Things to Know About Professional Certifications

Increasingly, people are opting to explore online certificate programs. These programs give them flexibility and a low-cost way to build their skills so they can advance in their current career or perhaps even move into another field altogether. 

Not every certification is going to be worth your time or right for you, though, so it’s helpful to have some background knowledge about these programs before you decide to start one. 

The following are some of the most basic things to know about professional certifications and what you can expect if you’re involved in a program. 

1. What a Certificate Is

A certificate is something you can be awarded after you complete a relatively short program, especially compared to a degree-granting program. Certificates usually focus on one particular area of knowledge and expertise rather than being an entire full-length course of study. 

Certificates might not lead to a degree, but they are sometimes awarded at the undergraduate and graduate levels. In some cases, you might also have the option to transfer the credits you earn from a certificate into a degree program. 

Certificates are less expensive than degree programs, but you usually have to pay out of pocket because they don’t qualify for financial aid. 

2. Certificate vs. Certification

Certificates aren’t the same as a certification. Certification is something that independent organizations or professional organizations will award to certify you to work in that industry. 

Academic certificates come from higher education institutions, and they recognize that you’ve completed a program of study. 

A certificate typically doesn’t expire, so this is another area of comparison. Certifications are usually time-based, and that means you have to renew them when they expire. 

If you have credits from another certification, as mentioned above, you might be able to transfer that towards a degree. 

Going back to professional certifications—these are a credential. They’re verifying that you have the abilities, skills, or knowledge to do a particular job. You can often add a designation to your name once you earn a certification. 

Certifications can be broken down into three broad categories. 

There are corporate certificates, which are meant to provide in-depth training that is relevant to the specific needs of an employer. There are role-specific certifications that help someone become an authority in their field, and then there are also product and software-specific certifications. 

3. Examples of Certificate Programs

Depending on what you’re interested in and your goals, there are a lot of certificate programs available. 

Examples of options that are currently popular include:

  • – Online Computer Science Certificate Suite (Bachelor’s Level): For someone who wants to start in computer science but they aren’t sure if they’re ready to work toward their complete bachelor’s degree, starting with an online certificate can be a good option. There are fully online certificate programs for computer science, and focuses can include artificial intelligence, data science, and cybersecurity, as a few examples. Often, with these certificates, a person could take around six courses, and then, they could either opt to move on to their bachelor’s studies or they might get a second certificate to build on their computer science skills. 
  • – Big Data, Machine Learning, and Fundamentals of AI (Post-Bachelor’s Level): While we’ve talked a lot about certificates as a way to work toward your bachelor’s, there are also programs that you can take after you get your bachelor’s. Big data, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are something that organizations are investing billions of dollars in right now. If you pursue post-bachelor’s certificates, you can then start to work toward graduate-level degree programs. 
  • – Nursing certificates (Post-Masters): Certificates can even be something pursued after you’ve completed your graduate studies. Nursing is a good example of this. If you already have a master’s in nursing, a post-master’s certificate can be a way to become more specialized and advance your knowledge and your career. For example, you might get a certificate to work toward becoming a family nurse practitioner. 

Certificate programs have a lot of advantages because they are flexible, and you can find a program that’s going to be in line with your current education and needs. Also, many certificate programs offered by higher learning institutions are something you can complete entirely online. This is good if you’re currently working full-time, for example, or have a demanding schedule that might now allow for the completion of coursework in a traditional in-person environment. 

The biggest thing to remember is that a certificate is unique from certification, and these two aren’t interchangeable concepts.