What is a graduate certificate and how can it boost your marketability? Saint Leo's Shakedra Hudson explains the value of these short courses of study and how they can make you more competitive.

For decades, job security meant staying with the same company, or at least the same industry, for as long as possible – even for life.

Not so any more. The days of lifetime employment with a single company have gone the way of pensions and gold watches.

As a result, workers have had to become more responsible for their own career paths and advancement – for creating their own job security.

Doing that means always being prepared for one's next career move.

Consequently, staying current with changing trends, skills and technologies has become essential.

Graduate certificates: a tool for career growth

For people who already have bachelor's degrees, graduate certificates offer an increasingly popular option to update skills and knowledge.

The why reason is simple: flexibility.

With their study-at-the-time-that-suits-you-best format, online graduate certificates, in particular, fit the busy, mobile lifestyles of working adults.

According to Saint Leo Associate Director of Graduate Admissions Shakedra Hudson, graduate certificates are more focused than traditional graduate degree programs. They provide a practical option if:

  • You would like to advance to the next level and need to build skills quickly.
  • You'd like to strengthen your position with your current employer by gaining specialized knowledge.
  • You need to prepare for a career change into a new field or industry.
  • You would like to teach at the college level and need credits in a particular subject area.

With years of experience working with adults who are interested in graduate education, Shakedra answers some of the most frequently asked questions about graduate certificates.

What is a graduate certificate?

Shakedra: A graduate certificate is a short course of study – anywhere from 15 to 21 credits – which is five to seven courses. The courses are tightly focused on giving you specialized knowledge that you can quickly apply to the workplace. It's a valuable credential that increases your marketability

What do working adults find most attractive about graduate certificate programs?

Shakedra: A graduate certificate program enables you to focus on a specific area of study that is relevant in some of the fastest-growing industries such as health care management and project management. It's also a lot quicker to complete and therefore less expensive than a master's degree.

How long does it take to complete a graduate certificate?

Shakedra: If you take one course every eight-week term consecutively, you could complete a certificate in about a year. If you took two classes every term, you'd be finished in six months.

How do you decide between a master's program and a graduate certificate?

Shakedra: How you decide is really different for every person because the choice is based on your individual career goals. When we speak with a prospective student, we discuss the student's short and long-term goals, interests and ideal jobs, along with their experience and background. Once we piece all of these things together, we can suggest the program that will best fit their needs and future goals.

What are the academic requirements?

Shakedra: The only requirement is that you must already have a bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited college or university. The one exception is if you are applying to the graduate certificate program in accounting. Then you would need to show that you have completed six accounting prerequisites courses.

What's the application process?

Shakedra: Applying to a graduate certificate program is the same process as applying for a master' program. You need to fill out an application, request transcripts from the school where you earned your undergraduate degree and provide a personal statement.

Which are the most popular graduate certificate programs?

Shakedra: Right now, our business graduate certificates are the most popular with health care management being the most in-demand. Opportunities in the health care field are booming and a lot of people are transitioning into the field.

The demand for project managers in just about every industry is on the rise so project management is popular, particularly among military contractors and with service members who are transitioning to civilian life. Some choose the program to help them prepare for industry certification exams such as the PMP or PMI, and others to acquire the 18 graduate credits needed to teach at the college level.

Our human resource management program is popular for similar reasons. Students want to teach at the college level or prepare for the PHR certification or SHRM certification exams – or they have an MBA already and want to enhance their knowledge specifically in HR.

Accounting is always popular with students who need the credits required to sit for the CPA exam or to teach – and marketing, too, because it works well with a business degree or an MBA for individuals who want to specialize.

What other graduate certificates does Saint Leo offer?

Shakedra: We offer business certificates in marketing research and social media analytics, risk management, supply chain global integration management and information security management as well certificates in instructional design, criminal justice management, and theology. 

What if I decide to pursue a master's program in the same field?

Of course! Earning a graduate certificate is a great way to test the waters and see if a particular area of study is right for you. If it is and you would like to pursue a master's degree, you can easily apply your certificate coursework toward the graduate degree.

Have any other questions about graduate certificates? Reach out to Shakedra Hudson at 800-707-8846 or Shakedra.hudson@saintle.edu

Image credits: Alexander Raths on Shutterstock.com and courtesy Shakedra Hudson