Graduate-Level Learning: Graduate Certificates vs MicroMasters® Programs

Finding the right learning path to advance or change your career as a working professional can be difficult. While graduate certificates are a popular higher education alternative to graduate school or a full graduate degree program, not all graduate certificate programs are the same.

In this post, we debunk what graduate certificates are and introduce an additional pathway to consider: MicroMasters® programs. Learn how these innovative and flexible graduate-level programs are designed to result in resume-building certificates and open the door to a full master’s degree across subject areas from cybersecurity, information systems, and data analytics to business leadership and project management.

Is a Graduate Certificate the Same as a Master’s Degree?

A graduate certificate is not the same as a master’s degree, in format or result, but in some cases can be a stepping stone toward a full degree and an opportunity to test out the experience. Graduate certificates are often positioned to be a shorter route to graduate-level knowledge of a specific skill or particular field of study where learners earn a certificate upon completion, not a full degree. Graduate certificates can be used to gain advanced knowledge or add a specialization to accelerate or change careers.

While this type of learning pathway is fairly well-known, graduate certificates can vary widely amongst institutions and organizations in length, price, whether or not they bear credit, and other factors. The variable nature of a graduate certificate can make it challenging to navigate whether it’s worth it to pursue or which program is the right option. Will this be worth the cost? Will this help me learn what I need for career advancement? Will my current or future employers value this on my resume? What if I want to pursue a master’s degree afterward?

This confusion and inconsistency in what to expect from a graduate certificate is part of what led edX and our partners to create MicroMasters programs, an innovative, predictable learning pathway recognized by industry leaders like IBM, PWC, Volvo, Bloomberg, Adobe, and more.

Online Graduate Certificate Programs vs MicroMasters Programs

While graduate certificates are a popular option for advancing skill sets and careers without having to commit to a full master’s degree, the variety in format means it’s hard to create one single definition for program expectations.

MicroMasters programs provide ambitious professionals with a flexible path to a graduate degree and help them gain deep knowledge applicable to their careers today or to new careers. These rigorous online programs allow you to try graduate-level coursework from top universities without filling out an application, taking a standardized test, or committing to a full master’s degree program. After completing and passing a MicroMasters program, you can apply your work toward a full master’s degree in an associated university program.

Graduate Certificate Programs vs MicroMasters Programs
Admission requirements
Graduate certificate programs
~9 months – 2 years 
Varies – not all programs offer credit
~$2k – 20k+
Most require a bachelor’s degree. May also require a letter of recommendation or other materials
MicroMasters programs
6-18 months
6+ graduate credits that can be applied toward a master’s program if accepted
$600 – $4,500 per program

MicroMasters Programs: Accelerate a Master’s Degree while you Advance Your Career

With MicroMasters programs, you can test out and build credit toward a master’s degree, change careers, or advance your career by adding new knowledge, like Mia who used her knowledge and program certificate from the MITx MicroMasters program in Supply Chain Management to get a new job and a higher salary. “My MicroMasters program certificate was invaluable throughout the interview process, showing that I had mastered the knowledge necessary to succeed on the job. A month after completing the MicroMasters program, I started my new role with increased responsibility and a significant pay bump,” Mia said.

How it Works

Choose from 60+ MicroMasters programs in high-demand subject areas, including business, computer science, data science, and more, and work through your courses online—anytime, anywhere. Every program includes graduate-level courses that equal six or more graduate credits.

After passing all of the courses in a program, you’ll earn a certificate recognized by industry leaders that can help you stand out in your current role and accelerate your career. You may also choose to continue on to a full master’s degree by applying to an associated university program. If accepted, your program certificate will count towards the advanced degree in both credit and cost.

Find Your Pathway to Today’s Top Jobs

MicroMasters programs are designed to prepare professionals for the future of work, filling gaps or strengthening knowledge with new skills that create pathways to careers in in-demand fields. Learn more about why 92% of MicroMasters program completers report that the program was worth the investment—both cost and time—and explore programs that match your professional development and career goals.

Learn more about edX MicroMasters programs, read FAQs, and find your path.