Community Question: What is the value of a certificate vs a graduate degree?

Grad School
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When it comes to careers and professional development, education is important. But just how important is it? If you are looking to make a career transition, it can be tough to figure out the best way to do that, and education can help. But what level of education should someone consider when trying to find a job in the nonprofit sector?

On the Idealist LinkedIn Group last week, group member Nicole asked this question:

What is the opinion of a certificate verses a degree? I have a B.S. in geography and at this time do not want to nor can afford to do grad school. I am looking into possibly doing a nonprofit certificate program. I know I want to work in the nonprofit world but it seems very difficult to find a job.

The decision between graduate school and a professional certificate is one that is ongoing. There are definitely pros and cons to grad school, and certificates may not have the same “oomph” that a full degree might have on your resume. But if you are interested in a very specific part of working in nonprofits (fundraising, events) or just want to take a class or two to brush up on some skills, continuing studies classes and certificate programs may be a good idea.

Commongood Careers has a great post with some questions to consider when making this decision, including if a graduate degree is is necessary for your chosen field and how much a certificate or degree would boost your career.

Personally, I have taken a couple continuing studies classes and am now at the point where I must decide if I want to finish out a full certificate (in digital media marketing) or just move forward with the knowledge I’ve gained so far.

So I’m curious as well. What do you think in the grad school vs certificate program debate? Add your two cents below!

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    • Tanya
    • June 5, 2013

    I believe that a certificate is a great option for those who don’t have a lot of experience in the non-profit sector or are switching sectors, particularly if the program offers an internship/field placement, or co-op. Certificates usually offer a well-rounded, practical learning experience that provides students will the skills they need for that particular sector.

    I myself will be attending Seneca College in Toronto, Ontario this September to pursue a post-graduate certificate in their Nonprofit Leadership and Management Program. One of the features of this program is that it offers a field placement with a non-profit organization which will provide me with more experience in the sector, in addition to the volunteer experience I have.

    • Kayla
    • June 7, 2013

    I have a Non-Profit Management certificate. I interned in college, was student body president, and volunteer on a regular basis. For the past three years now I have sent out at least 5 resumes a week to different non-profits ranging in positions and have been on one interview a year with no success. I currently work for a publishing house which is nice; however, I am heavily weighing getting my masters because I really would like to get my career started. I honestly do not believe that the certificate helps. If you already have your masters in say business but want to branch out I would say yeah definitely its great (you learn how to write grants, recruite and maintain a volunteer base, and the management of public funds) but with just a bachelors and a certificate I personally have found it to be quite useless. I loved what I learned but employers here in Nashville could care less.

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    • soylentcorp
    • October 28, 2014

    Only 2 purposes to the certificate: 1) Boost the bachelors. Say an art degree with a business certificate is a good thing. Specialized certs may be useful to renew your professional certs, like a PHR, CPA, etc. Basically CEU training hours. The regular college credit certs is just a way to say you didn’t just study ONLY ART. People are that dumb to think you drew pictures the whole 4 years in college, so yeah. Degrees are best because of that annoying check-mark on the box. It doesn’t make or break you, just sorts you in different trays of applicants. Certificates do not do this.

    2) A certificate is a politically correct way to exit a degree program with ‘something’ on your record after falling out with the school, faculty, students, transfer, etc due to any kind of conflict or personal reasons like a divorce. It’s a public, official, permanent academic credential saying ‘It’s all good, man.’

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