Online Certificate Programs Vs. College Degrees

In today’s digital age, you have a lot of options when it comes to furthering your education. The type of educational background you need depends on the career move you’re preparing to make. The two main program tracks you’ll want to compare are certificate programs versus a degree. There are several main differences to consider:

  • • Time Requirements
  • • Curriculum
  • • Location
  • • Cost

At Washington Technical Institute, we have seen our students move into new careers or move upward in their current career by completing one of our many certificate programs. However, before making such an important decision, you’ll want to be sure you’re selecting the right career path for your specific goals.

Time Requirements

The first aspect of continuing your education that you’ll want to consider is how much time you have. If you have a family, are working full-time, and would like to attend school, a certificate program might be the best option for you. Often, certificates can be completed within a matter of months. For example, the WTI paralegal certificate programs are completed in four to eighteen months, depending on the certificate program you choose. Likewise, the Business Administration certificate is an eight-month program. Certificate programs are going to require a significantly shorter amount of time commitment than a degree.

Our certificate programs begin daily, so you don’t have to worry about enrolling by a certain day to start your coursework. Open enrollment allows you to begin your program as soon as you’re available. These certificate programs can also be completed 100% online and with the flexibility that allows you to complete your coursework according to your personal schedule. With no scheduled meeting times, you get to decide how and when you’ll complete the coursework.

Degree programs don’t offer as flexible a schedule as the WTI certificate programs and have set start dates for enrollment into any program. Generally, a degree program ranges from two to four years and beyond, requiring students to meet either online or in person at set times, when that particular course is available. The schedule for courses is determined by the college or university, not the student. So if you’re looking to earn a degree, you’ll have to arrange your personal schedule around that of your courses.


The curriculum in a certificate program is specifically tailored to the career goal you have in mind. There are no “extra” classes, and the content is directly related to the pathway you’ve signed up for. You will be taught the information and skills you need to walk into a profession, without a lot of bloat. The goal of many career certificate programs is to prepare you for any state licensing or certificate tests that you need in order to move forward into your new career

A degree program is going to cover a large quantity of information, some of which you are less likely to use in your career. However, if you have the time and the ability to commit to the extra coursework and content, then a degree program does give you a deep understanding of whatever career pathway you would like to follow. Generally, once a person finishes their degree, they then find work in a specific niche of that field, one that they found especially interesting during the two to four years of training they completed.


The next difference that you’ll want to examine is your location. Certificate programs like those offered by WTI are location flexible since they are 100% online and self-paced. As long as you have a desktop or laptop and an internet connection, you can complete our certificate programs. This is especially convenient for individuals who live far from a college campus or who struggle with transportation issues. Earning a certificate online can be as simple as heading to your local library or clearing a space at the kitchen table to complete your schoolwork. 

A degree program is usually going to require that you attend college courses on campus at least part of the time. Although colleges and universities have begun offering more courses online, for many degree programs, students will find that not all of their classes will have that flexibility. Class will meet on set days, at certain times, and in a specific location. This type of educational setting can be extremely engaging. You will get to meet others who are studying for the same profession as you and have the opportunity to engage with others face-to-face.


The final consideration you will want to make is the cost of each program. Certificate programs generally cost less than a degree due to the amount of coursework covered and the time spent in the content. At WTI, students are given the option of breaking down their set tuition into monthly payments, ensuring that the burden of cost is not immediate and overwhelming.

One benefit of a degree program is that you may qualify for financial aid to offset the cost of your enrollment, but when you add the cost of books, transportation, and time, it can still turn into an overwhelming burden. Regardless, a degree program has a lot to offer someone wanting that two- or four-year college experience rather than a certificate program that can have you in a new career within months.

Overall, the choice between a certificate program or a degree is an extremely personal one. You have to weigh the many differences next to the nature of your own personal schedule, responsibilities, and life goals. If you would like to know more about the opportunities Washington Technical Institute has for you, call us toll free at 800-371-5581 or text us at 952-465-3702. 

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Advance your education with an accredited certificate program from Washington Technical Institute (WTI). WTI is Regionally accredited by the Middle States Association CESS, and licensed by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education as an institution of higher learning.


Washington Technical Institute is Regionally accredited by the Middle States Association CESS, and licensed by the Minnesota Office of Higher Education as an institution of higher learning.