Certificate Program USA

Certificate Program in the USA

Although certificate/diploma program are quickly gaining popularity as alternatives for professional training and development, many people still don't know exactly what they are and how they work. The following article will provide you with a brief description and tips on issues to be considered when selecting these kinds of programs.

What are Certificate/Diploma Programs?

Certificate/diploma programs are a series of classes focusing on both theory and practice in a particular field. They are not as broad as degree programs and they usually concentrate on a particular area. For example, in an undergraduate degree program in business, the student will study in depth a broad range of areas such as marketing, accounting, finance, human resources, organizational behavior, production, economics, and several others. Under a certificate program, on the other hand, he/she will concentrate his/her studies in a specific area. For example, in a marketing certificate/diploma program the curriculum will include topics such as consumer behavior, marketing research, marketing strategy, international marketing, internet marketing and others. These are all different topics related to one specific area. Some certificate programs also offer an overview of several different areas.

While some universities refer to their programs as certificate programs, others call them diploma programs. There is not a commonly adopted criterion to differentiate them. In general, a diploma program is required to provide a certain minimum number of instruction hours and are longer in duration. However, you may find two schools with similar programs in curriculum and duration, but one of them defining the program as a certificate program and the other calling it a diploma program.

Which department is responsible for offering the certificate/diploma program?

The certificate/diploma programs are offered in most cases by the Extension Department (sometimes also called the School of Continuing Education). At some institutions, however, the certificate/diploma programs are offered by the schools within a university (such as School of Business, School of Law, etc.). Still some certificate/diploma programs may be offered by the Extension Department in cooperation with one of the schools.

What kind of audiences attend these programs, and when are the classes being offered?

Some certificate/diploma programs are designed primarily for a local audience (Americans) but enrollments are also open to international participants. These programs are more likely to have a majority of local residents and the classes are offered in the evening (during the week) and on weekends (daytime).

Other certificate/diploma programs are designed primarily for an international audience. In this case, most of the participants are non-Americans and classes are scheduled during the daytime every day of the week. Because of that, the schedule tends to be more intense than the evening courses, and participants are able to learn a lot more within the same period of time. Some schools refer to this kind of schedule as "intensive format" or "accelerated programs."

How do certificate/diploma programs differ from degree programs?

The certificate/diploma programs are shorter and tend to focus more on practical aspects rather than theoretical concepts. In addition to the lectures, most programs make use of real case studies/discussion intensively, and many programs also include visits to sites of related interest. Some still offer optional internship opportunities to complement the curriculum.

What are the academic requirements to be accepted in the program?

Usually, the main requirement for admission is an advanced knowledge of the English language. Some schools use minimum TOEFL scores as a requirement. Others use the TOEFL as a reference, but still accept students who haven't taken the TOEFL exam. Other requirements may include basic knowledge of a specific field (such as computer skills, management concepts, etc.) and/or some previous work experience.

What are the main advantages of certificate/diploma programs?

These programs allow you to acquire new skills, international experience and even some work experience within a short period of time. Most programs vary from two weeks to a year in duration, depending on the topic and format of the program. Their curricula tend to be a lot more practical, providing ready-to-use skills upon your return. They are faster and cheaper than degree programs (bachelor's or master's). Their entrance requirements are also less strict than the degree programs' requirements. They provide a great opportunity to network with professionals from other countries. Some are offered several times a year, providing flexibility and convenience in terms of scheduling.

What are the main issues to look for when considering a certificate/diploma program?

  • Look for the curriculum that most closely matches your needs. Professional visits and internship opportunities are attractive features.
  • You should also check the total number of instruction hours. Do NOT look only at the duration of the program. For instance, a program with duration of 24 weeks and offering 12 hours of instruction per week will provide you a total of 288 hours of instruction. A program with duration of 10 weeks offering 30 hours of instruction per week will provide you 300 hours of instruction. The fact that a program has a longer duration does not necessarily mean that you will learn more.
  • Pay attention when comparing costs. Do NOT compare tuition costs based only on the duration of the program. As mentioned above, take into consideration the total number of instruction hours. The tuition cost should be based on the total hours of instruction provided, and not on the period used to deliver them. And don't forget the living expenses. The longer the program, the more you will pay for housing, food, transportation and incidentals.
  • Other factors to consider are the faculty, reputation of the school, support services offered, scheduling, location and opinions of former students.

    By: Sheila Dwight
    Guilherme Almeida


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