The Value of a Certificate

Should you invest in a certificate or a master’s degree?

Can’t decide between earning a professional certificate or a master’s degree? Both options can fulfill career and hiring requirements, broaden your intellectual horizons and even lead to salary increases.

But if you’re looking to advance your career quickly and at a lower price point, a professional certificate is the way to go. Do you need to get up to speed in new or quickly evolving industries, such as social media marketing? Are you re-entering the workforce and need to get current with what’s happening in your field? A certificate just might be your solution.

And that’s what a lot of adult learners are heading toward: In the U.S., more than 1 million certificates are awarded each year. Compare that to the 754,500 master’s degrees awarded by post-secondary institutions in 2018–19, with the most popular fields being business (197,100), education (146,400), and health professions and related programs (131,600), according to the National Center of Education Statistics.

There’s obviously quite a draw toward certificates. Why, you ask?

Top Five Reasons to Pursue a Certificate

1. You can continue to work while attending classes on evenings and weekends, or online.

2. You’ll spend less money working toward a certificate than a master’s degree, especially with an employer-reimbursement program.

3. You’ll get the training in practical hands-on skills—not just the theoretical knowledge.

4. You don’t have to wait for a traditional application date! You can jump into a certificate when you’re ready.

5. You can finish the majority of certificates in a year—get in, get out, get on with your career!


What’s a Certificate Exactly?

Usually, it’s a series of courses taught by instructors who have real-world industry experience and tailor their curriculum toward working professionals’ needs with career advancement in mind. Our certificates and their respective courses are approved by UC Berkeley, so you’re getting the high-quality education you’d expect from a graduate program.

Certificates can also refresh or build upon the skills you already obtained with a master’s degree. Or get back into the swing of learning by completing a certificate before you look at graduate-level education.

In some fields, a certificate can help you obtain a license to practice, satisfy a state or national education requirement, or become eligible for higher pay scales. For instance, going on to obtain an accounting certificate can boost your pay by 10 percent, according to Robert Half.

How Long Will It Take?

Earning one of our certificates typically takes one to two years, but some programs can be as short as a few months. The programs are designed for working professionals, so you take courses in the evenings, on the weekends, online, or partly in-class and partly online. This flexible schedule allows you to take a couple courses at a time or one course at a time—it’s up to you and your availability! Many certificates can be completed entirely online, so you don’t have to worry about getting stuck in traffic on your way to class.

In contrast, a master’s degree typically takes two years or more and may not be compatible with full-time employment. The application process can be time-consuming and requires advance planning: GRE or other test scores are required in addition to college transcripts, and application materials are generally accepted only once per year, often as long as one year before the program begins. Admission is competitive, so you may be waitlisted or rejected.

Marketing certificate graduate Jason Miller left a master’s degree program to pursue our certificate, saying, “I went back to school to get my master’s degree, but it was taking too long. I was learning a bunch of stuff that wasn’t relevant. I had to get something on my résumé that showed that I was qualified, and the certificate was the only option that would move as quickly as this industry does.” Thanks to the certificate, Miller added Marketing Director at CreativeX to his résumé.


How Much Does It Cost?

Certificates are usually more affordable than master’s degrees, typically ranging between $5,000 and $12,000. A master’s degree is often much more expensive, costing between $30,000 and $120,000.

You also don’t pay that amount up front; you pay for each course separately. Each course averages around $1,000. But that can add up, and $5,000 is still a considerable investment. While we don’t offer financial aid, here are a couple of options if you need assistance:

1. Check with your company, as many of them offer employer-reimbursement plans. Staffing firm Robert Half recently interviewed CFOs about covering the cost of continuing education for staff, and 72 percent said their company covers some or all of the cost for staff to pursue certificates; 76 percent said their organization helps in maintaining credentials once earned.

2. Research private loan providers.


Can I Keep Working?

The flexibility to continue working differentiates certificates from many master’s degrees. The typical on-campus master’s degree takes a student out of the workforce for two years, which means not only two years of lost salary, but also work experience and retirement contributions. Certificates are also convenient if you’re changing careers, where your ideal is to continue working while you train for that new profession.

Career-changer Molly Isenbarger confirms: "I wanted to balance getting enough focused education to be useful in my role without giving up my job to do a full-time student workload. I also had my first son at the time, so real life dictated the best choice for me. The length and requirements of the certificate was a great fit where I knew I would get so much learning from it, but didn’t need to commit to a full graduate degree. Especially in the accounting world, the CPA is the ultimate credential."


What Will My Employer Think?

Completing a certificate shows your dedication not only to your subject area, but also to learning. You’re investing in yourself and that speaks volumes to any employer.

Clinical Research Conduct and Management graduate Jennifer Brandl credits having a certificate in helping her land her first official clinical operations job. “Not only was the certificate recognized by my employer,” she says, “but the course work provided the training I needed to really understand conducting clinical trials, including the different roles and responsibilities.” And her boss’ thoughts on the certificate? “Her completion of the certificate demonstrated that Jennifer had put in the work and made the effort to know and understand all the facets of clinical operations,” supervisor Scott Houston responds. “That knowledge and effort really made a difference when considering her for her first job within clinical operations. She was able to clearly demonstrate her knowledge when she interviewed, and she has been successful and productive for our company from Day 1.”

Honored Instructor Henry Tooryani hears the same sentiments from employers in the construction management field. Teaching courses in the Construction Management and Leadership certificate, he sees a lot of students who are project engineers that want to become project managers. I’ve had construction companies tell me that they would consider the certificate, with experience, equal to a bachelor’s degree. The certificate prequalifies students to to move up. Learning about the construction management approaches, methods and delivery processes helps them when they get to the interview. With a name like UC Berkeley Extension on your résumé, employers infer that you have exposure to lots of hands-on applications.”

Are you ready to invest in yourself with a certificate? Peruse our offerings in:

●      Art and Design

●      Behavioral Health Sciences

●      Business

●      Construction and Sustainability

●      Education

●      Sciences, Math and Biotechnology

●      Technology and Information Management

●      Writing, Editing and Technical Communication