A graduate certificate is a short postgraduate course with multiple uses. Learn what the program is about and why you should consider doing one.
If you want to do university study without committing to a degree, a graduate certificate may be the perfect choice. The versatile postgraduate course is short, consisting of only four subjects, and provides a potentially lucrative qualification.
With a grad cert, you can do advanced specialist studies within your established niche. You can also study a different discipline to change career paths. If you enjoy the course, you're usually able to continue studying for a graduate diploma or masters.
Definition: What Is a Graduate Certificate?
A graduate certificate is a short, higher education course that normally consists of four subjects. It's open to degree holders. Experienced professionals without a degree may also join some courses.
As a four-subject program, a graduate certificate corresponds with one semester of full-time study in the Australian university system. Online versions are commonly completed by working professionals over 8 months of part-time study.
Program content is flexible. It can be specialised or, alternatively, aimed at introducing the particular field of study to newbies. Some courses also allow you to choose electives from a large menu of subjects.
Courses May Be Introductory or Advanced
The graduate certificate is an often misunderstood course and qualification. It is not a degree. It is also not really equal to anything else, even though it is treated as equivalent to an honours degree and graduate diploma. The grad cert has its own place in Australia's education system and serves different purposes.
There is a misconception that the postgraduate course is highly specialised and aimed at students educated and experienced in a certain discipline. That's false. While there are plenty of programs like this, many graduate certificates are ideal for people wanting to change career streams. Programs may be foundational in nature, and accessible to professionals from different backgrounds.
In more than 90% of cases, graduate certificates are part of a larger master's program. That may be the best way to understand what a graduate certificate is. It's a segment of a master's degree. Grad cert students typically study alongside master's students. Everyone has the option to exit with a graduate certificate qualification after completing the necessary subjects.
Graduate certificates have that special role of providing a way for university graduates to do rapid, targeted study in a particular area. There is no course quite like it. Let's see how it stacks up against other accredited courses of study.
|Certificate IV||Vocational qualification, usually offered by TAFEs/colleges||Average of 12 months||$4k||Level 4|
|Diploma||Vocational qualification, usually offered by TAFEs/colleges||Average of 14 months||$6k||Level 5 (Advanced: 6)|
|Bachelor degree||Undergraduate degree designed for recent school leavers||3 years full-time||$45k||Level 7 (Honours: 8)|
|Graduate certificate||Postgraduate qualification for rapid, targeted study||6 months full-time||$14k||Level 8|
|Graduate diploma||Postgraduate qualification, longer and more in-depth than grad cert||12 months full-time||$28k||Level 8|
|Master's degree||Postgraduate qualification, comprehensive exploration of a topic||1.5-2 years full-time||$42k||Level 9|
Note: Costs are estimated averages and may vary significantly by program. Course duration is also variable. AQF stands for Australian Qualifications Framework.
Compared to other qualifications, a grad cert is fast, affordable and equally respected. The amount you learn may be less than a degree, graduate diploma, diploma and certificate IV. But you can still potentially gain high leverage towards achieving career goals if your course is well chosen.
Graduate certificate vs other qualifications
A Diploma (not a graduate diploma) and Certificate IV are vocational qualifications that are more likely to be provided by a TAFE or college than a university. The cost is generally lower than a grad cert while the course is longer, giving you more bang for your money. For example, according to recent MySkills data, a Diploma of Business takes 14 months on average at a cost of $5,824.
Drawbacks to the diploma and cert IV are the longer timeframe for completion and the fact that you don't come away with a university-level qualification. But, on the positive side, you don't need a degree or professional experience to be admitted. A cert IV or diploma may be a good choice if it qualifies you for a particular kind of job you're targeting.
In the AQF classification system, a diploma is at level 5 and an advanced diploma is at level 6. A Certificate IV is at level 4. Cert IV courses may be slightly cheaper and shorter than diplomas on average.
Bachelor degrees are designed for people who haven't studied at university before, especially recent school leavers. Students who have just completed Year 12 don't normally meet the entry requirements for a graduate certificate. A bachelor degree is the natural choice for them.
For mature workers, especially those with a degree, it may be better to go for a graduate certificate if you can meet the entry requirements. You'll save time by doing postgraduate study instead of slogging through an undergraduate degree. Most bachelor degrees in Australia take three years of full-time study whereas masters degrees take only 1.5 years.
A bachelor's degree is at AQF level 7 while a 4-year honours degree sits at level 8. Bachelor degrees are relatively cheap for Australians on a per subject basis because of government subsidies, especially Commonwealth Supported Places. International students face steeper tuition fees.
If you believe that you can never have too much of a good thing, a graduate diploma may look attractive. In the graduate certificate vs graduate diploma debate, length is the key issue.
At normally 8 subjects long, a graduate diploma is double the length, double the learning, and double the cost of a graduate certificate.
On your resume, recruiters may not perceive much of a difference between a grad cert and a grad dip. But you'll know. Go for a grad dip if you genuinely want to improve your competency levels.
Graduate diplomas are at AQF level 8.
Add another 4-8 subjects to a graduate diploma and you have a masters degree, which is a level 9 qualification. A masters is 3 to 4 times the duration and cost of a grad cert, depending on whether it's a 12 or 16 subject program.
The great advantage of holding a master's degree is that, in terms of educational attainment, you beat or at least match most competitors for jobs. A masters is considered the top educational qualification in many professional fields, with doctorates perceived as more relevant to academia. Your skills and knowledge will be developed to the highest standard.
An online Graduate Certificate in Education is an excellent option for educators and professionals with training roles. It provides a postgraduate qualification and a pathway to a master's degree.
The top programs in Australia are flexible and accelerated, allowing you to study 100% online while working full-time. The certificate program is shorter than a graduate diploma or master's, making it a cost-effective way to upskill.
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