Online vs. Traditional Certificates in Computers and Technology

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Online certificates in computers and technology prepare learners for further education or entry-level roles in the field. These programs cater to both graduate and undergraduate learners. Certificate-holders can pursue many tech positions, such as web designers, web developers, and security analysts.

Computer and technology certificates may appeal to high school and college graduates with strengths in logical reasoning and mathematics. Many working professionals seeking a career shift or boost also pursue online certificates in computers and technology. Certificate candidates often begin with some level of coding knowledge.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 22% job growth from 2020-30 for software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers, plus computer and information researchers.

As technological innovation continues to expand, demand for skilled tech employees is rising. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 22% job growth from 2020-30 for software developers, quality assurance analysts, and testers, plus computer and information researchers. This growth rate far exceeds the average for all occupations.

This guide explores program selection factors, learning experience, and cost expectations for students considering an online certificate in computers and technology. Read on to explore whether the online delivery format is right for you.

What to Expect From a Certificate Program

On-campus and online certificates in computers and technology teach skills like website design, app development, and computer network maintenance.

Enrollees can pursue in-person or online certificates at undergraduate and graduate levels. Both levels usually require between 9-36 credits and take around 4-18 months of full-time study to complete. However, some certificates do not offer academic credits.

Learners can often apply certificate credits to a degree program. To facilitate credit transfer, you should earn your certificate at a regionally accredited school.

On-campus and online certificates in computers and technology feature similar core and elective courses. Core requirements often cover web design, software architecture, programming languages, and blockchain technology. Electives focus on entry-level job skills in web design, software development, and cybersecurity.

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How Is an Online Certificate Different From an On-Campus Program?

Pursuing an online certificate in computers and technology offers both advantages and disadvantages. Online programs typically allow greater schedule flexibility than the on-campus alternative. Other benefits of earning a certificate online may include reduced tuition and fees. Remote learners can also save on expenses like relocation, transportation, and temporary housing.

However, many online certificate programs provide less faculty guidance than on-campus programs. Succeeding in a 100% online learning environment may require high levels of self-determination and self-discipline.

The table below explores the differences between online and in-person certificates.

Differences Between Online vs. On-Campus Certificate Programs in Computers and Technology

Online Certificate Program in Computers and Technology On-Campus Certificate Program in Computers and Technology
Delivery Format Online On campus
Admission Requirements Undergraduate level: high school diploma or GED certificate | Graduate level: bachelor’s degree Undergraduate level: high school diploma or GED certificate | Graduate level: bachelor’s degree. Some on-campus certificate programs only accept students who are already enrolled in a graduate program at the school
Reduced Tuition Rate Yes, sometimes No
Additional Expense Items Textbooks, technology (e.g., laptops), home office space, reliable home internet Textbooks, technology, relocation, temporary housing, commuting, parking, campus amenities
Faculty Guidance Minimal Moderate
Access to Faculty During Office Hours Yes, but faculty access may be limited, especially at schools charging discounted tuition rates Yes
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Delivery Formats for Online Computer Science Certificates

Earning an online certificate in computers and technology does not typically require any in-person participation. Tech certificates tend to lend themselves well to a 100% online learning environment — a plus for students with busy schedules.

Some schools may also offer certificates in a hybrid model. This learning format pairs remote classes with in-person learning.

Learners can pursue an online certificate in computers and technology in synchronous or asynchronous delivery formats. Synchronous courses require enrollees to participate in regular live sessions. Live lectures and class discussions may take place on video conferencing applications like Zoom and WebEx.

In an asynchronous model, students listen to pre-recorded lectures. Enrollees can complete virtual discussion boards and assignments at their own pace while still meeting deadlines. The asynchronous structure allows certificate-seekers to create their own study schedules. Some students choose to study during the evenings and weekends, which can free up time for work and family responsibilities.

The ideal learning format depends on the learner’s personality and learning style. The asynchronous format may provide less faculty access than synchronous options. If you learn best in settings that allow for more faculty and peer interaction, you may prefer an on-campus format or a synchronous online program.

Accreditation and State Authorization for Online Certificates

Attending an accredited school is important — even for online certificates. Colleges and universities can earn either regional or national accreditation. Students at both regionally and nationally accredited institutions may qualify for federal financial aid.

Six regional accrediting agencies assess the academic quality of postsecondary institutions in the United States. These agencies grant accreditation to schools that meet rigorous academic criteria.

Regional accreditors generally hold schools to higher standards than national agencies. Accordingly, a certificate from a regionally accredited institution may garner higher employer recognition. Regional accreditation also increases the likelihood that certificate-holders can apply earned credits towards a higher degree.

Students planning to pursue an online certificate in computers and technology outside their home state should prioritize schools that participate in the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA). NC-SARA membership ensures that the school’s online programs meet established interstate criteria.

Costs to Consider for Online Certificates

Computer and technology certificate tuition costs vary among schools, ranging from $350 – $953 per credit. Tuition for in-state students at public schools typically costs less, while private schools charge the most.

Computer and technology certificate tuition costs vary among schools, ranging from $350 – $953 per credit.

Some public schools charge in-state tuition to all online students, regardless of residency. Private schools may also provide remote learning programs at a discounted price. Distance learners may also save on costs related to relocation, temporary housing, on-campus amenities, commuting, and parking.

To help offset tuition, students can explore financing options such as scholarships, fellowships, and grants. Unlike student loans, these types of financial aid do not require repayment.

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Is Online or On-Campus Study Right for You?

The NCES reports that over 7 million students enrolled in distance learning courses at colleges and universities in fall 2019. To meet the rising demand for online education, schools increasingly offer certificate programs remotely.

Online certificates in computers and technology provide convenience and affordability. The added flexibility of an asynchronous delivery format allows learners to continue working while completing their certificates. This benefit can reduce net educational costs and provide valuable professional experiences for students.

The cons of pursuing a certificate online include reduced access to on-campus career services and local networking events. Remote learners may have fewer opportunities to build peer networks.

Asynchronous online courses come with their own unique challenges. This delivery format may provide more freedom but less faculty guidance. Succeeding in this online model may require higher levels of self-discipline and study skills.

The table below explores the pros and cons of on-campus vs. online certificates in computers and technology.

Online and In-Person Certificate Differences: Pros and Cons

Online Certificate Programs

  • Reduced cost of tuition and fees at many schools
  • Asynchronous classes free up time for work and personal obligations
  • Opportunity to enroll in a certificate program in a different state without relocating

  • Less faculty interaction, especially in asynchronous programs
  • Requires increased time-management skills and self motivation
  • Harder to access on-campus local networking events

In-Person Certificate Programs

  • More opportunities for building a social network
  • Easier access to faculty during office hours
  • Greater access to on-campus career services

  • Additional expenses for transportation, relocation, and temporary housing
  • Hard to earn an income while studying full time
  • Less opportunities for building professional experience while studying

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Selecting Your Certificate Program

A lot of considerations go into selecting a certificate program, whether online or on-campus. These factors often overlap, such as cost/financial aid, location, career services, and course/concentration offerings. We discuss these factors below.

  • Cost/Financial Aid: To keep certificate costs low, consider attending a program that offers reduced tuition rates to remote learners. To further offset costs, explore financing options like grants, scholarships, and fellowships.
  • Location: If you plan to enroll in an online certificate program in another state, look for schools that participate in NC-SARA.
  • Career Services: The best certificate programs offer career services like alumni events, resume workshops, and mock interviews. You should prioritize schools that offer these resources and enable distance learners to access them remotely.
  • Course/Concentration Offerings: Confirm that all potential certificate programs offer courses and concentrations that match your academic interests and career goals.

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Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can you get a certificate for computers and technology online?

    Yes, many schools offer 100% online certificates in computers and technology. Some schools also provide hybrid programs that combine distance learning with on-campus instruction.

  • Should you get a certificate online?

    Choosing an online or on-campus certificate program depends on your financial resources, your personality, and your learning style. If you do well working independently with less faculty interaction, you may succeed in an online program.

  • Do online certificates have value?

    Yes, employers increasingly recognize online certificates and degrees as equal to on-campus alternatives — as long as you earn your certificate or degree at a regionally accredited school.

  • Are computer science certificates easier to get than a degree?

    Yes, a computer science certificate typically requires 9-36 credits and 4-18 months of full-time study. The shortest degree in computer science — an associate degree — requires around 60 credits and takes about two years to complete.


Featured Image: Luis Alvarez / DigitalVision / Getty Images

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