By Dr. Laura Palmer Noone, CEO, University of the Potomac

Unless you have been living under a rock, you have probably heard that the US economy has been struggling for a while.  You may also have heard that many people chose to go back to school to retrain in order to positively influence their ability to get or keep a job.  I will never speak against college degrees (for goodness sakes, that is what I do!) but there are other options that might be just as attractive for someone looking to get a bigger bounce as they dive into the employment pool.  I am talking about certificates and certification.

The advantages of certificates and certification may be obvious, but I feel compelled to point them out.  First getting a certificate won’t take as long as a full degree, thereby getting you into a new job pool more quickly.  Second, getting a certification is probably going to be less expensive as well.  Third, certifications by independent bodies give you a built in third party endorsement that you can do the job.  An employer will always feel more comfortable with someone that has objectively proven that they have the necessary skills and knowledge.  (After all, we have all been fooled by a good resume or a fast talker who couldn’t really do the job!)

Some points for consideration:

1. Don’t confuse the certificate offered by the school or training company with the actual certification.  The school may have the authority to certify you, but always check that what has been provided for coursework will qualify to take any certification exam.  You don’t want to spend time taking courses if they won’t qualify you to get the certification.

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2.  If you are taking courses from a college, make sure it is accredited by an accreditor recognized by the United States Department of Education.  If you are considering taking courses from a training company, be sure to check them out.  Do they have the authority to provide the training? (For example there are only some computer training companies that are Microsoft Certified providers.) Don’t be afraid to ask for references or call the Better Business Bureau.

3.  Consider the cost of the program compared to what it will qualify you to do.  Do the math – it isn’t hard.  You don’t want to sign up for a very expensive certificate that will only improve your earning potential by a few dollars.

4. Consider where the jobs are. If you have the luxury of doing whatever you want without concern for income, then you can ignore this tip  (I doubt you are reading this blog in that case!).  But if you are like the other 99% of us, think about what you are able to do and compare that to the hottest up-and-coming professions.  This goes for not only the type of job, but where they are geographically in the world, especially if you cannot relocate at this time.

University of the Potomacoffers advanced professional certificates and general certificates in business, information technology, project management and government contracting.  Tuition for certificate programs is $250 per credit hour.  In addition, University of the Potomaccertificates are transferable into our associate and bachelor’s degree programs.