In addition to standard two- and four-year degrees, institutions of higher education offer programs for students to bolster their job skills and qualifications. Certificate programs at both the undergraduate and graduate levels allow students to explore additional occupational skill sets. However, certificates don't carry the same prestige as a college, university or graduate school degree.
The Bachelor's Degree
A bachelor's degree is a four-year degree awarded by a college or university and, in the U.S., is also referred to as a baccalaureate degree or as an undergraduate degree. Various kinds of bachelor's degrees exist. The bachelor's degree is a basic qualification for many jobs and an indicator of educational achievement.
The University Certificate
Undergraduate certificate programs allow students to supplement their degree coursework with classes and studies that interest them and that will provide them with valuable job skills. Certificates normally don't hold the same qualifying power as a bachelor's degree. However, they take significantly less time to complete. For example, each of the online certificate programs at Boston University consist of only four courses, and the credits can also be applied to a separate degree program at the same time.
The Graduate Certificate
A graduate certificate is similar to an undergraduate certificate in that it supplements an existing area of study and can be completed in a shorter amount of time because of a lighter course load than a full-term degree. The only significant difference between a graduate certificate program and an undergraduate certificate program is that -- usually -- in order to be admitted into a graduate certificate program you first must have earned a bachelor's degree.
Professional Certificate Programs
Many colleges and universities offer what are called professional certificates or advanced professional certificates, and most are similar or identical to university and graduate certificate programs. Professional certificate programs are usually offered with both credit and non-credit options, and, according to the SUNY Purchase website, "The certificate serves as proof of program completion and can have different meanings to people and organizations."