2022 Guide: Online and In-Person Certificates

Studying for a certificate program online or in person at a physical college could increase earning potential and generate limitless career opportunities. These programs focus on practical skills rather than academics, providing an alternative to a standard bachelor’s or master’s degree. You can earn a certificate in as little as six months and use your skills to land a job in a broad range of industries. 

Whether you want to start a new career, increase your chances of a promotion, or broaden your skill set, a certificate program could provide unparalleled learning opportunities and develop your knowledge in a particular field of study. 

Learn more about certificate programs online and in-person and the potential career opportunities available to you after graduation.

What Is an Online or In-Person Certificate Program?

A certificate program is a training program that teaches you practical skills in a particular discipline. These programs are typically shorter than a bachelor’s or master’s degree, and you could earn a certificate in as little as six months. You can find certificate programs for various trades and job fields, including programs accredited by the Department of Education and Council for Higher Education Accreditation.  

There are two ways to achieve a certificate in a skill or topic:

  1. In person at a physical college
  2. Over the internet

Attending college used to be the only way to earn a certificate, but now online schools let you study from any location in the world. Although you learn the same skills in online and in-person programs, these learning styles have unique attributes. 

The traditional college environment suits those who prefer face-to-face interaction and want to learn at the same pace as other students. Online lessons, however, accommodate those who enjoy learning at their own speed and want to balance education with existing travel, work, or family commitments. Many online schools let you study for a certificate 24 hours a day, allowing you to maintain a full-time job. 

Studying for a certificate over the internet can also work out cheaper than attending college because you won’t have to pay for travel or campus accommodation costs. Online schools might also provide greater learning opportunities because they typically offer more program variety. 

There are several misconceptions about online certificate programs. Some students think online schools don’t provide the same level of academic support as traditional colleges, but that’s not the case. You can engage with instructors and faculty members via a learning management system (LMS) and network with other students in webinars, digital lessons, and community forums. 

Here are some popular certificate programs online and in-person:

  • Computer programming
  • Video editing 
  • Massage therapy
  • Landscaping
  • Business management
  • Art and design

You might gain hands-on experience in your chosen trade or job field with a local employer or another organization. 

Earning a certificate can lead to a wide range of career options. Depending on the program, a graduate might get a job as a:

  • Computer technician
  • Medical assistant
  • Beauty therapist
  • Air traffic controller
  • Dental hygienist
  • Graphic designer
  • Scriptwriter

How Much Does a Certificate Program Cost? 

A certificate program is usually cheaper than a bachelor’s or master’s degree. However, the total cost of completing one of these programs depends on the educational institution and whether you earn your certificate online or in person.

An in-person certificate program in health systems management at the University of the Potomac costs $4,995 in total tuition. That price doesn’t include book costs, registration fees, portfolio fees, graduate fees, and other expenses. You will also need to commute to school and pay for accommodation if living on campus. An online graduate certificate in environmental geology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign costs $8,544 in tuition fees. However, you won’t have to pay for travel or room and board. 

Regardless of the learning style you choose, you could reduce tuition costs with a scholarship or grant. Many organizations provide financial aid to students with low incomes and those who show academic excellence. 

Average Salary for a Certificate Program

The median annual salary for someone with a graduate certificate is around $56,000, according to PayScale. (Data correct as of July 21, 2021.)

Below is a list of average salaries of popular jobs for some certificate programs, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). (Data correct as of May 2020.)

The mean annual wage for web developers is $85,490. That’s a mean hourly wage of $41.10.

The top-paying states for web developers are:

  1. Washington: $133,790 (mean annual wage)
  2. California: $94,960
  3. Georgia: $93,590
  4. Massachusetts: $91,480
  5. New Jersey: $90,710

The mean annual wage for computer programmers is $95,640. That’s a mean hourly wage of $45.98.

The top-paying states for computer programmers are:

  1. Washington: $177,210
  2. District of Columbia: $119,010
  3. California: $107,300
  4. Virginia: $103,150
  5. Texas: $102,650

The mean annual wage for film and video editors is $83,880, or $40.33 an hour.

The top-paying states for film and video editors are:

  1. California: $107,300
  2. New York: $98,400
  3. New Jersey: $91,000
  4. Connecticut: $79,550
  5. Pennsylvania: $79,100

The mean annual wage for respiratory therapists is $65,640, or $31.56 an hour.

The top-paying states for respiratory therapists are:

  1. California: $87,190
  2. District of Columbia: $82,940
  3. New York: $79,840
  4. Hawaii: $77,930
  5. Nevada: $77,380

What Is the Job Outlook for Certificate Program Graduates? 

It depends on the job field. The outlook is positive for many graduates from certificate programs. For example, there will be a 13% increase in job opportunities for web developers and a 20.9% increase for respiratory therapists from 2018 to 2028, according to Projections Central and the Department of Labor. These increases are significantly higher than the average for all job types (around 5%).

Courses in a Certificate Program

Specific courses in a certificate program depend on the discipline. For example, a counseling program might comprise psychology, psychotherapy, and behavioral science classes. A marketing program might include communication, online advertising, and market research classes. 

Certificate programs focus more on practical skills rather than academics. Unlike most bachelor’s and master’s degree programs, students learn skills for a particular trade or job field instead of theories and research methods. Graduates from these programs typically have an in-depth knowledge of their chosen industry and the tools and technologies used in that sector. 

Those who enroll in certificate programs also learn transferable soft skills that future employers might find valuable such as:

  • Communication
  • Decision-making
  • Problem-solving
  • Time management
  • Organization

Students in online certificate programs might garner additional skills such as independence and self-motivation.

FAQs About Certificate Programs

What jobs require a certificate?

You might need a certificate program for a wide range of jobs. Here are some of the most popular:  

  • Computer technician
  • Medical assistant
  • Beauty therapist
  • Dental hygienist

Does a certificate program offer good job prospects?

The Department of Labor predicts increases in employment opportunities for some jobs associated with certificate programs over the next few years.

What are the different fields of a certificate program? 

It depends on the discipline. Different fields of certificate programs include:

  • Business
  • Healthcare
  • Education
  • Art and design
  • Computing
  • Technology

How long does it take to get a certificate?

It can take as little as six months to earn a certificate. Some programs might take six months to two years to complete. 

What does a certificate program curriculum typically include?

A typical curriculum includes practical skills for a specific job type or industry. For example, a business management certificate program might incorporate enterprise, financial risk, and e-commerce classes. 

Summary Information

  • You can complete a certificate program in as little as six months.
  • You can earn a certificate online or in person at a physical college.  
  • You can study for a certificate online at a time that suits you. 

The benefits of studying for certificate programs online and in-person include:

  • Increase your chances of a job promotion.
  • Expand your skill set.
  • Kickstart a new career.
  • Studying for an online certificate lets you balance your education with any existing travel, work, or family commitments. 

  • The cost of a certificate program depends on the school and whether you study for it online or in person. 
  • An in-person certificate program in health systems management at the University of the Potomac, for example, costs $4,995 in tuition fees. 
  • An online certificate program could work out cheaper than an in-person program because you won’t have travel or accommodation expenses.
  • You could apply for a scholarship to reduce the cost of a certificate program.

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