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What programs and options exist for non-degree seeking students?

At a glance

  • Non-degree-seeking students are individuals who take single courses or pursue a certificate because they want to learn about a specific field or skill and may not need to commit to the time and cost of a degree to meet their career objectives.
  • Taking a single course or participating in a certificate program can teach students new skills, which they can showcase on their resumé and share with employers in interviews.
  • Depending on the length of the program and institution, financial aid is sometimes available for non-degree programs.
  • Discover how you can enhance your skill set through online certificates and more than 600 individual courses at University of Phoenix!

In some situations, a traditional two- or four-year degree program may not meet the needs of someone looking to upskill. Sometimes, people just need a single course or a certificate to obtain the necessary skills and experience to enhance their careers. Enter non-degree program options.

What non-degree options are available?

Non-degree options include for-credit and not-for-credit educational opportunities like online learning classes, certificates, self-directed learning and apprenticeships. In addition to providing a surgical approach to skill development and enhancement, non-degree options can save students time and money while still offering educational value.

In this article, we break down how students can use two types of for-credit non-degree options — individual courses and certificate offerings — to gain knowledge in their preferred field without the pressure to progress toward a full degree. 

Explore more than 600 credit-bearing courses to help you meet your educational goals. 


What are individual courses?

Individual for-credit courses can be taken at the undergraduate or graduate level, although non-degree-seeking students may need to meet certain pre-requisites to take graduate-level courses and be successful.

Individual courses are available in a variety of disciplines, such as cybersecurity, accounting, psychology and nursing. (And many others!) Teachers may pursue continuing teacher education opportunities while other professionals may benefit from non-credit professional development courses.

The biggest difference between degree-seeking students and non-degree-seeking students is often the intent behind taking the courses. Degree-seeking students take courses as part of earning a broader degree, whereas non-degree-seeking students enroll in courses for targeted personal or professional development in a topic area. Individual courses can be a convenient way to upskill without committing to a full degree program, or they may be helpful for individuals looking to complete a degree program started elsewhere.

While individual courses can save time, they vary in length depending on the institution. At University of Phoenix (UOPX), for example, undergraduate single courses can take 5 or 6 weeks to complete.

What are certificates?

Certificates are a different option for non-degree-seeking students, and many such programs can be taken online. As opposed to individual courses, which run a gamut of disciplines and foci, certificates generally focus on a particular skill set. These are often ideal for individuals looking to upskill or meet certain criteria for professional enhancement or certain credentialing and industry certification needs.

UOPX, for example, offers credit-bearing certificate programs in such fields as accounting, cybersecurity, human resource management and project management. Where individual courses can usually be completed in a matter of weeks, certificate programs take longer: usually five to 13 months at UOPX because certificate programs generally comprise multiple courses.

What is a non-degree-seeking student?

Now that you have an understanding of what non-degree programs are, let’s dive into who might pursue them.

A non-degree-seeking student is someone who might enroll at a college or university without planning to complete a degree program. Instead, these students pursue single courses or certificate offerings for personal or professional reasons, often to develop skills in a particular industry or field.

Other non-degree-seeking students might take classes at one institution with the intent to transfer them back to a previously enrolled institution. Just be aware that not all credits are transferrable. Before you enroll, check with your advisor to ensure that the credits will transfer to your institution of choice. 

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What non-degree courses are available?

Individual courses are available at a wide range of academic institutions today. Some courses may be part of a degree program, others may be offered independently of a degree program. At UOPX, for example, students can choose from a range of options, including:

  • General education courses to help meet prerequisites for a degree program
  • Anatomy, biology and other sciences
  • Communication
  • Digital marketing
  • Leadership
  • Healthcare
  • Nursing
  • Math
  • Business

Non-degree-seeking students can find single courses in a variety of ways. You can search online for a specific topic that might interest you or contact a school directly to find out if it offers courses in your chosen field or topic area.

How to take a non-degree course

Taking a non-degree course can provide a combination of skills and experience, and align students with resources to help connect them with professional opportunities in a field that interests them.

Here are a few steps to follow when pursuing a non-degree course:

  • Research non-degree offerings to find the one that’s right for you.
  • Investigate any industry requirements or outcomes aligned to the area you are interested in studying, if doing so for career advancement.
  • Review the program’s prerequisites and requirements to determine eligibility. If necessary, submit an application to take the course, including transcripts, test scores and any other required materials.

If you’re taking university-level, non-degree courses for credit, make sure the institution is accredited before you apply. If you’re planning to eventually transfer to a new academic institution, make sure the credits you earn will transfer with you.

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Can you get credit for non-degree programs?

Eligibility for credit in a non-degree program depends on the design, structure and goals of the learning being pursued. Generally, institutions are very clear about whether the non-degree courses or certificates are credit-worthy.

When pursuing non-degree learning be sure to ask whether the courses or certificate are credit-bearing. Knowing that information, you can properly research whether a course or certificate is potentially transferrable, if that is something you would like to do in the future. UOPX does have some noncredit courses but most of the non-degree learning opportunities are for credit.

When are non-degree options valuable?

Students might participate in non-degree programs for many reasons. Such programs can potentially create career opportunities, improve personal development and teach new skills in your field of expertise.

Students often view non-degree programs as a viable alternative to a more traditional degree program. Many institutions offer individual non-degree programs, allowing students to pay for an individual course or certificate instead of an entire degree.

These options are typically more flexible than a traditional degree program and are particularly valuable for students who already have some education in the industry and are looking to brush up on their skills or seek targeted advancement in their field.

What financial aid is available?

Potential financial assistance packages might include scholarships or grants and federal student loans. Some employers may cover or assist with the cost of certificate programs.

Federal student aid may be available for select certificate programs but not all. If you choose a certificate program that’s ineligible for federal student loans, you might also look into whether your employer offers tuition assistance or whether grants, scholarships or private loans are available.

Non-degree options at University of Phoenix

If you’re interested in a non-degree program, consider exploring the options available at UOPX. The University offers more than 600 single, online courses that are usually 5 to 6 weeks long. These courses can help you expand your knowledge and skill set. Here are some examples of single courses:

  • Principles of Accounting I
  • Government and Non-Profit Accounting
  • Contemporary Auditing I
  • Principles of Microeconomics
  • Finance for Business
  • Intermediate Financial Accounting I
  • QuickBooks

Additionally, University of Phoenix offers over 45 certificates across nine fields if you’re looking for a specific online program. Certificate programs are available in:

  • Business
  • Education
  • Healthcare
  • Technology
Photo of blog author Michael Feder smiling.


Michael Feder is a content marketing specialist at University of Phoenix, where he researches and writes on a variety of topics, ranging from healthcare to IT. He is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars program and a New Jersey native!


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