Best Online Certificate Programs

A college education can seem like a pipe dream for many individuals - not just because of the high cost of tuition, but also because of factors like the time needed to complete a degree and the ability to access a program in a particular field. Dakota Pawlicki reports, 40 percent of college students work full-time while a fourth have dependents, making the prospect of attending college a difficult one indeed.

Online certificate programs can be a good option for recent high school graduates, working professionals and career changers to obtain some college education without the expense & time needed for a full-fledged degree.


This quick guide to accredited online certificate programs can give you an overview of what these programs are all about and how online certificates are taking off in popularity.

According to a 2019 report published jointly by the Strada Education Network and Lumina Foundation, policymakers, employers, educators, and learners themselves are progressively realizing the potential of non-degree certificates for building the skillsets of the labor force. The manufacturing industry, for example, is a major source of good jobs (i.e. jobs paying a minimum of $35,000 for workers between the ages of 25 and 44 and at least $45,000 for workers between the ages of 45 and 64) for individual with 'middle skills' or education more than a high school diploma but less than a bachelor's degree, according to the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Earning an online certificate can help you gain the skills you need to be eligible for these jobs.

What Are Certificate Programs?

Certificate programs are short, non-degree granting programs that help individuals learn specific skills or study specific topics within a larger field. Naturally, most people considering a college education first think of completing an entire degree, however, not everyone has the time available to do so or the finances. Certificate programs can offer focused learning in a particular field or topic and can allow individuals to be employment ready within a relatively short span of time when compared to associate degree or bachelor's degree programs.

Unlike undergraduate degree programs, most certificate programs also do not require students to take general education courses thereby cutting short time to completion and tuition. Online certificate programs can offer working adults the flexibility they need while gaining a college education as well as allow them to apply their lessons to real world scenarios as they learn them.

Additionally, attending an accredited online certificate program may allow students to transfer the credits they earn toward a degree should they wish to pursue further education at a later date.

What Are The Types of Online Certificate Programs Available?

Online certificate programs are typically of two types:

  • Undergraduate: These are usually entry-level certificate programs designed for students who have a high school diploma or GED. They can prepare individuals with the skills needed for entry-level jobs in the field. Some certificate programs may also be geared toward students currently enrolled in an associate or bachelor's degree program in order to allow them to gain skills and knowledge that complements their degree
  • Graduate: Graduate certificates are usually meant for individuals who have completed a bachelor's or a master's degree but want to hone their skills in a particular aspect of their field.

What Is The Difference Between a Certificate And Certification?

While the two terms may sound the same, they are actually completely different.

  • Certificates demonstrate that you have earned educational credits by completing a particular course of study through an educational institution with a set curriculum. You do not earn a degree after the completion of the program.
  • Certifications are credentials you earn usually through a third party professional body in order to demonstrate your competence in a field or a particular aspect of it. Certifications may also need to be renewed periodically through continuing education classes or recertification examinations.

Are Certificate Programs Worth It?

The short answer is yes - depending on your educational and career goals of course. The best online certificate programs can help you meet both! In fact, the Strada-Lumina report states that many certificates do have value in the marketplace with non-degree certificate holders reporting higher rates of full-time employment as well as higher incomes. They also discovered that these individuals were also more confident overall about their marketability and education than those without.

Online certificate programs can provide individuals with an opportunity to build their skills for better employment that can go way beyond average annual wages for most occupations according Strada-Lumina's findings with individuals with certifications in fields like engineering and architecture earnings median annual wages of $85,000. And it's not just people with certificates in technical fields that can earn higher wages - the same report found that even those individuals in the lowest income quartile earned $9000 more annually than those without.

Graduate certificates can help working professionals build their expertise in their chosen fields and apply that knowledge to their work. Certificates may also enable them to apply for promotions or change their work profiles.

20 Best Online Colleges Offering Certificate Programs

It is only natural to want to find the best online college for certificate programs. Look no further! We've used data like retention rates, average in-state tuitions, student-to-faculty ratios, placement services and more to give you unbiased rankings of the ten best colleges offering online certificate programs.

Have a look at our methodology section at the bottom of the page to see why these particular colleges made it to the top.

1
Georgia Piedmont Technical College
Clarkston, GA
Average in-state tuition
$2,136
No. of online programs
52
% of students in distance education
53%
Avg. amount of Aid
$5,580
Admissions Rate
N/A
Graduation Rate
N/A
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
2
Central Georgia Technical College
Warner Robins, GA
Average in-state tuition
$2,136
No. of online programs
52
% of students in distance education
45%
Avg. amount of Aid
$4,538
Admissions Rate
N/A
Graduation Rate
N/A
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
3
Georgia Northwestern Technical College
Rome, GA
Average in-state tuition
$2,136
No. of online programs
33
% of students in distance education
55%
Avg. amount of Aid
$4,432
Admissions Rate
N/A
Graduation Rate
N/A
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
4
Ogeechee Technical College
Statesboro, GA
Average in-state tuition
$2,136
No. of online programs
17
% of students in distance education
45%
Avg. amount of Aid
$4,510
Admissions Rate
N/A
Graduation Rate
N/A
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
5
Albany Technical College
Albany, GA
Average in-state tuition
$2,136
No. of online programs
27
% of students in distance education
67%
Avg. amount of Aid
$5,351
Admissions Rate
N/A
Graduation Rate
N/A
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
6
Wayne Community College
Goldsboro, NC
Average in-state tuition
$2,432
No. of online programs
10
% of students in distance education
58%
Avg. amount of Aid
$5,359
Admissions Rate
N/A
Graduation Rate
N/A
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
7
Northcentral Technical College
Wausau, WI
Average in-state tuition
$3,173
No. of online programs
53
% of students in distance education
60%
Avg. amount of Aid
$3,869
Admissions Rate
N/A
Graduation Rate
N/A
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
8
Oconee Fall Line Technical College
Sandersville, GA
Average in-state tuition
$2,136
No. of online programs
15
% of students in distance education
42%
Avg. amount of Aid
$5,851
Admissions Rate
N/A
Graduation Rate
N/A
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
9
Wiregrass Georgia Technical College
Valdosta, GA
Average in-state tuition
$2,136
No. of online programs
18
% of students in distance education
26%
Avg. amount of Aid
$5,373
Admissions Rate
N/A
Graduation Rate
N/A
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
Yes
10
American Public University System
Charles Town, WV
Average in-state tuition
$6,480
No. of online programs
154
% of students in distance education
100%
Avg. amount of Aid
$1,441
Admissions Rate
N/A
Graduation Rate
41%
Career Counseling
Yes
Placement Services
N/A

How Does an Online Certificate Program Work?

Online certificate programs can provide individuals with an opportunity to access the same high-quality learning that is available on traditional brick-and-mortar campuses that they may not have available in their localities. Curricula are usually the same for on-campus and online certificate programs, often with the same professors teaching both. Students earning an online certificate can usually interact with their professors and peers through discussion boards, email, and video conferencing.

Online certificate programs may vary in terms of flexibility and the delivery of lessons. Some important terms to understand are:

FULLY ONLINE      HYBRID PROGRAMS
Quite self explanatory, fully online means all components of education is provided online. Students need not visit the campus for anything, while hybrid means coursework is delivered in online format, but some courses or components of the program may require students to be physically present on-campus or visit a lab.

ASYNCHRONOUS      SYNCHRONOUS
Asynchronous means that students may access their lectures at any time that is convenient to them. However, assignments still have to be delivered according to deadlines set by the professor. In synchronous format, students need to be presents online at specified times to listen to lectures or participate in discussions or online conferences.

It is important to explore these aspects of an online certificate program you are considering to see how it fits in with your schedule.

How long does it take to complete a certificate program?

+
A certificate program can usually take between two months to a year and a half of part-time study. This means that parents and working professionals may still complete their online certificate program without having to compromise on other commitments.

What are the requirements for an online certificate program?

+
Non-degree certificates usually require a minimum of a high school diploma or GED. Some technical topics may require students to have taken particular subjects in high school like physics or math for example.Graduate certificates may require students to have a bachelor's or a master's degree and/or work experience in a relevant field.

Can I get financial aid or grants to help fund my online certificate program?

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Students of online certificate programs may be eligible for the same types of federal funding and loans as students of online degree programs, provided the program is offered by an accredited educational institution. You may also be able to find scholarships for your particular program of study. You can learn more about federal and other forms of financial aid here.

We looked at a number of different certificate programs to find the ones that are most popular with online students based on the number of certificates conferred. The table below shows our rankings along with employment projections and associated mean wages using data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

Popular Programs of Study
Median Salary
Projected Employment
Licensed Practical/Vocational Nurse Training$46,2403,252,400
Automobile/Automotive Mechanics Technology/Technician.$45,5464,104,000
Truck and Bus Driver/Commercial Vehicle Operator and Instructor$43,6803,971,000
Cosmetology/Cosmetologist, General$36,1503,594,000
Heating, Air Conditioning, Ventilation and Refrigeration Maintenance Technology/Technician$47,6101,528,000
Medical/Clinical Assistant$33,6104,914,000
Fire Science/Fire-fighting$56,0651,821,000
Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Engineering Technology/Technician$47,6101,910,000
Nursing Assistant/Aide and Patient Care Assistant/Aide$28,5406,697,600
Dental Assisting/Assistant$38,6601,983,000
Source: 2018 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.
Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2017-18, National Center for Education Statistics

Fastest-Growing Occupations that Require an Certificate Degree

Certificates can allow you to be eligible for entry-level roles in various industries and occupations. The table below uses data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) to describe the fastest growing jobs you may qualify for along with their median wages and job growth.

Fastest-Growing Occupations
Annual Median Wage
Job Growth (2016-26)
Medical Assistants$34,54029%
Phlebotomists$35,56024%
Massage Therapists$45,88024%
Dental Assistants$39,77020%
Emergency Medical Technicians and Paramedics$37,76015%
Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers$50,16015%
Medical Records and Health Information Technicians$44,01014%
Audio and Video Equipment Technicians$48,94013%
Licensed Practical and Licensed Vocational Nurses$47,05012%
Surgical Technologists$49,04012%
Source: 2018 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov.

Best Certificate Programs for High-Paying Jobs

We ranked the best online certificate programs that give students the opportunity to earn incomes that are above the national average for all occupations. However, just because a particular occupation pays well, doesn't mean that there are likely to be plenty of job openings in the field. So, in order for these rankings to be useful in real-world scenarios, we've also looked at factors like projected job openings over the next 10 years and the number of online certificate programs available using data from the BLS and NCES.

$36,980
$56,065
$46,240
Source:2017 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics; 2016-26 State Occupational Projections, Projections Central. Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics

Explore Online Certificate Programs

You may find online certificate programs in most fields of study whether it's financial accounting or biology, graphic design or healthcare that interests you. Click the buttons below to explore online certificate programs in more depth including the jobs you can get and the courses you may take.

Methodology & Sources
Methodology & Sources

Methodology:

Methodology for Best Colleges Offering Online Certificate Degrees

Requirements:

  1. Offer a degree or certificate program in that subject, either in an online or hybrid format
  2. Have at least 1% of students attending some form of distance education
  3. Have awarded at least one degree or certificate in that subject in 2015-16
  4. Have reported data for all 19 ranking variables listed below

We ranked 879 colleges and universities in the United States on 19 criteria, using 2016-17 data from the National Center for Education Statistics:

  1. Associate Program prominence, based on how many of the degrees and certificates awarded in 2016-2017 were in this particular subject
  2. Ratio of undergraduate students participating fully or partially in DE to Total Enrollment
  3. Average in-state tuition for undergraduates
  4. Retention rate
  5. Percent of undergraduate students awarded federal, state, local, institutional or other sources of grant aid
  6. Average amount of federal, state, local, institutional, or other sources of grant aid awarded to undergraduate students
  7. Student-to-faculty ratio
  8. Number of programs offered via distance education at the associate degree level
  9. Total electronic library collections, including digital books, databases, and media
  10. The availability of any tuition plans: Payment
  11. The availability of any tuition plans: Guaranteed
  12. The availability of any tuition plans: Prepaid
  13. The availability of any tuition plans: Other
  14. Services: Academic/Career
  15. Services: Placement for Completers
  16. Credit offerings: Dual
  17. Credit offerings: Life
  18. Credit offerings: AP
  19. Credit offerings: Military

Methodology for Most Popular Certificate Degrees to Earn Online

For this analysis, we ranked 104 online associate degrees. To be included in the ranking, each major had to:

  • Match to a corresponding code in the Classification of Instructional Programs
  • Be offered online at the associate level at five or more institutions

We scored each major on the following data points, using a 10-point scale and the weights specified:

  • Number of conferred associate degrees in all schools nationally, IPEDS, 2016-17
  • Total number of jobs projected in 10 years of all occupations matched to the major, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016-26
  • Annual median wage of each occupation matched to the major, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017

Methodology for Fastest-Growing Occupations with an Certificate Degree

For this analysis, we ranked 63 occupations using data provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics associated with a doctoral degree on the following variables:

  • Annual Median Wage
  • Employment Number
  • Employment Change Percent

Methodology for Highest-Paying Certificate Degrees to Earn Online

For this analysis, we ranked 86 online associate degrees. To be included in the ranking, each major had to:

  1. Match to a corresponding code in the Classification of Instructional Programs
  2. Be offered online at the associate level at five or more institutions

We scored each major on the following data points, using a 10-point scale and the weights specified:

  • Annual median salary of each occupation matched to the major, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017
  • Annual 25th percentile wage of each occupation matched to the major, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017
  • No. of schools offering this degree online at the associate level, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016-17
  • Average projected growth rate of all jobs matched to each major, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016-26
  • Total number of jobs projected in 10 years of all occupations matched to the major, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2016-26

Methodology Sources

  • Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2017-18, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/
  • 2017 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov
  • 2017 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2016-26 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics, BLS.gov; 2016-26 State Occupational Projections, Projections Central, projectionscentral.com
  • Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) 2016-17, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/ipeds/

Article Sources:

  • Certified value: when do adults without degrees benefit from earning certificates and certifications?, Strada Education Network and Lumina Foundation, Indianapolis, 2019, https://go.stradaeducation.org/certified-value
  • Chen, Allen, More education: Lower unemployment, higher earnings, Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2017, https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2017/data-on-display/more-education.htm
  • Finding Grants for Certificate Programs, National University, https://www.nu.edu/resources/finding-grants-certificate-programs/, accessed July 2019
  • Pawlicki, Dakota, College today: More students are older, working, supporting others, Lumina Foundation, 2019, https://www.luminafoundation.org/news-and-views/college-today-more-students-are-older-working-supporting-others
  • Three Educational Pathways to Good Jobs: High School, Middle Skills, and Bachelor's Degree, Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, 2018, https://1gyhoq479ufd3yna29x7ubjn-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/3ways-FR.pdf
  • Torpey, Elka, Measuring the value of education, Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018, https://www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2018/data-on-display/education-pays.htm
  • Upskilling and Downsizing in American Manufacturing, Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, 2019, https://1gyhoq479ufd3yna29x7ubjn-wpengine.netdna-ssl.com/wp-content/uploads/Manufacturing_FR.pdf
  • What's the Difference Between a Certificate and a Certification?, Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies, 2017, https://scs.georgetown.edu/news-and-events/article/6642/difference-between-certificate-and-certification
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