Exploring Undergraduate Certificates: A Pathway to Focused Learning and Career Enhancement

Undergraduate students are increasingly earning competency certificates to develop proficiency in a field. In fact, certificates are the fastest growing post-secondary credential. That’s in comparison to associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs which typically cost students more in time, money, and commitment.

Certificates are designed for today’s students with targeted education and skill enhancement at an affordable and faster rate than many degree programs. They may also boost a student or employee’s resume with industry specific training to help them compete in the job market. For this reason, many undergraduate students pursue certificates as a skill step ladder. Sometimes this can be done in conjunction with a degree program and other times in lieu of one.

Understanding Undergraduate Certificates

These programs include short term and focused learning and skills attainment for earning a certificate. Certificates provide verification for the required work to show mastery of a specific subject area. Courses taken to earn a certificate focus on concentrated education, typically without including general study courses. That’s why a certificate usually recquire less time than the interim it takes to complete a degree program.

Certificate programs tend to vary in length, but generally take less than two years with many lasting less than a year. Students often have a thorough understanding of their specific interest when they’ve earned a certificate. On the other hand, they usually take a broader set that includes general courses for a degree.

The cost of certificate programs may vary. For instance, if students work toward a certificate within a four-year public college program, that may cost more than earning a certificate at a two-year public university. Certification programs usually cost less than degree programs.
Sometimes students earn certificates as stepping stones on the path to completing their degree program. Some schools require that certificate program students enroll in their undergraduate degree program. In fact, with degree enrollments in decline, many universities are starting certificate programs to boost their active student numbers.

Admissions and Prerequisites

Certificate programs may have different admission requirements depending on the school. But there are general guidelines that likely apply to many certificate programs. For instance, many certificate programs require applications and associated fees as well as a high school, or equivalent, degree.

Some certification programs may also require that enrollees have specific coursework on their transcript and maybe even cite a minimum GPA for those classes. Others could request a transcript for all former courses completed. Prerequisite classes sometimes count toward your certificate courses. So, submitting transcripts might be beneficial even if it’s not required. Typically, SATs and ACTs aren’t required for certificate programs.

Schools may include a certificate program along with their course offering for enrolled students. In these cases, eligibility for the certificate program may include a specific education level, for instance, senior year. Program admissions departments could also require a proposal or letter of intent, and some also want a resume. Other schools typically also require that students earning a certificate remain enroll in their degree program throughout the certification process.

Combining with Degree Programs

Undergraduate degree program enrollments are declining. So, many schools are offering certificate programs in order to boost student numbers. In fact, certificates are the fastest growing post-secondary credential. When combined with a degree program, certificates could benefit students as well as schools. That’s because certificate holders often learn industry specific training that may boost their career enhancement. This kind of specific skill-based learning often rounds out resumes with proof of relevant skill development for credentials that could stand out from the rest. Certificate programs also help schools enhance their offering for current students.

Credential stacking with certificates could provide a path for enrolled students to create a more versatile skillset. This strategy typically involves a sequence of targeted education and skills courses. Students can typically proceed through a certificate curriculum on a faster timeline than many traditional degree programs. They could also develop a deeper understanding of relevant tools and how to use them.

Benefits of Pursuing an Undergraduate Certificate

Certificate programs often provide an efficient route for students to earn career credentials, taking less time and money. That’s because these programs usually proceed faster and often cost less than traditional degree programs and are usually online. Benefits like these have potential to make stacking credentials easier and more convenient than a typical accelerated degree program. In fact, students pursuing certificates often earn credits that apply to an undergraduate degree as well. Industries increasingly value, and sometimes request, certification to verify relevant job skills and knowledge. Let’s explore additional benefits to certificate programs.

Diverse fields of study

From business and healthcare to technology and the arts, certificates reach across a diverse range of subjects. Each topic presents opportunities for several certifications. For instance, in healthcare students could pursue certificates in Medical Billing and coding, Phlebotomy, Dental Assistant, Pharmacy Technician, Clinical Medical Assistant, or Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Earning certificates like these could help expand a student’s resume, give them more flexibility in career choices, and enhance their appeal to potential employers.

Certificate programs give individuals the chance to deepen knowledge in a variety of specific areas. Students may then discover if the career goals they’re considering match their potential job skills and experiences. Even if a nursing student finds out they don’t want to draw blood after earning their Phlebotomy certificate, it helps boost their resume and adds credits toward their degree.

Filling skill gaps

Sometimes certificate programs also help those in the workforce who may be seeking job enhancement. That’s. That’s because when pursuing a certificate, individuals could acquire targeted skills and practical training applicable to their chosen industry. This could serve as professional development to help address skill gaps, enhance employability, and improve job performance.

Some employers encourage, reimburse, or even cover certificate programs for employees as upskilling options. Typically, professional certifications provide validation for mastery of the subject matter and skills developed. These learning outcomes could enhance a certificate holder’s on-the-job practical skills and maybe even create potential for a promotion. So, certifications could benefit the workplace as well as the certified employee.

Flexibility and accessibility

Certificate programs tend to offer more flexibility than traditional degrees thanks to remote and part-time learning options as well as their targeted and accelerated coursework. Colleges are aware that certificate seeker are often also earning a degree or working and want to fit certificate studies into an already busy lifestyle.

Some of the ways schools help make certificates more accessible include part-time options, online learning, and evening classes. These flexible options give students with other commitments a chance to integrate a certificate program into their schedule. An accelerated learning rate also helps enrollees pursue a certificate without too much disruption because these programs often take a year or less. By contrast, traditional degree programs typically require two to four years of full-time enrollment.

Competency certificates hone in on specific skill acquisition and practical training with targeted courses. Certificate students often complete the program requirements without need for general studies classes. This has potential to free up more time for certificate seekers to meet other commitments while also achieving their education objectives.

Who Should Consider Undergraduate Certificates?

Undergraduate certificates often work well for enrolled students pursuing an associate or bachelor’s degree. But these certificate programs may also serve recent high school graduates, working professionals, career changers, as well as anyone seeking to upskill and expand their contribution at work.

Recent high school graduates could enroll in certificate courses as an efficient and cost-effective way to boost their qualifications for entry level opportunities or degree programs. Working professionals may earn a certificate for skill acquisition to help increase their potential for a promotion. Others who may be considering a career transition can pursue certificates to learn job ready skills missing from their resume. This could enhance their employability while also serving as a way to try out aspects of this potential career change.

Benefits of Undergraduate Certificates

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Career Opportunities

Certificate courses may help enhance marketable qualifications for career focused students as well as employed people. Some may jumpstart a career with a 3- or 6-month competency certificate such as web designer, real estate agent, personal trainer, or air traffic controller. These serve as examples for how certificate courses may open entry level career pathways.

Healthcare industry specific training also includes opportunities for career enhancement thanks to certificate programs. From healthcare newcomers earning a phlebotomy certificate to practicing nurses seeking to fast-track credentials for a promotion, certificates serve healthcare practitioners at various levels. Here are specific examples of career opportunities with associated certificate programs.

1 Licensed Practical/Vocational Nurse (LPN)

In the role of an LPN or LVN, you might find yourself tending to elderly patients, whether in their homes or within residential care facilities. The increasing prevalence of conditions such as diabetes and obesity is likely to generate a heightened need for nurses. Additionally, the growing prominence of outpatient care centers could result in an increased demand for LPN positions.

Median annual salary, 2023:

$59,730 per year

Projected employment, 2022-2032



2 Surgical Technologist

As a Surgical Technologist, you have the opportunity to support medical teams and surgeons throughout the entire surgical process, including pre-operation, during the procedure, and post-operation. Prior to the surgery, your responsibilities may involve tasks such as sterilizing equipment and preparing the patient. In the course of the operation, you may aid doctors by passing instruments and maintaining an inventory of supplies. Subsequently, your duties could include tasks like applying bandages to the patient and replenishing supplies in the operating room.

Median annual salary, 2023:

$60,610 per year

Projected employment, 2022-2032



3 Court Reporter

As a Court Reporters, you have the opportunity to generate verbatim transcriptions during trials, depositions, and various legal proceedings. Simultaneous captioners offer comparable transcriptions for television or presentations in diverse settings, like press conferences and business meetings, catering to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Median annual salary, 2023:

$63,940 per year

Projected employment, 2022-2032



4 Fire Investigator/Inspector

As Fire Investigators/Inspectors, you have the responsibility of examining fire scenes to identify their origin and cause. Your tasks include assessing fire damage, gathering evidence, and conducting witness interviews to reconstruct the events leading to the fire. Additionally, you inspect structures to ensure compliance with fire codes and safety regulations, providing recommendations for improvements as needed. Your role is crucial for preventing future fires and enhancing overall fire safety.

Median annual salary, 2023:

$74,160 per year

Projected employment, 2022-2032




Earning an undergraduate certificate could springboard new job opportunities or enhance a stagnant career. Certificate programs offer a variety of flexible learning options from a 3-month online course to a year of skill-based learning on site at a university. You could explore targeted education opportunities like these to deepen your knowledge and career prospects.

IT Certifications

IT Certifications

The realm of skills extends beyond the boundaries of traditional colleges or degree-centric environments. Certain proficiencies find their form through IT certifications, akin to esteemed badges within the professional sphere. Intrigued by the concept of IT certifications? Discover a compilation of such certifications in the list below.

Within the tech community, there exists a division of thought: some champion specialized programs linked to vendors like Google, Microsoft, or Cisco, while others vouch for vendor-neutral assessments, exemplified by the offerings of the Project Management Institute. To delve deeper into this subject, check out our Top Online Project Management Programs for more information. However, the best IT certification for you can only be determined by you and your personal circumstances and your potential career path.

There are far to many Information Technology certifications for us to comprehensively cover, so we have selected a few of the more popular certifications and have listed some of the requirements necessary to complete them.


AWS has become a serious cloud solution option for both small and large businesses. This certification will test your ability to  effectively demonstrate knowledge of how to architect and deploy secure and robust applications on AWS technologies. 

  • Who offers it: Amazon
  • Pre-requisites: One year hands on experience designing available, cost-efficient, fault-tolerant, and scalable distributed systems on AWS
  • Does it expire?:  Recertification is required every two years for all AWS Certifications


Network+ certification – this data networking certification may be recommended as one of the first professional certifications for those pursuing the roles of help desk technician, network administrator, IT cable installer, and other career paths.

  • Who offers it: CompTIA (an independent industry vendor)
  • Pre-requisites: None, although the A+ recommended as well as 9 months of networking experience
  • Does it expire?: TBD – usually 3 years after the current exam has launched
  • Did you know? This certification is held by nearly half a million people worldwide


This may be another good starting point for IT professionals, this certification covers topics like mobile, tablets, desktop, PC repair, operating systems, and more.  It helps prepare an individual for troubleshooting networking and security systems and may be a good choice for field service technicians, IT support specialists, and others.

  • Who offers it: CompTIA (an independent industry vendor)
  • Pre-requisites: None, although it to have 6 to 12 months experience in the field
  • Does it expire?: Yes. Certifications issued after 2011 expire after 3 years, you can keep it current though, through continuing education offered by CompTIA
  • Did you know? This certification is held by over 1 million people


The CCNA (Cisco Certified Network Associate) certification is intended for entry-level network engineers, this certification program covers the installation, configuration, and troubleshooting of medium-size routed and switched networks.

  • Who offers it: Cisco
  • Pre-requisites: None
  • Does it expire?: Yes, after 3 years. You can keep the certification valid by passing one of Cisco’s continuing education exams BEFORE your certification expires 


The MCSA (Microsoft Certified Systems Administrator)  certification covers core IT skill areas such as Microsoft Windows 8, SQL Server 2012, and Office 365.  It may be a good fit for computer support specialists and other IT employees.

  • Who offers it:  Microsoft
  • Pre-requisites:   None
  • Does it expire?:   The MCSA does not require any sort of re-certification

Curious about Systems Administration? Check out program information here.


MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer) – this certification covers a more advanced level than the MCSA on topics such as server and desktop infrastructure, private cloud and business intelligence. 

  • Who offers it:  Microsoft
  • Pre-requisites:  MCSA  
  • Does it expire?:  the MCSE requires recertification every 3 years. 
  • Important to know! This certification is being replaced by the new Microsoft Certified Solution Expert (MCSE)  – yes, it has the same acronym. The new cert is centered around the ability to design and build technology solutions vs a specific job role.


​CRISC (Certified in Risk and Information Systems Control ) – This certification is designed for IT professionals, project managers, and others whose job it is to identify and manage risks in Information Systems

  • Who offers it:  ISACA  (Information Systems Audit and Control Association an independent industry vendor)
  • Pre-requisites:  At least three years of experience in two of the four CRISC domains is required for certification
  • Does it expire?: To keep the certification in good standing individuals are required to maintain a minimum of 20 CPE hours annually and 120 CPE hours over their 3-year cycle. There is also annual maintenance fee of US $45 ISACA member and US $85 non-member is required.
  • Did you know?: This exam is only offered two times a year!


The CompTIA Linux+ certification may be a good choice for junior Linux administrators, systems administrators, web developers, and others who need to demonstrate familiarity with the Linux operating system. Why is Linux important? Well, not only does it power a vast majority of Web servers it is also the foundation of the LAMP development stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP)

  • Who offers it: CompTIA (an independent industry vendor)
  • Pre-requisites: None, although it is recommended to have 6 to 12 months Linux experience and the A+ and Network+ certifications
  • Does it expire?: It was unclear in our research if it does, however most CompTIA certifications do require continuing education renewal so it is likely as technology is always rapidly changing.


The Google Apps certification tests your skills in either the deployment, configuration, and migration to Google Apps for Work (Certified Deployment Specialist exam) or the administration of a Google Apps domain (Certified Administrator exam)

  • Who offers it:  Google
  • Pre-requisites:  Deployment specialist: Recommended minimum of three years of professional IT experience, and complete at least three Google Apps for Work deployments.  Administrator – recommended minimum of six months experience managing a Google Apps domain with a minimum of 50 users.
  • Does it expire?: You’re required to pass the certification exams every 18 months; the exam can be retaken 30 days prior to or up to 60 days after the 18-month renewal date.


Adobe offers a variety of certification programs related to their popular software products, such as Analytics, Target, Dreamweaver, Flash, ColdFusion, and many others. The Adobe Certified Expert certification may be useful to graphic designers, web designers, web developers, and others

  • Who offers it:  Adobe
  • Pre-requisites:  Typically none
  • Does it expire?: Certifications on Adobe Digital Marketing Suite products are valid for 12 months. All other product certifications do not expire


The CCNP (Cisco Certified Network Professional ) certification program covers more advanced routing and switching knowledge for network engineers, network technicians, and others

  • Who offers it: Cisco
  • Pre-requisites: Valid CCNA or any CCIE certification
  • Does it expire?: Yes, after 3 years. You can keep the certification valid by passing one of Cisco’s continuing education exams BEFORE your certification expires


The CISSP (Certified Information Systems Security Professional) certification is perhaps one of the more popular IT certification programs for information systems security professionals, CISSP tests ten key areas including risk management, network security, and cryptography. This certification may be valuable to IT directors, security analysts, security systems engineers, and other IT professionals who need comprehensive knowledge of information security

  • Who offers it:  (ISC)²
  • Pre-requisites:  At least 5 years of recent full-time professional work experience in 2 or more of the 8 domains of the CISSP exam
  • Does it expire?: To remain valid, the individual is required to submit continuing professional education (CPE) credits in alignment with the refreshed 8 domains of the CISSP


The Security+ certification is relevant for professionals in the data security field as the certification aims to demonstrate proficiency with security fundamentals such as assessing network vulnerabilities. These fundamentals are likely to be important to any employee responsible for managing sensitive information.

  • Who offers it: CompTIA (an independent industry vendor)
  • Pre-requisites:  Recommended minimum 2 years of experience with a focus on IT security and the Netowrk+ certification
  • Does it expire?: TBD – usually 3 years after the current exam has launched


Project Management Professional certification program tests key knowledge areas about directly managing projects including how to manage project scope, time, cost, quality, risk and more

  • Who offers it:  Project Management Institute  (an independent industry vendor)
  • Pre-requisites:  Depending on your circumstances – at least three to five years of project management experience, with 4,500 to 7,500 hours leading and directing projects and 35 hours of project management education
  • Does it expire?: In order to keep the certification valid, the holder must earn 60 professional development units (PDU) per every 3 year cycle


There are many books and other study aids out there to help you prepare for taking one of these exams, including courses offered by our partner Udemy. We have taken the time to compile a short list of their highly user rated courses that may help prepare you for taking some of the above IT Certification exams.

Udemy CourseStudents Enrolled
A+CompTIA A+ 220-802 – Prepare For The CompTIA A+ 220-802 Exam3,435
A+CompTIA A+ 220-801 – Prepare For The CompTIA A+ 220-801 Exam3,337
CCNAComplete Cisco CCNA 200-301 Course24,962
CCNACCNA 2015 200-120 Video Boot Camp With Chris Bryant105,131
MCSAMicrosoft Windows Server 2012 Certification – Exam 70-41016,249
MCSAMicrosoft Windows Server 2012 Certification – Exam 70-4119,388
SQLMS SQL Server With Real World Db Design Techniques10,628
SQLOracle SQL – A Complete Introduction98,480
SQLSQL for Newbs: Beginner Data Analysis72,190
LinuxLearn Linux in 5 Days and Level Up Your Career175,068
LinuxLinux for Beginners52,621
AppsAndroid Java Masterclass – Become an App Developer69,696
AppsThe Complete iOS 10 & Swift 3 Developer Course62,813
AdobeMastering Adobe Photoshop CC30,072
AdobeAdobe InDesign CS6 Tutorial – Beginners to Advanced Training14,044
CCNPCCNP All-in-1 Video Boot Camp With Chris Bryant46,149
CCNPCCNP SWITCH 300-115 Video Boot Camp With Chris Bryant3,967
CISSPHacking Techniques for IT Professionals 2.0 Complete Course8,627


The certification you might want to earn first (or at all) typically depends on your intended career path. For instance, web designers may pursue Adobe certification but likely won’t need Network+ certification. Take the time to explore your professional area and find out what the best IT certification track may be for your goals. Keep in mind that some certifications have prerequisites, and you may need to earn some certifications in a specific order. For example, the CCNP certification for network engineers requires candidates to have earned CCNA certification first


Some certifications could remain valid for the duration of your career, while others may need to be renewed on a regular basis as the IT field evolves. One example of a certification that does not expire is the MCSA. While the MCSA certifications may not technically expire, it may be retired as new operating systems replace old ones, but your certification remains valid.(Of course, once the operating system you are certified in is no longer in use, you may wish to be recertified in the latest OS.)

Some certifications, like the PMP, require you to pursue ongoing professional development and education in order to renew your certification. Certifications offered by CompTIA such as the A+, Network+ or Security+ certifications would only need to renew at the highest certification level held. So in this example, you would only need to meet the continuing education requirements for Security+ to renew all three certifications.


In most cases, you’ll need to pass an exam that covers core areas of your professional field, proving that you have the knowledge and experience necessary to be certified. Some certifications also have specific educational and professional requirements. For example, the CISSP certification requires candidates to have five years of full-time work experience involving at least two of the ten core areas that are tested in the exam.

Now that you know a bit more about the certifications that IT professionals could pursue, hopefully you are in a better position to decide which is the best IT certification for you. 


rasmussen.edu/degrees/technology/blog/5-it-certifications-to-get-your-foot-in-the-door/ cio.com/article/2392856/careers-staffing/12-it-certifications-that-deliver-career-advancement.html

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