There are two main options to get a programming certificate online - online courses and universities.
There are two ways to get a programming certificate online - universities and online courses. In the simplest possible terms, a programming certificate is something that lets you walk up to an employer and say, “Hello, yes, I know how to SQL. Here’s a piece of paper that proves it. You should hire me.”
When described that way, you can instantly see how getting a programming certificate compares with getting a degree - they both act as proof from external sources that help demonstrate your competence. The real difference is that a programming certificate is usually more specific, while a diploma demonstrates broader expertise.
It makes sense that people are interested in getting a programming certificate online, rather than going to an in-person university or boot camp - it’s more flexible and convenient (not to mention much safer during a pandemic) to learn computer science online. Both online courses and universities are equipped to offer these to their students.
I’ve already written about the benefits and difference between getting a programming certificate instead of a diploma, so I’ll summarize:
- Time. If - and this is a big if! - you know what you want, you don’t have to spend four years getting a broad base of knowledge to secure the evidence of your skills.
- Money. A programming certificate (or even several) can be a heck of a lot cheaper than a diploma.
Let’s dive into the two ways you can get a programming certificate. The basic summary is that you can choose between getting a programming certificate from universities or online courses.
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Option 1. Get a programming certificate online from a university
Not many people know that universities offer programming certificates online as well as diplomas. Even before the pandemic, the option to get a programming certificate online was appealing to a lot of students who didn’t fancy going in person, or wanted to hold down a job at the same time. Now, of course, many universities have doubled down on this.
While you do have the option to get a programming certificate in person from universities, I’ll focus on the online options here.
When you’re selecting where to get your online programming certificate from, you should start by looking at the options. Luckily you’re not limited by geography, so your choices will be pretty broad. Instead, focus on specialty.
The Best Schools website offers options on selecting the best university to get a programming certificate online from a course from ranking their list based on “the quality of the program, types of courses provided, faculty strength, school awards, rankings and reputation, including the reputation for providing online degree programs.” It’s worth noting that the last part - teaching online is a very different beast to teaching in-person, so you’ll want to choose a university that has a reputation for teaching effectively and engagingly online.
Many require that you apply to them to be enrolled in the online programming course. Once you’ve selected your university, you can take that next step and apply. Assuming you’re accepted, you’ll be enrolled in the programming course, where you’ll follow the instructor’s set curriculum. It typically costs anywhere between $500 to $9,000 according to Get Educated, and takes up to a semester to get one. You can also “stack” them to get closer to the equivalent of the full degree. Many offer multiple options - evening classes, weekend classes, and flexible office hours - to make it a more appealing option to remote students who may have other priorities in addition to getting their online programming certificate.
The benefits of enrolling in a university to get a programming certificate online is that it’s more structured and hands-on than online courses. You’ll have a lecturer, assignments, and a curriculum designed by people who have set up the curriculum for their full computer science degree, too. While a diploma may get you slightly further than a university-given online programming certificate, it’s certainly enough to get you in the door with an entry-level programming job.
- Madison Area Technical College: IT-Java Professional Developer Certificate. Perfect for students with a basic understanding of computer science who want to learn a specific language. Costs $1,395 and can be done part-time with just five credit hours.
- Seminole State College of Florida: Technical Certificate in Computer Programming Specialist. For students who are after an entry-level programming job. Costs $2,000 for in-state tuition, or $7,000 for out-of-state students. At 18 credits long, you can expect this to take a semester if you go full-time, or a year if part-time.
- Durham Tech Information Technology: Database Programming Certificate. Gives students a certification in an adjacent skill, database programming. Costs $912 and takes 12 credit hours.
In summary, it’s certainly cheaper than a degree, while offering more flexibility than a traditional degree. It has some hands-on teaching, too, which is good for students who benefit more from a structured approach.
Option 2. Get a programming certificate from a course online
This other option is growing more popular in recent years - to get a programming certificate online from an online course, rather than an accredited university. While some employers do prefer the structured learning offered by universities, many really don’t - they just want to hire someone who can do the job, and your online programming certificate from an online course can prove that just as well as from a university.
There are two real differences to get a programming certificate online from an online course versus getting a programming certificate from a university. First, it’s much more self-paced and self-driven - you are your own instructor, instead of having someone spoon-feed you the information. Second, because there’s no accreditation, you want to be totally sure it’s a source you (and employers) will trust. After all, I could ask my sister to issue me an online programming certificate from Paula’s Awesome Programming School after debugging her python bot, but employers probably wouldn’t be too impressed with that on my resume.
They also differ in that they can be much less expensive, as well as flexible because they’re self-paced. Many online courses have the option to contact real people with questions or feedback, but for the most part, you’re expected to complete the tasks and reading on your own without any prompting.
I’ve written before about how to get a programming certificate online from an online course, so I’ll summarize here:
- Do your research on which certificate in computer science makes the most sense for you.
- Understand the different types of certificates in computer science.
- Focus on what a certificate in computer science will give you. Are you looking for a freelance boost, or a new job?
- Find a source that will help you do the work. Self-motivation can be tough, so find a course that is built to whatever you need to motivate yourself, whether gamification or companionship.
- Do the work. The more you do to make sure your choice is right in steps 1-4, the easier this one will be.
- Proudly display your certificate. For instance, tons of students have gone through Codecademy to get a programming certificate online, so employers have an idea of the reputation, and what they can expect from an employee who got a certificate from them. Meanwhile, boot.dev is a lesser-known example, but they offer the opportunity to create a public developer portfolio page you can link to on your resume.
- Codecademy. Offers several different course options from specific languages to skills for a career path, to topics such as web development. It costs $39.99/month or $240/year when billed annually for the standard plan.
- Boot.dev. Offers a range of courses from intros to coding, to specific languages, to skill development such as data structures. It costs $20/month or $72/year when billed annually for the standard plan.
- Pluralsight. This online course catalog is built specifically to help you get a job with the skills you learn. The standard plan costs $29/month of $299/year when billed annually.
In summary, the process to get a programming certificate online from an online course comes with real benefits - it tends to be cheaper, and more self-paced than getting one from a university. However, that can also be a disadvantage - it’s easier to be motivated to complete something when you’ve invested a lot of money, and someone is guiding you through the process. To combat those disadvantages, ensure you select an online course with a solid community that can help get you motivated to actually get the course done.
You should also ensure the reputation of your online course is unimpeachable - universities come with their own brand name aura, while online courses are seen as a little more fast and loose. Do your research to pick the certificate that will impress an employer, or select one that lets you prove your skills by displaying a portfolio.
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You can get your programming certificate online from a university or an online course.
These two options to get a programming certificate online are great alternatives to both a coding bootcamp or a proper diploma for the same reasons - they’re cheaper, they’re faster, they’re more tailored to your specific and current needs. And increasingly, they’re accepted by employers who are desperate to get qualified employees in to do the work that desperately needs doing.
The main pros to get a programming certificate online from a university compared to an online course are that it’s more guided, it’s more structured, and the programming certificate will carry the weight of the university’s reputation, which can be a convenient shorthand for quality in an employer’s eyes.
The main pros to get a programming certificate online from an online course versus from a university are that it’s self-paced and it tends to be cheaper. As long as you’re careful about selecting one that has a good reputation, you can make the most of the advantages while dodging the disadvantages.
Depending on what you need from your online programming certificate, both online courses and universities can be great sources to get one. If you prefer a more guided and structured method, it makes sense to spring for an online programming certificate from a university. If you prefer to do things at your own pace and enjoy the challenges of self-motivation, you should find an online course to prove your chops.
Either way, the key takeaway is that an online programming certificate is a great avenue to prove your credentials to any employer. As long as you have the skills to back up your certificate, your future employer will be thrilled to have you onboard, no matter when your online programming certificate comes from.