A Formal Academic Degree or A Professional Certificate? Which To Pursue?

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It’s a tough world, let’s all agree to that, competition is harsh, job openings are shrinking, more and more highly qualified professionals enter the talent pool every day, it’s not like the good old days anymore when you could hunt a good job with your mere college degree and a few years of professional experience, in today’s talent pool you wouldn’t stand out without some distinction, you wouldn’t surpass your rivals unless you possess something they don’t all have, and let’s be clear, your bachelor’s degree is obviously not sufficient for that.

Since the beginning of the new millennium, the trend of “professional certification” started booming, with the rise of globalization and the expansion of the internet, the world was getting more and more connected and jobs are becoming accessible to everybody everywhere, the need for some sort of standardized certification was dominant, it was necessary to bring all those professionals worldwide to sit on the same table, speak the same language, be on the same page so that every professional term would have the exact same meaning to everybody, and for the standard methodologies and practices to be understood to all, regardless of location, former education, or mother tongue, and this is where some institutions like PMI, USGBC, and others started rising globally, benefitting from the advantages of the American credibility, diversity, and accessibility to the whole world, until they positioned themselves as the dominant authority of professional certification in almost every industry.

So, nowadays if you are an engineer or an architect for example, you need a couple of these fancy titles such as PMP, LEED, BBA, CVS, P3O, RMP, etc. in order to stand out of the competition, considering that it became significantly easy, affordable, and accessible to roughly anybody in the world, all you need is the internet, some knowledge of English – which is not even mandatory – and a relatively small investment of money, and then it’s up to your enthusiasm and persistence to study and achieve the certificate, and it usually pays back well and quick.

However, on the other hand, the traditional formal academic education still has its grandeur, and it’s still more recognizable and credible in front of formal and official parties worldwide, so pursuing a master’s degree or a Ph.D. is definitely worth the effort, time and money that you invest in, and a Ph.D. or MSc title after your name would still certainly boost your ranking among any competition as it always did, but pursuing a formal postgraduate degree is not that easy, accessible or affordable to everyone though.

Now the rising debate is about what young professionals should pursue, a formal academic degree or a couple of professional certifications, and since I have actually achieved both, I’ll give my opinion on that.

Of course, with the “new normal” after the implications of COVID, online education became more and more recognizable and respected, more and more reputable universities are now abandoning their previous stubbornness and entering the distance learning game very seriously, so you can now easily pursue a degree from a high-profile institution, and you can as well sit for the exam of many world-class certificates online from the comfort of your living room sofa.

Professional certifications are – as stated earlier – easier to achieve, faster to complete, and less costly, resources and training courses are also available and easy to find, either online or physically, especially if you are good at English.

Moreover, the famous certifications are widely recognized and appreciated worldwide, however, my take on them although they really provide you with an in-depth understanding of the concepts and methodologies, but they lack the practical application and practice because evaluation depends solely on MCQ exams, so you will most probably pass the exam if you make yourself familiar with the principles of the subject but will not necessarily be able to practice what you studied or apply it on a real-life project, for example, you may pass the LEED AP exam – which is really challenging – but this doesn’t guarantee that you can actually qualify a certain project for LEED certification, you can also pass the PMP exam without being able to actually write a proper project charter, which is the most basic document in project management.

On the other hand, formal academic degrees require that you dedicate a significant amount of time to your studies, you need at least a year as the bare minimum, they also involve a considerable financial investment that might not be affordable to everybody, and they require real hard work and dedication to achieve, but this all pays back with the advancement you will gain at the end, and the important part, unlike what I stated about professional certifications, is that you practice everything by research and via case studies that allow you to apply what you studied on a real business case, even if it’s less comprehensive when it comes to theoretical concepts and principles.

In conclusion, if you want a quick win that will impact your career positively, pursue a professional certificate, but if you are fine with long-term commitment and can afford the investment of time and money, and want more in-depth and hands-on education then pursue a master’s degree, if you want to combine detailed knowledge with deep practice then do yourself a favor, pursue both.

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HusseinA Formal Academic Degree or A Professional Certificate? Which To Pursue?