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Degree or Certification?

Which One is Best for You?

· Career,Student Advice,Coaching,College Graduation

For many of us, the path to a lucrative career has been depicted as fairly linear: graduate from high school, spend four years at a traditional university, and land a job in your field. However, the days of moving down one straight and narrow path are long gone.

Dental hygiene, electrical engineering, and paralegal work are just a few of the fields that can lead to well-paying jobs without a degree. But just because you don’t spend four years in a college classroom, doesn’t mean you won’t have to put in the same amount of effort—or more. Since certifications often take less time than earning a degree, programs are typically more fast paced and intensive.

Additionally, if you choose a career such as IT or cybersecurity, certifications are a must. You will have to earn new certifications throughout time, as technology is constantly being updated.

Whatever path you choose, you want to be sure you are educated on all the available options. Here are a few details to consider when deciding whether to pursue a certification or degree.

Cost of Attendance

According to recent reports, the cost of attending traditional college continues to grow steadily each year. The average yearly tuition and fees for public, in-state schools and private schools are $9,716 and $35,676, respectively. This doesn’t include other costs such as housing, transportation, and food, which can add several thousand dollars to the price tag.

For trade programs, the costs vary based on the field and location. For example, an 8-month paralegal certificate program in Texas comes out to $9,300, while UC-Berkeley’s online program can be completed within 6 months to a year, with an estimated cost of $7,970.


Learning a new trade or earning a degree both take some time and can be quite rigorous. If you’re not bothered by the thought of being a “poor college student” for a few years, and you want to learn about a variety of subjects in addition to your major, traditional college may be your best bet.

However, if the idea of spending years in and out of lecture halls bores you to tears, a certification program may suit you better. This is also the ideal option if you’re looking to land a job and start earning income right away.

Income Earning Potential

Speaking of income, the amount of income to be earned after completing a degree or certification, will vary wildly.

With the amount of student loan debt that college graduates face, along with the struggle to land gainful employment in their fields, many experts are debating if the cost of college is worth it. While it is true that the cost of traditional college doesn’t always align with the income graduates earn in the job market after, the fact also remains that individuals with college degrees statistically earn more over their lifetime than those without degrees.

It’s a Tough Decision to Make


Deciding whether to pursue a degree or certification is not an easy choice. There are risks involved with both, and you can never predict if the return of investment will justify the initial costs.


If you need assistance with making the decision that leads to your ideal career path, the experts at EmpowerU are on hand to offer consultation. The staff is knowledgeable about industry and career trends and can help you map out what credentials you will need to be a competitive job candidate. Email today to schedule a consultation!

Written by K. Wright, who is a personal finance freelance writer. She writes about topics including personal and professional development, financial education, and building generational wealth. See more of her writing on her website or follow her on Instagram.

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