Advice for Someone Choosing a Degree or Certification

You’re ready to start training for a new career. The options available can be overwhelming. Do you need to enroll in a four-year degree program or will a career certificate suffice?

Each option has its pros and cons. Earning a degree may mean greater earnings potential while earning a certification allows you to get into a career faster. Explore what it means to earn either a certification or degree before choosing.

What Does a Certification Get You?

A career certificate program gives you the skills to excel in a specific career. You have a lot of choices regarding certificates, depending on your interests. You can earn a food handler certificate, welding certification, HVAC certification, or medical assisting (CMA) certification, just to name a few.

Think of certification as the first step on the career ladder. Once you’ve earned your certification and have passed any required exams, you get started in your new career almost immediately. From there, you can gain experience in the field and start advancing in your career.

What Does a Degree Get You?

A degree from a two-year or four-year program can also prepare you for a career. Degree programs tend to be less career-focused than certification programs, though. You will gain knowledge and develop skills while earning your degree, but those skills and knowledge may not be as focused as the ones you’d learn in a career certificate program.

When you complete a degree program, you may pursue a wider category of careers. For example, someone who earns a bachelor’s (four-year) degree in English may become an editor, teacher, or office manager.

Once you’ve earned a four-year degree, you can pursue advanced degrees, such as a master’s or doctoral degree. Certain careers, such as doctor and lawyer, require advanced degrees.

Practical Considerations When Choosing a Degree or Certification

Whether a degree or certificate is better for you is a personal decision. Your interests and lifestyle play a part in determining which course of study will best serve you. As you weigh the pros and cons of each option, it helps to consider some practical matters:

  • Program length: A major difference between a certification and a degree program is length. An associate’s degree typically takes at least two years to earn, while a bachelor’s degree usually takes four years. Advanced degrees take longer, anywhere from two to four years, beyond a bachelor’s degree. In contrast, you can earn a career certification in less than a year.
  • Program cost: Certification programs often cost much less than degree programs, especially if you enroll in a public school for your career certificate. The average cost per year for a four-year degree program was $19,020 in 2020-2021. Career certificate programs typically cost a fraction of that for the entire program.
  • Entry requirements: Degree programs typically have tougher entry requirements than certificate programs. Along with having a high school diploma, you often need to take and earn a certain score on standardized entrance exams like the SAT or ACT. Many degree programs also require references and essays.
  • Job placement: A career certificate program aims to help you land a job and start a new career. Most programs are proactive about helping graduates or soon-to-be graduates pass their required licensure and certification exams and find a job. While degree programs also often have career centers and some job placement support, graduates are typically on their own regarding networking and finding a job.
  • Earnings potential: Both certificate programs and degree programs give you the potential to earn more than you could with only a high school diploma. However, degree programs may give you a slight leg up. You may have a higher starting salary after earning a four-year degree than certification.

Bottom Line: Which Should You Choose?

A certificate program is the way to go if you want to start a new career ASAP. Start the program immediately and test the waters to see if a career suits you. After earning your certificate, you can enroll in a degree program in the same field to strengthen your skills and help you move up the career ladder.

Orange Technical College has many career certification programs available. Talk to us today to learn more about how to enroll.