What type of credential do you need to accomplish your career goals, and how long will it take?
Certificate: About 1 year
Certificate programs vary in length but often they are the quickest route to a credential. At most community colleges you will need 20 to 30 credits to earn a certificate. If you take three to four classes a semester, you will be done in one year.
The courses that make up a certificate program are very specific to a particular career or occupation. For example, if you are getting a certificate in radiology, you will not have to take a class in U.S. History. You will only need to take classes that are directly related to radiology.
Associate’s Degree (AA or AS): 2 to 5 years
In order to complete an associate’s degree, you will need to complete up to, or more than, 60 credits. If you attend school full-time each semester, it would take you two years to complete this degree. Most non-traditional adult college students, however, attend part-time and earn the degree within four or five years.
Bachelor’s Degree (BA or BS): 4 to 6 years
Usually, the minimum amount of time to complete a bachelor’s degree is four years. As with the other credentials, the number of credits for this degree depends on the school you choose to attend. In general, you will need to complete 120 credits to get your bachelor’s degree. As a part-time student, it might take you up to six years or more to earn the degree.
You cannot get a bachelor’s degree at a two-year community college. However, you may be able to apply some or all of your credits from an associate’s degree towards a bachelor’s degree. Talk with your advisor about this option.
What if you have a degree or credentials from another country?
If you have a degree or credentials from another country, it may not be easy to verify your educational and work background or your job skills. You may need to be “recredentialed.” This means having your foreign degrees, credentials, and work experience evaluated to determine whether or not they qualify you for U.S. degrees or credentials. Some professions, such as nursing and medicine, require that you take a board test and get a license. It can be a little easier for people to qualify for credentials in other professions where it’s possible to show your skills.
Private organizations will do credential evaluations for a fee. You can search on the internet or in the phone book under credential evaluations for these businesses. Here are two good sources for such businesses:
National Association of Credential Evaluation Services (NACES)
Association of International Credentials Evaluators (AICE)
Here are some points to keep in mind:
- U.S. employers evaluate job applicants on an individual-case basis, and they look at many factors in making a decision, not just your diplomas.
- Educational qualifications do not automatically serve as professional work or licensing qualifications in the United States.
- Credential evaluation services do provide procedures to appeal their determinations.
The U.S. Department of Education also provides information on what you need to know about having your foreign credentials recognized in the U.S. Click here for an information sheet.
The types of documents you may be asked to bring with you to your recredentialing appointment include:
- Copies of your diplomas and transcripts from high school and college or university
- Copies of other certifications or licenses
- A professional résumé showing your work experience in your profession, if you have any
- Syllabi, catalogs, bulletins, or course descriptions from your prior educational institutions, if you have them
These materials could have useful information to document your education and work background.
You may also consider taking one or two courses in your field from a U.S. educational institution, to refresh your knowledge and to show employers that you have educational experience in the U.S. related to the job you’re looking for.
It is important to know whether an institution of higher education or training is “accredited.” This means that the institution and its programs have been evaluated in the United States against standards for measuring quality. Accreditation by a recognized accrediting agency is one of the requirements for institutions to participate in federal student financial aid programs. If you choose to attend a college or training program that is not accredited, you may not be eligible for federal financial aid. Also, many employers in the United States only recognize degrees earned from institutions accredited by an agency recognized by the U. S. Secretary of Education.
Beware: any institution can claim to be accredited. It is important that you, as a consumer, do your homework. For more information about recognized and unrecognized accrediting agencies, as well as fraud related to accreditation, take a look at this website for the U. S. Network for Education Information:
Weekend College Study Option
Many students who go to college are working full-time or part-time. To better meet the needs of working students, many colleges offer weekend college study options that allow adults to earn college credits or an associate’s degree over the weekends. Often, weekend college courses are scheduled in ways that provide students with flexible options and the opportunity to complete their program of study by attending only on the weekends. These options might include:
- Online courses
- “Hybrid” courses that combine classroom instruction with online instruction
- Individualized self-paced courses
Credit for Life Experience
If you have a lot of knowledge and practical experience in your field but no diploma to show for it, you may be able to receive life-experience credits. Some colleges and universities recognize life experience – which could be gained at the workplace, in the military or through public or community service – when awarding college credits. Students with training, work, or life experience that is equivalent to eligible college courses may be able to earn credit toward their degree or certificate programs. To receive credit you will be asked to “prove” your knowledge by providing evidence of your experience such as:
- Attendance of seminars/workshops/conferences
- Licensure or certifications
- Professionally-authored books or papers
- Community service
- Military service
- Specialized training
- Work experience
- Various tests or other assessments
Each college independently designs its life credit program. So it’s important to research any potential programs to determine their relevance to your education objectives and life experience. As always, you should also make sure that the institution you are considering is fully accredited.