Do you want to upgrade your workplace skills and knowledge through further education, but without spending time and money, you just don’t have? Are you interested in bolstering your résumé so you’re an obvious candidate for promotions and raises? Do you need solutions that work with your busy life without adding complications?
There’s a clear solution to all of the above, and it’s an online graduate certificate.
“Certificates have become so popular that they are now the second most common higher education credential in the United States, signaling that students and employers are recognizing the value of short-term credentials at an increasing rate,” said Darlene Miller, executive director of the National Council for Workforce Education, in this employment analysis.
You likely have questions about earning an online graduate certificate, and this guide has answers. Keep reading to discover the best certificate programs, costs, timelines, popular areas of specialization, and so much more.
School Spotlights: Best Online Graduate Certificate Programs in 2023
Let’s start with some real-world examples of excellent online graduate certificates. To determine who tops the charts, we’ve evaluated graduate certificate programs across the U.S. on their variety, affordability, flexibility, and academic credentials.
The five schools below represent some of the best graduate certificate programs online. They are a great place to start your research. But this is just the beginning! We are still hard at work tabulating results for our best-of list; bookmark this page and check back later for our full rankings.
Arizona State University is home to a robust online graduate certificate program that offers more than 50 certificate options. So, whether you’re interested in real estate or rural health, mining, or microbiology, Arizona State University has a certificate that fits your goals and interests. The school also offers tons of flexibility when it comes to length and timeline. Part-time students are welcome, and some certificates can be earned in as few as three courses. A further benefit: Every Arizona online program lets you pay per credit hour, and all students pay the same tuition, no matter where they live.
Because Arizona State University offers a wide array of online degrees at every level, the school has online student support dialed in. Online graduate certificate students will benefit from alum mentorship, online tutoring, dedicated advising, and career counseling. This comprehensive student support system can help you succeed in your studies and set you up to apply for your certification in the workplace.
Purdue University offers online graduate certificates in a vast range of disciplines, including healthcare and engineering. Some of its more specialized options include a graduate certificate in aviation financial management, as well as one in executive construction management. They also have hybrid and online options in fields like law and psychology. Purdue is home to the Krannert School of Management, which offers world-class certificates in all aspects of business management. Certificates from Krannert also can be applied to the school’s excellent MBA program if you choose to continue your studies.
Because Purdue operates four campus locations in Indiana, local students can attend some classes in person and avail themselves of on-campus resources, including the graduate student center and library. Purdue also maintains excellent online student support with quick communication, access to high-quality faculty, and dedicated advisors.
Although the University of Missouri offers the broad range of certificate programs you’d expect from one of our top picks, the school excels particularly at programs in the public sphere. Nonprofit management, global public affairs, and public health are just a few standout options, but you can also choose from certificates under broader headings like journalism, veterinary sciences, information technology, and agriculture.
The quality of the University of Missouri’s program has real-world data to back it up. Over 96% of surveyed students who completed a graduate certificate from the school are either employed or continuing their education. Part of the school’s secret to success is that they offer graduate student-specific support to all of their online students. This includes development plans, networking opportunities, writing workshops, and an in-depth orientation process. The University of Missouri is also focused on diversity and a commitment to inclusion, and in online classes, you’ll be part of a cohort with students from around the world.
Southern New Hampshire University’s online graduate certificate program is particularly appealing to students interested in technology, business, or a combination of the two. The school is home to prestigious certificate programs, including the Six Sigma Black Belt certificate for project management. Students in finance, healthcare, education, and human resources also will find appealing options.
Networking may be Southern New Hampshire University’s greatest strength. The school partners with businesses, social justice organizations, the military, and other schools to design programs that meet the needs of real-world students and employers. Because of this, the school is a great choice for service members, students with niche interests, and students benefiting from employer tuition reimbursement programs.
The school’s outreach isn’t limited to large entities. Southern New Hampshire University collaborates with high schools and nonprofits nationwide to promote access to higher education in marginalized groups. The school offers a robust financial aid and scholarship program as part of this effort.
If you’re interested in the idea of listing “MIT” under the education section of your résumé, you may want to consider one of the school’s highly focused online and hybrid graduate certificate programs. MIT’s unique “MicroMasters” offerings bridge the gap between science, technology, industry, and community. For example, their certificate in statistics and data science includes courses on the methods of data science but also focuses heavily on strategies to draw nuanced, ethical, and informed conclusions from big-data projects. Unsurprisingly, MIT has an excellent online learning platform that allows seamless interactions between students, course content, professors, and peers.
Despite being an elite institution, MIT also strives for inclusivity. For example, all of its MicroMasters’ tuition is based on a sliding scale and tied to household income. Additionally, these certificate programs are designed to operate as an on-ramp to a master’s program for students who want to continue their education.
Best Online Graduate Certificate Programs by Subject
Whether you’re a seasoned professional or just graduated with your bachelor’s degree, now is the best time to enhance your career prospects with an online graduate certificate. With our carefully curated selection of the best programs in various subjects, you will find the right fit for you. Start exploring now.
How to Choose the Best Online Graduate Certificate Programs
The best graduate certificate programs online offer the same academic quality and student support as on-campus options. But there are some aspects you should weigh as you research which program is right for you.
First and most importantly, you should consider accreditation. At a minimum, your school should be accredited by the appropriate regional or national body, and any program worth considering will list its accreditations on its website. You also can then check them against the official database of approved programs maintained by the Department of Education. Additionally, you should research if any program-specific accreditations are common in your field. For example, ABET is an organization that accredits computer science programs. Further, if you are in a licensed profession such as nursing or education, you should confirm that your program is approved by your local licensing group.
Once you’ve confirmed your school’s credentials, it’s time to consider what support services and program features will provide you with the best possible experience. Some typical program or school highlights include small class sizes, mentorship opportunities, tutoring support, and dedicated academic advising.
Most Popular Graduate Certificate Programs Available Online
Understandably, the most popular graduate certificate programs translate directly to career advancement. And earning a graduate certificate in your field is well worth the effort. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people with advanced certifications earn an average of 35.2% more than their counterparts and are less likely to experience unemployment. To make the most of your certificate, it’s important to pursue an in-demand specialty related to your career goals. To get you started, we’ve laid out the most popular subjects in which you can earn certificates and what you can expect to gain from them.
Online Graduate Certificate vs. Online Master’s Degree
Continuing your education beyond the undergraduate level can be an excellent move for your career. Online graduate certificates and programs offer levels of flexibility, affordability, and variety that often can’t be matched by earning a graduate degree at your local campus. But you still may be considering both paths, wondering which is right for you.
Generally, graduate certificates cover a specialized area of a career-focused field. For example, someone working in criminal justice might pursue a certificate in Juvenile Justice Leadership to orient their work toward youth engagement. Master’s programs tend to offer greater depth of learning about broader, industry-wide focus. Speaking to the same example, someone in criminal justice pursuing a master’s degree might take a class in juvenile justice as part of a wider curriculum. It is also important to know that many master’s programs will accept credits from certificate courses. Earning a certificate first is a great way to test the waters if you’re considering a commitment to pursuing an advanced degree.
Let’s take a closer look at three types of students who may benefit from an online certificate program:
- Recent college graduates: Students with freshly minted bachelor’s degrees must decide whether to dive into the workforce or continue onto an advanced degree program. Pursuing a master’s degree or PhD can set them up for more prestigious positions down the road, but the extra time they spend in school prevents them from earning real-world experience for another few years. Meanwhile, students who enter the workforce right away can opt to work towards a graduate certificate on the side, considering the time commitment is much lower. These certificates, combined with their on-the-job experience, can put them in line for advancement opportunities.
- Career switchers: Suppose you’ve worked in the same career for a few years and are looking for a change. You certainly could go back to school full-time to earn an advanced degree. But if you’re looking to switch fields entirely, you might lack the qualifications necessary for a relevant master’s program. Plus, like our recent graduates, you’ll have to make short-term sacrifices to earnings and job experience. However, since the skills you’ve earned on the job are probably relevant to the other positions you are interested in — even across other fields — a certificate can give you a shortcut into your new industry.
- Mid-level professionals: If you’re happy in your current field but want to position yourself for a raise or promotion, a graduate certificate is an efficient option. You can drill into the specific skills you need to earn a promotion or demonstrate your ability to stay on top of emerging trends in your field through certifications.
Still, trying to figure it out? Below, we’ll explore the primary advantages of certificates and master’s degrees.
Online Graduate Certificate Program Admissions
Depending on your subject and the school you are applying to, admission requirements for the best graduate certificate programs online can vary significantly. Generally, certificate program requirements are lower than master’s programs, and standardized test scores such as the GRE are not usually required. Although standards will differ between schools, most programs require some combination of the following elements in their applications:
- Academic transcripts: Typically, applicants will submit official copies of their undergraduate transcripts.
- Minimum GPA: Some programs will note a minimum GPA requirement. Others will require a minimum grade in specific courses. Note that this may be negotiable if you have been in the workforce for a significant time.
- Prerequisite courses: Some programs will require you to complete specific undergraduate courses to join the program, especially in the sciences.
- Letters of recommendation: Some programs require between one and three letters of recommendation. These can be from past professors or professional contacts.
- Personal statement: This short essay may have a prompt. Usually, a personal statement describes your background and motivation to pursue the program.
- Resume or CV: This document outlines your past educational and work experiences. Be sure to highlight the qualifications that are most relevant to your program.
Frequently Asked Questions About Online Graduate Certificates
Can I Earn a Graduate Certificate 100% Online, or Do I Need to Visit Campus?
It’s up to you! Tons of excellent, entirely online programs can be completed from anywhere. However, if you are a hands-on learner or need a little more structure, many schools do offer hybrid programs, which are a blend of online and in-person instruction. Take the time to consider your schedule, learning style, and physical location to establish whether a 100% online or hybrid program fits your needs.
What is the Difference Between a Graduate Certificate and a Professional Certification?
Sometimes, these two terms are used interchangeably, but they do have slightly different meanings. Graduate certificates are typically targeted toward people with a bachelor’s degree who are looking to bolster their résumé or are considering a master’s degree. These certificates can often be used toward requirements for an MA or MS program later on. On the other hand, professional certifications are used to demonstrate a specific skill like business leadership or trauma-informed education. These certifications can help professionals demonstrate a commitment to ongoing learning or to gain the skills necessary to advance their careers.
Are Graduate Certificates Worth it?
Yes. As technology becomes more and more advanced, the state of the workforce is changing rapidly. Graduate certificates offer a way to stay relevant by keeping you up to date on emerging knowledge and practices. Plus, as the number of undergraduates continues to rise, a graduate certificate can help you stand out from the pack. And it’s worth mentioning again that earning a graduate certificate can result in a significant pay increase.
How Long Will It Take to Finish My Certificate Program?
It depends. Because graduate certificate programs are designed to be flexible, there are plenty of options for part-time or accelerated schedules. Generally, full-time students can complete their certificate in one or two semesters, depending on the program. Some schools may offer shorter, more intensive courses to help you get ahead. If you’re worried about taking on too much, you can also slow things down. Most students in online graduate certificate programs are also working and managing other responsibilities. Because of this, most programs allow you to take as little as one credit a semester or skip a semester to ensure that you are set up for success.
How Much Does a Graduate Certificate Program Online Cost?
You’ll find a vast range of certificate program costs out there, which can vary based on the program’s length, location, and additional enrollment fees. On top of that, some schools just charge more per credit than others. It’s important to remember that a higher price tag does not necessarily mean a better academic experience. Instead, finding a program that aligns with your goals and fits your budget is the best bet in the long run. To help you get an idea of the cost of graduate certificates, we’ve compared a few excellent programs below.
|School Name||No. of Credits||Cost/Credit||Est. Total Tuition Cost|
$291 resident, $393 non-resident
$3,691 – $4,914
Are Graduate Certificate Programs Eligible for Financial Aid?
Sure, graduate certificates pay off in the long run — but you still must pay for them first. While there are fewer options for scholarships when it comes to graduate certificate programs, there are certainly some opportunities for financial aid. Some programs are eligible for federal financial aid, so you’ll first want to inquire about this with your school’s financial aid department. Additionally, ask about other financial aid or scholarship opportunities open to students seeking graduate certificates.
In specialized or regulated industries, licensing boards for teaching, nursing, and other professions may have funding available to cover your tuition. Another common source of tuition funding is employer tuition assistance programs. Before you enroll in a program, be sure that you understand the total cost and have a plan to pay for it. If you’re unsure of your funding options, our guide to financial aid is a great place to start.