Earn a Certificate

The Certificate

Obtaining a certificate in a particular area of study is a pursuit that many students opt for in lieu of a 2, 4 or even a 6-year degree. A typical certificate-granting program follows the educational course towards an area of specialization rather than a broader and wider path as in a concentrated degree.

When an individual pursues a certificate in an area, they are seeking education on a particular task or skill, focusing on a certain area of their chosen field. The focus is more narrowed for a certificate so that the individual can learn minute details and the intricate complexities of a chosen subject rather than a broad outline of it.

For example, a physical therapist may obtain a degree in physical therapy or a therapy related field, which will enable him to work in the broad industry of therapy for almost any company. However, for a more concentrated focus on a specialized area of physical therapy, he may choose to pursue a certificate in sports injury therapy or sports therapy. This concentrated certificate will not only enhance his current knowledge, but also deepen his knowledge of sports-related injuries in specific areas. He is able to use his overall knowledge from his degree and his specialized knowledge from his certificate together to perform a better job in his field.

Types of Certifications

Certifications vary widely according to particular fields, industries and even personal preferences. The type of certification that interests the individual best determines pursuing a certificate in a certain field. There are three main types of certification that individuals pursue.

1. Product Certification

These certifications pursuits are more involved and often require a lengthy educational pathway to achieve certification. The information technology (IT) industry is a common area where individuals receive specialized certification on a focused version of hardware or software. For a person to become certified on a particular product means that they are qualified and knowledgeable enough to adequately work with that product to get the best results.

2. Professional Certification

This type of certification is usually found within professional areas like law, medicine, finance and education. Many individuals who already hold degrees in an industry may choose to obtain additional certification to enhance their careers. In some careers however, additional certification is required, as in the legal field. This is to protect the individual and the community and to project a professional image for the industry. This type of certification assures the community that the person is capable and responsible to perform his duties.

3. Corporate Certification

Some corporate entities have their own requirements for what they deem necessary for their organization's employees and knowledge level. Although the flexibility of corporate certificates are limiting (meaning they're only applicable to that corporation), they are simpler to develop, easier to achieve and directly and immediately benefit the corporation.

Specialized Training

How specialized should certificates be?

A person who holds a certificate in a chosen field usually has more specialized training than others. The training programs for certificates in certain areas vary anywhere from six months to 24 months, therefore the amount of education and time spent pursuing the certificate can have a direct bearing on how the certificate is received by employers and that particular industry.

Certificates don't require the individual to assume a broad base of general studies before pursuing their specialized field, as in degreed studies. However, if the certification is in a professional field, they have already satisfied an educational base and is working towards deepening their knowledge in a chosen field.

Certificate vs. Degree

In general, to obtain an associates degree, at least 18-24 months of education is required from an accredited institution in order for that diploma to be granted to you. For a bachelor's degree, you would need to attend school for at least four years, and for a master's degree, usually there is an additional two more years above the bachelors. But the certificate is granted to a person who completes a course of study in a particular area of concentration or within a certain field.

Certificates, unlike degrees, are more task-specific and serve to educate the student on a more concentrated area of study as opposed to degrees, which do not become specific in course requirements until after basic requirements have been satisfied.

Many individuals wonder if certificates are weighty enough to stand alone, and if they can even replace degrees in some cases. While there is no fast answer to this, the determining factor is based on the industry and the requirements for a task or job. While many degree holders use certificates to enhance their career, certificates are often strong enough to stand on their own merit, without being a backup to a degree. This of course all depends on what type of certificate is being pursued, since time length requirements can vary widely depending on the area of interest.

If an individual is pursuing a certificate for employment advancement, it's advisable to first check with the employer to see if the certificate alone is substantial or if further education is required. Most employers will outline what level of education or knowledge is required to perform certain duties, and many times, certifications are ample enough.

For example, a computer technician may be required to hold a certification in a designated programming language, but not necessarily hold a degree in Computer Science. Having knowledge of this information before pursuing a certificate or degree will be better for the individual in determining what pathway to pursue. Many professional and corporate individuals who choose to pursue certificates do so to advance themselves on the job. Having specialization in certain industries is a big plus.

Benefits of a Certificate

Becoming certified in a particular field is a great way to parlay into a professional career or to change courses to begin a new one. Many certificate programs will outline specifics on how an individual can begin new careers through specialized certification and what requirements are necessary for jobs in their area of interest.

Freelancing and consulting are two very popular areas where individuals choose to pursue certification since both of these career choices can be job-specific. For instance, a freelance photographer may choose to pursue a certificate in journalism photography as opposed to pursuing a 4-year degree in Journalism. The concentration allows him to get right to the gist of the industry and learn immediate, applicable knowledge without having to go through the requirements in a 4-year degree program. He can bypass the core curriculum in a 4-year degree that includes subjects like math and science and go right to the fundamentals of photography. Also, since freelancers are typically self-employed, there is no corporate entity to satisfy in his educational objectives.

Certificates are also a key component to individuals who want to increase and maintain their knowledge base. Certificates are an excellent supplement to many degree programs, and an individual can obtain as many certificates as he deems necessary for his industry. Also, since certifications are often updated or changes, maintaining a working knowledge by being re-certified is a great way for them to stay abreast of industry changes and developments.