Skip to main content

Between colleges and certification course programs, adults of all ages now have more options than ever before when it comes to pursuing higher education. It can be hard to decide which is the right direction to take to help you reach your goals. So, what’s really the difference between a degree and a certificate, and how do you know which is the better choice for you?

Time Commitment

College Degree
In the majority of cases, it takes roughly two years to earn an associate’s degree or four to five years for a bachelor’s degree. Post-graduate degree programs can tack on another two to four years depending on the degree level being pursued. Full-time students attend two semesters per year with at least four courses per semester. That breaks down to about three credit hours per course and approximately 12 hours in the classroom per week. You’ll also need time outside the classroom to complete assignments and prepare for exams. Students can opt to earn there degree

Certification Course
Certification course durations vary depending on how many hours students need to be in the classroom and for how many days a week. These learning tracks are very comprehensive and are much more accelerated than college degree programs. Many programs require 120 learning hours over a two- to four-month period. For example, a certification program may require students to attend three-hour classes four days a week for 10 weeks.

Cost

College Degree
According to recent data from educationdata.org, the average cost per year of in-state public college tuition is $9,377. Private, nonprofit in-state students see an average of $37,641 in tuition costs and fees per year. Neither of those costs factor in expenses like room and board, books, and supplies, all of which significantly increase the costs students are responsible for. Scholarship opportunities can greatly lower these costs, but they tend to be competitive and require advanced planning to meet all requirements. That being said, a college degree still offers students considerable value. It will never expire post-graduation and signifies a student’s hard work across their time in higher education.

Certification Course
Compared to a college degree, certification courses and the exams that follow them are far less expensive overall. Still, these kinds of courses and programs can vary in cost. Course options can range between $1,000 to $3,000, while certification exams can cost anywhere from $100 to $450 depending on how advanced the materials covered are. Some certificate providers do offer scholarships to assist with course costs. While certifications do hold great merit with employers upon completion, these accreditations often expire after two to three years. Therefore, those who have certifications without a degree will need to retake exams to maintain their certification status.

Learning Focus

College Degree
College degree programs are designed to provide students with a well-rounded education. Learners are required to complete general and elective classes outside of or adjacent to their major’s focus, meaning they won’t be able to dive into their specialization until nearly halfway through their education. Additionally, college courses often begin with heavy subject theory or history before getting into current applications. While students will also get hands-on experience in the classroom, they may also want to consider taking up extracurricular activities or personal projects related to their major to demonstrate that they know how to apply their learned skills to real-world situations.

Certification Course
Certification courses are solely focused on educating learners on in-demand skills for a specific job role. Rather than having to study outside subjects, everything learned in a certification course is relevant to the training and every application has a clear intended purpose. There’s also an emphasis on hands-on training and completing real-world applications on top of lecture time. A certificate validates that those who have passed their exams have the necessary skills to excel once they enter the workforce.

Which Option Is Better?

Overall, both college degrees and certification courses have their own set merits and disadvantages. One option isn’t necessarily better than the other. If you are looking for an entry-level or junior-level position, a certificate course is the faster, more affordable option. After all, most of these tech jobs only require applicants to have a high school diploma or GED. On the other hand, college graduates are often more likely to reach senior-level or management positions, though this doesn’t mean that those with only certifications are ineligible. In the end, both options can put you on a path to reach your career goals.