What Are College Certificates and Certifications?

Many college certificate programs prepare students to obtain the professional certifications they need to gain employment or advance in their careers. Other college certificates are awarded as a student progresses in an undergraduate or graduate-level degree program.

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College Certificates for Students without a Degree

Students who want to obtain expertise in a field without investing the time needed to earn a college degree may earn a college certificate. Depending on the subject, students may complete a college certificate program in six months to a year because these programs focus on one discipline and lack the general education studies required by degree programs.

Upon completion of a college certificate program, students generally receive a certificate of completion or certificate of achievement, not a degree or diploma. Candidates may be able to transfer college certificate credits to degree programs at other colleges, depending on the institution and degree program.

Types of Certificate Programs

Schools offer college certificates in a wide variety of disciplines, including human resources, computer repair, massage therapy, health care administration and child care specialist.


The coursework in a college certificate depends on the subject studied. For instance, a phlebotomy certificate program may require courses such as clinical phlebotomy and a phlebotomy internship or externship. Coursework for a college certificate in bookkeeping may include payroll administration and accounting.

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College Certificates for Students with a Degree

Post-baccalaureate college certificates are designed for students who hold bachelor's degrees and are interested in advancing their careers by obtaining in-depth knowledge in an area related to their profession. Some students choose to earn post-baccalaureate college certificates because they can't qualify for entrance to master's degree programs.

Post-master's college certificates are designed for students who want to acquire advanced additional knowledge in a specialty, usually one that's related to an undergraduate or graduate degree they have already earned. For instance, some graduate certificate programs focus on specific fields of education and mental health care. Students may also pursue a post-master's college certificate to help them decide whether to enroll in a doctoral program.


College certificate programs typically don't certify students for employment, but they may prepare students to take exams for certifications and licenses administered by professional organizations. The curricula of some college certificate programs are designed to meet specific certification requirements in fields like nursing, real estate, financial management, barbering, human resources, medical assistance and ultrasound technology.

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