The Difference Between Graduate Degrees and Certificates: Which is Right for You?

Application Strategies
April 28, 2020
When It Comes To Making Long-Term Career Plans, Weighing Your Degree Options Is A Crucial Step...

Thankfully, there are plenty of options for degree levels out there, regardless of the career you’ve chosen to pursue. Whether you have your eye on climbing the corporate ladder or you’re an artist, obtaining a Master degree or graduate certificate could greatly expand your wheelhouse and open you up to more job opportunities.

Of course, like anything, there are pros and cons to each of these options, because both degree levels were created with certain purposes in mind. Keep reading to learn about the benefit of pursuing post-graduate degrees and how they can help you land your dream job!

What Are Masters Degrees Versus Graduate Certificates?

Both Masters and Graduate Degrees were designed for undergraduates to continue their education in a specific field and receive targeted, hands-on training to expand their abilities.

Masters programs are in-depth, immersive experiences that can take anywhere from 2 to 4 years for students to finish. You can enroll in a Masters program for virtually any area of study, and the most popular kind of degrees available include Master of Arts (M.A.), Master of Science (M.S.), Master of Business Administration (M.B.A), and many, many more.

When students successfully complete their Masters or graduate programs, they now have solid evidence that they are more than competent in their field. While the next step is a Doctorate degree, with a Masters, students have become experts in their field, and are qualified for nearly any level of job in their career.

Many graduate programs have certain requirements for admission like a Bachelor’s degree in a very similar field. For example, if you want to pursue a Master of Science in Biology, you probably won’t have a good shot at getting accepted if you studied Theatre or Music. A common requirement for this graduate degree is a Bachelor’s in Biology, or a related field.

However, this kind of strict requirement is only for some degree programs. For example, nearly any student can pursue a Masters in Business Administration, due to the flexibility of the course content. An M.B.A degree can be a necessary and extremely beneficial supplement to any prior degree, therefore, anyone can pursue it.

Master and Graduate Degrees are intense and immersive, but the programs will provide you with the kind of training you need to be truly excellent in your field. The time you spend pursuing your Masters will be worth the investment.


Depending on the graduate programs you’re interested in, higher education degrees can be expensive. Before you choose a graduate program, consider your student loans or any outstanding payments from your undergraduate college degree. Many Masters programs, however, offer tuition waivers in exchange for their students working as Teaching Assistants in undergraduate classes.

These kinds of graduate cohorts are extremely competitive to gain admission into because you have to prove to the college that you’re worth the investment. In this case, Masters programs typically view you, the student, as a long-term investment. They ask themselves, “Will this student deliver on their work and carry the university name with them into their career?” When they offer a full tuition waiver, they will be selective with their candidates, so plan ahead if you are considering this route.


Graduate certificates were designed with a similar intent as Masters programs. Graduate certificate programs aim to help students gain specific training and experience rather than full-fledged mastery, like a Masters program.

You’ll typically find graduate certificates for specific skills, rather than a broad field. For example, Master degrees are usually tied to very broad areas of study like Business or Finance. In contrast, you’ll find graduate certificates attached to specific skills like health management systems, counseling, or even a license to become a group fitness instructor or personal trainer.

Graduate certificates take half the time as a Masters program, and sometimes even less than that. A lot of these programs are offered online due to the condensed nature of the course material, and the kind of demographic this certificate is popular among. Anyone can pursue a graduate certificate if they have the right undergraduate college degree, and these programs are usually much more affordable than Masters programs.

The Difference Between Graduate Degrees And Certificates

The main difference between Graduate Degrees and Certificates is found is the reason why students pursue these degrees, cost, accessibility, and career opportunities.

Students who pursue Master Degrees usually have the intention of pursuing a Doctorate, a teaching position, or upper management positions in their chosen career field. A Master Degree is a common basic requirement for teachers, professors, managers, and supervisors. The bottom line is, the amount of training and experience you’ll receive from a Masters program will be impressive and probably open up plenty of job opportunities you wouldn’t have had before.

In 2016, the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics found that 37% of jobs required a Master degree to even apply. In contrast, only about 6% of jobs viewed graduate certificates as requirements for employment, due to their more specific nature.

On the other hand, graduate certificates are fantastic for students who majored in one particular area of study, but want to pursue a totally different career. For example, let’s say a student majored in writing but has always had a passion for health and fitness. They notice that at their local gym, there’s a job opening for a health coach and administrative assistant, and one of the requirements is some sort of degree in Public Health. This student can easily find a Public Health graduate certificate online through any major university or through their community college, and be able to qualify for the job they really want.

This is a huge reason why Master degrees and graduate certificates are so different; they work very well for different students and circumstances. Universities see Master degrees as the ideal way for students to pursue a more in-depth, immersive education in their chosen field. In contrast, they see graduate certificates as fantastic options for students who want more experience in a different field that they majored in, or want some sort of credentials for a certain skill.

Depending on your goals, either option could be the perfect one for you! All you have to do is ask yourself some questions, decide on your career goals, and make smart moves towards a higher education degree.

How To Choose The Right Path For You

When it comes to choosing the right path for a higher education degree, you need to consider the bachelor’s degree you plan on pursuing in your undergraduate career and what kind of job you’d like to have. Keep in mind two simple facts about Masters degrees and graduate certificates:

  1. A Masters degree will give you comprehensive, well-rounded training within a broad field
  2. A graduate certificate will give you a specific skill or more experience in a very specific field

Let’s say an undergraduate student is studying Business Marketing, but their lifelong hobby has been visual arts: painting, illustration, graphic design, etc. When this student graduates, they want to work in the marketing department of a visual arts studio or branding company. The problem is, they don't have any kind of arts-related credential; it’s just been a hobby. A great move for this student would be to pursue a graduate certificate in visual arts to supplement their Bachelor’s in Marketing; this way, they would be merging their two interests, and be qualified to apply for the specific job they have in mind.

Now, in another scenario, let’s say a student is majoring in History, and they’d like to teach History at the collegiate level one day. To qualify for any kind of college professor position, a Masters degree in History is almost always required. This student should pursue a Masters degree since it’s required for their career. Specifically, this student should connect with their professors and explore different Masters degrees that could supplement their interest in History and make them a dynamic professor someday, like Social Studies, Public Policy, or even something like Religious Studies.

Masters degrees and graduate certificates are better for different students, depending on their goals. Masters degrees are perfect for students who truly want to achieve mastery in a broad field, and graduate certificates are perfect for students who need a little bit of hands-on training to supplement their degree.

Whether you’re planning on pursuing a Masters degree or graduate certificate, you need to plan for the amount of time, effort, and costs that an extra degree will require. Plan ahead of time for each part; save extra money, re-prioritize your schedule, and keep your career connections close. Also, consider both online and in-person programs; many major universities offer both Masters programs and graduate certificates completely online. If you live in a rural community or need to save money, going online could be your best option. Online college will save you commute costs, and certain fees that come along with attending classes on a campus.

Pursuing Higher Education Like A Boss

Regardless of where you are on your educational journey, if you know that you want to pursue a Masters' degree or a graduate certificate, congratulations on this major academic decision! Choosing to pursue higher education is bold, and the amount of job opportunities that will become available to you are vast.

Of course, before you go any further with deciding on the kind of graduate degree you’ll obtain, consider the pros and cons of each one. Think about your career goals, your undergraduate college degree, and make sure you get specific about what you really want.

If you want to find mastery in a field, then a Masters degree is right for you. If you want some supplemental experience or learn a specific skill, then a graduate certificate would be a nice addition to your undergraduate college degree.

As you’re weighing your options, keep in mind that you can reach out to WeAdmit’s professional counselors at any time. Whether you have questions about Masters’ programs, graduate certificates, or even what your best choice will be based on your career goals, our counselors are standing by to help you move forward with confidence.

Pursuing A Higher Degree Is A Great Career Move; Let Us Help You Make The First Step!



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