Certificate VS Degree: Which Is Right For You To Choose?


November 23, 2022


Milan Kordestani

Entrepreneur, writer, and founder of 3 purpose-driven companies oriented toward giving individuals control over their own discourse and creation. Milan works to produce socially positive externalities through a mindset of social architecture.

Milan Kordestani

November 23, 2022

Milan Kordestani Profile Image

Milan Kordestani

Hi! I'm Milan, an LA based founder and writer, architecting impact-first businesses.

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Certificate vs degree has become a question of many arguments. Going to college and getting a traditional education used to be the surest way to open up career opportunities for your future, but that’s no longer the case.

While traditional education is still considered the norm, it is no longer the only option for achieving career success, and more effective and attainable options are available today.

The number of people enrolling in certificate programs to gain a greater understanding of their industry, obtain vital skills, and become more valuable employees is increasing year over year.

According to a recent report, about 51.3% of American adults have a college degree, certificate or industry certification.

Degrees or certifications can expand your career options, but the path you choose should be the one that is right for you.

This blog will cover everything you need to know about certificate vs degree, so that you can make a more informed decision about which one is right for your career.

So, get entirely aware of all advantages and disadvantages to end up making smart decisions for the benefit of your career. Are you a certificate or a degree person?

What Is A Certificate?

A certificate is a document that verifies you have completed a specific program of study within an industry.

Certificate programs usually offered by colleges, universities, or private companies.

While a degree offers a wide range of knowledge and expertise, a certificate program usually provides training for technical or skill-based jobs. Examples include:

  • Marketing
  • Sales
  • IT fundamentals
  • Data science
  • Nursing
  • Web development
  • Dental or medical-assisting
  • Firefighting
  • Real estate
  • Massage therapy
  • Construction
  • Plumbing
certificate vs degree

What Is A Degree?

A degree is an academic title that you receive after graduating from a university.

A degree vs certificate entails much more than the basic knowledge you need to work in a certain field, and can in fact prepare you for several different roles depending on your focus.

Degrees can be divided into four categories:

Associate degree

An associate degree is higher than a high school diploma but not as intensive as a bachelor’s degree.  It takes around two years for a student to complete.

Associate degrees can include:

  • Associate of Arts (AA)
  • Associate of Science (AS)
  • Associate of Applied Arts (AAA)
  • Associate of Applied Science (AAS)

Bachelor’s degree

To get a job in many fields, some employers will ask for a bachelor's degree. A bachelor's degree takes about four years to complete and includes general education classes in addition to courses pertaining to your specific major.

Bachelor’s degrees can include:

  • Bachelor of Arts (BA)
  • Bachelor of Science (BS)
  • Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA)

Master’s degree

A master’s degree is a post-baccalaureate program consisting of more rigorous classes within a specialized field of study. Programs usually take between two-three years to complete.

In addition to degrees within specific niches, the three basic master’s degrees include:

  • Master of Arts (MA)
  • Master of Science (MS)
  • Master of Fine Arts (MFA)

Doctoral degree

A doctoral degree is the highest degree you can obtain, and it certifies your expertise in a particular field.

The types of doctoral degrees include:

  • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
  • Practitioner doctoral degrees, such as Doctor of Education (EdD) or Doctor of Health Administration (DHA)

The Primary Differences: Certificate VS Degree

So, do you need to go for degrees or certifications? What's the difference: certificate vs degree?

 Some people believe a degree is more valuable than a certificate, and some think the opposite. 

The difference between a certificate and a degree usually involves the time and cost to earn them. 

Here are the main factors you need to know about certificate vs degree to choose your option:

Time commitment

Certificates are usually less time-consuming to obtain than degrees. A degree can take between two to four years to complete, while a certificate can be obtained in just a few months.

This is because certificates require fewer courses and can be taken according to your schedule.


Another difference between a certificate and a degree is the requirements for enrollment.

Because most degree programs require a high school diploma or GED, they are often more viable options for people without either of these qualifications.

Depth and scope

Certificates teach you about a single topic. Degrees, on the other hand, allow you to explore a wide range of topics in depth.

This can be useful to people looking for comprehensive knowledge, while a certificate can be useful for those looking for specific knowledge.


The cost of a degree vs. certificate is based on the number of courses you take. 

Because degrees require many more courses to complete, the cost of a degree is much higher. 

However, both certificates and degrees offer financial aid options that can help.

Job opportunities

If you want to get a specific job, then a certificate might be enough to help you land that particular position.

But if you want your education to make you eligible for a wide range of jobs, then one degree can get your foot in the door in many places.

How To Choose: Certificate VS Degree

In order to choose whether certificate vs degree, consider factors like your job ambitions, time constraints, and financial resources. 

Here are a few questions you’ll want to ask yourself before deciding:

  • How quickly do you need to earn your credentials?
  • How will you balance work and school?
  • What field do you want to work in?
  • How far do you want to advance in your career?

You may find that, while a degree would be ideal, it’s unrealistic for you to afford the time and money necessary to obtain one. 

However, you may find that obtaining a degree is a long-term goal worthy of pursuing through online and night classes.

Many personal factors need to be considered to think over degree vs certificate and come up with the right decisions.

Self Learning And Certification

There are plenty of ways you can get certificates through online or offline self-learning. These can help you upgrade your skills and even explore new careers.

One of the most difficult steps in starting along a path of education is choosing what to pursue. My company, Audo, aims to address that very problem.

Audo is a career readiness and management platform using AI to tailor data-driven career paths by integrating paid gig work into the learning experience.

Our AI-powered assessment maps your passions and interests to the careers that are right for you.

You can level-up your skills, earn certifications and turbocharge your career by taking courses and earning credentials from our education partners. 

Do your research before embarking on programs offering degrees or certificates.  Have a clear picture in your head about where you’d like to be in five years.

Do you want to be working your way up in the industry of your choice?  Freelancing while pursuing a master’s degree?  Starting your own business?

The path toward your goals will come into clearer focus if you can get a clear picture in your mind of where you want to be.

And if you want some assistance in creating that picture, take the Audo Guide assessment.