Graduate certificates can be the right solution for many students and professionals looking to continue their educations. They allow people to enhance their skills and knowledge in a relatively short amount of time — often without requiring students to take time off work — and they can be extremely cost-effective. Those who take classes full time may have to prioritize school over work, but they can usually earn their graduate certificate in a year or less. Going back to work with an advanced skill set can often mean taking home a higher wage, so even though taking time off can be a setback at first, the shorter completion time can make for a faster return on investment, or ROI.
Part-time students can earn their certificates in a year or two, and they generally won't have to cut into their work schedule. Being able to earn a graduate certificate without taking time off work can be invaluable for professionals looking to enhance their skills, and the ROI is still good.
Professionals who want to make a career change but don't want to or are unable to complete a full degree program may find that graduate certificates can give them a nice entry into a new field. Even if students suspect they may want to earn a master's degree in the future, pursuing a graduate certificate first can be a useful first step that allows them to experience graduate-level study and determine if more education is worth the investment. "Some graduate certificates can be stacked to yield a graduate degree or to satisfy prerequisites for a graduate degree," Kantrowitz adds.
Graduate certificates aren't without their snags, however. For instance, some career fields prefer or require master's degrees, so a graduate certificate would be insufficient unless taken in conjunction with a master's program. Also, while graduate certificates may offer a quicker ROI, long-term earnings might not be as high as they could be with a master's degree, depending on the field and specific job sought.
Getting financial aid for graduate certificates can be more challenging than for master's degrees, too.