Is a Course, Specialization, Certificate or Graduate Degree Right for You?
Is a Course, Specialization, Certificate or Graduate Degree Right for You?

Thinking about heading back to school to boost your skills and career? Whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned professional, continuing your education is a good investment. But with many different programs out there, sometimes determining what path will help you get ahead can seem daunting.

Where do you start? How do you decide what’s the best option for you when it comes to your career goals, time, budget and learning format? When it comes to learning, we know one size doesn’t fit all. Learn more about our courses, specializations, certificates and graduate degree programs below and decide what’s right for you.

Courses and Short Programs

Want to develop a specific skill? Courses, workshops and boot camps are a quick way to absorb a chunk of information and increase your knowledge base.

Time Commitment:

  • Short programs, workshops or conferences range from five days to three months.
  • While short, boot camps can be very intensive and may require students to take time off work.


  • Some courses are introductory classes with no formal requirements, while others require a level of familiarity with the field.


  • If you want to complete a program as quickly as possible, courses are an excellent way to learn a specific skill for your job without having to spend 90 hours or more in class.
  • Can help prepare you for a more advanced certificate program, especially if you don’t currently meet the requirements to enroll in that specific program.
  • Online courses offer convenient and flexible study options, such as the ability to learn from wherever you want if you can’t attend class in-person as well as the option to study at your own pace.

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Looking to take a deep dive into a targeted topic or skill? Specializations allow you to focus on the cutting-edge skills employers are looking for right now and make yourself more competitive in any field or job market.

Time Commitment

  • Specializations consist of one to two courses and are usually completed in three to six months.
  • Classes typically meet online in the evenings, so that you can fit your program around work or other commitments.


  • Program requirements vary, depending on the subject.
  • Some specializations may require previous study or work experience.


  • Allows you to drill down and build in-demand skills in a specialized area.
  • Learn the latest strategies and techniques in the field.
  • Earn a respected credential in less time than a full certificate or degree program would take.

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Certificate Programs

Learn a set of specific and practical skills that’ll give you upward mobility in your job, allow you to get up to speed in a new field or further your knowledge to meet state licensing requirements. You’ll get a targeted educational experience with quality instruction as well as the chance to collaborate with a community of learners that’ll engage and challenge you.

Time Commitment:

  • Most programs feature a series of integrated courses and can be completed in six to nine months. 
  • Classes are in the evening, online or on weekends, designed for people who are juggling a full-time job.
  • Allows you to see if school can fit into your lifestyle before committing to a longer-term program.


  • You don’t necessarily need a four-year degree to be accepted into the program.
  • Professional or practical experience in the field may be required for acceptance.


  • Provides a less expensive alternative to a bachelor’s or master’s degree.
  • Affords expertise but is not nearly as demanding as a degree program.
  • Offers a quick return on your educational investment by allowing you to advance or change careers after earning the certificate.
  • Gives you the opportunity to make valuable connections with your instructors and classmates, who are professionals in the industry.
  • Helps you decide if you want to invest in a graduate program and whether the subject is something that interests you.
  • Offers you a leg up when applying to graduate school by showing you have a commitment to the subject.

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Graduate Degree Programs

Take your role to new heights with a graduate program credential. Learn from world-class faculty, be introduced to a broader approach to your field of study and discover a variety of skills that can prepare you for several jobs and careers.

Time Commitment:

  • Earning a master’s degree requires a large time commitment. Most programs typically take one and a half years full-time to three years part-time to complete.
  • Many graduate programs are designed for working professionals, with the option to take classes part-time if you have a full-time job as well as full-time options if you want to focus and complete the program faster.


  • To gain admission to a master’s degree program, you’re usually expected to have a four-year degree from a regionally or nationally accredited university, earn a certain GPA and have a level of experience in the field.
  • The admissions process for a graduate degree is much more rigorous than a course or certificate. Some programs only have a 30% acceptance rate.


  • Offers you a well-rounded education with the opportunity to advance or specialize in a particular field.
  • Having the credential of an actual degree can provide you with more opportunities and a higher earning potential.
  • A master’s program goes more in-depth into a field of study and holds more weight than certificate programs.

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Questions? We’re here to help! Reach out to an enrollment coach


For more career tips and industry trends, visit the News & Features section of our website, and subscribe to our email list. To learn more about UW Professional & Continuing Education certificates, specializations, degrees and courses, explore your options or contact us.

Author Brenna Ciummo

Brenna Ciummo

Brenna Ciummo is a senior editor and writer at the University of Washington Continuum College and has more than 15 years of writing and editing experience. She's developed a wide range of copy, from in-depth feature stories to bite-size blurbs across various industries, including education, travel and food. She enjoys covering student success stories and the latest trends in the career and education space.

Ciummo has a B.A. in communication and writing certificate from Arizona State University. A firm believer in lifelong learning, she is also an alumnus of the UW Certificate in Storytelling & Content Strategy and a UW copy editing and design course. 

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