Career and Technical Education Certificate Programs

College Degrees and Certificates 101

What’s the difference between a certificate and a degree?

Typically, your desired job or profession determines what level of education you should pursue. For some technical jobs, a certificate is sufficient. Other jobs require either an associate or a bachelor’s degree. Some jobs don’t require a degree but offer better pay or room for growth if you have one.


Certificate programs teach skills that prepare you for a specific job. To earn a certificate, you’ll take anywhere from 1 to 19 courses. Elgin Community College has basic, intermediate, and advanced certificates in various career and technical programs. Basic certificates require fewer courses and take less time to complete. Higher-level certificates require more courses and take more time but teach additional skills that may lead to better pay. Several programs feature “stackable” certificates in which you can earn a certificate and continue your coursework toward higher certificate levels and, in some cases, work toward an Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree. 

Associate degree

An associate degree generally takes two years to complete if you attend college full time and requires about 20 to 30 courses (60 credit hours). This degree is designed to fulfill the first half of a bachelor’s degree and prepares you for transfer to a four-year school. ECC offers many transfer plans and education pathways so you can transfer smoothly. The type of associate degree you earn (associate in arts or associate in science) will depend on your program of study. Your academic advisor will help you create a transfer plan that is specific to your goals. An associate degree may also qualify you for employment in your chosen career field.

Associate of Applied Science degree

An associate of applied science (AAS) degree qualifies you for entry into a chosen career field, typically at a higher skill level than what is obtained through a certificate. An AAS degree requires 20 or more courses (60 credit hours) and may help you transfer to a four-year school. For those who want to continue coursework toward a bachelor’s degree after earning an AAS, ECC offers transfer options to four-year colleges and universities for some AAS programs.

Bachelor’s degree

This degree is typically granted by a traditional college or university and can be completed in four years by students who attend college full time. When you spend your first two years at ECC, you are paving the way for a smooth transfer to complete your degree. In addition to our transfer plans, area universities have partnered with ECC to offer bachelor’s degree options that you can complete right here on ECC’s campus. A bachelor’s degree requires 40 to 50 classes (120 credit hours).