Will an Employer Accept a Certificate Instead of a Master’s Degree?

Where do you want your advanced degree to take you? (Photo by Aalto Fablab)

If you are considering post-graduate work, you will soon come up against the question of the value of obtaining a certificate versus earning a master’s degree. There are basically two types of certificates. One is a subset of a master’s degree, requiring fewer courses and less time to complete. This certificate can generally be earned on its own, separate from a master’s degree program. The other is a specialization within the same field as the master’s, and must be completed in conjunction with the master’s. Note: Neither of these programs is equivalent to a certification, which is an assessment as a prerequisite to being granted a license to practice a profession.

It’s no wonder potential graduate applicants become confused. Let’s set the certification for professional license and the specialty certificate attendant to a master’s degree aside for purposes of this discussion. We’ll focus on the acceptability of a stand-alone certificate versus a master’s degree. In particular, is a stand-alone certificate sufficient for an employer looking for an advanced degree? That depends on the employer.

“I generally place the greatest value on experience…The fact that someone took the “extra” time to get a degree (as opposed to certificate) I see as possibly working against him or her. To me that is time that someone could have spent working in a particular field but they chose the classroom instead.”

Joe Peters, Principal, Peters Technology Services

But not every employer feels that way. Brenda Neckvatal, Human Resource Business Partner, has this to say:

“A person who holds a graduate certificate in addition to a Bachelor’s degree…is someone who is interested in procuring additional education on a focused subject…having a Masters shows additional discipline to advanced learning and it stands superior to a certificate.”

Subas C. Biswas, a Trainer, puts it succinctly:

“Design, High-tech, Research, teaching, consultancy and similar fields require specialized knowledge, available from Masters degree holders. For the rest graduate certificates are adequate.”

Before enrolling in any advanced degree program, do the research. Narrow down the types of employers you want to work for, once you’ve earned your advanced degree. Find out exactly what they will require or prefer in their applicants. LinkedIn is a great place to ask, if you don’t already have a network of employers to query.

If it turns out that a certificate will be sufficient, institutions such as accredited Kaplan University offer stand-alone certificate programs, with these benefits:

  • Typically completed in a few months to 1 year
  • Focus on your chosen area of study
  • Develop relevant career skills without the commitment of a full degree program
  • Coursework focuses on specialized skills, professional development, and advanced training

If you’re still not sure how to proceed, ask an institution that offers the master’s degree you’d be interested in whether they will accept transfer of any credits earned in a stand-alone certificate program. If the answer is yes, you may decide to take the courses required for the certificate program, knowing that you can use those credits to complete a master’s degree at a later date, if necessary.

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