Written by: Guest | Best Company Editorial Team
Last Updated: February 24th, 2020
Guest Post by Venkates Swaminathan
Career certificates are often seen as an alternative to college degrees. Many people see them as inferior to a liberal arts education. But, especially at a time when students graduate from liberal arts programs with in-depth knowledge but relatively few marketable skills, career certificates can be precious. It can be helpful for many students to get certifications that provide indications of specific expertise while they are still in college.
Career certificates — which offer proof that a candidate has specific skills in a technical field — can be immensely helpful in a student's job search. That's because employers look for many particular skills when they hire people. Especially for students in general fields where they are not focused on immediately marketable degrees, adding some certifications can be helpful.
Why do career certifications matter?
Certifications are useful because they signal to potential employers that you have the following:
- Expertise with software or hardware the employer uses — For example, if you're studying English Literature in college and get a certification in Excel or PowerPoint, that can indicate to employers that you will be immediately productive when you start work. There are many packages, from Salesforce to Google Ads, that have certification programs. For a student with a degree in business or marketing, certifications in Google Ads and SEO training can make them more marketable.
- Expertise in specific fields of work — Certifications for particular types of work, such as in human resources or information privacy, can help graduates of degree programs that focus on general skills, like writing or critical thinking.
- Expertise in technical fields — Many positions, such as in cybersecurity, web development, or video editing, require certifications because even people with degrees in fields like computer science don't learn the intricacies of the work.
Finding career certifications
The best way to find out what kind of certifications exist is to use the U.S. Department of Labor's Career OneStop site. There you can search for certifications and explore career opportunities. You can also search for certifications that are in high demand, which is a useful way to find relevant certifications.
In general, the highest paying certifications for students in college tend to be in the following fields:
- Information Technology — These include certifications to be a web developer, cybersecurity analyst, or network technician. These generally require significant technical knowledge, so a degree in engineering or computer science can help.
- Healthcare — There are many well-paid jobs in healthcare, from being an emergency medical technician to a medical coder (someone who assigns medical procedures "codes" so insurance can reimburse them) that require certifications.
- Real Estate — For students with degrees in non-professional fields, getting the requisite certifications in real estate, mortgage lending, or credit evaluation can be a tool to enable a much higher-paying job.
- Administration and Public Service — Being a court reporter or HR specialist can be a great career, but they require certifications.
There are also many career certifications for students interested in blue-collar jobs, like HVAC technicians or sheet metal workers. Many of these jobs are well-paid and hard to outsource, and they can be a source of secure employment.
The pros and cons of career certifications
While career certifications can be an excellent tool for students seeking to enhance their job prospects, they aren't always appropriate. For students who don't know what they want to do with their careers and aren't willing to commit, a career certification might be less valuable.
If that might be you, then considering using tools like LifeLaunchr's Interest Test or the Department of Labor's Skills Assessments to find out what kind of career you might find interesting. The early years of your work life are a great time to explore, but finding out what you want to do can help you make much faster progress.
Career certifications are also not appropriate for students in pre-professional programs, like students studying nursing, medicine, or engineering. Those programs already have defined career tracks.
Watching out for pitfalls
If you're interested in pursuing a career certification while still in college, check that a reputable agency accredits the college that offers the program. One way to check is to use the Council for Higher Education's website. Many for-profit colleges, although they are prolific advertisers, do not offer accredited programs.
It's also helpful to reach out to professional associations in the field you're exploring to find out which types of credentials they value.
College is an expensive investment, costing as much as $300,000 for a four-year degree. The average student now graduates with nearly $32,000 in student loan debt. That means having a way to earn a living is critical. The specifics of which kinds of certificates are best for you can vary a lot because it depends on where you are interested in working, what type of work you want to do, and what you're good at. But in general, career certificates can help college graduates enter the job market prepared.
Venkates Swaminathan (Swami) is the founder and CEO of LifeLaunchr, which offers expert, professional coaching for students to find their best-fit college and get in, and a member of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. Swami has been an executive in the education and technology industries for over 25 years. He has an M.S. from the University of Illinois, and a B.Tech from the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi. To schedule a free initial consultation with LifeLaunchr, visit this link.