Graduate Certificate Programs in Gerontology – Campus and Online Programs
Updated: November 18, 2022
Graduate certificate programs in gerontology prepare students to support aging populations in a wide variety of contexts, from health care to social services, business development, technology, and policymaking. Gerontology is defined as the study of aging populations and the process of aging through biological, psychological, social scientific, and political lenses. The increase in life expectancy in the United States and in other developed countries, and the concurrently expanding needs of aging populations, has meant that gerontology has become an increasingly important field across various disciplines.
Students of graduate certificate programs in gerontology can generally expect to complete a curriculum that covers essential theories and contemporary research regarding the psychology and sociology of aging, physiology and health concerns for the elderly, and methods of counseling and support for elderly populations. Specific coursework will vary depending on the specific type of gerontology graduate certificate program in which students choose to enroll. For example, there are certain graduate certificate programs in gerontology that have a nursing or social work focus, and which only accept applications from professionals in these areas; this is in contrast to general gerontology graduate certificate programs that typically accept applications from individuals in any field.
Gerontology, as mentioned earlier, is the study of the process of aging and the experiences of aging populations in areas such as physical health and medicine; psychology and behavioral health; social, familial, and cultural practices and dynamics; economic and financial security; and consumer behavior and decision-making. Graduate-level training in the nuanced aspects of aging can provide professionals in a wide variety of industries with the skills and knowledge to help aging and elderly adults, who are becoming a larger sector of the consumer and technology markets, the health care industry, and the political constituency, among other areas. Gerontologists are individuals with an expertise in working with elderly individuals across diverse contexts to address their unique needs and concerns.
Currently, the U.S. Department of Labor predicts that gerontology-related job opportunities will experience robust growth over the next two decades, due to the Administration for Community Living’s (ACL) projection that one in five Americans will be over the age of 65 by 2040 (acl.gov). As a result, it is anticipated that gerontologists and other professionals who work with gerontological populations will experience an increase in job opportunities. Gerontology intersects with many different fields, and as a result there are a wide variety of potential jobs in this field, including not only more traditional roles in social work, nursing, and healthcare, but also business and marketing, user experience and technological design, and political and social justice advocacy.
Identifying and Classifying Graduate Certificate Programs in Gerontology
Gerontology, apart from being a dedicated field in its own right, has long been a sub-field of interest and academic training in the nursing and social work disciplines, as these have historically been two industries that work closely and extensively with individuals who need support in navigating the medical, mental and behavioral health, and socioeconomic challenges that come with aging. In fact, many graduate degrees in both of these fields, such as master’s in social work and master’s in nursing programs, have gerontology or geriatric specializations for students. However, as the aging and elderly population has become increasingly relevant to other fields, numerous colleges and universities have expanded their gerontology-specific courses and program offerings for students in other areas, including business, policy, public health, and engineering/technology.
There are several different types of gerontology graduate certificate programs, each of which can be defined according to its target student demographic, course content, and the school or department offering the program. In general, there are profession-specific graduate certificate programs in gerontology that are offered through schools of nursing, social work, and public health, and more generalized graduate certificate programs in gerontology that are designed for a wide range of professionals—such as business professionals or policy advocates—who want to gain expertise in gerontology.
Examples of different types of gerontology graduate certificate programs include but are not limited to:
- Graduate Certificate Programs in Gerontology
- Graduate Certificate Programs in Gerontological Social Work
- Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner (AG-ACNP) Certificate Programs
- Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AG-PCNP) Certificate Programs
The distinctions between different graduate certificate programs in gerontology are also important because different types of certificate programs in this field have different admission requirements. For example, graduate certificate programs in adult-gerontology primary and acute care advanced practice nursing generally require students to hold an active registered nursing license, and show proof of completion of an MSN program from an accredited school of nursing. Meanwhile, graduate certificate programs in gerontological social work might require students to hold a bachelor’s in social work (BSW) or a master’s in social work (MSW) from an accredited school of social work.
In contrast, general graduate certificate programs in gerontology typically do not have requirements regarding applicants’ undergraduate and/or graduate focus of study; in other words, these programs accept applications from students and professionals in any field, as long as they hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. Such programs are designed for a wide variety of professionals who want to complement their current or future work with an in-depth knowledge of aging and elderly populations and how to best support them.
Note: For more information on graduate certificate programs in nursing, please see our Post-Master’s AG-ACNP programs page and our Post-Master’s AG-PCNP programs page.
Gerontology Graduate Certificate Coursework
Graduate certificate programs in gerontology are typically comprised of 12-18 course credits, or four to six graduate-level courses. The specific course content comprising a graduate certificate depends on the school offering the program, as well as its target student demographic. In addition, while some graduate certificate programs in gerontology may include an internship or practicum, others may be comprised solely of coursework. Similarly, while some graduate certificate consist of a set curriculum of courses that students must take in sequence, others might have one or two required courses, followed by students’ choice of classes that they can select from a menu of relevant courses.
Examples of courses that a general gerontology graduate certificate program may offer include, but are not limited to:
- The Physiology of Aging
- Human Psychology Across the Lifespan
- Counseling and Social Services for Aging Adults and Their Family
- Social Policy and Advocacy for Aging Adults
Graduate certificate programs in gerontology that are for specific professions, such as nursing and social work, will have courses that are more tailored to advanced theory and best practices in these professions. For example, gerontological social work graduate certificate programs might include courses specifically in advanced social work practice with aging clients; coordinating palliative care, medical care, and social and financial support services for the elderly; and working with families to cope with end-of-life care, grief, and loss. These programs may also require a field practicum in a setting where students work with elderly clients.
Graduate certificate programs in gerontological nursing or geriatric nursing will generally have courses on primary or acute nursing care practices for elderly populations and both pharmacological and other medical interventions for the elderly; students of these programs will generally be expected to complete a clinical practicum working with geriatric patients as well.
Online Gerontology Graduate Certificate Programs
Graduate certificate programs in gerontology are generally designed for working professionals who want to earn additional academic credentials and training while continuing to work full-time or part-time. To enhance both scheduling and geographical flexibility for prospective students, many schools have begun offering online graduate certificate programs that make use of innovative, interactive learning management systems (LMS) to deliver course content. Online graduate certificate programs in gerontology offer the advantage of letting students attend course lectures, complete assignments, and collaborate on group projects from anywhere with an internet connection. Moreover, online programs give unprecedented opportunities to students who live in rural areas who might not live near a college or university that offers a graduate certificate program in the field of gerontology.
As mentioned previously, online graduate certificate programs use learning management systems, which are online platforms through which students access course lectures and modules, assignments, examinations, and discussion boards. LMSs also generally have real-time video lecture and discussion capabilities. Students researching online graduate certificate programs should be familiar with the main types of online instruction used by colleges and universities that offer online programs: asynchronous instruction, or a combination of synchronous and asynchronous instruction.
Asynchronous instruction is defined as all lectures and course content students can access 24/7, and assignments they can complete on their own time, as long as they meet assignment or participation deadlines. Programs that use asynchronous instruction are particularly beneficial to students who need maximum scheduling flexibility. However, programs that utilize primarily or exclusively asynchronous instruction require students to be extremely diligent about their time management and keeping up with course modules and assignments.
In contrast to asynchronous instruction, synchronous instruction includes all course elements that have a real-time component, such as live lectures, video group discussions and breakout rooms, group projects that require students to log onto their LMS at the same time, and exams that all students must take simultaneously. Synchronous instruction can be beneficial to students who want the flexibility of online instruction but the real-time interactions with faculty and classmates that are more typical of campus-based programs. As synchronous instruction is less flexible than asynchronous instruction, students should carefully consider their schedule availability and commitments in order to determine what ratio of synchronous to asynchronous instruction works best for them.
Examples of Online Gerontology Graduate Certificate Programs
The online graduate certificate programs in gerontology described below are offered through accredited colleges and universities. These program descriptions are not representative of all the different types of gerontology graduate certificate programs available. In addition, the program examples outlined below are for professionals across diverse disciplines, and do not include social work and nursing-specific graduate certificate programs in gerontology.
The University of Southern California (USC) offers an online Graduate Certificate in Gerontology through its Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. This program is comprised of 16 course credits divided across four courses. Students choose three core courses that cover human development across the lifespan, the physiology of aging, social policy and aging, counseling aging adults and their families, and important issues facing the aging family. After completing their three core courses, students can choose a gerontology elective from the many graduate-level courses offered at the Leonard Davis School. Coursework for this program is available to students 24/7, and students can choose when to work on class assignments as long as they meet deadlines. To learn more about this program, please visit USC at gero.usc.edu.
The University of North Georgia (UNG) offers an online Gerontology Graduate Certificate that is designed to give students a comprehensive understanding of the biological, social, and psychological aspects of aging. This program is comprised of 18 course credits, divided between five courses and either a practicum or research experience, through which students apply what they have learned to a professional or scholarly endeavor that demonstrates what they have learned. For their coursework, students can choose from classes in the biology of aging, resource planning for aging populations, important contexts of aging, contemporary issues amongst the aging and elderly, communication strategies when working with elderly clients, and the psychology of aging. This program utilizes asynchronous instruction to maximize flexibility for students. For more information about this program, please visit UNG at ung.edu.
University of Pittsburgh offers an online Graduate Certificate in Gerontology through its University Center for Teaching and Learning. This program consists of 16 course credits, divided between seven credits of required courses and nine credits of electives. For their core courses, students learn about the ethical implications of aging, as well as key concepts and perspectives in aging. They also attend a seminar series on aging. For their elective courses, students can take courses on the clinical aspects of dementia, preventative care for the aging adults, intergenerational studies, mental health and mental illness amongst the elderly, human performance and nutrition for aging athletes, aging and communication, and caregiving. For more information about this program, please visit the University of Pittsburgh at teaching.pitt.edu.