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Degrees vs. Certificates - Which One Do I Need?

Degrees vs. Certificates - Which One Do I Need?
Monday, July 10, 2017
Posted in category Learners by

If you’re thinking about taking community college classes, there is a lot to consider. But first and foremost, you’re probably thinking about what your final goal is when you finish. And as counterintuitive as it may sound, it may help get you started to think about where you want to be when you end. A final goal can be a great way to begin carving out a path that will guide your actions throughout your college journey, and one of the most important considerations you’ll make is deciding whether to pursue a degree or a certificate.

Certificate vs. degree – what’s the difference?

Here is where you’ll need to consider your end goal. If you want to brush up on job skills, enhance your resume, or prepare to enter the workforce as soon as possible, a certificate may be the right fit. In contrast, if you want to pursue a fuller, more well-rounded education that may transfer to a four-year institution, a degree may be a better choice. Let’s explore these options further.


There are two options for certificates, at least here at Lord Fairfax Community College (LFCC). One is a career studies certificate (CSC), the fastest and shortest of the certificates. CSC’s are a good choice for those who are already well established in a job or career and need to learn very specific skills or information in order to fulfill their job duties. They are highly specialized and extremely precise in nature. CSCs can often be completed in a matter of months.

On the other hand, certificates are designed to enhance job skills that you may not already be familiar with or prepare you for a new career. If you’re looking to move up on the career ladder, either choice can be a good one depending on whether you’re looking to get promoted or move into a new job or career altogether. Certificates often take a bit longer than a CSC, but can still often be completed in a year or so.

To have a good resume, you’ll definitely want to ensure you have the skills and knowledge needed to list qualifications that will make you stand out from competitors. Any good recruiter or hiring manager giving you resume tips will make it clear that certificates, whether a CSC or a general certificate, can set you apart from those who have simply learned on the job and do not have the documented educational qualifications that a CSC or certificate will give you.


At the community college level, you can choose to earn an associate’s degree that will either put you into the workforce upon completion (often considered a fast degree program) or allow you to transfer to a four-year institution to go on to earn a bachelor’s degree. Associate’s degrees are often four semesters, which typically take two years to complete but are dependent on your pace, placement into certain courses, and if you transfer credits from high school or other colleges. Degrees are more robust and well-rounded than certificates. Instead of strictly focusing on job skills and specific areas, they incorporate classes from other areas such as English, math, and humanities. Many jobs require a degree as a gateway to entry because they allow employers to see that you not only have job skills but general education in other areas as well. Another great perk of earning a degree is that many certificates are often built into an associate’s degree, allowing you to earn both at once!

Now that I know the difference between degrees and certificates, which one should I choose?

Again, it’s important to consider your end goal. If you want simply to learn more skills about a job you already have to move up, a career studies certificate could be a great choice. If you need to move into a specific new job quickly, a certificate is something to consider. If you want a full degree that will either put you into the workforce or allow you to move onto the bachelor’s level, a degree is a perfect option.

Meeting with an advisor to explore your options could be a great way to get some advice on which direction to go so that you feel confident about meeting your educational goals. No matter what you choose, do your research ahead of time and prepare yourself to carve out a path that will fit your goals, finances, lifestyle, and future! Check out the degrees and certificates offered by LFCC.

Explains the similarities and differences between degrees and certificates at the community college level

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