What are Graduate Certificates?

By Jonita Davis , last updated December 12, 2011

Graduate certificates were once used for professional development. They are assets gathered by holders of master's, bachelor's, and doctorate degrees who needed to keep up a yearly education credit for licensing purposes. Today, graduate certificates serve a more practical purpose. They offer a way to learn a new skill without going through the additional courses and requirements needed for a degree. Their new purpose includes re-education, resume filling, and preparation for promotion within the workplace. The graduate certificate differs from diplomas in a number of ways, having both advantages and disadvantages for potential students.


Both graduate degrees and graduate certificates have basic standards that applicants must me before they can enroll. All applicants must have a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral degree in order to meet the application requirements. Some courses may require a particular degree or courses as a prerequisite for enrolling. Both degrees also require a minimum grade point average, a number taken from the applicant's last semester before earning a degree. The requirements do differ in the required pre-enrollment testing. Graduate degree programs require a GRE, LSAT, or GMAT test, while graduate certificate programs do not have a pre-enrollment testing requirement.


In addition to having a reduced number of eligibility requirements than the degree programs, graduate certificate programs also require less time. They are completed in less time, taking 12 to 18 hours instead of the 24 to 30 or more hours that the graduate degree programs require. A graduate certificate program may take longer to complete, however. The courses are given in the evenings and on weekends, the times when working professionals are not at work. This scheduling is a lot more flexible than the graduate degree course schedule. As a consequence for the flexibility, it can take up to three years for to complete the program for a graduate certificate. Students in a master's degree program can complete twice the number of credit hours in the same amount of time.

Future Study

Adding more certificates is possible. Professionals add them as needed. Like the graduate degrees, some of the courses required for one certificate program are also needed for another. Retaking the class is not an option, because the grade was received and the hours earned already. The schools simply use them for the new certificate. In this way, professionals going for more than one certificate can earn them in less time than it took to earn the first graduate certificate. As more certificates are needed for career advancement, the length of time it takes to get a new certificate decreases.


Some colleges may offer special pricing for the more popular graduate degree programs. The courses generally cost the same per credit hour as the degree programs. There may be some fee differences. Professionals pursuing a certificate may not have to pay some of the same fees as students looking for a degree. The professionals are less likely to use some of the facilities and services that the students do. The certificate program costs also differ from one school to another.

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