In the middle of the semester of the fourth course I was taking in pursuit of my master’s degree, my professor invited me to join a committee charged with developing a post-baccalaureate certificate, which would be offered as an additional credential within the graduate program.
I was too embarrassed to admit I had no clue he was talking about, but I agreed to be part of the committee anyway. By doing some surreptitious research and sitting in on the meetings, I became fairly expert about the post-baccalaureate certificate: a self-contained credential, comprised of a four- to seven-courses, that provides specialized academic study or job-specific skills training to students who already have a four year bachelor’s degree.
What I learned during my service on that committee stayed with me. After I graduated, and had used my newly minted masters degree to join the faculty at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) as an adjunct instructor, I began to put together a plan.
In my three decades as a graphic designer, I had come to know many people who were working in other professions who had expressed a desire to change careers – to become graphic designers. They had undergraduate degrees in subjects like English, journalism, art history, or psychology. They had discovered their talent and interest in design almost accidentally.
They didn’t want to go back for another four-year bachelors degree, understandably, and it made no sense at all to put in the time and money for an MFA in graphic design, which is usually only useful for teaching at the college level. But one or two continuing education courses, or a workshop at the art museum, or a couple of classes at a tech institute hadn’t given them the experience of a cohesive curriculum, and the endorsement of a recognized credential, they desired.
The plan I devised, after I began teaching, was for the development of a post-baccalaureate certificate program in graphic design at MCAD – an accredited institution with a great reputation that could supply both rigorous curriculum and valuable credential. I went to the continuing studies department and presented my proposal. It took two more years, but the MCAD Post-Baccalaureate Certificate in Graphic Design Program finally launched in the fall of 2007. Its ongoing success reinforced my enthusiasm for post-bac programs.
These certificate programs are a manageable way to improve academic standing and add new skills. There is a wide range of post-baccalaureate certificate programs available from a variety of higher ed institutions. Colleges and universities have paid close attention to evolving workplace requirements and gaps in education and are continually developing certificates that are designed to appeal to adult students who are looking for a way to stand out or transform their careers.
In certain fields, like education, counseling, health care, technology, and engineering, post bac certificates provide mandatory training for promotions or particular jobs, and/or provide eligibility for higher pay levels. In some academic areas such as women’s studies, arts management, interior design, and grant proposal writing, the credential demonstrates acquired knowledge that will be helpful in a professional position, but is not mandatory. Other certificates reflect training in specialties that are changing so quickly – homeland security, sustainable landscaping, or sports industry management, for example – the job seeker who has received structured education in these fields has a significant advantage.
Not everyone wants or needs another undergraduate degree, and some potential students are daunted by the concept of pursuing a graduate degree. But because many post-bac certificates are composed of graduate-level courses attached to graduate degree programs, it is possible to take those credits and eventually apply them to a full masters degree, if desired. By providing low-risk exposure to graduate education, certificate programs offer a more comfortable path to graduate school for adult students, especially those in midlife, who were initially intimidated.
If you can imagine an academic interest or job skill you want to pursue, there is probably a post-baccalaureate certificate program that exists to help you achieve your goal. But be aware that even a less-than-four-year credential will take time, effort, and money. Do plenty of research beforehand – have a serious discussion with the administrators of the program, and ask to talk to recent graduates so you can make an informed choice and understand what your life will be like as a student.
I have received many messages of gratitude over the years from graduates of the graphic design program I helped develop at MCAD. Those messages confirm for me the benefits of the post-baccalaureate certificate program as an educational option, one that is perfect for job-changing adults who don’t want to be full-time undergraduates again. It’s an efficient, effective way to go back to school.