To save both time and money, many prospective students are considering graduate certificates instead of obtaining a full graduate degree. Saving on a pricey degree and shortening the time required to get an academic credential sounds great – but, what exactly is a graduate certificate? Can such a certificate be a viable alternative to a full graduate degree?
Graduate certificates – or diplomas, as they are often called – are the shortest possible course of study, and the least expensive of all academic credentials. (However, obtaining financial aid for them may prove to be more difficult.)
Students also go for graduate certificates because they want to add a specialization to their current degree, and such a certificate can give them the advanced skills that they need in order to develop competency in a single subject. These programs can help them build credentials as quickly as possible.
Generally speaking, students are able to earn a graduate certificate by taking four to six courses, as opposed to twelve classes needed to earn a traditional master’s degree, and these can be completed within a year, or a year and a half of study. This is the quickest way for a student to acquire skills needed to launch a new career, which makes these programs popular among those looking for a career change.
Additionally, some careers are regulated by state (or national) licensing boards, so one must meet a state licensing requirements – again, these programs are a more practical solution than getting a master’s degree. The same applies if one wants to teach. Or, if he simply wants to earn more money and advance his current career.
The number of graduate certificates awarded is growing year after year. In order to qualify for most graduate certificate programs, a prospective student must hold a bachelor’s degree. To get admitted, a student has to apply to the program and take graduate entrance exams just like he would when applying for a full graduate degree. When it comes to tuition costs, these are less than for a full graduate degree, but the costs may vary.
While it is more difficult for them to qualify for financial aid, some students do qualify for student loans. Certificate students can often receive full reimbursement from their employers. They may also be eligible for education tax credits. To pay for a graduate certificate program, students can use the money saved in 529 plans and tax-advantaged college investment funds.
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