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Certificates That Can Launch Bright New Careers

College degrees are nice. But the right certificate programs are a faster, cheaper route to switch careers

Man interacting with a touch screen, Career Change, Work

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En español |  When William Solice, 46, decided to switch careers—moving from education, with a specialty in technology, to one in data science—he sized up his options. He already had a master’s in education, “and I didn’t want to go back and get a computer science degree.” Instead, he explored MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, and through Coursera, discovered something even better: A certificate program in data science, based on 10 four-week classes, plus a capstone project.

Soltice, who lives in Plano, Texas, completed the coursework in seven months, and for less than $500, earned a credential that’s paved the way for steady consulting work, and even led to a full-time job offer. “That’s less than a single course would cost at many graduate schools,” he says. 

Certificate programs offer more focused, smaller and often more affordable bites of education. For midlife learners, they’re often a perfect fit. “The three key drivers for certification are people who are `recareering,’ looking for a new focus within the field they already work in, or are wanting to update their skills,” says Sophie Vlessing, senior vice president of strategy and innovation with Kaplan Higher Education Group. And while would-be students like certificates, employers love them. “It shows people in your area that you are a lifelong learner,” she says. “And that’s a skill today’s employers really value.”

To get a sense of how varied certificate program options are, check out the certificate page on Learning Advisor. Then start searching online, and you’ll discover thousands of online certificate programs. The priciest online certificates can rival the cost of an advanced degree and require hundreds of hours of coursework. Here are a handful that cost $500 or less and tap into key employment trends.

Trend: Our Aging Nation As the U.S. population continues to age, people with a background in nursing, social work and even fitness professions can learn more about care issues, with a certificate in Gerontology from Ed2Go. The 44-hour program costs $295.

Trend: Greener Living Many Americans are keen to find a way of life that’s better for the environment, and real estate agents can partake of that trend by earning the National Association of Realtors’ Green Designation, which requires three classes, and an exam offered by the NAR. Cost: $339.

Trend: Online Learning The demand for online education shows no sign of slowing, creating lots of opportunity for qualified teachers. Coursera’s Virtual Teacher Program requires four classes plus a capstone project, for $249. The specialization online certificate programs are designed for teachers K through 12.

Trend: Mobile Mania Depending on their complexity, IT certificate programs, including those offered by the likes of Cisco and Microsoft, can cost upwards of $10,000. But there are intriguing alternatives: Udacity, for example, offers “nanodegrees,” programs created with such industry partners as Google or AT&T. (Fees are $200 per month, and programs last up to seven months.) But don’t forget the MOOCs, such as EdX’s Building Mobile Experiences, which provides a verified certificate for $49. (Java experience required; expect to spend 10 to 12 hours per week for the 12-week class.)

Make it a point to look at certificate trends in your field, even if you’re not planning to make a move soon. “I feel like these certificates are the future,” says Solice. “With technology, many fields are changing so fast it is difficult for colleges to keep up and stay relevant. This is what education will be.” 

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