Deciding Whether an Online Certificate Program is Right for You

In today’s modern workforce, it can be difficult to decide whether an online certificate would hold the same weight as traditional graduate school programs.

Demands in the workplace are changing rapidly, making skills needed last year seemingly obsolete today. A greater emphasis on future-proofing your skills could lead to you remaining competitive.

Depending on the industry that you work in and the degree requirements, you may have cheaper, more specific training that you can receive online that will generally require less than a year to complete and allow you to pursue either a change in career and/or provide you with a competitive edge over your peers.

What are Online Certificates?

An online certificate is proof that you have successfully completed a course that you can share with your employer, school, or institution.

Personally developed by either faculty of a college/university or by experts in the field, online certificates generally focus on a specific skill or area that will allow you to become an expert in that trade without having to leave the comfort of your own home.

Online certificates are rapidly evolving and gaining increasing importance in the data science and machine learning industry (and in the tech-related skills as well). These courses can last between 3 months to one year and are priced at a fraction of the cost of a traditional online degree program.

How Are Online Certificates Different From Online Degree Programs?

Online degree programs are more similar to traditional courses from a university or trade school. Although these courses are held online versus in a physical classroom, online degree programs are taught my instructors and students have multiple classmates.

An online degree program is broader and does not focus as singularly on one skill or trade but rather take a broad approach to the field of study.

Online degree programs generally take a few years to complete versus the one year generally required for an online certificate. This is because an online degree program require somewhere between 8 to 12 courses, while an online certificate may only require 4 to 6 courses for completion.

Because of the increase in courses required as well as time needed to complete an online degree program, the online degree program is much more costly than its online certificate counterpart.

The average online degree program costs $16,000 from an undergraduate institution and the average online certificate from similar undergraduate institutions fall around $6,000. You can quickly see why understanding your options can be key before financing this kind of investment.

Who Should Pursue Online Certificates?

Online certificates are especially helpful for those seeking skills that are emerging and seeing growth, where the sooner he or she can join the workforce with that skill, the sooner they can be gaining real-world experience and improving their skills.

Some of the top emerging jobs include the following:

  • Machine Learning Engineer
  • Data Scientist
  • Sales Development Representative
  • Customer Success Manager
  • Big Data Developer
  • Full Stack Engineer
  • Unity Developer
  • Director of Data Science

With this in mind, you can see an immediate return on your investment, as you should be well on your way to making a decent salary in a field that is burgeoning. The end goal in this approach is career advancement – either a promotion or a new job. By having a look at the list of top emerging and growing jobs, you can see that the tech field dominates the list.

Demand for tech related skills is growing not only in the tech-related industries but non-tech industries as well!

If time is of the essence and juggling friends, family, work, and school seems daunting, then an online certificate may be a better decision overall, as a traditional online degree program could take years to complete.

As most online certificate courses are flexible and on your own time, the classes can mold around your schedule.

Deciding Whether an Online Certificate Program is Right for You

What are the Cost of Online Certificate Programs?

As a cheaper alternative to an online degree program or traditional brick-and-mortar degree program, the majority of online certificate programs are not free and still require an investment of both time and money.

The prices can vary based on what you are studying and range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand. When deciding whether or not the course will have a good return on your investment, it’s good practice to look at the alumni from the certificate programs and see where they are now and how they were able to leverage their new knowledge into either career advancement or career switch.

Included in many online certificate courses are career services and advising teams that will help guide you in the job application process as well as the interviewing process.

Check Whether Your Employer Offers Financial Support

In the past, employers looked favorably on online programs and would sometimes provide financial support for their employee to acquire new skills that would improve his or her performance within the company. This favorability may be shifting towards the online certificate with the growing popularity among employers as well as individuals.

It’s not surprising that the same benefits of shortened time as well as acquisition of a set of key skills benefits not only the employee but also provides lots of value to the company with much less financial investment.

Regardless of your situation, it may be worth having a discussion with your manager and/or HR team to see if this may be a potential fit.

So, is the Online Certificate Program Worth it?

To wrap this all up, the answer of whether you should pursue an online certificate program depends mostly upon what you are hoping to get out of this schooling as well as what kind of work you intend on taking up upon completion.

If you hope to make a career change or advance within your current company and are in a field that is growing and expanding, then an online certificate program could be the best investment, as you will have enough of the skills necessary to fill a junior role in that field upon completion.

The online certificate program will save you thousands versus pursuing an online degree route as well as take a quarter of the time to complete.

Future-proofing your career is always a great way to stay competitive in the ever-changing workforce and understanding how you can fit into this new evolving workplace.

Written By
Quincy is passionate about education and helping others find suitable options to expand their knowledge and provide value in their lives and workplace. He helps others future-proof their careers with Springboard and enjoys staying up-to-date with tech trends and industry highlights.