What Is a Certificate of Advanced Study?

College professor teaching class

A college graduate earns about $1 million more during their lifetime compared to an individual without a degree. Furthermore, higher education has been shown to positively impact graduates’ health, cognitive skills and communities.1

But if you’re already reaping the benefits of both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, does that mean your higher education journey is over? Not necessarily. In fact, there are numerous options for furthering your education, and not all of them involve earning a doctoral degree.

A certificate of advanced graduate study (CAGS), also known as a certificate of advanced study, may be a good option for you if you're interested in heading back to school. What is a certificate of advanced study, and is it right for you? Let's take a closer look.

In this article: 

What Is a CAGS? 

A simple CAGS definition is that it is a program of study offered by a higher education institution. Compared to a degree program, a certificate of advanced study is similar to a mini program because it typically requires fewer credits for completion.

It’s worth noting that a CAGS is a type of graduate certificate in that students who apply are expected to already have a degree. A general graduate certificate may be available to students with only a bachelor’s degree; however, a CAGS is generally intended for students who hold both a bachelor's and a master's degree. It is a post-master's program with a somewhat narrow focus, typically designed to teach specialized knowledge in a field or subfield.

Is a CAGS a Graduate Degree Program? 

Not all programs offered by colleges are degree programs, and the CAGS is one example of this. Although a graduate certificate program does not confer a college degree, it can teach specialized knowledge and skills that you may find helpful for your career and/or personal life. In addition, you’ll be able to include a completed certificate program on your resume and on professional networking profiles online.

Reasons to Consider Enrolling in a Certificate of Advanced Study 

Now that you know the answer to the question, What is a CAGS? you may be curious about the reasons why students enroll in these graduate certificate programs. 

Here’s a look at a few key reasons:

  • Gateway: A CAGS may be an ideal option for post-master’s students who are thinking of earning a doctoral degree. The CAGS can serve as a bridge, providing the opportunity to brush up on academic skills and refresh knowledge before diving into the challenges of a doctoral degree program. 
  • Potential career advancement: Students may enroll in a graduate certificate program with the goal of pursuing career advancement. These programs generally teach advanced competencies in a field or subfield. 
  • Specialization: You might enroll in one of these programs if you wish to specialize in a particular area in your field or if you’re interested in developing specific skills. 
  • Professional networking: Professional networking is a compelling benefit of any graduate-level program. Even if you enroll in a CAGS program offered completely online, you should be able to connect with other learners digitally. You may enjoy hearing from a diverse range of professionals with various backgrounds and global perspectives.

Examples of CAGS 

Now that you know the CAGS definition and some of the many benefits of earning a graduate certificate, you may be curious about your options. There are many different types of CAGS out there where various options are being offered by different schools.

In general, you might find graduate certificates in subjects such as: 

  • Entrepreneurship 
  • Corporate leadership 
  • Psychology 
  • Healthcare administration and policy 
  • Educational leadership 
  • Data science 
  • Information security management 
  • Museum studies
  • Security studies 
  • International relations

At Grand Canyon University, you can choose from the following advanced graduate certificates: 

Is a Certificate of Advanced Studies Right for You? 

A certificate of advanced study can be beneficial, but before enrolling, it’s important to consider whether it’s the right option for your unique needs and lifestyle. First, consider whether you are eligible to apply. Each university has its own admissions requirements, but in general, an aspiring CAGS student must have a completed master’s degree (which, of course, means you must also have a bachelor’s degree).

Next, ask yourself a few questions to inform the decision-making process. Some examples include: 

  • Do you feel stuck in your current career trajectory? 
  • Do you feel that additional academic credentials might enhance your earnings potential and increase the chances of a promotion? 
  • Do you want to specialize in a subarea in your field? 
  • Are you passionate about a particular topic in your field and want to learn more about it in a structured way? 
  • Are you thinking about earning a doctoral degree but aren't quite ready for it and eager to explore other options in the meantime? 
  • Is the CAGS you’re considering available online or in your area? Will you need to relocate? 
  • Do you currently have enough time to tackle the coursework while continuing to meet your other responsibilities?

A CAGS may provide opportunities to diversify and expand your skill set, examine specialized competencies in your field and even provide opportunities for professional networking. Use your answers to the above questions and consider the benefits of earning a certificate of advanced studies to determine if it’s the right choice for you.

Financing Options for CAGS Students 

Since a graduate certificate program isn’t a full degree program, it requires fewer credits for completion. At GCU, for example, our advanced graduate certificates require between nine and 12 credits for completion and are typically three to four classes in length. Due to this, you may discover that enrolling in a graduate certificate program presents a viable option for advancing your education. Occasionally, graduate certificate programs are eligible for federal education funding in the form of federal grants and student loans.2 Talk to a financial aid advisor to discuss options for financing your CAGS program.

You’ll also want to look into whether your employer offers tuition reimbursement for a certificate of advanced studies or a private lender, such as a bank or credit union.

Earn a Certificate of Graduate at GCU

Advanced Studies at GCU offers a wide range of degrees and certificate programs intended to further our student’s academic accomplishments and career readiness. Complete the form on this page to learn more about our graduate certificates.

Gallup. (2023). Education for what? Retrieved April 16, 2024.

2 Davies, A. (2023, Sept. 21). How to pay for a grad certificate program. SoFi Learn. Retrieved April 16, 2024.

Approved by the dean of the College of Doctoral Studies on June 3, 2024.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.