Are you applying for jobs but feeling less than excited about the positions that match your qualifications? Imagine saying, “A year from now I’ll be applying for my dream job.” College certificate programs open doors to many careers and can be completed in a fraction of the time it takes to get a bachelor’s or even associate’s degree. Almost all can be done within two years and many in a year or less. This is because certificate programs focus on professional training and dispense with the general education courses required in college degree programs.
But even on a streamlined educational path, paying for education is never a trivial matter. You may be wondering whether financial aid can pay for a certificate. The good news is that loans and grants for certificate programs are available in many cases. More good news is that many certificates are offered through convenient and flexible online programs.
Money for certificate programs is typically available from the federal government if the program is approved by the U.S. Department of Education. However, in most cases, grants are awarded only to students who do not already have a college degree. There are exceptions, such as teaching certificate programs, which usually require a bachelor’s degree for admission.
For those in the armed forces, a number of tuition assistance programs are available. Individual service branches each have their own specific guidelines, requirements, and limits for educational benefits offered. You should always check with your Education Services Officer (ESO) to determine what benefits may be available to you.
Does FAFSA Pay for Certificate Programs?
The search for funds to help with college always starts with filling out the FAFSA, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. Even if you think you won’t qualify — for example, if you already have a degree — the only way to know for sure is to fill out the FAFSA form. The form will ask you to list your schools and programs of interest and it will generate an estimated cost of education along with your estimated need. Your need will be based on what the FAFSA calls your EFC, or expected family contribution. Your family might be just you, you and your parents, you and your spouse, or other situations. The FAFSA will weigh your likely costs against what you are able to pay. In determining your eligibility for aid, it will consider factors such as prior college education. Whatever loans and grants you’re eligible to receive will be communicated to you through your SAR — Student Aid Report.
The FAFSA will also verify whether a given certificate program is approved by the United States Department of Education. Only approved certificate programs qualify for federal student aid, and even if you think the program you’re interested in qualifies, listing it on your FAFSA is the safest way to know for sure.
Student aid often comes in the form of loans, but when looking for money for certificate programs, grants should never be overlooked. The largest federally administered grant program for students is the Pell Grant Program.
Pell Grants for certificate programs are awarded to students with financial need and no prior degree, and additional grants for certificate programs are sometimes available in the form of Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG). Funds for these grants vary from year to year and are contributed by both the federal government and individual schools. However, not all schools offer them. If your FAFSA indicates grant eligibility, it is best to verify with the financial aid office at your desired school to see if FSEOG grants are a potential source of additional money for your certificate program.
If you receive a Pell Grant for a certificate program or any other grant, there are requirements for keeping your funding. This usually means maintaining a specified grade point average and completing a minimum number of credits per term.
If your FAFSA says you qualify for grants for a certificate program, you may also qualify for similar grants administered at the state level. To find out, check with the financial aid offices at the schools you’re interested in. Ideally, you should investigate as soon as you know you might want to enroll there. Many grants have limited funds that are awarded on a first-come, first-served basis, so it pays to apply promptly.
Filling out all your school’s forms for federal and state grants will help you find other possible sources of money for certificate programs, such as grants funded by individual schools, as well as grants for women, minorities, veterans, foster care youth, and other demographics. A thorough school-specific application is your best bet for obtaining money for your certificate program.
What a Certificate Program Is
Completion of a certificate program will help you compete for jobs where specific education is preferred by employers, and it is more attainable than a full degree for students with limited time and money. A certificate won’t provide the same breadth of education as a bachelor’s degree, but in many cases, the focused curriculum will provide the depth to be competitive in the job market.
Certificates are also used as jumping-off points to enrollment in full degree programs. A certificate might be an interim step that allows you to secure better-paying work that will help you pay for a full degree.
There are also certificate programs with more advanced coursework designed for professionals seeking to update their knowledge and qualifications. These can lead to job promotions and substantially increased competitiveness within a field.
What a Certificate Program Isn’t
A certificate program should not be confused with a professional certification or license. Certificates are awarded by colleges for completed study, whereas certification and licenses are typically administered by states or professional organizations, and they are required in order to practice in certain professions. Examples include teaching, medicine, nursing, dentistry, law, architecture, and many others. Many fields allow progression to higher levels of pay and recognition, and completing a certificate program could be just the first step on the road to certification or licensure. A student might complete a certificate of accountancy, for example, then work in an entry-level accounting role while pursuing a bachelor’s degree and ultimately passing a certification exam to become a CPA.
National University’s Certificate Programs
National University’s range of onsite and online degrees includes certificate programs both for students looking to break into a field and for established professionals looking to augment their expertise or achieve state credentials.
You can find out more information about how to pay for college on National University’s Resources page. To start putting together the pieces of the financial aid puzzle, watch this free on-demand webinar, or contact NU’s financial aid team, who can help you discover possible grants and other money for certificate programs to make your desired career a reality.