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Stackable Certificates: How to Upskill or Get Ready for a Master’s Degree

Tiffany Stronghart & Brandon Arbuckle May 15, 2024
young student studying in front of a laptop computer

Are you looking for a way to learn new skills that could lead to a higher-paying job? Do you want to complete courses that could lead to a degree without the full-time commitment? Stackable certificate programs offered through the Universities of Wisconsin can help. 

Stackable certificates, usually consisting of 3-5 courses each, are a great way to build new knowledge and skills, or expand on skills you already have. At the Universities of Wisconsin, you have the flexibility to complete a stackable certificate on its own, or complete a series of stackable certificates plus a capstone project to earn a master’s degree.

To learn more about how stackable certificates can work for you, check out these frequently asked questions:

What are stackable certificates?

Stackable certificates can be “stacked” into a degree or completed individually to build a comprehensive qualification or skill set in a specific subject area. In many cases, you can complete certificates in any order, depending on your needs. You can choose to complete as few or as many certificates as you  would like, making your learning experience more flexible. For example, the 100 percent online Master of Science in Information Technology Management offers students the ability to complete one or more graduate certificates in IT Leadership, Enterprise Infrastructure, or IT Operations. Or, students can complete all of the certificates and a final project to earn the master’s degree.

How can they help me advance my career?

Because each certificate holds value on its own as a credential, you can pursue a certificate to learn specific skills or gain knowledge in a single subject area. You will be able to apply the skills you learn in the certificate program almost immediately, making you more attractive to future employers. Adding these certificates to your resume and LinkedIn profile also shows employers that you’re committed to lifelong learning, professional development, and keeping up with industry trends. With some of the specialized skills required by today’s evolving careers, a stackable certificate can help you demonstrate that you’ve mastered an in-demand or unique skill.

When would I choose a stackable certificate over a traditional degree program?

A stackable certificate is a great way to build skills and knowledge without the commitment or cost of a traditional degree program. The flexibility of stackable certificates allows you to finish a program in a shorter timeframe than a traditional degree, and complete additional certificates when it works for you, instead of completing a traditional degree that may be cohort-based or require you to complete courses in a certain timeframe. For some, earning a stackable certificate after earning a  bachelor’s degree may be enough to move into a more competitive role, especially when changing career paths. Taking a stackable certificate program can save you time and money.

Can stackable or graduate-level credentials lead to a degree, if I decide that I want one?

Many stackable or graduate certificates can be applied toward a degree. For example, you can earn a master’s degree in Biodiversity and Conservation Management or an Information Technology Management master’s degree by completing three stackable certificates plus a capstone project.

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What do employers think of stackable certificates?

Earning a stackable certificate is a great way to show your current and future employers that you are committed to learning and improving your skills. Employers will also recognize the strong reputation, quality, and renowned faculty of the Universities of Wisconsin.

Aaron Sens, who has worked for more than 25 years as an actuary, decided to enroll in the Foundations of Biodiversity Conservation and Management-Graduate Certificate last year to fulfill what he calls a “passion project.”

Aaron graduated with a bachelor’s degree in math, but has always had an interest in natural resources and dreamed about earning a graduate degree in natural resources management. His job, which he describes as a more “corporate environment,” doesn’t lend itself to opportunities to work outside or in nature. So he decided to enroll in the certificate to see if he liked the subject matter, or if it might lead to a career change.

“It just feels like going on 30 years is about long enough in one field of practice. And this is the grand scheme, right, to do something for the last stage of my career that I feel is a little more perhaps helpful to society or beneficial,” he says. 

Are you passionate about a particular subject matter and interested in studying it more—even if it’s outside of your current career path? If you’re like Aaron, remember that years of professional experience can translate well into the online learning environment.

Ultimately, UW offers many options that offer the flexibility for you to decide what your career and learning goals look like. For some learners, gaining certain skills or knowledge is the most important thing. For others, they like having the option to eventually earn a higher degree. To learn more about our educational programs, click here.

Programs: Biodiversity Conservation and Management, Digital Marketing, Financial Technology, Health and Wellness Management, IT Management, Senior Living and Services Leadership, Sustainability and Well-being, Sustainable Management