Guaranteed Delivery, Honest Support, Experienced Staff.
What is a master’s degree?
A master’s degree (MS) is an academic postgraduate credential that allows you to acquire broad, foundational expertise in a given discipline. To earn a master’s degree, you usually need to successfully complete a specific number of graduate courses or academic credits and in addition you may also need to complete a thesis or capstone project. The requirements will vary by the program.
Similar to a MS, a graduate certificate is an academic credential offered by an accredited university. However, a graduate certificate is more narrowly focused on a specialized field than a master’s degree, and does not require a thesis or capstone. The number of credits and courses needed for a graduate certificate is significantly less than an MS, making it the faster and more affordable option.
What are the key differences between a master’s degree and a graduate certificate?
Required number of courses and credits: Graduate certificates usually require significantly fewer courses than a master’s degree. At Stanford, most graduate certificates require four courses, while most master’s programs require ten to twelve courses. For some programs, courses must be taken for a specified number of credits. This largely depends on the program and school from which it’s offered.
Scope of knowledge acquired: A master’s degree is designed to give you broad and deep knowledge in a field. A graduate certificate is more focused; you can build specialized skills in a topic within a specific discipline or field. For example, you could earn a master’s degree in computer science or a graduate certificate in artificial intelligence.
Flexibility: Master’s degree programs vary significantly in their flexibility. Some programs can be completed online, while others may require that some of your classes be taken on campus. Most programs require you to be continuously enrolled in a course every quarter while pursuing a Master’s Degree. Graduate certificates may offer you more flexibility because they require fewer courses and are usually designed for adult learners to take on a part-time basis. All of Stanford’s graduate certificates can be completed online, as on-campus lectures are recorded and made available for online students to stream. It’s not mandatory to be continuously enrolled in courses while pursuing a graduate certificate as long as you complete all your coursework in the required timeframe. If your schedule changes, graduate certificates allow for more flexibility to take a quarter off from taking courses.
Financial investment: The total cost of your graduate education will be calculated based on how many credits you earn with each course. In addition to tuition, you can expect some additional costs such as purchasing textbooks or paying for exam center services. Graduate certificates are less expensive than master’s degree programs because they require fewer courses. Often employers offer reimbursement programs for courses in which you earn academic credit and a grade.
Applications and admissions: Graduate certificates and master’s degrees require different prerequisites and have unique applications and admission processes. The admissions process, timeline and specific requirements will also vary by program. The application to Stanford’s graduate certificates program is significantly shorter than for Stanford master’s degrees, and you may apply and begin taking courses any quarter. The simplified application process gives you greater control over when you can start your studies.
When should you choose a master’s degree?
A MS program offers the deepest dive into an entire discipline of study. These programs are carefully structured and there are many opportunities to interact with both students and professors. Pursuing a postgraduate degree offers a wide and direct path to new, marketable skills and robust knowledge in your chosen area of study. The name of the degree indicates that you are truly a master in your field.
Employers easily recognize and understand the value of a degree. The time and effort you have put into gaining your new credential will stand out on your resume. Depending on your career and field of study, a MS might be a necessary qualification to enter your desired industry or to advance within it.
Pursuing a MS is a significant undertaking and it’s important to keep your goals in mind to stay motivated in your studies. You should first make sure you have the necessary entrance requirements as specified by the program, including prerequisites, recommendations and applications. Then, make sure you have the time and mental bandwidth to dedicate to your studies. If you are considering a part-time degree program, it’s a good idea to write up a schedule for how you might juggle your job, your family life, and your schoolwork so you have a general plan in place before you start.
It’s important to recognize that large time and financial commitments are required. A master’s degree may not be the right fit for you if you have limited financial means or have limited time per week to spend on your studies. Stanford Online offers 12 degrees on a part-time basis, with much of the instruction available online, offering considerable flexibility for our busy adult learners.