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How College Certificate Programs Can Help You Stand Out in a Job Search

A person sitting by a window, researching certificate programs on a laptop.

Understanding the Numbers
When reviewing job growth and salary information, it’s important to remember that actual numbers can vary due to many different factors — like years of experience in the role, industry of employment, geographic location, worker skill and economic conditions. Cited projections do not guarantee actual salary or job growth.

Whether you want to start a new career or advance in your current field, college certificate programs can provide the professional skills you need to reach your goals.

Interested in computer programming or accounting? Dreaming of a career in social media marketing or project management? No matter what field you hope to enter, a college certificate can give you a competitive edge in the job market.

If you're considering one of these programs, it’s important to explore the potential career benefits and determine which option may be right for you.

What are College Certificate Programs?

A college certificate is an educational credential that offers foundational learning in a particular field. Credit requirements vary, with some requiring as few as 4 courses, or 12 credits, to complete. If you’re interested in pursuing a career and don’t yet have a college degree, they can help you gain the skills you need for an entry-level position so you can join the workforce faster.

Jonathan Kamyck, a senior associate dean of STEM programs at SNHU“A college certificate program is a great first step for students seeking a recognized academic credential that is smaller than a degree,” said Jonathan Kamyck, a senior associate dean of STEM programs at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU).

Kamyck is a Certified Information Systems Security Professional with master's degrees in information assurance and organizational leadership. He recommends considering one of these short-term options if you're looking to boost your career prospects quickly.

“Students use college certificates to add weight to their resumes, demonstrate their commitment to learning, and showcase their job-related knowledge and skills to hiring managers,” Kamyck said.

If you already have a degree but want to advance your skills in a particular area, these programs can help you remain competitive in the workforce.

Types of College Certificates

College certificate programs are available in a variety of subject areas and generally fall into one of two categories:

  • Undergraduate Certificate Programs: Undergraduate certificates programs can function as a supplement to a four-year degree program. You can also earn one on its own, offering proof of your learning while you work toward a traditional degree.

  • Graduate Certificate Programs: Graduate certificate programs are available to students who have completed a bachelor’s degree and those who are working toward a master’s degree or have already completed one. Graduate certificates can help you learn specialized skills to support or advance your career.

Can I Transfer My Certificate Credits to a Degree Program?

Once you’ve earned a certificate, you may be able to apply those credits to a traditional degree program. At SNHU, for example, students can transfer up to 45 credits toward an associate degree and 90 credits toward a bachelor’s degree.

At SNHU, you could have up to 75% of your program finished by the time you start classes. Here are a few quick steps to take.

  1. Complete the free 5-minute online application. There’s no obligation after filling it out.

  2. Get your transcripts requested — for free. Chat with an admission counselor, and we'll request your transcripts on your behalf.

  3. Receive your free evaluation. Soon after all your transcripts are in, you'll get your official evaluation. It will show you what was transferred in — and what classes you need to complete.

If you've already completed your chosen certificate program or have earned past college credits, you may be closer to finishing an associate, bachelor’s or master’s degree than you think.

Should I Get a College Degree or Certification?

Why Get a College Certificate?

According to Kamyck, students typically pursue college certificates for one of two reasons:

  • Starting in a new field: These programs can be especially helpful if you're looking to start your professional journey or change careers. “Career changers often find certificates appealing because of their lower cost and faster completion times,” said Kamyck.

  • Upskilling: You also might consider one of these shorter-term options if you're looking to advance in your current position. “Upskillers pursue certificates to ‘bridge the gap’ in their resumes by learning specialized skills related to the higher-level jobs that will help them advance in their career journeys,” Kamyck said.

While a certificate does not replace a college degree, it can be featured on your resume as proof of your skills and can give you a competitive edge when applying to jobs. It can also offer a variety of valuable education and career benefits.

▸ Certificate Programs Can Save You Time and Money on Career Preparation

What are some quick certificate programs? In reality — they all are. In fact, some can be completed in as little as 16 weeks. And because they require fewer credits, these programs are more affordable than a two-year or four-year degree — saving you money while providing a valuable credential.

▸ Certificate Programs Can Boost Your Earning Potential

According to 2022 employment projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), workers with some college (but no degree) earned 9% more in median weekly wages than workers with a high school diploma only.*

Workers with two- and four-year degrees had even higher median weekly earnings, at $1,005 for associate degree holders, $1,432 for bachelor’s degree holders and $1,661 for master’s degree holders.* Earning a certificate in addition to a degree could boost your earning potential even further by helping you prepare for advanced positions.

So, what are the best-paying jobs you might get through one of these short-term programs? It depends. There are certificate options that can help you get your start in a variety of industries and job roles.

Find Your Program

What are the Best Certificates to Have?

Any college certificate has the potential to give you a competitive edge in the job market and provide the skills you need to succeed.

Some popular programs include:

▸ Accounting Certificate

An icon of a calculator with a white outline.In an accounting certificate program, you can explore fundamental accounting skills, learn how to prepare financial statements and determine the financial impact of business decisions.

With an accounting certificate, you can prepare for entry-level accounting positions such as a bookkeeper or auditing clerk. According to BLS data, jobs in these fields earned a median annual wage of $45,860 in 2022.*

▸ Computer Programming Certificate

A computer icon with two gearsA computer programming certificate program can prepare you for entry-level roles across many industries and can also be applied to more advanced degrees. You’ll learn the foundations of software development and explore key programming principles.

With this program, you could explore careers in a growing field.* According to BLS, software development jobs earned a median annual wage of $124,200 in 2022 and are expected to grow 25% through 2032.*

▸ Cybersecurity Certificate

An icon of a computer with a lock on the screen.If you opt to earn a certificate in cybersecurity, you'll  be introduced to one of the fastest-growing careers of the next decade, according to BLS.*

BLS reports information security analysts earned a median salary of $112,000 in 2022 and opportunities in the field are projected to increase 32% by 2032 — much faster than average.*

So, is a cybersecurity certificate is worth it? According to Kamyck, the answer is yes. “Cybersecurity certificates help students build confidence, demonstrate initiative, acquire job-related expertise and catch the attention of recruiters or hiring managers,” he said.

He noted that students in this program will learn the foundations of information technologies, computer operating systems and computer networks.  “After that, they explore fundamental cybersecurity principles and the influence of legal and ethical concerns on cyber defense strategies,” said Kamyck.

And when you're finished, you might even decide to continue down the cybersecurity path and earn a bachelor's in cybersecurity or a master's in cybersecurity.

▸ Human Resources Certificate

An icon of three people speaking togetherIn a human resources certificate program you can build the skills needed to be an effective HR professional, exploring how to develop and administer compensation and benefits programs and how to navigate labor relations.

This program can help you prepare for entry-level jobs such as a human resources assistant. According to BLS, HR assistants earned a median annual salary of $45,930 in 2022.*

Learn more about the benefits of a human resources certificate.

▸ Marketing Certificate

A graph icon indicating an upward trend with an hourWith a certificate in marketing, you can explore brand management, market research, social media marketing and more. At SNHU, a graduate marketing certificate can be customized with elective courses to specialize in a specific area of marketing.

With these options, you could prepare for an advanced career in the field. According to BLS, marketing managers earned a median annual wage of $138,730 in 2022.*

▸ Project Management Certificate

An icon of three task bubbles, two of which have check marksIn a project management certificate program, you can explore key project management skills, such as planning, scheduling, cost and risk assessment, budget management and communication.

Some options can even prepare you for professional certification. The graduate-level project management certificate program at SNHU, for example, was designed to help you prepare for the Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification exam.

With a professional credential, you could seek an advanced career in project management. According to BLS data, the median annual wage for project management specialists was $95,370 in 2022.*

▸ Six Sigma Certificate

A clipboard icon with three checked off tasksIf you’re considering a career in quality improvement, then a Six Sigma certificate program could be a good fit for you. But, what is Six Sigma?

Six Sigma is a data-driven, structured and disciplined problem-solving strategy and philosophy used to improve processes. It's a quality management method commonly used in manufacturing and production-oriented industries.

Through Six Sigma, you can explore quality assurance, systems and process engineering, logistics and supply chain management. At SNHU, the Six Sigma graduate certificate can also help you prepare for the Six Sigma Black Belt professional certification exam, helping you earn another valuable credential to add to your resume.

After completing this program, you could explore positions such as an operations manager or industrial product manager. According to BLS data, in 2022 operations managers earned a median annual salary of $98,100 and industrial production managers earned a median annual salary of $107,560.*

Stand Out From the Crowd With College Certificate Programs

Across many fields, completing a college certificate can help you build your resume and kickstart your career — even before completing a full degree program. If you’ve already earned a degree, a certificate can help you develop specialized skills, stay up to date on industry changes and advance your career.

No matter what program you pursue, you’ll gain a credential that demonstrates your skills to potential employers and can give you a competitive edge in the job market.

Education can change your life. Find the SNHU certificate program that can best help you meet your goals.

*Cited job growth projections may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions and do not guarantee actual job growth. Actual salaries and/or earning potential may be the result of a combination of factors including, but not limited to: years of experience, industry of employment, geographic location, and worker skill.

Danielle Gagnon is a freelance writer focused on higher education. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.