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How Affordable are Certificate Programs? A Quick Guide on Certifications & 6 Affordable Certification Programs

by | Sep 1, 2021

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In recent years, school options for students in America have increased rapidly with the number of higher educational institutions, certificate programs, and skill-based learning initiatives that have come to market. With so many avenues available for skill development and career-focused education in place, it can be difficult to make a decision about what program is right for aspiring students and adult learners. This post covers what certificate programs are, how they work, how much they cost, and when they make sense as a good source of skill and practical knowledge.


  1. Certificate programs are short-term and low-cost options to acquire or advance a very specific skill sets – making career growth and increased income more accessible and attainable.
  2. Certificates can vary widely by field -  from cybersecurity, data analytics & data science, and software development to clinical trial management to electronics design & repair.
  3. Programs can cost between $2,000 to $25,000 to complete – a fraction of the $80,000+ total that many 4-year college degrees cost.
  4. MentorWorks partners with a vast array of schools and educational programs to begin or advance proven career paths – overviews of each can be explored below.
Many recent high school graduates and adult learners are turning towards alternative forms of education like certificate programs in an effort to compete in the job market. This is a good move for many, as the cost of attending these programs is comparatively low. Also, the outcomes can be positive for the right set of programs and, based on the skills obtained over that period of time.

Certificate programs, unlike degree programs, are typically short-term (ranging from 2 to 12 months) programs, and cost substantially less than degrees to achieve similar career objectives. In some cases, certificates can cost $10,000 and take 3 to 6 months relative to a state school tuition of $80,000 over 4 years.

The trade-off is that certificates offer skills and not an accredited credential. Many employers are now willing to consider such non-degree credentials, especially from good certificate programs. However, reputation effects of certificate institutions are limited. Therefore, selecting certificate programs with good instruction quality is as important as selecting degree programs.

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What are the types of skills offered by certificate programs?
While education is never standardized, there are some common elements across certificate programs. Certificate programs usually cater to areas where specific skills are in demand by employers. They are intensely focused on this specific area, and can offer both instruction and project based support for candidates in their program.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of skills provided by certificate programs:

  • Data analytics
  • Full stack web development
  • Sales
  • Design
  • Computer aided design & CNC
  • HVAC
  • Electrician
  • Optician
  • Business and finance
  • Diesel engine mechanic
  • Welding
  • Medical coding
  • Nursing
  • Cybersecurity
  • DevOps

The common element is that these programs are expected to lead to employment, and in some cases, can carry degree credits that can be leveraged in future programs. However, as in all education, you get output only if you put in effort. A certificate itself is never a guarantee of a job, but the right program can open doors.


How much do they cost?
Programs can cost between $2,000 to $25,000 for the entire program, relative to college costs where total costs can exceed $80,000 for a 4 year program.

Yet, price may not be the only determining factor for the quality of the education. The return on investment is dependent on both cost and quality of post-program employment.


Who is a certificate program appropriate for?
This is as much a personal and financial choice as it is an objective one. The advantages of certificates are that they are short and intensely focused on one area, whereas degree programs are designed for overall development over a longer period of time.

A well-designed certificate program is eminently suited for someone looking to build a skill in, say full-stack web development, and get a job in short order, as opposed to someone looking for a broad array of classes and associated perks of campus life. A good certificate program can also be helpful for individuals who are looking to upgrade their skills or fill gaps in their knowledge to help them get a new job or advance in their current positions.


Are these programs online or in-class?
More programs are being delivered online due to Covid-19, but some still offer in-class options. This makes it more likely that you can choose programs being offered anywhere in the country, but you need to be comfortable with online learning. If not, consider programs located in your vicinity. More details about how to find certificate programs below.


What are the characteristics of a good cert?
We have seen a few specific elements of effective certificate programs and boot camps.

First, these schools clearly articulate their syllabus and content and also are willing to provide more details on contacting them. The best way to understand a program is to either email or call them up and discuss questions or concerns you may have. Their responsiveness will immediately help understand the kind of school they are.

Second, information on outcomes and user reviews can be helpful in getting external validation on program quality and outcomes. Once you contact a school, it may be worthwhile to request to talk to alumni from that program about their experiences.

Finally, we believe that the strongest signal of outcomes is a credible commitment to protect students from having to pay the cost of the education when they do not experience sufficient income benefits. We partner with schools to support income share agreements, when students only pay for the education if they get jobs with a minimum level of income, and even then, only make payments that are proportional to income.


What MentorWorks partners offer certificate programs?
Below are brief overviews of some schools that partner with MentorWorks. Take your time to do research on programs before you make a choice; resources are available to consider various programs. See all MentorWorks partner schools here.


COLABERRY | Data Analytics & Data Science: Learn effective tools and strategies to become a data-driven decision maker. Colaberry’s instructor-led course will empower you to derive insights from data, and to tell compelling stories from your data analysis using dashboards and visualizations. Their courses combine instructor-led lessons with project-based assignments.

  • Flexible 6-to-12-week courses
  • On campus and online offerings
  • Dedicated instructors with real-world experience
  • On-the-job support for a year after graduation
  • Job interview practice workshops


CODE FELLOWS | Software Engineering, Web Dev & Cybersecurity: Code Fellows is a technical skills training academy in the Pacific Northwest that offers full- and part-time software development, ops and cybersecurity courses online and in-person from their Seattle, Washington location.

Code Fellows guides people from all backgrounds to change their lives through fast-paced, career-focused education. Since their first cohort in 2013, Code Fellows has taught over 1,400 graduates and iterated on their curriculum and format to ensure students receive the most industry-relevant training as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Students are immersed in their learning with daily lectures, pair programming, weekly presentations from full-time instructional staff who are seasoned industry professionals, one-week project sprints, and more. Code Fellows graduates work at Amazon, Microsoft, Zillow, Expedia, XBOX, NIKE, Amazon, Starbucks, Nordstrom, and over 800 other companies.

The modular style of the Code Fellows program allows students to test into the course level that is most appropriate for their current skill level. In addition, the modular class structure allows students to choose the schedule and timing that meets their needs.


STACK EDUCATION | Coding, Data Analytics & Clinical Trial Management: Stack Education collaborates with university partners to deliver expertly designed curriculum to diverse local students, on-campus and online. They offer programs in fullstack web development, data analytics, and clinical trials management. Stack emphasizes the following:

    • Diversity & Inclusion – Bringing communities together through opportunity is a core value in the Stack Education mission. They are dedicated to improving diversity in higher education and STEM workspaces by providing equal opportunity education. Their programs have proven results teaching students diverse in race, age, gender, socio-economic background and more.
    • Professional Development – Their proprietary Professional Acceleration Program curriculum (PACC) gives students the necessary capabilities and skills required to thrive in business and in life. This curriculum includes Individualized and Immediate Feedback, Understanding Your Unique Personal Journey, and Professional Coaching.
  • Career Support – Upon completion of the bootcamp, students will have a job-ready professional portfolio. Graduates also receive 12 weeks of personalized career counseling to help them build a professional network. Stack Education’s alumni continue to be supported by Stack Education long after graduation.

    iDevOps | Dev Ops, Product/Project Management & Cybersecurity:’s program produces qualified and reliable engineers regardless of any prior exposure or experience by introducing students to required foundational knowledge and having them complete real world project tasks to simulate a professional DevOps environment expanding and solidifying that knowledge to a working level.

    Engineers who have completed the program requirements have been placed at companies like: Charter Communications, PriceWaterhouseCoopers, AT&T, Toshiba, and more!

    iDevOps created a method for the application of deductive reasoning to solve complex problems.

    DPSM, which stands for (“Deductive Problem-Solving Method”), is applied to real-world DevOps tasks and challenges developing the skill to solve complex problems quickly and with ease.

    The program consists of: approximately 27 weeks of academics. 500 hours of real-world DevOps project tasks which start midway through the program. You’re required to pass the: Microsoft Azure Fundamentals and Certified Kubernetes Administrator certification exams. Bi-weekly scrums designed to identify any issues or blockers that have come up in the training process.


    VENTURE UNIVERSITY | Capital Investment & Startup Funding: Venture University Is Designed For Individuals Looking To Gain High Quality Investment Experience In Order To Break Into The VC/PE Industry, Launch Their Own Funds, Or Advance Their Careers

    • Develop Key Skill Sets: Deal sourcing, conducting due diligence, investment evaluation, raising LP capital, and increasing the success of portfolio companies
    • Time Commitment: Join VU’s Investor Accelerator, full-time or part-time, for 11 weeks (~3 months), or 2-4 quarters (~6 to 12 months), to get more investment experience
    • Build A Track Record: Make ~2-5 investments per quarter (up to 20 investments over 12 months), each targeting a >10x+ return, and co-invest with top tier investors
    • Profit Sharing Agreement: Share in the financial upside on the investments made via a Profit Sharing Agreement


    BENJAMIN FRANKLIN INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY | CAD Design, CNC Machining & Electronics Repair: Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology (BFIT) is an affordable, urban, private college serving the Boston region and committed to student success and career readiness in technology fields. Through personalized support, hands-on learning, and industry-informed curricula, BFIT prepares graduates for work, life-long learning, and citizenship.

    BFIT’s goal is to be a best-in-class college that provides a supportive learning environment and offer innovative, practical and entrepreneurial education resulting in career-ready, productive and civically-engaged citizens.

    BFIT values their diverse community and the fostering of a supportive learning environment. They are committed to creating opportunity by working closely with industry and community partners to prepare their students for lifelong learning in an increasingly interdependent world. BFIT’s academic programs and co-curricular efforts reflect their commitment to the fundamental principles of an educated person.

    They offer certificates in:

    • CAD/SolidWorks
    • CNC Machining
    • Electronics Technology
    • HVAC&R Technology
    • Practical Electricity
    • Software Development
    • Web Design Multimedia

    DISCLAIMER: MentorWorks Education Capital, Inc. (MentorWorks) is not a representative of any of the Schools nor does the listing of any of the Schools constitute a recommendation, endorsement, or accreditation. Schools are not representatives or affiliates of MentorWorks or Blue Ridge Bank, N.A. References on this website to Schools do not guarantee ISA eligibility or serve as financial advice. You should carefully consider your choice of educational program and seek advice from a qualified advisor. ISAs may be issued by Blue Ridge Bank, N.A.