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Considering a certificate program? Here’s what you need to know

A certificate as an educational credential is a bit like a multi-purpose tool. It can be put to use in a variety of ways, depending on who has a grip on the handle.

Certificates are typically pursued by two types of students — those who are looking to enhance their current careers and those who are considering a new career path. In either case, a certificate can help set you apart from other candidates or help you determine your next chapter.

“It’s the idea of being able to pivot or to strengthen your existing skill set to specialize,” said Steven Starks, senior manager of Career Counseling Programs & Operations for University of Phoenix.

Certificates serve as professional development

A working adult who wants more skills in a particular specialty, and a recognition of that competence, might pursue a certificate. Certificates can serve as a form of professional development, helping you to stay relevant in the field or continuing to add to the base of knowledge you have from previous coursework and on-the-job experience.

An experienced nurse, for instance, might want to specialize in health informatics to help stay on top of rapidly changing trends. A business professional might want to pursue a certificate in project management or executive leadership. And a teacher might be interested in adding new skills in instructional design.

Certificates let you explore new areas

A certificate is also attractive for those who want to test drive a new subject area in a more cost-effective and time-efficient way than a traditional degree program. Those who desire additional opportunities with their current employer, or those thinking about a whole new career path are excellent candidates for certificates.

For instance, someone working in an entry-level customer service position might want to explore human resources. Or a help desk technician might want to move into cybersecurity. Earning certificates in human resources or a certificate in cybersecurity may educationally prepare candidates for new opportunities.

And for a person who is looking for a complete career change but is hesitant to commit to a degree program, Starks notes that “a certificate can be a low-risk way of learning about a career path you might be interested in.”

Certificates can help you get a foot in the door

Alice Rush, a Certified Career Counselor for University of Phoenix’s Department of Career Services who has 25 years of experience and has counseled thousands of working adults, noted that some employers may perceive an investment in a certificate as a skill-building activity, giving the candidate potential competitive advantage.

“It doesn’t replace a degree, but it showcases your interest and familiarity with the subject matter,” Rush said.