Difference Between Degree and Program

Last Updated on September 7, 2022 by Smile Ese

Students often confuse the terms “degree” and “program.” The difference is subtle but important because each carries a different definition. Let’s explore these terms together and examine how you can use this knowledge to help clear up any confusion when communicating with fellow students or employers.

What is the difference between a major and a bachelor degree? For prospective students who want to apply for a program of study in any university or college, it is crucial you know the differences between a major and bachelor degree. Need not worry as this article provides the required information you need to know about the differences between a major and a bachelor degree.

Read on to discover the latest information about certificate vs degree salary, degree and major example, degree vs diploma, what is a certificate program in college, is a degree better than a certificate. You can find more information about the differences between diplomas and certificates on Collegelearners.

Difference Between Degree and Program

Is a Degree Better Than a Program

A degree and a program are two different things. A degree is the culmination of all your academic courses and experiences, and a program is one section of your degree.

A certificate is a document stating you have completed a certain amount of training in preparation for a specific job. You can earn a certificate by taking courses at a community college, technical school or vocational school. Most certificate programs prepare people for technical or skills-based jobs, such as:

  • Nursing
  • Automotive repair
  • Dental or medical-assisting
  • Web development
  • Construction
  • Plumbing
  • Cosmetology
  • Firefighting
  • Massage therapy
  • Real estate

Earning a certificate can help you get a job in your desired field or advance in your career. You might also earn a certificate to prepare for an associate or bachelor’s degree or to supplement your current degree. Some jobs and states require a particular certification to get hired in that field.

difference between course and program

Higher education is more valued in the workplace today than ever before. In fact, it’s been reported that individuals with bachelor’s degrees have 57 percent more job opportunities and earn 56 percent more than those with only a high school diploma. This type of data has encouraged many of the 36 million adults who dropped out of college before completing their bachelor’s degrees to go back to school and continue their education.

With the benefits of going back to school so clear, the more difficult question returning students will face is not if they want to continue their education, but how they want to do it—a question made all the more difficult to answer considering there are many viable avenues for doing so.

college majors

Degree and certificate programs are two of the most common choices for students returning to the classroom. These two educational paths are designed to expose students to a specific field or skill set that can help broaden their knowledge in that subject area. At their core, the purpose of both program types is to help students in understanding the depth of their industry, and to walk away with the tactical skills and experiences needed to expand their career options, advance at work, or even switch to a new industry altogether.

As similar as the educational goals of these types of programs are, however, the format, cost, and curriculum of each are so different that students often find themselves more drawn to one or the other depending on their own needs. Throughout this article, we explore these differences between degree and certificate programs to help you identify which is the right choice for your continued education.

Degree vs. Certificate: What You’ll Learn

Perhaps the most important factor to consider when weighing these options is what is actually covered in the classroom within the curriculum of certificate and degree programs.

What You’ll Learn in a Certificate Program

Certificate courses are narrowly focused and explore the actionable skills needed to work in a particular industry. Depending on the type of the certificate, classes may only cover a broad view of essential industry-related topics or practices to ensure you have a working knowledge of the field. More advanced certificate programs dive more deeply into the subject or review more sophisticated methods for the work. In either type of certificate program, however, graduates leave with skills well-developed enough to apply what they’ve learned to your field or, in some cases, expand that base knowledge into an advanced degree later on.

College diploma with honors cords

What You’ll Learn in a Degree Program

Courses outlined for the completion of degree programs cover far more than the base-level of knowledge required for you to complete your work-related tasks. Degree programs are often interested in producing “well-rounded” students with an understanding of their industry and the world as a whole. To achieve this, degree-granting institutions include “core classes” alongside the major-specific courses required to graduate.

For example, of the 120 semester hours required to graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Finance and Accounting Management at Northeastern, 83 of those courses are not major-specific. Instead, they include foundational classes and other electives of the student’s choice.

Although at first glance it may seem less productive to spend your time in school learning about a subject that does not directly correlate to your work, many universities consider the inclusion of core classes within their curriculum a vital part of undergraduate education. A 2011 study explored this trend among higher education institutions and discovered that most choose to include such classes in hopes of providing students with “broad, foundational skills and knowledge…constituting an education with the intellectual backbone for lifelong learning and informed citizenship.”

What Is a Major in College

Institutions believe that this broader approach to the required curriculum allows students to explore subject areas they may never have otherwise encountered, hone their analytic and critical thinking skills, and, from a practical sense, gain a broader array of knowledge than their major alone could provide. This is important, the study emphasizes, as “the Bureau of Labor Statistics now reports that workers will hold an average of 10.8 different jobs between the ages of 18 and 42 alone.” Research has found that exposing students to other subjects and ways of thinking has proved useful for those individuals that do end up switching positions multiple times in their careers.

For many students hoping to get more than just a basic understanding of their industry out of a continued education program, the benefits posed by the inclusion of core classes are a substantial draw to the pursuit of a full degree.

What is a Degree

A degree is an academic title you receive after completing several years of education in a certain subject. The four types of degrees include:

  • Associate degree
  • Bachelor’s degree
  • Master’s degree
  • Doctoral degree

Many jobs require a degree in their specified field to get hired, including:

  • Physical therapist
  • Engineer
  • Aeroplane pilot
  • Marketing manager
  • A financial advisor or manager
  • Architect
  • Art director
  • Scientist

Having a degree can also qualify you for more advanced or higher-paying positions.

4 year psychology degree plan

Certificate vs. Degree: The Main Differences

The difference between certificate and degree programs typically involves the time and cost to earn them. They also differ in the number of courses you must take and the amount of knowledge you gain.

Degree vs. Certificate: Time commitment

Certificates take less time to earn than degrees. You can typically get a certificate within a few months to two years, depending on the field. Associate degrees typically take two years, bachelor’s degrees take four years, master’s degrees take an additional one to two years and doctoral degrees take at least additional two years to earn. Some degree programs do offer summer school or accelerated courses that allow you to graduate a year sooner.

What are the differences between Undergraduate and Graduate programs?

Degree vs. Certificate: Requirements

Nearly all degree programs require students to have first earned a high school diploma. While many certificate programs require a high school diploma as well, some do not. These include certifications for truck driving, restaurant management, mechanic work, carpentry and more.

If you meet the basic requirements for a certificate, which often include earning a high school diploma, you can enroll in the program of your choice. To get accepted into a bachelor’s program, however, you must apply for and be accepted by the college or university. The admissions office will decide whether to accept your application based on your grades, standardized test scores and extracurricular activities.

Similarly, you must first earn a bachelor’s degree and have passed a standardized test like the Graduate Record Examination before you can apply for a master’s or doctoral degree program. Some doctoral degree programs require a master’s, while others only require a bachelor’s.

Difference between professional degrees and research degrees in medical...  | Download Table

Degree vs. Certificate: Coursework

Degrees typically provide individuals with a greater depth of knowledge than certificates. Certificate programs usually focus on teaching students specific and practical skills related to that career field. Someone in a radiologic technician certification program, for instance, is only going to learn about diagnostic imaging. Degrees provide a general education in several key subjects and require students to complete a certain number of classes or credits in subjects such as math, English and science. Degrees include more courses than certificates, which is one of the reasons degrees take longer to earn.

Degree vs. Certificate: Job Opportunities

No matter which industry you’re in, choosing to continue your education through either a degree or certificate program can make a substantial positive impact on your career. In fact, a recent study revealed that 45 percent of employed adults are opting to invest in further education to keep up with the changing needs of their field, proving that even those who already have training can benefit from lifelong learning.

For individuals that fall into this group, a certificate may be all that you need to supplement your existing degree with a new skill set or obtain an industry-required accreditation. Those who are looking to directly correlate their continued education into new job opportunities, however—whether that be an advanced role in your current industry or a move to an entirely new field—may benefit more from obtaining a full degree.

certificate vs degree salary

One of the critical differences between certificate and degree programs is the cost of enrollment.

According to the US Department of Education, the average tuition for four-year degree programs is $28,597 for private, not-for-profit schools and $8,462 for public schools. By contrast, most certificate programs cost only a fraction of that amount.

Postgraduate Certificate vs Master's Degree: What Should You Choose?

A bachelor’s degree is often the minimum requirement for entry-level positions in today’s job market. What’s more, even though some may be able to obtain work with a certificate alone, a lack of degree can limit opportunities for advancement in your field. For this reason, those who wish to set themselves up for long-term success in their career should invest in the extensive knowledge, exposure, and industry-insight that can be obtained during the pursuit of a full degree.

Degree vs. Certificate: Price

The price of education boils down to the cost per course and, depending on the university, these prices can vary. While courses required for a degree and courses required for a certificate likely cost around the same amount, a cost difference occurs due to the number of courses students must take in order to graduate from each program. There are far fewer courses required to complete a certificate program than a bachelor’s program. Although there are dozens of financial aid options for both—including scholarships, grants, tuition reimbursement, and more—some find the lower price associated with a certificate is enough to lead them down that path.

How to Choose Between a Certificate and a Degree

Base your decision to pursue a certificate vs. degree on your career goals, time and resources. When choosing between the two, consider the following questions:

  1. Determine how quickly you need to earn your credentials
    If you simply need to learn the practical skills necessary for a certain job and want to learn them quickly, you might choose to earn a certificate. If you have several years to dedicate to your education, you might pursue a degree.
  2. Think about balancing work and school
    If you are currently working full-time but want to earn a credential to improve your job opportunities and earning potential, you might choose a certificate. You can continue working in your current position as a veterinary assistant, for instance, while earning your vet assistant certificate from a community college during the evenings or weekends.
  3. Consider the field you want to work in
    If you are passionate about styling hair or skilled at fixing HVAC systems, you can get a job faster and with less expense by earning your certificate in that field than by applying for a degree. If you want to be a doctor or a lawyer, however, you will need to earn one or more degrees to get hired.
  4. Plan how far you want to advance in your career
    Whether you pursue a certificate or a degree might depend on your education and career goals. A degree can often provide you with more opportunities and higher salaries than a certificate. You might also earn a certificate to give you the foundation and prerequisites needed to get a degree. For instance, you might first complete a computer coding certification program to prepare you for a degree in computer science.
  5. Consider where you are in your career currently
    If you are looking for an entry-level job, you might benefit from a certificate. For instance, if you want to be a chef, you can enter the workforce right away after earning a certificate in culinary arts. You always have the option to earn a culinary degree in the future. If you have work experience and are interested in a management position, you might benefit from a degree, which is a requirement for many upper-level positions.

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