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Degree vs Certificate Programs: What's the Difference?

6 min
Uploaded on
Feb 8, 2023
Last updated on
Oct 19, 2023
Uploaded on
Feb 8, 2023
Last updated on
Oct 19, 2023
Degree vs Certificate Programs: What's the Difference?
Clarity on credentials!

When it comes to education after high school, you’ll come face-to-face with many new terms, including ‘degree’ and ‘certificate’. You might be confused and have all sorts of questions about degrees and certificates. Is a certificate the same as a degree? If not, then what is the difference between certificate and degree? Whether you’re looking for a way to skill up in your field or get a start in a different field altogether, you’ll have to pick between various certificate and degree programs when planning to advance in your career. We’ve put together this detailed guide with answers to any questions you might have about degree vs certificate. 

What are certificates and degrees?

To fully understand the comparison of degree vs certificate, you need to first understand what certificates and degrees are. Although these are both academic credentials, their meaning slightly differs. 

A certificate is a document that you can present as proof of having spent a certain amount of time training to prepare for a particular job. You can obtain these by opting for courses at your college or university. People primarily opt for certificates with the aim of getting ready for a job that requires them to have a particular level of knowledge or skill to work efficiently. Another reason for enrolling in a certificate program can be to supplement your current degree or to help prepare for a bachelor’s or associate’s degree. Popular subjects for certificate programs include:

  • Nursing
  • Dental and medical assisting
  • Construction
  • Web development
  • Plumbing
  • Cosmetology. 

P.S. Keep in mind that although certificates and certifications sound similar, they don’t mean the same thing. Academic certificates are awarded by higher education institutions on completion of the chosen study program and are usually valid for a lifetime. On the other hand, certifications are typically awarded by professional associations or independent organizations and are time-based. If your certification expires, you might have to get it renewed. 

Meanwhile, a degree is awarded by your college or university and can be presented as evidence of having completed coursework for a specific area of study when applying for jobs. Degrees are generally academic qualifications that you receive on completing a course of studying a particular subject for multiple years. You can earn degrees at various levels that differ according to how extensive the curriculum is. When applying for entry-level positions in some industries, you might want to enroll for an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. For an executive-level position in certain industries, you might require a higher degree, such as a master’s or doctorate. Some industries that require degrees are:

  • Engineering
  • Therapists
  • Architects
  • Scientists
  • Financial Advisors
  • Art Directors
  • Aeroplane Pilots

Certificates vs Degrees: Main differences

Certificate vs Degrees: Differences

The main difference between certificate and degree is the time and money needed to earn them. The depth of the curriculum also differs, meaning certificates and degrees will help you gain different amounts of knowledge. Our blog on tips on how to get a first class degree might just help.

1. Time Commitment

Firstly, you need to dedicate less time to certificates. You can typically complete these programs and earn your certificates between a few months to two years, depending on which field you belong to. 

Degrees, on the other hand, take you several years to complete, depending on the level of degree as well as your industry. The average length of degree programs as per the type of degree is as follows:

Associate Degrees - 2 years

Baachelor’s Degrees - 4 years

Master’s Degrees - 1-2 years

Doctoral Degrees - at least 2 years

If you want to earn a degree quickly, you can always check out summer school or accelerated course, which are offered at some universities and allow you to graduate a year sooner. Other types of degrees that you should check out include honours degrees and dual degrees.

2. Requirements

To be eligible for a degree program, you need to have first received s high school diploma. Although several certificate programs also require you to have a high school diploma, there are some that do not. Not just this, even the application process for the two usually differs. If you match the basic requirements for a certificate, you can easily enroll for a certificate program of your choice.

However, to get accepted into a bachelor’s degree program, you must first apply to the university or college. The college’s admissions office will then make the decision of whether or not to accept your application based on your grades, test scores, and extracurricular activities. When applying for a higher-level degree, such as a master’s or doctoral degree, you must have already been awarded a bachelor’s degree and pass a standardized test such as the Graduate Record Examintion or the Scholastic Aptitude Test. Some doctoral degree programs require you to have a master’s degree, whereas others only require a bachelor’s degree.

3. Coursework

Another big difference between certificates and degrees lies in the coursework studies during your study program. Usually, degrees provide students with knowledge in their chosen field at greater depth than certificate programs. 

Certificate programs tend to focus on teaching students technical and practical skills that are specific to their career field. Suppose someone who works in cybersecurity, which is one of the most well-paid jobs in the United Kingdom, enrolls in an ethical hacking certificate program. This program will solely teach them about ethical hacking. 

Whereas degrees provide a general education in subjects that don’t directly relate to the student’s chosen field of study, such as mathematics, English, and science. Completing a certain number of classes in these subjects is mandatory for completing your course, which is also one of the reasons why degrees take longer to complete than certificate programs.

Certificates vs Degrees: Salaries

Typically, those who have a higher education earn more money than those with only certificates. However, your potential salary also depends on the subject matter that you’ve studied. Certificate programs do add to your value to an employer and have a higher chance of increasing your salary. Although several employers prefer skill training certificates, most jobs, especially the highest paid ones, require applicants to have earned a college degree.

Certificates vs Degrees: Which should I choose?

Finally, which is the one that’s right for you? Should you choose certificates or degrees? It all depends on your requirements and your resources. Certificates can definitely strengthen a resume, letting you stand out from other applicants. According to a report, long-term certificates also increase your chances of getting employed. However, these usually require at least one year of full-time study.

Degrees and certificates both add value and offer a different experience to your resume. However, certificates provide knowledge and training that is specific to your field or domain, whereas, degrees provides a broader educational experience. Degrees and certificates can also supplement your career. Although it it can be challenging to expand your slillset while working full-time, earning an educational credential is an excellent way of sharpening your skills and improving your work in real time.

If you’re not willing to commit to studying a master’s degree, you can always choose to earn a graduate certificate instead. If you then decide to enroll in a master’s program, you can also consider transferring your earned credits to the master’s program later. You also have the option to study a certifcate program alongside your degree program. There are several reasons to do so, including better job prospects and a boosted resume.

In the end, the battle of ‘Degree vs Certificate’ doesn’t have a single victor. It ultimately depends on your own future plans, career goals, preferences, and how much time and effort you’re willing to put into your study program. So there you have it! We hope we’ve cleared up your doubts about the difference between certificates and degrees. If you’d like to learn more about certificate courses, you can check out our guide to MOOC Courses. If you have any more questions, feel free to comment below and we’ll get back to you with the answers soon!

Frequently Asked Questions

Are certificates the same as certifications?

Is it better to get a certificate or a degree?

Are degrees and certificates the same?

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Degree vs Certificate Programs: What's the Difference?
6 min
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