Are Graduate Certificate Programs Worth It?

Intrigued by the idea of a graduate certificate? Your time and money are important, so let’s see if graduate certificate programs are worth it.

There are a number of reasons you may be interested in earning a graduate certificate instead of a graduate degree. The primary reasons to choose a certificate over a master’s degree are the speed, focus and lower cost.

Like a graduate degree, a certificate can offer the opportunity to advance in your current job, move to a new career field, earn more money and provide for personal enrichment.

Professional development

Graduate certificates are gaining in popularity and are quickly becoming a great way to help advance your career.

A certificate, while providing master’s level classes, narrows the courses to a specific base. This helps you quickly learn about a subject by allowing you to focus entirely on the specific area of interest. Gaining knowledge in a specific subject can potentially help you advance in your current field or pivot to a new one.

They are an excellent option for busy professionals and those who cannot make a long-term time and money commitment. Certificates require fewer credits than a master’s degree, so most certificates can be completed within six months to a year. That’s as little as ⅓ the time required for a master’s degree! For growing professionals, a graduate certificate offers a fairly quick route to job readiness and specialization.

Additionally, a certificate program can show employers that you are serious about professional growth and demonstrates your willingness to push yourself to learn new things. These are characteristics most employers appreciate.

A graduate certificate program is probably worth it if you want to learn a specific skill or subject in a relatively short period of time. It can provide you with the knowledge needed for a promotion or job change, bolster your resume and make it easier to enter high-demand, specialized fields.

Earning potential

Most graduate certificates require between 12 and 18 credit hours (4-6 classes) and the total cost can vary greatly from around a few thousand dollars to over $20,000. Before committing thousands of dollars to a certificate program, it would be wise to at least consider how or if you’ll earn that money back.

There isn’t a lot of hard data on the boost in income potential a graduate certificate may provide. Browsing the internet reveals claims that a graduate certificate can add an average of 25% to your income.

For example, a Forbes article about graduate certificates states, “In general, when you earn a certificate, you can expect anywhere from a 13 to 25% boost in your annual salary.“ 

However, I have been unable to verify these claims so I don’t feel comfortable relying on them. Most studies on the subject of certificates focus on post-secondary (not post-baccalaureate) certificates in subjects such as cosmetology, heating and air conditioning repair, etc. The Forbes article is specifically about graduate certificates, but doesn’t state where the 13 to 25% figure comes from.

It’s generally accepted that more education typically leads to a higher earning potential. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median weekly earnings of someone with a master’s degree is approximately 19% more than someone with a bachelor’s degree. 

Are Graduate Certificate Programs Worth It?

A graduate certificate falls somewhere between a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. So it’s reasonable to conclude that a graduate certificate can increase your earning potential and pay for itself over the years.

You probably won’t simply be offered a raise because you have earned a graduate certificate. However, it will likely make you more competitive for advancement and more valuable to your employer. It may also help you get a different job, even if the certificate is in a new career field.

Therefore, a graduate certificate is worth it from a monetary standpoint if you feel the knowledge and/or credential will give you a leg up in your career long-term and help you advance professionally as this typically leads to higher paying jobs.

Personal development

Perhaps you’ve developed an interest in a subject not directly related to your career or are considering a career change. A graduate certificate makes it possible to gain knowledge in a structured environment and receive formal recognition for your achievement.

Some people can learn about new fields by reading books, researching the internet and talking to people knowledgeable about the subject in an informal manner. However, many people learn better in a formal setting where the information is presented by experts and students are required to demonstrate knowledge of the subject.

Some people are able to focus themselves better when there is a little external reason to keep on, such as earning a good grade or completing a goal. If this sounds like you, a graduate certificate program is worth it when compared to informal learning.

Are graduate certificate programs worth it? - Sometimes

If you are considering a graduate certificate for professional reasons in the hopes of a promotion or a new job, you should carefully research job requirements for the types of positions that interest you.

If you find that 9 out 10 vacancy announcements require a master’s degree in the the field, earning just a graduate certificate is not likely to help you get the job.

However, most graduate certificates allow you to transfer all of the credits to a related master’s program. If you’re not sure you want to commit to a master’s degree, a graduate certificate is a way to test the waters.

While a master’s degree provides a wider knowledge base, a certificate significantly narrows instruction to the essentials. The time and money you save are balanced by a specialization that can narrow not only what is learned but opportunities within the field.

If you don’t think a graduate certificate will help you advance professionally, earn more money, or provide a significant sense of personal satisfaction, then your time and money may be better spent on other opportunities (like a master’s degree).


So, are graduate certificate programs worth it?

While it is true that circumstances and goals vary from person to person, the benefits of a graduate certificate are likely to outweigh the potential concerns.

Considering time commitments, financial costs, job opportunities and income potential, a graduate certificate is often a good choice for professionals wishing to add to their current degree, update their resume, increase income potential and specialize within a field.

And remember that you can almost always use your certificate courses as credit towards a master’s degree.

If you are interested in learning how to choose an online certificate program (in any field) or want to explore graduate certificates in instructional design and related subjects, check out the ID Hunter’s Ultimate Guide to Online Instructional Design Certificate Programs.

I would like to hear from you. Are graduate certificate programs worth it? Let me know your experience and opinion. Email me.

ID Hunter