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Are Graduate Certificates Worth It in Australia?

Graduate certificates are postgraduate university qualifications you can earn in a short space of time. They're worth it for the high career payoffs at low cost.

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If you're interested in postgraduate university study, graduate certificate programs are worth serious attention. A graduate certificate offers a high payoff in the form of a well-respected university qualification.

What is a graduate certificate? It's a short, postgraduate course that usually consists of four subjects. It's open to degree holders and, in some cases, experienced professionals without a degree. More than 90% of the time, a graduate certificate is part of a larger master's program.

Why A Graduate Certificate Is Worth It

These courses are fast and efficient. Education costs are kept down by the compact size. Students only need to complete four subjects, which can be done in just 8 months of part-time study. Tuition fees are about one third of a master's degree.

The benefits don't stop there. Every subject you complete can normally be used as credit towards a future graduate diploma or masters. If a longer postgraduate course is ever worth doing, a graduate certificate definitely is. You get similar career advantages at a greatly reduced cost.

1. Employers Care About Graduate Certificates

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Do employers care about graduate certificates? Yes, absolutely.

We spoke with Unicurve founder Dr Andrew Lancaster about his experience with recruiting. Specifically, we asked him how he felt about people with a graduate certificate qualification.

He commented that "a graduate certificate demonstrates an interest in a field and some level of expertise. As a recruiter, I might also assume the job candidate has more knowledge on the subject than just what they learned in their course."

Why is this demonstrated knowledge beneficial? According to Dr Lancaster, "Imagine I'm hiring someone for a mid to entry-level human resources position. Suppose you're a job candidate with a social sciences degree, say in History. You also have limited HR experience and no HR qualifications. You probably wouldn't get an interview. But now suppose you have a Graduate Certificate in HR Management along with your bachelor's degree. You will most likely be granted an interview."

Dr Lancaster goes on to say, "Not only do you get the interview but you have every chance of landing the job. Recruiters look at the total package of a person when they select between candidates. Everyone is expected to learn on the job anyway. If someone seems smart and is a strong communicator and has knowledge, I'd be comfortable hiring them. The grad cert makes up for not having a relevant degree."

2. Vast Choice In What You Can Study

A key advantage of the graduate certificate is the ability to choose the perfect course to achieve your learning goals. Here is a sample of subjects and disciplines you can focus on in this type of postgraduate course. These are mostly category headings, with finer-grain specialisations available.

3. Save Time and Money

A graduate certificate is essentially half of a graduate diploma and a third of a masters. That literally means a grad cert is a fraction of the cost of other postgraduate qualifications in terms of both time and money. Students save by doing grad certs instead of other postgraduate courses.

Here's a comparison table to highlight the differences, using the example of accelerated online study.

Qualification Number of Subjects Duration (Part-Time) Total Cost
Graduate Certificate 4 8 months $18,000
Graduate Diploma 8 16 months $36,000
Masters Degree 12 24 months $54,000

Note: Duration and cost figures assume each subject takes 2 months and costs $4,500 in tuition fees.

In general, a graduate certificate consists of four subjects from a master's program. A graduate diploma is 8 subjects. A masters is usually 12 subjects (with a range of 8 to 16). In accelerated online courses, part-time students complete a subject from start to finish every two months.

4. Step Into a New Field

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A graduate certificate is a good option for people wanting to change career streams or gain foundational knowledge in a new area. You can build expertise without necessarily have a strong relevant background. The course may also provide a pathway into a masters program.

While graduate diplomas and master's degrees are often seen as advanced studies in a discipline, graduate certificates can be either introductory or advanced. They're often accessible to professionals from different backgrounds. Entry requirements are typically lower than for masters degrees, with successful students able to move on to advanced masters studies.

Some courses are designed to be introductory, providing foundational knowledge and skills in a particular field or discipline. They may be aimed at students who are new to the field in terms of education and/or professional experience. A Graduate Certificate in Management, for example, is open to professionals irrespective of which industry you work in.

On the other hand, some graduate certificates are advanced courses intended to build on existing knowledge and skills. These are generally aimed at students who already have a degree or relevant work experience. For example, a Graduate Certificate in Education usually provides specialist training for qualified teachers.

5. Equivalent to Diploma and Better Than a Degree

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According to Australia's official classification scheme for qualifications, the AQF, a Graduate Certificate (Level 8) is equivalent to a Graduate Diploma (Level 8 also) and higher than a Bachelor Degree (Level 7). It's also equal to an honours degree (Level 8).

AQF levels measure the complexity, depth and breadth of knowledge and skills required to complete a qualification. The graduate certificate is right there with other postgraduate courses. It compares well against a graduate diploma, offering a similar career boost at half the cost.

It falls short of a masters however. A master's degree usually contains advanced topics that you only do after completing the initial parts of the program, such as the grad cert component. Being a much longer qualification is significant as well. Masters students cover more ground.

Against these limitations of a graduate certificate is high career relevance, which can make it equivalent to a degree in some ways. With a certificate, you can focus on the specific area of learning that most advantages your career at the present time.