What Is a Microdegree?

What Is a Microdegree?

By Juliann Scholl

Published on April 2, 2021

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While a four-year college degree remains a requirement for many occupations, there are more educational options than ever for people interested in expanding their job opportunities. Microdegrees offer an excellent way to upskill and obtain specialized training in various fields, from accounting to web development.

Colleges and universities, massive open online course (MOOC) providers, and other online organizations all offer microdegree options.

And these online programs are gaining in both popularity and acceptance, with an increasing number of hiring managers accepting online microdegrees as legitimate credentials. A 2018 survey found that more than 60% of hiring managers perceive online credentials as comparable to in-person options, reflecting a steady increase over the last several years.

What Is a Microdegree?

A microdegree offers a learning alternative to traditional education formats. Microdegrees can help students acquire specific competencies, build skills and knowledge, and qualify for more responsibility on the job. Microdegree courses teach learners tangible skills they can apply quickly in order to pursue career advancement or switch fields.

Contrary to conventional degrees that touch on broad areas of knowledge, a microdegree typically focuses on one specialty or skill set and requires much less time to complete. Additionally, some universities award microdegrees that students can apply toward a bachelor's or master's degree.

Microdegree vs. Certificate: How Do They Differ?

A microdegree program typically attracts working professionals who want to acquire new skills or brush up on competencies they already have — all while following a flexible, online schedule. These credentials are generally viewed as supplementary and can complement your previous education and experience.

As an example, most of the MicroMasters programs available on edX feature 3-6 courses. Depending on the rigor, delivery format, and length of the program, learners may spend 2-12 hours per week for a few months or more than a year earning their microdegree.

Microdegrees are generally viewed as supplementary credentials, complementing your previous education and experience.

Upon completing a microdgree program, graduates sometimes earn a digital badge, which they can share on their resume or LinkedIn profile. This badge signals expertise in a specific skill or area to potential employers.

Certificate programs also award postsecondary credentials on a relatively short timeline, but these options usually explore a topic more in depth. These programs are generally offered by colleges and universities and follow a more traditional schedule. Some certificates are stackable and can be applied toward a college degree.

Students can enroll in certificate programs online or on campus and should expect to spend six months to a year earning their certificate, though exact timelines and requirements vary depending on the specialty and certificate provider. Students can get certificates to bolster their expertise in many areas, including paralegal studies, business management, and data analytics.

What Are the Benefits of a Microdegree?

Microdegrees allow students to upgrade their skills and gain access to more career opportunities. Most programs offer microdegrees in high-need areas that appeal to employers, such as search engine optimization and blockchain analysis. These programs teach in-demand skills that can help boost a professional's resume.

Microdegrees also allow learners to continue their professional development without spending a large amount of time or money on their education. Some individual microdegree courses may be free, and the flexibility and shorter length of these programs allow professionals to earn marketable credentials while continuing to work on a full-time basis.

Additionally, professionals may be able to earn continuing education credits while completing their microdegree program. This may appeal to workers who need to maintain a professional license.

Types of Microdegrees

Several MOOC providers offer microdegree programs. MOOCs allow an unlimited number of people to enroll in an online class. Students can take some microdegree courses free of charge, but they must typically pay a fee to access program support and earn a certificate of completion or digital badge. Enrollment occurs throughout the year, with learners progressing through their studies largely at their own pace.

Students can also earn branded microdegrees, such as the MicroMasters credentials offered by edX. These programs are normally offered with a partner school or industry partner. Although the rigor and equivalency varies by program, a MicroMaster generally equals about one semester of a traditional master's program.

Many popular microdegree programs focus on topics related to tech or business. For example, students can pursue credentials in areas like supply chain management, entrepreneurship, cybersecurity, and data science.

Microdegree Requirements

While the length and course requirements of a microdegree vary depending on the program, many microdegree programs include 2-6 courses and take several months to over a year to complete. The price also varies depending on a program's length, though many popular microdegree programs cost somewhere in the range of $600-$1,400.

Some microdegree programs have academic or professional requirements, while others may be open to anyone.

The admission requirements for these programs depend on the school or organization offering the microdegree. While some programs don't maintain strict academic or experience-related requirements, others may require students to hold a bachelor's degree or submit a professional portfolio for review.

Microdegree coursework often includes assigned readings, activities, presentations, exams, and assessments. Students may also complete one or more projects.

Where to Earn a Microdegree

Several universities and institutions offer microdegree courses. For example, Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology created edX, a website that offers online MicroMasters programs and other MOOCs. Learners can register for free or paid MOOCs at many other popular sites, including Udemy, Coursera, and Canvas Network.

Students can also enroll in a micro college or microdegree bootcamp. Accredited micro colleges offer classes whose credits can be transferred to four-year institutions. They may also provide mentoring and tutoring to help students find academic success.

For example, DaVinci Coders offers a 20-week program in coding and programming. Students who want a nature-based liberal arts program, on the other hand, might be interested in attending Thoreau College.

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