A graduate certificate or a master's degree? Regis Admissions can help you decide

When the Regis University Admissions team advises working adults who are pondering their next academic and career steps, they often encounter a question: Should I choose a master’s degree or a certificate?

It’s a dilemma the team has experience helping with.

“We like to start with the end goal first: ‘What do you want to do and where does this lead you?’ So, we try to answer that question,” said Anthony DeRosa, associate director of Admissions at Regis. “Usually, we figure out exactly what job they want to do. The second question we try to ask is: ‘What is your current experience?’”

The next step doesn’t always lead to pursuing a master’s degree or a certificate, DeRosa said, “but more often than not, the answer is one of those two options.”

DeRosa offered some guidance to help students decide.

What is a certificate?

Certificates represent a portion of a master’s degree program and result in specialized training in a field. Typically, they consist of four classes from one master’s program or a combination of courses from multiple programs.

“They’re for people who are looking to add a credential or skillset to their portfolio or to their resume,” DeRosa said. “So, they can take these classes, they’d get a diploma and graduate and be able to add that to their resume.”

Most certificates require students to have background experience in the field. Before pursuing a software engineering certificate, for instance, students need to have programming experience to be successful.

The admissions process, tuition and fees are the same as for degree programs, DeRosa said.

Though the timeline varies, certificate programs are shorter than master’s programs. DeRosa estimates that it takes students one year to complete a certificate program on average. Following classes sequentially, students often can complete the coursework in 32 weeks. Some students choose to double up on courses and complete programs in 16 weeks.

Because certificates are part of master’s programs, credits easily may be applied to a degree program should a student decide to pursue one later.

What are the benefits of a master’s degree?

Typically completed in two years, master’s degrees can offer a more comprehensive step up for people who are seeking to change careers or advance in their fields.

“Oftentimes, a master’s degree can be a good entry point for someone who is looking to change their career,” DeRosa said. “I’d say that probably represents the majority of our students — people who are changing jobs or changing industries.”

One common misconception among applicants is that to change careers, they need to start with a bachelor’s degree, even if they have one in a different field.

“What we would tell those folks is that these degrees are designed for anyone,” DeRosa said. “If you don’t have a background, you can take a prerequisite that we can transfer and get into the degree. Just because you don’t have a background in something doesn’t mean you can’t be eligible for it.”

Master’s degrees are also solid options for people who work in a field in an entry-level position.

“I’d say the second biggest group of people we have are those with entry-level positions looking to work their way up,” DeRosa said. “A master’s degree helps differentiate their resume from their competition.”

Regardless of your goals, the Admissions team can help you take your next academic step.

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