What is a graduate certificate and how does it differ from a master’s degree?
A student enrolled in our Master of Arts in Mass Communication graduate program (MAMC) is seeking a master’s degree. The student will take coursework that runs from 33 to 38 credit hours, which is 11 to 13 classes.
A graduate certificate student is not pursuing a degree. She is completing a shorter term of study, generally four courses or 12 to 14 credit hours. The graduate certificate signifies completion of these courses. The courses can sometimes be used to satisfy degree requirements for a master’s degree – if the graduate certificate student applies to a graduate program that will accept the course).
There are six approved MAMC distance specializations in the College: Audience Analytics, Global Strategic Communication, Public Interest Communication, Public Relations and Communication Management, Social Media, and Web Design and Online Communication. Completing any of these specializations results in a graduate degree.
We offer three graduate certificates created from four courses that are part of the relevant broader MAMC specialization. These certificate classes are the core classes from the masters’ specializations. A graduate certificate student does not take more than these four courses unless they apply to the master’s specialization. At that point, the certificate classes count toward the MAMC, thereby shortening the time to earn a degree. A graduate certificate student must decide whether completing the certificate is their goal or whether they will apply for the master’s program.
Additionally, the college offers two certificates that are not part of any MAMC program. These certificates are Cross Media Sales and Communicating Value and Web Conversion. Students who complete these certificates cannot use the classes to satisfy an MAMC specialization.
Beyond conferring a degree or certificate, and the number of courses, are there any other differences between a certificate and a master’s degree?
The two biggest are: a) graduate certificate students do not qualify for federally guaranteed financial aid (student loans), and b) graduate certificate students have a shorter application process than do MAMC students. Most significantly, graduate certificate students do not need to provide GRE scores as part of their application.
How can one choose between a graduate certificate and a master’s degree?
A master’s degree is a significantly bigger accomplishment and confers a diploma. It takes longer and gives students a deeper and more sophisticated understanding of a specialization. A graduate certificate is faster to complete, does not confer a degree, but provides useful skills and knowledge about a subject area. Completing a graduate certificate is also a significant achievement and can make someone more attractive to current and prospective employers.