, many law students will major in legal studies while declaring a minor in a discipline related to the law they’d like to one day practice such as environmental studies or ethics. 

Students should declare a minor over earning a certificate if they are already enrolled in a degree program. While declaring a minor will clearly indicate strength in a subject, it simply means that a student took a certain level of classes in that discipline. A minor does not necessarily indicate that the student has direct experience with this field in the way that a certification program does. For those who have not enrolled in a degree program, choosing a certification program may provide more practical experience and knowledge. 

Graduate Certificate vs Bachelors Degree – Which Is Better?

For those that choose to earn their associate’s degree, a common next step is to automatically continue to a bachelor’s program to earn their four-year degree. While this is a common next step, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the most intelligent or lucrative one. Associate’s degrees are designed to provide students with a baseline education, and pursuing a graduate certificate is a great way to get the best of both worlds in terms of debating between a degree vs. certificate. 

A graduate certificate is an educational credential that indicates a student has received specialized training in a specific field of study. These are awarded by colleges and universities after completion of this work and are essentially the middle ground between a certification program and a full degree program. Graduate certificates can be earned in as little as a year, and are a much cheaper option than attending school for another few years. This is a good option for those that seek specialized training and hands-on experience who still want to enter their field speedily. 

Should I Get a Certificate or Associate’s Degree?

At the end of the day, students should always weigh the similarities and differences between a degree and certificate program to choose a curriculum that makes the most sense for their needs. No one can decide which career path is best for you, so unsure students should base their decision on three major factors: the time they’d like to complete their education, financial ability, and the career outlook they’d like to access after completing the program. For students looking to save money, equip themselves with applicable skills, and gain a worthwhile education surrounded by like-minded peers they would most likely benefit from considering a certificate program. On the other hand, if a student is unsure of their career future but wants to keep options available, a degree program is the best move. 

By understanding the many benefits of a certification program students can more accurately make decisions that set them up for success. While there are many benefits to earning a college degree, there are countless industries that may not require the time, money, or effort a degree program demands. Plus, with the increase in online certification programs available, it’s never been more accessible to begin specializing in the careers we want to invest in the most. 

At Bible College Online we seek to simplify the process of choosing the best educational course for your future. From faith-based colleges to online degree programs, we have the resources future students need to properly prepare for their success. Take the next steps toward earning a certification or degree by exploring these reputable programs today! 

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