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5 reasons to consider a certificate program

5 reasons to consider a certificate program

In an environment where employers can pick and choose from many well-qualified applicants, job seekers are looking for a competitive edge. Because of today's uncertain job market, even those of us who are currently employed need to demonstrate our value and set ourselves apart from our peers.

That edge might come from completing a certificate program — academic coursework that focuses on specific tasks or aspects of a field. Here are five reasons why a certificate program might be a good option for you:

A certificate can set job hunters apart from the pack.

"In today's down economy, adding a certificate to your resumé can help you better position yourself for a prospective job," notes Brian Lindquist, PhD, associate provost for University of Phoenix.

Many of today's job listings require additional certifications.

While certificate programs are academic in nature, and do not lead to actual industry-specific certification, the coursework can give you the body of knowledge you'll need when preparing to sit for professional certification exams. This includes preparing for licensure as a CPA in your state, earning a professional designation from the Society for Human Resource Management or gaining the Project Management Professional (PMP)® credential. Some certificate programs may also give you the credit hours you need as a prerequisite for those exams — or for recertification.

At the other end of the professional spectrum, certain entry-level information technology certificate programs such as Network+ can provide a foundation of knowledge you'll need to pursue a career, and professional certifications, in IT.

Certificate programs can be stepping stones to career enhancement.

As corporate human resource departments struggle with the challenges of maintaining in-house professional development and training programs, employees are seeking other ways to update their knowledge and skills to stay competitive — and relevant — in their careers.

"Many people today find themselves with outdated knowledge or skills at the midpoint of their careers," Lindquist says. "Certificate programs can serve as a 'mini degree program,' offering highly focused, academically challenging coursework that students can take out into the real world right away."

Certain careers require continuing education.

Even if there's a shortage of in-house training opportunities, many professionals are nonetheless required to meet additional industry-related education standards. Accountants, counselors, teachers and nurses are among the professions in which lifelong learning is required. Certificate programs may be a great option to give you the needed credit hours while significantly updating your skills.

A certificate program can be a test drive for a future degree program.

You might want to consider enrolling in a certificate program as a trial run for pursuing that bachelor's or master's degree program you've been thinking about. Many for-credit certificate programs are eligible for financial aid. Plus, depending on the receiving institution, the credits earned may be applied to a degree program in the future.

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Project Management Professional is a registered trademark of the Project Management Institute.