Graduate Degree or Certificate – Which is Right for YOU?

Lifelete Fundamentals

October 15, 2014

If you are thinking about pursuing a graduate degree, also known as a Master’s degree, you may first want to consider a graduate certificate. Not familiar with the difference between the two, here is some information to get you started.

Graduate degree

  • Generally consists of a two-year, full-time program for those holding a bachelor’s degree with part-time options often available. Admission requirements may include specific undergraduate GPA, entrance exam, letters of recommendation, and relevant work experience.
  • Students will earn a Master of Arts (MA) or a Master of Science (MS) degree or a more specialized degree like a Master of Business Administration (MBA).
  • Some careers, such as Law (JD) and Medicine (MD) require a graduate degree for employment.

Graduate certificate

  • Usually a short program of study consisting of three to seven graduate-level courses in a specialized area completed in one year or less. A bachelor’s degree is typically required, however, some programs may waive this requirement with relevant work experience. Often, courses may be later applied to a graduate degree program.
  • Students will earn a graduate certificate or diploma in a specific career field.
  • Certificate may enhance skills to help find a job, advance or change careers, or fulfill state and national licensing requirements.

Now that you know the difference between a graduate degree and a graduate certificate, here are some factors to consider as you make your decision.


  • Do you have the time to commit to a graduate program of 2+ years or does the shorter graduate certificate timeline fit better with your life at this point?
  • Have you taken into account your current work and home responsibilities?


  • Did you do some research on your career and field of study?
  • Does your career field require that you have a graduate degree or will it help you compete in a tight market?
  • Are you thinking about a new career but not ready to commit to a graduate degree program?
  • Will getting a graduate certificate make you more employable or help you advance or change your career?


  • Will a graduate degree translate into a higher salary and is it worth the financial investment at this point and can you afford it?
  • Is the graduate certificate a better financial option for you right now as it will help advance your career at a much lower cost?

When considering a graduate degree versus a graduate certificate, keep in mind the difference between the two, take into account important key factors, and you will make the right decision!