15 High-Paying Certification Programs You Can Finish in 2 Years or Less

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Laura Berlinsky-Schine2.3k

While some roles have very clear career paths and requirements — physicians, for example, attend medical school and complete residencies — others aren’t quite so defined. People can take many different journeys to succeed in their chosen professions.

One way to succeed in your career is to attain a certification, demonstrating your expertise and skills in specific industries, fields and roles. Not only can certifications help you advance in your profession, but they may also increase your earning potential and land roles you might not be able to get otherwise. What, exactly, is a certification, and what are the best ones to earn?

What is a certification program?

Certification programs have different components and vary depending on their field and nature, but in general, they serve as education programs for professionals in many different fields — healthcare, information technology (IT), project management, graphic design and accounting, to name just a few — and provide a means for helping them boost their skill sets. While they usually don’t lead to degrees, people who complete these programs successfully earn a certification that will often lead to further opportunities. Sometimes, certifications are a requirement for certain industries, while in other cases, they are voluntary.

What are the benefits of certification programs?

Considering a certification program? There are numerous benefits and advantages in practically any career. For example:

• You’ll gain more skills and competencies in your chosen career.

• You’ll stand out among the competition at any level when you’re in search of a job.

• You’ll be able to land higher-level positions and move up in the ranks.

• You could increase your salary and earning potential. 

• You could identify new niches and specialties you hadn’t previously considered. 

• You’ll gain credibility in your professional life.

Certification programs for high-paying careers

NB: Salaries are based on national averages, and earning a certification will often boost your earning potential significantly.

1. Accounting

Annual salary: $71,550 (US News)

Time to complete: 20 credits (around 4 semesters or two years)

Online option: No

The most prestigious accounting designation is that of Certified Public Accountant (CPA), which is not a program itself but a certification requiring a bachelor’s degree, experience working under a practicing CPA and passing a rigorous exam. If you’re in search of a quicker path, consider alternative programs. For example, Pace University’s Lubin School of Business offers a Basic Accounting certificate program for undergraduate non-degree students, one that can be completed in two years, depending on how many credits you complete in a given semester. You’ll learn important accounting principles through courses like financial accounting and can take them to a thriving career.

2. Cloud architecture

Annual salary: $134,115 (Glassdoor)

Time to complete: 1.5 months

Online option: Yes

Ranked one of the best paying IT certifications of 2019 by Global Knowledge, the Google Cloud Professional Cloud Architect certification requires passing an intensive exam, evaluating your technology skills in the cloud architecture space. There are several options for preparing for this exam, including Coursera’s in-depth — but relatively short — program.

3. Graphic design

Annual salary: $82,133 (Salary.com)

Time to complete: Varies

Online option: Yes

Graphic design is essentially visual storytelling, and it combines both art and technology skills. In order to succeed in today’s landscape, where creative professionals are in high demand but face steep competition, having a certification will certainly get you ahead. Programs like Parson’s at the New School Graphic and Digital Design program will equip you with skills in concept, type, layout and color.

4. Hospitality

Annual salary: Varies by niche and location

Time to complete: Flexible

Online option: Yes

Hospitality is a varied industry with many different specialties and skills. In order to succeed in spaces like hotel management, event planning and more, some professionals choose to earn a certification. PCMA’s Digital Event Strategist Certification Program teaches hospitality professionals to lead digital event strategy, reach new audiences and “future-proof” their events through a six-module, self-paced online course.

5. Human resources

Annual salary: $105,948

Time to complete: 3 days – 9 weeks

Online option: Yes

While a certification isn’t critical for succeeding as a human resources (HR) professional, it can certainly give you extensive preparation in order to advance your career. There are several options, but the Society of Human Resources Management (SHRM) offers two of the most respected credentials — SHRM Certified Professional (CP) and SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SCP). The SHRM Learning System gives test-takers ample preparation for their exam, offering several options, including guidance for self-studying and instructor-led courses.

6. Information technology

Annual salary: $88,768 (PayScale)

Time to complete: 17 hours

Online option: Yes

In the critical profession of information technology (IT) manager, you’ll be responsible for implementing, maintaining and improving organizations’ technological infrastructure and systems. There are many different niches within the larger profession and several corresponding certifications. Take the Information Systems Audit and Control Association’s (ISACA) Certified Information Security Manager (CISM) certification. This designation shows that you’re an expert in information security, which can transform your career and equip you with management skills.

7. International business management

Annual salary: $79,000 (PayScale)

Time to complete: 6 months – 2 years

Online option: No

It’s important to have a leg up in the competitive global business market if you’re pursuing a career in this field. Georgetown University’s International Business Management Certificate, along with similar programs, helps you gain key skills and competencies to thrive as an international business management professional.

8. Marketing

Annual salary: Varies

Time to complete: 12 months

Online option: Yes

With marketing becoming an increasingly online domain, even experienced professionals in the field must learn concepts in the digital space. There are several digital marketing programs for new and experienced marketers to enhance their skills. For instance, Duke University’s Digital Media & Marketing program is completely online and self-paced, helping marketers grow their skills and ultimately earn an Online Marketing Certified Professional (OMCP) certification, one of the top designations in the industry.

9. Personal training

Annual salary: $62,377 (Salary.com)

Time to complete: Varies

Online option: Yes

Earning a nationally recognized certification in personal training will enable you to learn advanced techniques, expand your client base and generally improve your career. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) has several options and learning pathways toward becoming certified. The certification is accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA). 

10. Project management

Annual salary: $88,825 (PayScale)

Time to complete: 1,500 hours

Online option: Yes

Project Management Professional (PMP) is considered the top certification in project management, and it requires significant time and experience to complete. When you’re just getting started in your career, you can pursue early-stage certifications as you get acclimated to your field. Also granted by the Project Management Institute (PMI), the Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM) will allow you to learn the skills to succeed as you adjust to your role, and you only need 1,500 hours of experience.

11. Real estate

Annual salary: $72,977 (Salary.

Time to complete: Varies

Online option: Usually no

While real estate agents have high earning potential even without a broker certification, as a real estate broker, you’ll have many more options. While agents must work under brokers, brokers can be self-employed and own their own firms. In order to earn your license, you’ll need to gain experience as an agent, attain one of many real estate certifications, take a state-approved course and pass an exam. 

12. Risk management

Annual salary: $114,005 (Salary.com)

Time to complete: 5 days

Online option: Yes

With a certification, a risk manager, who evaluates risk policies and procedures for organizations, can help both businesses and themselves. There are several options to pursue, such as the New York Institute of Finance: Risk Management Professional Certificate, which takes students through case studies and core principles in just one week.

13. Sales

Annual salary: $126,640 (US News)

Time to complete: Varies

Online option: No

There are many approaches to sales and sales management, and Gartner’s Challenger approach is one of the most widely respected. There are several Challenger Certifications to equip professionals with competencies and knowledge to facilitate Challenger skills development workshops in-house, helping organizations forge a solid pipeline of talent.

14. User experience design

Annual salary: $98,087

Time to complete: 6 months

Online option: Yes

The fast-growing field of user experience (UX) design is becoming increasingly important for building a variety of technology products, including apps and websites, and making them attractive to users. With a certification like Google UX Design Professional Certificate, you can gain skills like wireframing and prototyping, testing designs and more, while also building a portfolio through Coursera’s program.

15. Web development

Annual salary: $77,200 (BLS)

Time to complete: 3 months

Online option: Yes

Web development is a booming field, and there are many paths that help you get there. Attaining a certification will increase your opportunities and earning potential, and there are many choices. Consider, for instance, the Cornell Web Design and Development Certificate Program. This three-month program prepares you to be a frontend developer, focusing on the fundamentals of structuring a website, basic coding languages like HTML and CSS, responsive design and much more.

How to know a certification program is right for you

So, how do you choose the best program — and know whether it’s a good idea to pursue it? Here are some things to consider.

1. Identify your specific goals for the program.

Before you embark on a certification program, determine what you want to accomplish with it. What are your specific goals for the program? Then, learn everything you can about the program so you can figure out whether the certification will help you realize those goals.

2. Research your options.

In some cases or career paths, there are many excellent certification program options to choose from. Look into the various possibilities to determine which program is the best one for you and your specific goals, researching the ins and outs of the certifications and how they align with your career.

3. Look into your employer’s options and support.

Many employers are willing to subsidize or cover certification programs for their employees. If this is an option for you, it’s definitely something to consider. You should also look into the impact completing the program will have on your current career. Will completing the program increase your compensation, for example? Will you be eligible for higher-level positions? These are questions you should certainly ask.

About the Career Expert:

Laura Berlinsky-Schine is a freelance writer and editor based in Brooklyn with her demigod/lab mix, Hercules. She specializes in reporting on education, technology and career development. She also writes satire and humor, which has appeared in Points in Case, Little Old Lady Comedy, Jane Austen’s Wastebasket and The Haven.