Back to School: 14 of the best certificate programs
Whether you’re just starting a new career or looking to boost your existing one, you need something on your resume that sets you apart. It should be something that impresses employers and proves you have specialized skills and knowledge.
A college degree can do that, but degrees can be time-consuming and expensive to obtain. You can rely on experience in some jobs, but that doesn’t help if you’re new to the profession.
Certificate programs give you the credentials you need to land a high-paying job — and they’re typically not as expensive or lengthy as traditional college degree programs.
This article tells you all about some of the best certificate programs and helps you determine how to choose the right one for you.
What is a certificate program?
A certificate program provides you with specialized training and proves that you have the right skills or knowledge for the job.
Programs vary in length, but you can often complete one in a few months to a year. Some programs only involve coursework, while others require an exam.
You can find certificate programs at your local community college or trade school.
Be careful with online programs, though — while legitimate schools or organizations offer some online courses, always be sure to check the credentials.
Let’s take a look at how certificate programs differ from degrees.
What’s the difference between a certificate and a degree?
Degrees and certifications are both ways to gain career skills and show employers that you have impressive qualifications. So how do you choose between a degree and a certificate program?
Some careers require degrees, but many don’t. Say you want to work in healthcare, for example — becoming a physical therapist requires multiple degrees while working as a medical assistant only requires a certification.
If you’re not sure about the education required for your job of choice, you can search by the name of the profession on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Look for where it says “Typical Entry-Level Education.”
Certificates also take less time to earn and are often much less expensive. The typical one-year certificate program at a college costs $5,590 for in-state residents.
For colleges offering bachelor’s degrees, the average cost to attend in 2022 for in-state residents was $24,510.
Considering the great jobs available to certificate holders, many people decide that a certificate program makes the most sense.
Why should you complete a certificate program?
Some jobs require a certificate. If you’re interested in one of those careers, enrolling in a certificate program is necessary.
In other cases, even if you’re technically qualified for the job, getting one could still be useful.
Make more money. The job market is competitive. Candidates with certificates on their resumes stand out from the crowd and may be able to earn a higher rate of pay.
Expand on your skills. Certificate programs teach essential skills and knowledge. You’ll be the expert that employers are looking for at the end of a good certificate program.
What are the best certificate programs?
While the right certificate program can give your career a boost, the wrong one might not benefit you as much as it could.
Before you spend time and money earning a certification, research which programs will impress recruiters in your desired field!
Here are four tips for choosing the best certificate program for you:
1. Know what’s required for the job you want
One of the best ways to find out what’s required for a certain type of job is to read job ads. Search job listings in your industry of choice. The Jobcase job search tool is a great place to start.
What kind of training do these employers require or desire? Look for a section titled “Requirements” or “Desired Qualifications.”
2. Talk to people in the field
Do you know anyone who has the career you want? Can your friends connect you with someone who can provide advice?
Maybe there's someone in the Jobcase Community who knows about your aspired field.
People with experience in the industry may be able to tell you if there’s a training program or professional certificate you should consider. If you want to stay in your current career, talk to your boss.
There may be a certification program that'd make you more competitive for job advancement.
3. Search for certifications on CareerOneStop
CareerOneStop is the U.S. Department of Labor’s website for employment information.
You can search CareerOneStop’s certification finder by the name of the certificate program or job that you want. It'll provide you with a list of programs and information about each one.
4. Check with local schools
Community colleges and trade or vocational schools usually offer certificate programs. Look at school websites to find out more information about what courses you can take.
14 in-demand certificate programs
There are a lot of different certification programs out there. We’ve highlighted 14 of the most beneficial programs that can help you land a good job with a competitive salary.
1. Medical records technician
A medical records technician is responsible for transcribing, organizing, and maintaining patient medical records. You could work at a medical office, hospital, nursing care facility, or insurance company.
It’s important that you have excellent attention to detail for this career since patient care depends on having accurate records.
The requirements for becoming a medical records technician vary by employer. A few only need you to have a high school diploma or GED, but most will require a certificate.
The medical technician field is set to grow by 7% over the next 10 years, and the typical salary is $46,660 per year.
2. Court reporter
Court reporters attend trials, depositions, and other legal proceedings and transcribe what’s said word-by-word.
Court reporters need to be focused and organized. They also have to be able to keep confidential information to themselves.
Many states require court reporters to have a professional certification. Look for these programs at local community colleges and technical institutes.
The average court reporter’s salary is $60,380 per year, and job growth is much faster than average.
The path to becoming an electrician is slightly different from the other careers listed so far, but you can still do it without a degree. When you start out, all you need is a high school diploma or GED. Some aspiring electricians go to trade school after that, and others don’t. Either way, electricians have to complete an apprenticeship to get certified.
You can find an apprenticeship through a trade school or an electrician’s union. Make sure your state approves the program. In most states, you’ll take a test at the end of your apprenticeship that allows you to become a certified electrician.
The average salary for an electrician is $60,040 per year.
4. Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN)
The term “nurse” is often associated with registered nurses or RNs. But getting an associate’s or bachelor’s degree to become an RN isn’t the only way to become a nurse.
A licensed practical nurse (LPN) works under the supervision of a doctor or RN. They perform tasks like taking vital signs, collecting samples, and keeping patients comfortable.
To get LPN certification, you need to complete a certificate program that’s approved by your state. Most are a year long, and you can find these programs at local colleges and nursing schools.
In California and Texas, people in this profession are called LVNs, or licensed vocational nurses.
The job outlook for LPNs is very good, with much faster-than-average job growth. They make an average annual salary of $48,070.
5. Brick mason
Brick masons use bricks, concrete, stones, or other materials to build and repair structures.
It’s a physically demanding job. Brick masons spend long days lifting heavy materials and working on their feet.
To be successful in this position, you’ll need manual dexterity, teamwork skills, and hand-eye coordination.
Like electricians, most brick masons start their careers with an apprenticeship. Some technical schools also offer one-year certification programs. Check the requirements in job ads and ask about programs at local schools.
Brick masons make an average of $48,040 per year.
6. Claims adjuster
Claims adjusters evaluate insurance claims. They inspect buildings, vehicles, or other property on which an insurance claim has been made. Most claims adjusters eventually specialize in a certain type of claim. One might become an expert on automobile collisions, while another travels into hard-hit areas after a natural disaster.
You can be a claims adjuster with a high school diploma or GED in some states, while others require a certification course or a licensing exam. The requirements may also depend on the type of adjuster you want to be.
Many claims adjusters travel for work, so certifications in neighboring states can be useful, too.
The average insurance claims adjuster makes $64,710 per year.
7. Real estate agent
Real estate agents buy, sell, and rent properties for their clients. They host open inspections and advertise properties using photographs and descriptions.
When a prospective buyer makes an offer, the real estate agent will take the offer to their client. Some negotiation may be required, so they need solid customer service skills.
Real estate agents also get documents ready and make sure contracts are signed.
Additionally, they need excellent communication skills. There are certificate courses available that cover topics such as real estate law, marketing, and mortgages. A license may also be a requirement, depending on location.
The median salary for a real estate agent is $48,770 per year.
8. Bank teller
Bank tellers work in financial institutions and banks. They manage the cash drawer and deal with incoming and outgoing payments.
Bank tellers use a computer system to keep track of all transactions. They help customers open new accounts and answer their questions. They may also exchange foreign currency and prepare money orders. When their shift is over, they count the money in their cash drawer to make sure it’s in balance.
Some bank tellers enroll in a short certificate course before starting their job. You can also expect hands-on training in the workplace.
There are opportunities for career advancement in this position. For instance, bank tellers can eventually become managers.
The average salary for bank tellers is $36,310 per year.
9. Personal trainer
Personal trainers support clients with exercise routines. They help them meet their goals, whether it’s losing weight, improving their fitness, or recovering from an injury.
Personal trainers make sure their clients use the right techniques. They keep track of progress and make changes to workout regimens as required.
Some personal trainers work one-on-one with clients. Others run group fitness classes in a gym environment.
Basic skills for this position include physical fitness, communication skills, and problem-solving skills.
To become a personal trainer, you can enroll in either an in-person or online program. You’ll also need to pass a certification exam and complete first aid training.
The average salary for a personal trainer is $40,700 per year.
10. Web developer
Interested in technology? Consider getting a certificate in web design and development.
Web developers create websites and make sure they’re secure, fast, and appealing. They may work for themselves or for a digital marketing company.
To get hired in this role, you should be able to work independently, have an eye for design, and be up to date with the latest tech industry trends.
Some people choose to complete a four-year degree, but if you’re creative and tech-savvy, an online course can be enough. A certificate in graphic design can also be beneficial.
The average salary for a web developer is $78,300 per year.
11. Building inspector
Building inspectors attend building sites to make sure they meet strict requirements. They check building plans and look for safety hazards.
Building inspectors also keep thorough written records, and if they find any issues, they flag them with the project manager. In some situations, a building inspector may order the work to be stopped until the issue is resolved.
During building inspections, inspectors use a range of tools and equipment and look at everything from moisture levels to electrical installations. They need close attention to detail, excellent communication skills, and building knowledge to do their job well.
Building inspectors usually have industry experience. There are both certificates and associate degrees available for this job type. These courses cover areas such as reading blueprints and local laws.
A license is required in most states for this position, and supervised training is provided.
The median salary for a building inspector is $61,640 per year.
12. Emergency medical technician
An emergency medical technician (EMT) plays an important role in the healthcare industry. They work closely with paramedics and respond to emergency medical situations.
EMTs monitor patients in ambulances. They can perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR), dress wounds, and check blood pressure.
EMTs collaborate with other healthcare professionals, including doctors and nurses. They keep records of treatment and transfer patients to hospitals.
There are a few options for study, including short certificate programs. EMTs also receive on-the-job training.
These team members need excellent communication skills, patience, and manual dexterity.
The median salary for an EMT is $36,930 per year.
13. Financial clerk
Financial clerks are part of an office team. They help businesses with a range of financial tasks.
For example, they maintain financial records and input data into software programs. They calculate expenses and process payments. Financial clerks support customers and answer any questions they might have.
To get this job, you’ll need math skills, attention to detail, and computer skills.
Training can be given on the job, but most financial clerks have a certificate. Options include financial and bookkeeping programs.
If you’re working in a niche field, such as security, brokerage, or gambling, additional training may be required.
For many financial clerks, future career goals include accounting clerk or accountant positions. Accounting certifications are also available.
The average salary for a financial clerk is $44,760 per year.
14. Surgical technologist
Surgical technologists support surgeons and work in a range of healthcare facilities. They prepare rooms for operations and make sure the necessary tools and equipment have been sterilized.
Surgical technologists monitor inventory and order more supplies when they run low.
These team members get patients ready for their procedures. During surgeries, they pass tools to the surgeon.
This position requires manual dexterity, high quality standards, communication skills, and medical knowledge.
There are different pathways for surgical technologists. For example, you can complete a certificate program with supervised training. There are also associate degree programs.
With training, surgical technologists can become first assistants.
The average salary for a surgical technologist is $48,510 per year.
Tips for using certificate programs to help your job search
Completing a certificate program has the potential to make you an attractive job candidate, so make sure to showcase your specialized career training when you apply for jobs. Here’s how.
Create a new section of your resume
Your certifications deserve to be showcased in a special section of your resume. Label this section “Certificates” or “Professional Certifications.”
Each item in the certificate program section of your resume should include:
The name of your certification
The organization that gave you the certification
The date you received your certificate
Make sure your certifications are up to date
Some certifications are forever, while others need to be renewed either by additional coursework, taking an exam, or submitting a renewal form.
Be sure you know which type you have — it won’t look great to send a resume with expired certifications to a potential employer!
Talk about what you learned in the interview
Definitely mention in a job interview if you have a certification that’s in demand for your industry. But don’t stop there!
The interviewers may not be familiar with the specific skills you learned in your certificate program, so mention any that are relevant to the job (refresh your memory before the interview by rereading the job description.
Get certified and get a great job
Certificate programs are a great way to get a well-paying job without needing to pay a lot of money or be in school for years.
Most industries have entry-level jobs with a certificate qualification. For example, if you want to work in medical services, you could consider a role as a medical records technician, LPN, EMT, or surgical technologist.
Other popular certificate job types include court reporters, electricians, brick masons, claims adjusters, bank tellers, real estate agents, web developers, and building inspectors.
Remember, even if your dream career path isn’t on this list, it might still have certifications available.
Check job listings, CareerOneStop, or local schools to determine if there’s a certificate program that’s right for you.
For more job search tips, visit the Jobcase Getting Hired Resource Center.
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