Question: What Are the Differences Between Graduate Certificate Programs and Bootcamps?
Updated: September 22, 2021
Answer: Graduate certificate programs and bootcamps represent two types of educational programs that are designed provide practical, career-based training in a specific area or skillset. There are, however, several key differences between the two that prospective students should understand before enrolling in a graduate certificate program or a bootcamp.
Graduate certificates are offered by accredited colleges and universities and require students to have already completed their undergraduate studies and to hold a minimum of a bachelor’s degree (although there are undergraduate certificate programs that do not require a bachelor’s degree for admission). These programs typically consist of a small cluster of graduate courses (four, five, or six is common) that can take between six and 18 months to complete.
In contrast, bootcamps are offered by both academic and non-academic institutions, and as a result their structure can vary more widely, relative to the more academic-oriented graduate certificate. While colleges and universities can offer bootcamps, there are also numerous non-profit industry organizations and for-profit private entities that have bootcamp programs. Admission requirements for bootcamps vary significantly, with many accepting students regardless of whether or not they hold a bachelor’s or even an associate degree. Finally, there is no set timeframe for a bootcamp. Some bootcamps are intensive, week-long programs, while others take six or more months to complete.
Overview of Graduate Certificate Programs and Bootcamps
Most of the major differences between graduate certificate programs and bootcamps stem from where these programs are situated within a field or discipline. Certificate programs are typically attached to larger graduate programs and are often comprised of courses that are part of a master’s degree curriculum. Thus, credits earned in a certificate program may count toward an eventual graduate degree if and when a student opts to pursue further studies.
Bootcamps, in contrast, are generally set apart from degree programs even when they are offered by colleges and universities that have undergraduate and graduate programs. As a result, bootcamps do not in most cases confer credits that are transferable to a degree program. However, because bootcamps do not typically include courses that are part of a larger degree program, they tend to have more scheduling flexibility and do not have to adhere to a traditional academic calendar.
An additional difference between bootcamps and graduate certificate programs is the subject matter they cover, and therefore the learning outcomes students can expect from each.. Bootcamps are predominantly, although not exclusively, offered in technical fields, such as coding, computer science, cybersecurity, data analytics, and web design. In addition, many bootcamps are designed to prepare students for professional certification, which is more common in technical fields. Graduate certificate programs cover a much broader array of disciplines, including various subfields of analytics, business, communication, computer science, counseling, criminal justice, education, healthcare, information technology, nursing, public administration, technology, and other areas in which graduate degree programs are offered.
Graduate Certificate Programs Explained
Graduate certificate programs are generally considered to be an alternative or a steppingstone to master’s programs in that they provide graduate-level instruction in a subject area but do not require the time commitment and resources that graduate degree programs demand. Students in a typical graduate certificate program complete several courses that may provide some background in theory but that focus primarily on practical, career-oriented applications of knowledge and skills in a particular field. These courses confer graduate credits that may be transferable to a degree program at a future date. Indeed, the courses students take in a graduate certificate program commonly overlap with master’s program curricula.
To be eligible for admission to a graduate certificate program, students must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree. Some certificate programs, commonly referred to as post-master’s certificate programs, require students to hold a master’s degree as well. Thus, graduate certificate programs are not designed for students who have yet to complete a four-year college undergraduate degree or the equivalent. Eligibility for post-master’s graduate certificate programs is restricted to students who have completed at least a master’s degree.
As noted previously, there are graduate certificate programs in many fields and disciplines. In fact, most fields in which there are graduate degree programs also have certificate programs. The list below provides an overview of some of the many fields and specializations in which graduate certificate programs are currently offered.
- Addiction and Substance Abuse Counseling
- Business Analytics
- Clinical Research Management
- Computer Science
- Data Science
- Digital Forensics
- Digital Marketing
- Educational Leadership and Administration
- Emergency Management
- Family Nurse Practitioner
- Geographical Information Systems
- Health Communication
- Homeland Security
- Human Resource Management
- IT Management
- Mental Health Counseling
- Nonprofit Management
- Nurse Educator
- Nursing Administration
- Public Health
- Public Policy
- Regulatory Affairs
- School Counseling
- Social Media
- Software Design
- Special Education
- Supply Chain Management
- Technical Writing
Bootcamps are commonly viewed as an alternative to college and university programs and as a faster, more direct means of gaining specific types of training, particularly in highly technical fields. There are colleges and universities that run bootcamp programs, but bootcamps are generally not tied to formal degree programs and can thus be offered by private, nonprofit and for-profit industry groups and organizations that are not affiliated with an accredited institution of higher education. Thus, there is a significant amount of variation in the structure of bootcamps, with some programs holding weekly or bi-weekly online or in-person training sessions for several weeks or months, and other programs opting for an immersive model in which students spend seven or eight hours per day for an entire week or several weeks, attending in-person and/or online sessions.
By design, bootcamps generally do not require students to hold a bachelor’s degree or any other formal academic credential. These programs are designed to provide students who may have no previous training in a particular field with a specific skillset in preparation for careers in that field. Consequently, bootcamps primarily cover proficiencies in narrowly focused technical areas and are not offered in fields that are structured around continuity of training and that require practitioners to attain state licensure after completing their education from an accredited academic program. Nursing, clinical mental health counseling, and teaching are examples of such fields where bootcamps are not common.
Among the areas of study in which bootcamps are commonly offered are the following:
- Artificial Intelligence
- Cloud Computing
- Data Analytics
- Data Science
- Digital Marketing
- Financial Technology (FinTech)
- Information Technology
- Machine Learning
- Mobile Application Design
- Computer Networking
- Software Design and Development
- Technology Project Management
- User Experience/Interface (UX/UI)
- Web Development
Graduate Certificates vs. Bootcamps
Graduate certificate programs and bootcamps provide individuals interested in cultivating specific proficiencies in order to advance in their current career or change tracks by entering a new career with a viable alternative to enrolling in a full degree program. However, the differences between certificate programs and bootcamps are significant and important to take into consideration.
Graduate certificate programs have the advantage of being offered by accredited colleges and universities, which means that the institutions that offer certificate programs undergo periodic assessments and must adhere to set standards for educational quality and institutional viability. In addition, most if not all of the coursework associated with a graduate certificate program is likely to overlap partially or fully with a graduate degree program in the same field. This is not the case with bootcamp coursework. However, bootcamps generally have fewer admissions requirements than graduate certificate programs and may offer a faster, more flexible, and more targeted means of gaining proficiency in areas such as computer coding, data analysis, and web design.
The table below uses several key features of graduate certificate programs and bootcamps in order to provide a highly generalized, side-by-side comparison of the two types of programs. It is important to note, however, that there is wide variance in what may be labeled a bootcamp.
|Program Type||Graduate Certificates||Bootcamps|
|Fields of Study||Most fields and disciplines||Primarily technical fields|
|Offered By||Accredited colleges and universities||Colleges, universities, and private educational companies|
|Time to Completion||6 - 18 months||1 week - 6 months|
|Number of Graduate Credits||9 - 18 credits||None|
|Prerequisite Degree||Bachelor’s or master’s degree||Varies by program|
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