Are Online Post Graduate Certificates Worth the Money to Advance Your Career?

Are Online Post Graduate Certificates Worth the Money to Advance Your Career?
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What Are Post Graduate Certificates?

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Unlike undergraduate or graduate degrees, there are many different kinds of post-graduate certificates available and most of them have different requirements and expectations. Some colleges and universities simply offer a set of courses on a subject and call that a certificate. In contrast, you can find certificate programs that are designed for a clear end goal such as passing a certification test or preparing for a program. Both general skills preparation and more focused programs can be valuable to your career. Before paying any fees to register in a program, you should consider how these courses and certificates fit into your professional development goals.

One of the downsides to online programs is the requirement for a greater degree of personal focus and commitment in order to succeed. In addition, it can be difficult to form connections with your fellow students. On the other hand, online certificate programs provide a great deal of scheduling flexibility and often provide considerable resources to help you practice your skills and ask questions. In general, certifications that require a combination of course work and work experience tend to lead to increased earnings. Improving your skills can have other benefits such as increasing your productivity and enabling you to freelance on the side.

Skills Based Post Graduate Certificates

There are many different companies and colleges that provide courses and sets of courses online to help you develop skills. If you are interested in learning computer programming and software development skills, an organization such as the O’Reilly School of Technology is a good option. In addition to video recordings, the School provides students with a software development area where students can work on assignments and develop new ideas. The O’Reilly School offers several certificate programs in fields such as Python programming, database administration, Web programming, Java programming, Perl programming and Linux/Unix administration. The Java programming certificate requires students to complete four courses which cost $398 USD each (i.e. a total certificate cost of about $1600 USD).

Online post-graduate certificate programs for those interested in technology are widely available, but not all of these courses are limited to software developers. For example, Media Bistro offers certificates in copywriting, Photoshop, public relations, digital marketing and other media industry skills. The Copywriting Certificate program costs $1500 and includes six courses which covers Copywriting: Mastering Ad Writing, Copywriting for the Web, Advanced Copywriting, Brand Writing, and Copy Editing. Students who complete the program in 12 months are entitled to receive a certificate. The Media Bistro certificate program also offers elective courses so that students can specialize to a degree in their area of interest.

Test Preparation & Designation Post Graduate Certificate Programs

Beyond building your skills, there are other kinds of post-graduate certificates you may wish to consider. Certain professionals such as accountants, lawyers and IT professionals can benefit from studying for certificates that lead to a designation in their profession. In instances, earning a designation such as the Project Management Professional (PMP) can lead to a significant increase in opportunities and earnings. If you are studying for a certificate in order to earn a designation, you should be aware that professional organizations often require candidates to have specific work experience in addition to completing courses, tests and exams. Here are some of the post-graduate certificate programs you can obtain which can lead to significantly higher income.


  • The Certified Financial Planner (CFP) designation: This designation can be earned from traditional and online programs. Several universities and colleges offer online programs to prepare students for this designation including Boston University (Boston, MA), Minnesota State University - Mankato (Mankato, MN), and Murray State University (Murray, KY). The Online Financial Planning Program offered through Boston University can be completed in 18 months (each of the six required courses costs $900-$1000). The program also offers unlimited practice tests for students wishing to improve test the state of their knowledge. Students can also complete the Boston University program in nine months if they register for bi-weekly sessions.

  • The Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA) designation: The CFA designation is one of the most respected and challenging to obtain designations in the world. Candidates must complete three exams set by the CFA Institute and meet the Institute’s other requirements in order to obtain the designation. Many certificate programs exist to prepare students to pass the CFA exams. For example, Kaplan Schweser offers both self-directed online programs and instructor led programs to students. Depending on the package selected, the fees at Kaplan range from $350 to $1250. The length of time to prepare for each exam depends on one’s background skills and CFA exam scheduling. Work experience in the financial industry is also recommended. Contact the CFA Institute for information on the designation’s requirements.


  • In the United States, there are many different providers of continuing legal education for lawyers seeking to learn new fields. The best place to seek out a certificate program is by finding an ABA approved law school and reviewing the programs it offers. Locating a purely online certificate program in law may be difficult depending on the area of study.


  • Cisco: Long recognized as one of the world’s leading providers of networking technology, Cisco offers several educational programs to IT professionals in fields such as Routing and Switching, Design, Network Security, and Wireless. Interestingly, Cisco offers a path whereby an individual can progress from a beginner (“Associate”) to expert (“Architect”). Earning such certifications over time is one way that you can demonstrate your increased technical expertise. Fees for take Cisco exams vary from approximately $90 to $1400. The length of time required to prepare depends on the candidate’s starting knowledge of the subject matter.

  • Microsoft: In contrast to Cisco which offers highly specialized and technical certifications, Microsoft offers both business oriented and technical certifications. Most Microsoft certifications can be studied for online; candidates will usually have to make an appointment at a testing center in order to complete the designation. Preparation available for Microsoft exams includes online courses and self-study books.

Choosing The Right Program For You

Choosing the right post-graduate certificate program for your career needs depends on a number of factors. If your goal is increased earnings and responsibility at work, it is best to choose a program that is well-known and understood in your department or company. For example, most banks and investment firms respect the CFA designation and may even offer funding for employees who wish to seek the designation. In addition to HR documents, ask managers and other staff in your department to see what certificates were worthwhile. Students studying for a designation can also get a sense of the earnings potential for these designations and certifications by consulting salary and compensation surveys conducted by professional associations.

In contrast, obtain increased through earnings through a more general skills based certificate may be more challenging. Such programs are most likely to benefit the student if you can tie them to a specific goal. For example, a marketing professional may wish to improve their graphic design knowledge so that they can take on more projects and work with clients more closely. Simply learning more and more skills may be satisfying but may not be worth the cost. You will obtain the best results from taking a certificate program if the program is part of a larger personal strategy to build your skills and experience.