Online certificate programs are academic programs meant to develop career skills and are taught entirely online. Unlike online degrees, which work toward associate degrees, bachelor degrees or graduate degrees, certificates indicate job knowledge without the need for a full course of study.
Most certificate programs take between 10 and 18 months, allowing individuals to develop career skills without committing to the monetary investment and the time that a degree would require. However it should be noted that longer certificate programs may require a significant investment. Many certificates are between 30 and 60 credits and can be completed through accredited universities. Courses are completed fully online, with students attending lectures, submitting assignments and taking tests through a Web interface.
Some certificates are designed as a post-baccalaureate course of study, adding to a degree one already holds. These certificates, such as certificates in nursing, accounting and crime scene investigation, provide an additional level of credibility during the job search and employment process. Other certificates, however, are meant to stand alone in career paths that don't require a full degree. Medical assisting, surgical assisting, phlebotomy and other low-level health care professions do not require a degree but can be learned in full over the course of a certificate program.
Online certificate programs vary in cost depending on the location, with credits averaging around several hundred dollars.