What is a Graduate Certificate Program?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
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  • Last Modified Date: 12 December 2019
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A graduate certificate program is one designed to teach some level of expertise in a variety of fields to people who have already received a four-year undergraduate degree. These programs should be considered as distinct from other certificate programs that have no degree requirement. While there are many fine certificate programs of this type, offered at trade or vocational schools and at a number of community colleges, the graduate certificate is unlike these because of its previous school requirements.

Lots of different types of the graduate certificate program exist. Some aim to teach material that can be used to gain certification in a particular field. For example, earning a teaching certificate after getting an undergraduate degree is considered a certificate program. These programs can take a year or more to complete. Others will only require a semester or a couple of quarters of study, or might take a year to complete when studied on a part time basis.

Sometimes the graduate certificate program is a way for people to determine their course of study in a graduate program. Some schools might have a public health degrees at the master’s level, for instance, but then have several certificate programs that teach some aspect of public health so students can decide on a focus. Instead of directly enrolling in master’s studies, the students complete a certificate first, often consisting of three to four classes of intensive study.


Another way in which these programs can be used is to gain knowledge prior to or before earning a master’s degree in certain specialized fields. A school counselor could want to gain a certificate in mental health counseling. This could be done to enhance qualifications or it might be completed as preparation for changing fields.

Given the wide variety of certificate programs, many of which can be earned online, people should thoroughly investigate any programs of interest. First, not all graduate certificate programs have transferable units, in case a person wants to proceed to master or doctoral level work, and this should be ascertained. Asking the school is useful in this respect, and people should also verify from accrediting agencies that the school is accredited

While a graduate certificate program can sound attractive, it also makes sense to determine in what way a particular course improves knowledge or job prospects. Is the work in which one interested doable without a certificate, for example?

Occasionally, colleges offer a graduate certificate program without being clear about the potential benefits or disadvantages of study. Cost may be high, and people might leave a program with an education they did not require. Benefits of such a program should be weighed against real world needs, and costs, particularly of significant loans, ought to be considered against eventual job prospects and salary potential. That being said, many of these programs provide additional job opportunities or are the only means by which people can get work in certain fields.


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