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

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

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 a college certificate, it’s important to explore the potential career benefits and determine which program 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 for certificate programs, 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, college certificate programs can help you gain the skills you need for an entry-level position so you can join the workforce faster.

If you already have a degree but want to advance your skills in a particular area, certificate 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 certificate programs can function as a supplement to a four-year degree program. You can also earn a certificate 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.

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

Why Get a College Certificate?

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. College certificate programs 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 certificates can be completed in as little as 16 weeks. And because they require fewer credits, certificate 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 2020 employment projections from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), workers with some college (but no degree) earned 12% 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 $938 for associate degree holders, $1,305 for bachelor’s degree holders and $1,545 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.

What are the best-paying certificate jobs? It depends. Across many industries, there are a variety of career opportunities available to college certificate holders.

What Are the Best Certificates to Have?

Any college certificate has the potential to give you a competitive edge in the job market. Choosing the right program comes down to determining your career goals and finding the certificate that will provide the skills you need to succeed.

Some popular certificate programs include:

Accounting Certificate

A calculator icon

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 $42,410 in 2020.

Computer Programming Certificate

A computer icon with two gears

A 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 a computer programming certificate, you could explore careers in a growing field. According to BLS, software development jobs earned a median annual wage of $110,140 in 2020 and are expected to grow 22% through 2030.

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.

Completing a human resources certificate 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 $44,170 in 2020.

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 a marketing certificate, you could prepare for an advanced career in the field. According to BLS, marketing managers earned a median annual wage of $142,170 in 2020.

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 project management certificates 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 and business operations specialists was $84,290 in 2020.

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. Six Sigma is a quality management method commonly used in manufacturing and production-oriented industries.

In a Six Sigma certificate program, 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 certificate program, you could explore positions such as an operations manager or industrial product manager. According to BLS data, in 2020 operations managers earned a median annual salary of $125,740 and industrial production managers earned a median annual salary of $108,790.

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 college certificate 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.

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

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