When trying to start a new career or further your education, you’d have to complete a certain amount of education or training in that career field. If you prefer to get trained online, you can choose between an online certificate or an online degree.
But many students who wish to continue their education online don’t know which is best for them. These two educational paths are designed to broaden your knowledge of a specific subject area and enhance your understanding of it.
Some view an online certificate as inferior to a degree. But each is unique and you just have to choose what suits your circumstances, interests, and career aspirations best. In this article, we’ll discuss the differences and how to identify the right one for you.
Online certificate vs online degree: what’s the difference?
When it comes to online education, many students are unsure of which path to take. But both programs cater to different needs and situations. For example, an online certificate takes a year or less to complete and helps to develop a particular skill or improve your knowledge in a specific area.
On the other hand, online degree programs are broader and take more years to complete. They often introduce a broader approach to the field of study and also include transferable skills such as critical thinking, research, and writing. Here are some factors to help you make the right decision.
1. Duration of study
An online certificate or degree program can help you develop the skills necessary for a particular job or industry. Both are valid options for those who are just starting their career as well as those who already have years of experience and those who are looking to have a mid-life career change.
However, the duration of study for these programs is different. It’s possible to complete an online certificate program in 6 months to a year. And if you’d like to specialize in related areas or go deeper in a particular field, you can also earn as many certificates as you’d like.
Online degrees such as associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral often require more time to complete. Students would have to take more courses and put in the number of credit hours needed to graduate. But they are quite flexible and can easily fit into your everyday schedule.
2. Area of focus
Online degree programs have a broad curriculum and may lead to different types of jobs. For example, a degree in healthcare management is all-encompassing and could land you a job as a health services manager, nursing home director, or long-term care administrator.
But online certificate programs focus on specific areas in a particular field of study. For example, certificates in healthcare are based on specific areas like strategic healthcare leadership, healthcare operations management, healthcare facilities planning, and design, and much more.
Online degrees seek to produce students that understand their industry and the world as a whole. They cover more topics than needed for completing job-specific tasks. But online certificate programs seek to dive deeply and help you learn actionable skills needed for a particular industry.
Since online certificate programs require less time and they have a more compact curriculum, they are considerably cheaper than 4-year degrees. For instance, an average certificate program’s tuition costs $5,000. However, it can be more or less depending on the field or industry.
Online degrees are generally expected to be expensive so they would cost around $40,000 or more. The tuition mostly depends on whether it’s a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral degree program and the number of credits required for you to earn that degree.
For example, a bachelor’s degree in business administration may require 120 credits and if the online college charges $500 per credit, you’d have to pay a total of $60,000 as tuition. And if you need financial aid, you can apply for loans, grants, or scholarships that you’re eligible for.
Which is right for you?
An online degree is ideal to start off your career and is, in fact, often required for certain careers, such as in the medical, law, or engineering fields.
An online certificate suits someone who is seeking to upskill or advance their knowledge in a specific field. It’s often the route post-graduates take to further their education and update their skills.
However, online certificates can also be a great way to launch your career. Maryville University, for example, has several online certificate programs designed to help students gain practical skills to launch their chosen careers.
Are online certificates respected by employers?
Degrees still hold greater prestige, however, the value of online certificates is growing.
A 2021 Pearson Education study found that 6 in10 employers are open to hiring candidates with non-degree certificates [reference: Certificate vs. Degree: Which Path Is Best for You? | Maryville Online].
Note that when choosing an online certification, make sure it’s with an accredited institution.