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Thread: Certificates: are they worth it?

  1. #1

    Certificates: are they worth it?

    I will be applying to graduate programs for the Fall '11 but until then I'm considering completing a certificate program in Nonprofit Management. I was going to enroll in a couple economics and/or planning course at a local university but each class is $1,400, so I won't be doing that. The entire certificate program would only cost me about $1,700 and would be issued from a university with a great reputation. Also I'd be able to complete the certificate in about 4 months.

    I'm interested in studying community development + housing + public health, so it seems useful. I've heard good and bad things about having certificates... Does anybody have thoughts? Would it improve my resume and help my grad school apps? Or should I save my money and just focus on work and studying for the GRE? Thanks in advance!

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    I don't know much about certificates but here's my two cents. One piece of advice I got before applying to grad school was that your application isn't simply a sum of its parts or a check-the-box type of thing. So, e.g., taking random classes just to put it on your resume isn't the best use of your time/money if it doesn't fit into the larger story of why you want to study urban planning and what experiences you bring.

    With regards to the certificate, it might make sense if you can explain why you wanted to get this; simply having it just to bolster your resume won't, I think, be a strong enough reason. On the other hand, if, e.g., in your essay you write how you plan on working in the non-profit sector and how you see the certificate as a complement to what you will learn at grad school, then that could be a positive spin.

    Another thing to consider is that a certificate is going to be classroom-based learning, which is what grad school will predominately be, as well. Maybe you'd be better off volunteering or working part-time in the non-profit sector. My sense is that some real world experience would be more valuable than a certificate.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    What would happen if you paid all that money for a certificate and you STILL didn't get in? If you are a student or unemployed (or maybe even underemployed) the federal government does have "some" money for training, but the wait list is several months. A project management certificate is far more useful across almost any career path. Again, always try to do school or learning on someone else's dime first. You would be surprised just how long it takes to put $1700 in savings, especialy when you are starting out.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  4. #4
    Thanks, FuturePlanner. I think you're right. I currently work full time for a non-profit research organization, and I would definitely like to work for one after grad school. Like you said, I see this as a chance to compliment what I will learn in grad school. Hopefully schools will not interpret this as me just trying to pump-up my resume without adding any real substance. Maybe that's a reason not to do it. Especially when I'm paying this much money for it.

    I've noticed that a lot of schools prefer students with coursework in economics and statistics (though this is certainly not a rule), and since I only have 1 stats class from many years ago, I thought it would be a good idea to take a few now. However, after realizing how much it would cost for 1 class, I'm going to pass on that idea. Hopefully I can make up for that in other parts of my application.

  5. #5
    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    You would be surprised just how long it takes to put $1700 in savings, especialy when you are starting out.
    Oh yea, this is one reason I'm being so indecisive. I know $1700 isn't much for some people but it would put a big dent in my savings account! I'd love to find some federal money to pay for this but I'm not having any luck. Oh well. Thanks.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    Certs mean little; its like a minor. I would save my money and use it towards grad school or a GRE prep course.
    "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less" General Eric Shinseki

  7. #7
    What about a GIS certificate? We hear all of the time about how essential GIS is to the future of planning..............will an MURP combined with a GIS certificate provide any sizable advantage versus a competitor with just an MURP, all other things being equal?

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    I think the missing piece is whether or not you have any background in planning. If you're coming with an undergrad in planning or something related, a certificate might be superfluous. If you're coming from something totally different some additional courses (or a full certificate) might formalize on paper your interest in the subject, make your personal statement more substantive, lead to some good contacts etc... I wouldn't worry about brushing up on stats, you'll get it in methods. I only saw econ required at one of my schools, but it was just intro micro.

    I don't think a certificate itself means much. Certificates in GIS, Historic Preservation or Non Profit Admin might give you some additional skills and allow you to opt out of certain classes and requirements in your masters program too. I dont think having a cert is going to make you more attractive than someone with internship/volunteer experience though.

    Jazzman, GIS proficiency is definitely marketable, but I don't think you necessarily need a certificate to prove it. Plus it would eat up electives (if you did as part of your MURP like the program at Rutgers). Or maybe I'm just bitter cos I've stuck in front of arc for the past year at work.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    I'm putting in the last couple weeks of my 24 credit GIS certificate program which compliments my Urban Studies undergrad. This GIS certificate program is situated in the Urban Studies major so on top of the hands on stuff we also did a lot, and I mean A LOT, of critical reading about GIS, geography, and social science.

    I feel like my certificate program was much more in-depth than other 3 class / 9 credit programs.

    My point is, if you do a cert program try to do one that goes beyond the technical side of things. I think I learned a lot more about planning and doing social science research in the GIS program than I did in the bachelors program.

    When it's all said and done in 2 years, I feel like the combination of an MPA with a focus on urban stuff, an Urban Studies undergrad degree, and my GIS certificate will make me very employable in all kinds of fields of work and research.

    Exciting.

    Now if I could just find someone to go see Ironman with me I'd be good
    Master of Public Administration - 2012
    Concentration: Metropolitan and Regional Policy
    Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs
    University of Washington, Seattle, WA

  10. #10
    Cyburbian kalimotxo's avatar
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    Brocktoon is right - certificates are basically like a minor at the grad level. If you are already working for a non-profit and will have a couple years of experience when you apply for grad school, you are probably in good shape for grad school apps. Many MUP programs offer certificates in conjunction with a masters degree (including GIS and Non-profit management); spending extra money for a certificate beforehand seems like a waste of money to me. If you want to brush up on anything in the meantime, take a class or two in econ, stats, or GIS at a local community college for your own edification. There are plenty of grad programs that can cater to your interests in non-profits with the added benefit that the courses are geared specifically toward non-profit work in planning.

    In regards to the question about GIS certificates... I question their value unless you want to market yourself as a GIS expert. Having been "the GIS guy" by virtue of being the only one in an office who had any knowledge of the program, I can only say that being pigeonholed in a tech position can happen somewhat inadvertently and does not make for very exciting work. It especially sucked because I really enjoy GIS when I'm using it to accomplish my own work; doing it to satisfy others with only a superficial knowledge of the program, however, can be incredibly tedious.

    I encourage everyone in planning programs to gain as much applicable knowledge in GIS as possible without letting it eat up all of your elective time. Specific skills are good, but it's important to keep in mind where you might end up if you market yourself based on a credential like a GIS certificate (hint: it may involve a basement cubicle, poor eyesight, carpal tunnel syndrome, misanthropy, etc).
    Process and dismissal. Shelter and location. Everybody wants somewhere.

  11. #11

    Thanks

    Thanks to everyone for the replies.

    I'm going to listen to most of the advice on here and not pursue the certificate program. I hope my work experience will be sufficient. Also, after talking to an advisory I found out that I was eligible for a scholarship which brings the cost of each class to about $700.

    As someone with a BA in English (minor in Geography), would I be a more competitive applicant if I took a class in economics + statistics? I don't think it's required by most schools, but I've seen that a lot of school strongly prefer students with these classes. I'd hate to be turned down by a program because they don't think I have a proven knowledge of quantitative methods. I have 2 planning internships and currently work for a non-profit organization doing environmental health research. Also, my quantitative GRE score isn't the best, a 580 (thought I plan to retake the GRE before applying).

  12. #12
    Quote Originally posted by youvegotchills View post
    Thanks to everyone for the replies.

    I'm going to listen to most of the advice on here and not pursue the certificate program. I hope my work experience will be sufficient. Also, after talking to an advisory I found out that I was eligible for a scholarship which brings the cost of each class to about $700.

    As someone with a BA in English (minor in Geography), would I be a more competitive applicant if I took a class in economics + statistics? I don't think it's required by most schools, but I've seen that a lot of school strongly prefer students with these classes. I'd hate to be turned down by a program because they don't think I have a proven knowledge of quantitative methods. I have 2 planning internships and currently work for a non-profit organization doing environmental health research. Also, my quantitative GRE score isn't the best, a 580 (thought I plan to retake the GRE before applying).
    Economics and statistics are always good classes to take, regardless of your career direction; they should be a part of everyone's curriculum, at all levels of education.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by kalimotxo View post
    Brocktoon is right - certificates are basically like a minor at the grad level. If you are already working for a non-profit and will have a couple years of experience when you apply for grad school, you are probably in good shape for grad school apps. Many MUP programs offer certificates in conjunction with a masters degree (including GIS and Non-profit management); spending extra money for a certificate beforehand seems like a waste of money to me. If you want to brush up on anything in the meantime, take a class or two in econ, stats, or GIS at a local community college for your own edification. There are plenty of grad programs that can cater to your interests in non-profits with the added benefit that the courses are geared specifically toward non-profit work in planning.

    In regards to the question about GIS certificates... I question their value unless you want to market yourself as a GIS expert. Having been "the GIS guy" by virtue of being the only one in an office who had any knowledge of the program, I can only say that being pigeonholed in a tech position can happen somewhat inadvertently and does not make for very exciting work. It especially sucked because I really enjoy GIS when I'm using it to accomplish my own work; doing it to satisfy others with only a superficial knowledge of the program, however, can be incredibly tedious.

    I encourage everyone in planning programs to gain as much applicable knowledge in GIS as possible without letting it eat up all of your elective time. Specific skills are good, but it's important to keep in mind where you might end up if you market yourself based on a credential like a GIS certificate (hint: it may involve a basement cubicle, poor eyesight, carpal tunnel syndrome, misanthropy, etc).
    I have a Associates Degree in Planning with just some part-time survey work, I was thinking about taking a Downtown Revitalization cert program, I do have an award in a downtown/waterfront revitalization project though. Would a cert help me or should I save my money?

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by buckie33 View post
    I have a Associates Degree in Planning with just some part-time survey work, I was thinking about taking a Downtown Revitalization cert program, I do have an award in a downtown/waterfront revitalization project though. Would a cert help me or should I save my money?
    As someone who does a lot of downtown revitalization, a cert will not matter. Its a hands on type field where everything is different depending on the community you work in and what is necessary to revitalize the district. Once you get a job go get you EDFP.
    "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less" General Eric Shinseki

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