Certificate Programs in the U.S.

Looking for a postsecondary education that will provide you with practical skills that can move you into the job market in under two years? Depending on your career goals, a certificate program may be the right choice for you.

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Certificates vs. Degrees

Students entering college for the first time often feel pressure to enroll in associate or bachelor's degree programs. But for many people, certificate programs can actually provide a better dollar-for-dollar return on investment. Whereas two- and four-year degree options often require taking costly general education credits, certificate programs allow individuals to keep costs low by focusing only on those classes needed for their chosen career.

Certificate programs' lower average costs are not their only benefit - these opportunities often also provide more flexibility. Students who are working or raising families can benefit from schedules that feature evening and weekend classes. Also, many certificate programs require just one academic year of study. Degree programs can require two years or more of full-time schooling, but most certificate programs allow individuals to finish in much less time.

Since the duration is typically shorter than acquiring a bachelor's degree, certificates are a great way to get into the workforce quickly and begin earning an income. Students who complete certificate programs also have a great foundation for future academic pursuits.

Certificate Programs and Your Career

Of course, certificate programs aren't for everybody. Whether or not you can get the schooling you need in such a program largely depends on what your career goals are. Certificate programs typically work best for skills-based professions.

Certificates Count, a joint report from Complete College America and Future Works, published in 2010, breaks down the areas in which certificates are most often earned. The clear winner in this analysis: healthcare. In fact, 43% of certificates are awarded in this sector of the economy. Other areas in which a heavy concentration of certificates were earned included personal and culinary services (13%), mechanical fields (9%) and business (8%).

If you're planning to enter a profession that requires completing a certificate program, you may want to look for opportunities at educational institutions or workforce development programs in your area. Earning a certificate can also be a good idea if you're already working in an industry and looking to move up the ladder. Certificate programs can also prepare you for professional certification; some companies will even reimburse you for completing certification exams.

Advancement in Postsecondary Education Goals

The Certificates Count report lauds certificate programs as an important vehicle for advancing postsecondary education goals targeted by the White House. Citing the need to better compete in the global economy, the president has clearly stated that it is of utmost importance for Americans to continue education beyond high school for at least one year.

Just how do certificate programs help in the effort? Unfortunately, 30% of students who enroll in associate or bachelor's programs drop out in their first year, exiting school without gaining any real skills that are transferable to the workplace. This isn't to say that people in certificate programs always succeed, but these opportunities do represent an attainable level of education given their shorter time commitment and more specific focus.

Certificate programs are also important educational opportunities for those looking to make a career change. As market forces cause people to move between professions, certificate programs can provide short-term, specialized training that allows individuals to thrive in new roles.

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