Should You Choose a College Degree or Certificate?

People are choosing different career paths in the 21st century. Some young ones choose to be electricians or beauticians rather than doctors or lawyers and vice versa. How can you decide what is right for you, though? There are a few things you need to consider.


Understand the Difference


The main difference between certificates and degrees is the length of time they take to be earned.

Certificate programs usually take less than two years to finish—jobs requiring them tend to be very specialized. For instance, people can quickly become Cosmetologists at many community colleges. This particular profession’s “…licensing requirements vary by state, but “a student will need a high school diploma or equivalent, a cosmetology certificate, and “…hands-on experience.” ( You will learn how to cut and style hair, tend to nails, do accounting, and do bookkeeping.

Degrees are earned at many levels, and some take more time than others. An Associate’s takes two years, a Bachelor’s takes four years, a Master’s takes six, and a Doctorate averages eight to thirteen years. (   Those such as a Bachelor of Arts differ from certificates because they “…require the student to take general education courses…such as English, Math, Science, Philosophy, and History.” (  For instance, someone who aspires to be a journalist needs a Bachelor of Arts (with a focus on Mass Communications) as opposed to an Associate of Arts. They are likely to not only make more money at an entry-level position, but they will have more educational experience.

An illustration depicts a certificate icon with a digital clock with the word “less” and dollar bills.
An illustration depicts a certificate icon with a digital clock with the word “less” and dollar bills. Illustration by Mariah Simmons.

What Is the Salary Range?


The average salary will vary depending on the major. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, any four-year degree’s weekly pay was $973 for men and $796 for women as of October 19, 2018.

Some of the most popular majors requiring a four-year degree have been Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. For instance, a Bachelor’s degree in computer science major field paid $84,580 yearly in May 2017. Moreover, one of the best-paying jobs includes an award from a technical school: Aircraft and Avionics Mechanics and Technicians. They make an average of $ 61,260 per year.




According to study dot com certificate “…programs at public two-year colleges cost $6,880 per year on average, compared to $18,820 at four-year public colleges.” The National Center for Education Statistics notes that the average price of any four-year degree in 2016 cost $22,432.

Consider applying for a scholarship, a federal Pell grant, or a loan if you are worried about paying for a degree. Grants and loans will cover tuition, textbooks, and room and board. The difference between the two is that you will have to repay a loan (with interest).

Scholarships are awarded to students for many reasons from many organizations. Some come from nonprofit organizations, churches, or ordinary people. Regardless of the source, you will not be expected to repay a scholarship. A good place for students to start looking for all of these is       


Personal Payoff


An illustration displays a graduation cap with a digital clock with the word “more” and dollar bills.
An illustration displays a graduation cap with a digital clock with the word “more” and dollar bills. Illustration by Mariah Simmons.

Do not kid yourself and try to become a lawyer when you would be satisfied as a dental hygienist. There is a stigma about Associate’s Degrees and/or vocational training. Do not let other people tell you what your goals should be just because you want to take an unconventional path.

There are several things to consider before choosing a job, but at the end of the day the most important thing is to mix practicality with your dreams. Consider how much time you can devote to school, your educational budget, and how much money you want to make in the future. You will never regret it if you do your homework.


Originally published in the Zealousness e-magazine in 2018.  Read more education related articles on Zealousness blog Education – iN Education Inc. (



  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, The Economics Daily, Median weekly earnings were $796 for women, and $973 for men, in the third quarter of 2018 on the Internet at (visited October 22, 2018).
  2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Aircraft, and Avionics Equipment Mechanics and Technicians,
  3. on the Internet at (visited October 17, 2018)
  4. Accessed October 22, 2018.
  5. “What Is The Average Time to Obtain a Ph.D.?” Grad School Hub. Accessed September 03, 2018.
  6. Dowd, Mary. “What Kind of Education Is Required to Be a Cosmetologist?” October 01, 2018. Accessed November 22, 2018.
  7. “The NCES Fast Facts Tool Provides Quick Answers to Many Education Questions (National Center for Education Statistics).” National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) Home Page, a Part of the U.S. Department of Education. Accessed November 27, 2018.



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