Online Certification Programs: Here's How To Start

When online certification programs were first introduced, there were many skeptics who insisted it was impossible to get an education online. These critics were proven wrong. There are a number of online universities running certification programs.

Some of these universities are entirely digital, but there are now many colleges offering select online programs. Certification programs are much more common to see online because they do not take as long as graduate programs.

Typically, certificate programs consist of four to eight courses taught over 12 to 24 credit hours. The exact specifications vary depending on where you are taking classes and what you are getting certified in. Graduate certificate programs rarely require you to have any kind of prior experience. If you are getting certified for a specific field, you may be required to have prior work experience to enroll in the program. Before you enroll in a program, make sure you understand everything you need to know about online certification courses.

Certification vs. Degree

Both certification and degrees have their own advantages. Certification programs are more focused than degree programs. You may learn more with a degree program, but certification allows you to specialize in a specific area. Common examples of certification include IT and technological fields, electricians, automotive, plumbing, paralegal and healthcare administrator. There are also certification for broader categories, such as management and business administration.

In most cases, enrolling in a certificate program is easier than getting a degree because you do not need prior experience. With a degree, you often have to take several courses which are either unrelated or have little relevance for the field you are interested in. For example, many IT related degrees require you to learn coding or web design. While these are useful skills, they may not be relevant for the tech carrier you are interested in.

Certificate programs also focus more on practical learning. These programs normally do not have exams or projects. Instead, you learn and practice a specific set of skills required for the program. This provides you practical work experience, which many managers prioritize when they are interviewing for employees.

What Type of Certification Programs are Available?

There are many types of certification programs and many of them can be completed fully online. Some certification programs can be completed in a few weeks while other may take a year+. Some of the most popular certification programs are:
  • Accounting
  • Graphic Design
  • Information Technology
  • Human Resources
  • Medical Billing
  • Project Management
  • X-Ray Technician 

How Long Does it Take to Become Certified?

A typical certification program is completed within a year. Some of the more complex programs may take longer, but it is rare for certification to require two years of classes. There may be additional limitations based on your scheduling, as well as what courses are available. When you are applying for courses, check whether the courses are offered throughout the year, or if they are only available during select times. This prevents you having to wait for a class to become available again so you can complete your certification.

How Much Does an Online Certification Program Cost?

The price of an online certification program varies depending on where you take the course. In most cases, you can expect to pay somewhere between $300 or $400 per credit hour. In some cases, there may be additional fees attached to the course, especially if you are not enrolled as a full-time student in the school. These fees are often minimal, with the bulk of your expenses coming from the course itself.

Not all online certification programs have a cost. Select online certification courses are available for free. Several colleges offer a small handful of courses for free, such as Yale’s Financial Markets certification course or Stanford’s Machine Learning program. Google’s Digital Garage has a host of free certification programs as well.

Financing for Online Certification Programs

Online certification programs are much more affordable than a typical degree program, in no small part because there are less classes for certification. Another benefit with many online courses is you do not have to buy as much equipment, such as textbooks, and you are not paying for any additional college perks, like meal plans or room and board. However, you may need to specific hardware or software, depending on the program you enroll in. If this is the case, you are required to pay for the equipment out of pocket.

  • If you are currently employed, check if your employer offers any funding for certification. Many businesses will pay for either a portion of or the entirety of certification costs, as long as you agree to work with the company for a set period of time. Essentially, the company is investing in you as an employee, since becoming certified makes you a better worker. This is the most recommended option because you do not have to worry about paying back any of the money you receive, and you often end up getting a pay bump or promotion after your certification.

  • If you cannot get funding from your employer, the next step is to look for financial aid. Finding financial aid for online certification can be difficult. What is available largely depends on where you are taking classes. Some of the most common forms of financial aid, such as federal loans, require you to take a certain amount of credits or classes each semester to qualify. Most certification programs do not meet these requirements. However, individual colleges do provide specific funds for online certification.

  • You can also look for private student loans. The conditions for private loans are determined by the lender. Because of this, private loans tend to have worse interest rates and repayment plans. You may also be able to get assistance from scholarships, but scholarships often have the same minimum course requirement as federal student loans.

Finding an Online Certification Program

You have many options when you are searching for an online certification program. Because the classes are remotely taught, you are not limited by what schools are available in the state. However, if you do not know where to begin, consider starting with your local universities. Check to see what online certification courses are available, and whether there are any financial options specifically for students who live in state.

You can also use the internet to find a certification program. If you decide to look online, treat it as though you were looking for a traditional university. Make sure you research whoever is offering certification to confirm the classes are legitimate. If the description includes the names of any professors, look them up as well. Be sure to look at multiple options and do not pick the first program which looks legitimate. Pay careful attention to how much the certification program costs, as well as when the classes are offered.

Something else to consider is whether the classes offer live support. Some classes allow you to login whenever you want, but with these classes, you can only reach out to your professor through email. If your course has live segments, you may be able to ask questions either during or shortly after the class. You should also check whether the programs require you to work with other students to complete the certification.