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A post-secondary certificate represents the completion of designated training in a specialized field. Although certificates are generally offered by career schools, community colleges, and some universities, earning a certificate does not equate to completing a degree program. The training at the core of a post-secondary certificate focuses primarily on developing a specific set of professional skills and does not typically require core courses of general study.

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Usually, earning a post-secondary certificate requires less time than earning an Associate’s degree, and is an excellent option for study when seeking an entry-level position in particular trades or line of work. The most popular certificate training fields include business and management, technology, education, healthcare, and legal studies.

Certificate programs can consist of 4 to 8 courses and typically completed within three months to a year. Undergraduate certificate programs usually do not need more than a high school diploma to enroll. Graduate certificate programs may require the individual to earn their Bachelor’s degree, have previous experience, or provide test scores before enrolling.

When enrolling in an online certification program, individuals experience the benefit of increased flexibility than what is offered by an on-campus program. However, valuable similarities remain intact, from precise career focus to thorough skill mastery. This article explores the different aspects of becoming a post-secondary certificate holder, from the various types of potential certificate seekers to how to use the certificate toward establishing a successful career.

When Does a Certificate Pay Off?

By 2018, 63 percent of jobs in the U.S. will require applicants to have post-secondary training or education to be considered for employment, according to a study done by Georgetown University. And according to the 2017 census, more Americans have college degrees than ever before with just over a third of American adults having a four-year college degree; the highest completion rate ever recorded. (U.S. Census)

Certificates: An Introduction

Researchers from Georgetown have reported that an impressive 1 million plus certificates are awarded each year, making these highly popular programs the country’s second most common form of post-secondary education. Another great benefit of certificate programs is most community colleges offer them. Healthcare, cosmetology, and office management are among the most popular certification training fields. (Georgetown University)

When to Earn a Certificate

For those who know which career they would like to pursue and are ready to receive training to get there in a short amount of time, earning an undergraduate certificate is an excellent place to begin. From these highly-specialized programs, workers gain more extensive training, so they can better excel in their profession. Post-secondary certificate programs help to prepare job applicants who are looking to start their career beyond entry-level.

Certification programs in the fields of healthcare, business management, and technology are also gaining in popularity for their ability to cultivate the skills necessary for healthcare administration, project management, and computer engineering positions.

The table below lists some of the different types of undergraduate and post-graduate certification programs:

Dental Assistant Certificate There are approximately 270 programs across the country accredited by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). Students who complete a CODA-accredited program are eligible to take the Certified Dental Assistant (CDA) examination through the Dental Assisting National Board (DANB). (
Automotive Service Excellence Certification Although certification is not essential for the auto industry; it is almost always beneficial. The Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification is considered the standard for service technicians nationwide. The ASE offers certification in eight different service categories. These include engine repair, suspension and steering, heating and air conditioning, and brake systems.

Interested professionals who want more preparation for the ASE exam (beyond the training they received in the certificate program) may enroll in various workshops and courses. A range of organizations, from car manufacturers to colleges, typically provide these courses. (

Certificate in Property Management In most states, property managers are required to hold a real estate broker’s license or to be a licensed realtor employed by a broker. Apart from this, there are no formal property management licensure requirements. That being said, a variety of organizations offer membership, education, and (in some cases) certification. (
Medical Billing and Coding Certification (hospital and physician-based) This is an 18-credit program for the certification in handling pricing for medical diagnoses and medical treatments. The course also looks into the principles set forward in the CPT, HCPCS, and ICD-9-CM manuals.
Network & Communications Management Certificate As a student in the program, you will gain the knowledge needed to install, configure and manage networks; this includes local area networks (LANs) and wide area networks (WANs). You may also learn how to analyze problems, initiate appropriate solutions and manage network security risks. Your curriculum will likely include classroom work and hands-on experience, allowing you to put what you’ve learned into practice. (
Principles of Criminal Investigation This course involves learning the theories and techniques required for the detection and preservation of evidence, both physical and forensic. The course features laboratory sessions and the prerequisite Introduction to Criminology.
CPA Preparation This is a post-secondary 30-hour program required for the CPA examination on specialty fields, including ethics, international accounting, information systems and taxation.
Family Nurse Practitioner Post-Master’s Certificate The accredited online Family Nurse Practitioner Post-Master’s Certificate prepares practitioners for primary care of the family or individual across the lifespan from birth to death. The focus is on wellness, care and the management of episodic acute or chronic illnesses. Also studied as part of the FNP program are a critical analysis of clinical strategies and interventions in health promotion, health maintenance, disease prevention, and common health problems seen in family medicine.

Transfers to a Degree Program

For prospective program participants who want to eventually enroll in a degree program, working towards an Associate’s degree is an ideal pathway for advancement. When earning a degree alongside or immediately following a certificate training program, the individual should make sure to meet with advisors from their current school as well as advisors from their preferred school to ensure proper continuity between their studies.

Some benefits of advancing to an Associate’s degree include gaining an education in general core studies as well as focused training in a particular field of study. Colleges that accept transfers are more likely to allow transfer credits for core courses than from a specialized course of study.

For certificate holders who are post-graduate, the credits that they’ve earned are typically viewed as experience in their profession and are considered an indication of career goal achievement. Professionals in the business, healthcare, and technology fields who have a Master’s degree may also choose to earn a certificate as a way to develop more specialized skills.

Online Certificate Programs

For students who are looking for an educational system that allows a more flexible learning schedule and distance-learning interactions, online colleges and universities are an excellent place to search for online education. While online undergraduate and post-graduate programs can be accelerated (as they are, for the most part, self-paced), students should be aware that online school’s coursework requirements can be strenuous and challenging.

Some online certificates sought after by undergraduate level career seekers require laboratory or internship hours, or both. Programs such as these are usually very good at collaborating with a student’s local educational facility to arrange opportunities to complete these hours close to the student’s home. Online post-graduate certificate seekers may have the chance at tuition reimbursement by coordinating their professional roles with their studies.

Online certificate programs utilize emailing systems, chat rooms, discussion boards, and browsing to incorporate itself into the busy life of a student in a seamless manner. The use of Skype and conference calls help students maintain a healthy class schedule. There is technical support staff readily available to help navigate the Internet if guidance is needed. Some schools even offer students, who are looking to pursue their education online, a computer.

Online Education Q&A

Do I need to be a computer whiz to study online?

Students are expected to know their way around a computer, for example, logging on, surfing the internet, sending and receiving email and attachments. Those with access to high-speed connections will have a more comfortable experience in viewing and receiving multimedia presentations and participating in live discussions.

Are online instructors as qualified as those who teach on campus?

Often the faculty members who teach for online certificate programs also teach in campus-based programs in the same field. To do so, they have completed training in online instruction. Frequently, faculty members also work in the professions they are teaching.

Will I be isolated as an online student?

Not only is class participation recommended for online students, but it’s also required. Peers and instructors are in daily contact via email, chat rooms, or real-time video conferences. Collaborative assignments foster student interactions where email, telephone or chat room contacts occur on a scheduled and impromptu basis throughout the length of the program and beyond.

Are there special study skills necessary for successful online students?

Students who thrive in the online classroom respect the academic quality of their courses, dedicate themselves to a regular schedule to keep pace and use online tools to communicate when they need help or clarification. There’s no substitute for self-discipline.

Will I ever have to go to campus?

In most cases, students can receive academic and financial aid counseling, complete their class registrations, and perform all required tests and assignments entirely online. However, some majors do require laboratory or internship hours. In those cases, online colleges and schools offering certificates may designate night or weekend campus workshops to attend or may make arrangements for students to complete labs or internships in the community where they live.

College Accreditation

Accreditation involves earning and maintaining a set standard of educational quality. It is voluntary, but can significantly help a school’s students and alumni in landing their preferred job if decent accreditation has been granted to the institution. Schools that offer post-graduate certificates have likely been awarded accreditation for their specialized training departments and degree programs.

To become an accredited institution can take years. The process includes a self-assessment by the college followed by a campus visit from agencies qualified to grant academic accreditation. A school must be approved by the Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation to offer financial assistance.

There are seven regional agencies for accreditation that evaluate two-year schools through the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges. Individual programs can be applied special granting. For example, American National Standards Institute Certificate Accreditation Program deals more with technical certification programs. Schools offering online programs often look for and are awarded accreditation from the National Distance Learning Association, which specializes in the quality of teaching via online methods.