Online Certificate Programs: Four Tips for Success

Recent research shows that professional or vocational online certificate holders sometimes earn more than individuals with an associate degree. Certain online certificate holders are likely to earn even more than people with a bachelor’s degree.

These certificates were traditionally offered through a community college or private training course offered by a professional association. Today, however, people interested in earning a certificate can do their coursework either entirely online or mostly online with some offline components. Which online certificate programs are the best ones to get? Here are four tips for finding the most valuable online certificate programs.

1. Earn an Online Certificate from a Prestigious University

You no longer have to be a high school valedictorian or mathematical genius to get into Harvard. The school that many consider to be the world’s best university, along with other top schools such as Stanford and Cornell, now offer online certificate programs, many of which are open to the general public. In other words, depending upon the program and the school, you do not have to meet these universities’ stringent entrance requirements in order to enroll in an online certificate program. Most of the certificates mentioned below are designed for working professionals who already have bachelor’s or master’s degrees and want to add further professional credentials to their resumes.

Harvard’s online certificate program is called the Distance Extension School. The school offers six certificate programs: web technologies, sustainability, religious studies and education, strategic management, software engineering and nanotechnology.

Stanford’s program is called the Stanford Center for Professional Development (SCPD). In addition to certificate programs, SCPD also offers online graduate-level classes and master’s degrees. Stanford has a larger number of professional certificates than Harvard, but all the certificates are within the fields of computer science, business or environmental engineering.

The online branch of Cornell is called eCornell. eCornell has far more online certificate opportunities than either Harvard or Stanford. Although most of eCornell’s online certificate programs are business-related, the university also offers certificate programs in the fields of hospitality, healthcare and nutrition.

These well-known schools are just three of many traditional universities that offer online certificate programs. If you are a professional who already has a college degree, a certificate from one of these schools will help your resume stand apart from the crowd.

2. Information Technology Certificates

Information Technology (IT) is a growing field that is very certificate-oriented. In many IT job postings, employers state that they are looking for individuals who have specific certificates related to the company’s computer systems and/or networks.

In the case of information technology, most certificates are earned by passing an exam produced by a specific technology company. For example, Microsoft, Adobe, Oracle and Cisco are all companies that give important certificate exams.

However, although the certificate exam is administered by the company itself, there are many online courses that IT professionals can take to help them prepare for and pass the exam. A little research will reveal a multitude of companies who specialize in helping IT professionals to gain certification in certain information technology subspecialties.

3. Financial Planning Certificate

When most people think about the field growing the most due to the aging Baby Boom generation, they think of healthcare. The field of financial planning, however, is also experiencing a boom thanks to the Boomers. As Baby Boomers come closer to retirement age, they are relying upon financial planners to help them manage their assets during their golden years. Furthermore, because Baby Boomers are living longer and staying more active later in life, financial planners are essential in helping the Boomers to stretch their savings out as far as possible.

Dealing with people’s money is a very sensitive topic. Therefore, people who need financial advice are no longer turning to their accountants or their good friends. They are specifically seeking out highly qualified financial planners who can help them make sound financial decisions.

Several traditional and non-traditional universities offer online financial planning certificates. Look for certificate programs in financial planning that have been accredited by reputable organizations.

4. Vocational Certificates

Most of the certificates discussed above apply mostly to individuals who already hold a college degree and are looking to further their careers or change careers by gaining additional credentials. However, there are also a number of online vocational certificates that individuals who hold only a high school diploma or GED can earn as a way of enhancing their career opportunities.

A Georgetown University study from 2011 showed that individuals who had both a high school diploma and a certification of some kind, rather than just a high school diploma, earned $117,000 more over the course of their lifetimes. However, the study also found that although certain professionals holding a certificate earn an average of $40,000 per year, the majority of high school diploma-plus-certificate holders earn only $25,000 per year.

Understanding that which certificate you pursues matters greatly, how do you pick an online certificate program that will lead to the most lucrative career?

Your first order of business should be careful research into the certificate field. Some online certificate programs claim that their certificate will practically guarantee an entry-level job. Although a certificate may help, some industries prefer to give new hires on-the-job training. In these fields, earning a certificate may turn out to be a waste of time and money.

In other fields, though, a certificate is very useful and correlates to getting a job that provides a respectable wage. These fields include paralegal work, computer and information services, real estate and building/construction trades. In all of these industries, look for certificate programs that have been accredited or endorsed by a well-known industry association.

In sum, online certificate programs can be incredibly useful when students research programs carefully before enrolling. Don’t just take the word of a university recruiter; do your own research into the industry and find out if completing an online certificate program would be worth it or not.