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Masters Vs Certificate Courses: Which is Better for Architects and Engineers in 2024?

Saumya Verma

12 min read

March 6, 2023


Table of Contents

In this article, we will understand what Certificate Courses are, how they differ from traditional methods of learning, and reach a conclusion as to which one is better. 

Online Certificate Courses

Master’s Degree

Significantly lesser cost; approx. USD 5K per annum High cost; approx. USD 50K per annum
High Return on Investment; at least 2X Unpredictable Return on Investment
Only 3-7 months time invested Usually requires 2 years
Access to mentors worldwide/ Geographically untethered Restricted to a particular institution/ geography
Focus on industry-relevant skills Curriculums are outdated and orthodox
Flexibility in terms of the time, place, and pace of learning and teaching Rigid teaching systems

Focus on specialized skills within a niche Focus on broad, in-depth subject knowledge
Fewer admission requirements  Require a formal application process for admission

What is a Masters Degree?

Three people in front of a university

A master's degree is an academic degree awarded by universities upon completion of a course of study. It demonstrates mastery of a specific field of study or area of professional practice. Masters degrees are available across various fields of study, including landscape architecture, urbanism, architecture history and theory, sustainable architecture, etc.

A Masters allows you to develop your skills in both the practical and theoretical aspects of a subject and prepares students for a range of careers.

These degrees tend to be longer than Certificate Courses as they focus on an in-depth understanding of both theoretical subjects and practical job-ready skills. Typically, a master’s degree requires somewhere between 1 and 2 years.

What Are Certificate Courses?

A computer screen with a certificate popping out

A Certificate Course is a course or a series of courses, designed by industry leaders for students or professionals to strengthen focused topics and skills. These days, students and professionals can find Professional Certificate Courses on a variety of in-demand subjects.

These courses can focus on career-heavy topics like Sustainability, Entrepreneurship, Structural Analysis, BIM, Computational Design or more academic subjects, like regional architecture and history of architecture. They can either be used to advance your career or just to gain some extra knowledge on an interesting subject.

Skills-based and non-degree credentials are essential as one grows in their career. The major advantage of Certificate Courses is that they take far less time to complete than a traditional Master’s degree. This is because Certificate Courses tend to prioritise practicality and job-ready skills. On average, certificate programs take around three to seven months, depending on what you’re learning and how the program is structured. 

The Rise of Certification Courses

Timeline of Certificate Courses

Let us look at the history of Online Certification Courses. According to McGill University Association of Teachers’ brief history of the sector, the term Massive Open Online Course was coined in 2008 to refer to a course developed by Stephen Downes and George Siemens. Later, in 2011, Stanford offered three online courses for free. Since then, this industry started gaining momentum.

A 2017 report on online education by Google and KPMG predicted that by 2021, online certification programmes would draw 9.6 million users up from 1.6 million in 2016. These numbers started going way even upward since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lockdown and the work-from-home option gave employees a chance to redefine their careers. Worldwide, short-term courses started being favoured for career advancement and salary boost.

Benefits of Certificate Courses over a Traditional Masters Degree

While a Master's degree was once seen as a surefire way to boost career growth, the current turbulent job market and changing mindset have made it a less certain investment. With more people pursuing advanced degrees, the value of a Master's degree has become somewhat diluted. Additionally, many employers are looking for practical skills and experience, rather than just degrees.

Let’s find out the benefits of a Certificate Course over a Traditional Masters Degree:

Industry-Relevant Content

A laptop with some books kept beside it

In today's rapidly changing job market, it's becoming increasingly important for individuals to acquire job-ready skills and stay up-to-date with industry practices. As a result, certificate courses are now preferred over traditional Master's courses. 

  1. One of the primary reasons for this shift is that certificate courses focus on practicality and job-ready skills. Unlike traditional Master's courses, which may have a more theoretical approach, certificate courses are designed to teach students practical skills that they can apply in real-world settings. This practical focus means that students are better prepared to meet the demands of the industry and can hit the ground running in their new jobs.

  2. Many certificate courses offer students the opportunity to work on live projects and build an industry-relevant portfolio. This not only gives them valuable experience but also makes them more attractive to potential employers.

  3. Furthermore, certificate courses often provide career guidance and placement support, helping students navigate the job market and build successful careers. This guidance may include assistance with job search strategies, resume building, networking, and interview skills.

Significantly Lower Price

While a certification course costs approximately 5K per annum, a Master’s degree costs about 50K. This means that Certification Courses are offered at one-tenth the price of a typical Master's degree. The significant difference is caused because:

  1. Application fees, relocation costs, living expenses, and other miscellaneous expenses – which make up the cost of a Master’s degree –  are absent when you’re remote learning.

  2. A master’s degree requires you to quit your job and invest two years full-time in learning, whereas professionals can upskill while they work (and earn) with a certification program. This means there is also zero opportunity cost in case of a certificate course.

Remote Accessibility

Four squares with different departments connected online

Unlike a traditional Masters degree, which has geographical restrictions, online certification courses are geographically untethered. 

  1. Certificate courses are often designed in collaboration with industry experts to ensure that the curriculum is relevant and up-to-date with current industry trends and practices. With remote accessibility, students can learn from experts from all over the world, regardless of their location. This can provide valuable insights and perspectives that may not be available in a traditional classroom setting.

  2. Another benefit of certificate courses is the opportunity to build a strong network with other students from all across the world. Since certificate courses are often offered online, students have the opportunity to connect with others from different regions, countries, and cultures. With remote accessibility, students can participate in discussions, group projects, and other collaborative activities with their peers from anywhere in the world.

Flexibility of Learning

Three students working from three different environments

Flexible learning describes a learner-focused learning environment that caters to different learning styles and preferred teaching environments. Unlike Master's programs that require a fixed schedule and full-time enrollment, certificate courses allow learners to choose their own pace, place, and time of learning.

  1. Flexibility in terms of pace means that learners can progress through the coursework at their own speed. This is particularly helpful for learners who want to balance their studies with work or other commitments.

  2. In terms of place, students can learn from anywhere in the world as long as they have a reliable internet connection. This eliminates the need to travel to a physical location and allows learners to study from the comfort of their own homes.

  3. Finally, certificate courses are designed to fit the busy schedules of learners. They offer a self-paced learning experience that enables students to complete their coursework whenever they have time.

Shorter Time Commitment

While a master’s degree typically takes between a year or two, online certificate courses take only around three to seven months. This is because certificate courses are designed to provide targeted training in a specific field or skill set. Unlike Master's programs, which typically cover a broader range of topics, certificate courses are focused on a particular subject, allowing learners to gain the necessary skills and knowledge more quickly.

This targeted training approach allows for a more in-depth study of the subject matter, enabling learners to gain a deeper understanding of the concepts and skills being taught. This can be particularly valuable for learners who want to build expertise in a particular area or who are looking to make a career change.

The shorter time commitment required to complete a certificate course is a significant benefit for learners who want to accelerate their careers. It allows them to acquire new knowledge and credentials without committing to a lengthy and expensive Master's program.

So, Which One is Better for Architects and Engineers? 

 A person working on working drawings on a desk

Let’s dive deeper into which is better for Architects. As Architects, it is important to prioritise certain aspects to progress in your career successfully.
  1. Upskilling is crucial as architecture jobs may not always offer high pay, so it is necessary to continuously improve your skills.

  2. Practical learning is more beneficial than theoretical knowledge. This can be achieved via capstone projects and hands-on learning for a deeper understanding of the subject.

  3. As education can be costly, it is essential to consider the Return on Investment when deciding on a program. 

Considering all these factors, what works best for Architects is: Certificate Courses.

These courses offer a practical approach to learning, allowing individuals to gain valuable skills that are directly applicable to their profession. Additionally, certificate courses are often shorter and more affordable than traditional degree programs, making them a more feasible option for those on a budget. Moreover, obtaining a certificate in a specific area of architecture can boost an individual's credibility and open up new opportunities for career advancement.

Want to know more about this? Check out: Is a Master's Degree In Architecture Worth It? 5 Things to Consider Before Making Your Decision

How to Evaluate a Certificate Course?

Here are some pointers you should keep in mind while searching for the perfect Certificate Course:

1. What kind of credit do you want or need?


If you are looking for a program that will help you get a specific job or meet an industry requirement, you must understand what type of credit will help you achieve that goal.

You should also make sure that the certification offered at the end is issued by a third-party organisation with an established body of knowledge. A verified certificate can act as a proof for an employer, school, or other institution that you have successfully completed an online course.

2. How will you be learning?

There are various modes of learning, including blended learning, virtual learning, and project-based learning. Project-based learning gives the students real-life experience that they can apply to their current work or share at an upcoming review or interview.  

To see how Oneistox does it, check out:


3. Who will you be learning from?

Qualified and Industry-specific instructors are crucial for a good understanding of the subject. In addition, instructors who enjoy teaching and sharing their knowledge will make a dramatic difference in the depth of study and the potential for networking connections.  

Especially, in an Industry like the AEC, having the right mentors can transform careers. They can help with:

  1. Industry guidance: Architecture is essentially an apprenticeship-based profession. AEC Professionals always need someone to share insights, feedback, and advice on navigating the Industry.

  2. The right network: A mentor can also open doors, provide introductions to key players in the industry, help you find internships and job opportunities, and provide valuable recommendations.

  3. The right track: A good mentor can help students stay inspired. They offer encouragement, helping you overcome obstacles and stay focused on your goals.

At Oneistox, industry experts from around the world come on board to teach architects the skills of the real world.

Mentor panel for the Oneistox BIM Professional Course

If you’re looking to accelerate your career with some top-notch learning content, do check out Novatr’s Certificate Courses:  Master Computational Design for Real-World Application or BIM Professional Course.  Take advantage of live lectures, recorded sessions, and your final capstone project to master these complex methodologies. 

For more insights on AEC careers, software and tools, and industry trends, head to our Resources page.


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