Certificate or Degree

When hiring for a position, many employers look for candidates who have received a certain amount of training or education in that career field. You can receive this type of training by completing a certificate or degree program. Whether you choose to earn a certificate or a degree depends on your resources and the type of job you want to pursue.

What is a certificate?

A certificate is a document stating you have completed a certain amount of training in preparation for a specific job. Earning a certificate can help you get a job in your desired field or advance in your career. You might also earn an "undergraduate certificate" to prepare for an associate or bachelor’s degree or a "graduate certificate" to supplement your current degree. Some jobs and states require a particular certification to get hired in that field.

What is a degree?

A degree is an academic title you receive after completing several years of education in a certain subject. The four types of degrees include:

  • Associate degree

  • Bachelor’s degree

  • Master’s degree

  • Doctoral degree

Many jobs require a degree in their specified field to get hired.  Having a degree can also qualify you for more advanced or higher-paying positions.

Certificate vs. Degree: the main differences

The difference between certificate and degree programs typically involves the time and cost to earn them. They also differ in the number of courses you must take and the amount of knowledge you gain.

Time commitment

Certificates take less time to earn than degrees. You can typically get a certificate within a few months to two years, depending on the field. At JMU the certificate programs are typically between 12-18 credit hours while Associate degrees are 60 credit hours and Bachelor's degrees are 120 credit hours.  Associate degrees typically take two years, bachelor’s degrees take four years, master’s degrees take an additional one to two years and doctoral degrees take another two to three years to earn. Some degree programs do offer summer school or accelerated courses that allow you to graduate a year sooner.

How to choose between a certificate and a degree

Base your decision to pursue a certificate vs. degree on your career goals, time and resources. When choosing between the two, consider the following questions:

1. Determine how quickly you need to earn your credentials

If you simply need to learn the practical skills necessary for a certain job and want to learn them quickly, you might choose to earn a certificate. If you have several years to dedicate to your education, you might pursue a degree.

2. Think about balancing work and school

If you are currently working full-time but want to earn a credential to improve your job opportunities and earning potential, you might choose a certificate. 

3. Consider the field you want to work in

If you are passionate about nutrition or skilled at personal training, you can get a job faster and with less expense by earning your certificate in that field than by applying for a degree. If you want to be a doctor or a lawyer, however, you will need to earn one or more degrees to get hired.

4. Plan how far you want to advance in your career

Whether you pursue a certificate or a degree might depend on your education and career goals. A degree can often provide you with more opportunities and higher salaries than a certificate. You might also earn a certificate to give you the foundation and prerequisites needed to get a degree. 

5. Consider where you are in your career currently

If you are looking for an entry-level job, you might benefit from a certificate. For instance, if you want to be a mental performance coach, you can enter the workforce right away after earning a certificate in mental performance coaching. You always have the option to earn a Sport Psychology degree in the future. If you have work experience and are interested in a management position, you might benefit from a degree, which is a requirement for many upper-level positions.