UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – After being in the workforce for years, Chris Becker said, he wanted to gain skills to boost his career and make himself more marketable.

Becker began looking into graduate business programs, and when he found the Graduate Certificate in Marketing Analytics offered online through Penn State World Campus in partnership with the internationally ranked Penn State Smeal College of Business, he said he knew he found the right fit.

At Penn State, professionals interested in pursuing a graduate business degree can begin by earning 9- or 12-credit graduate certificates on in-demand topics like business analytics, business sustainability strategy, strategic leadership, and more.

Through the certificates, students can gain a credential and then use them as springboards to a master’s degree program through Penn State World Campus. Students say this experience helps introduce adult learners to online education, allowing them to test if this style of learning works for them before committing to an online degree program.

Becker, whose goal is to work in market research after graduation, said he always anticipated pursuing his master’s degree but that having the ability to cross that bridge after gaining experience through a certificate was appealing to him.

Becker earned his certificate in marketing analytics in 2019 and is now pursuing his Master of Professional Studies in Data Analytics with a marketing analytics option. He expects to graduate in 2021.

“Getting a graduate certificate is a good investment by itself because it gives you additional knowledge and skills without committing the time and money required for the master’s degree program. For many people out there, who balance work and family, that might make more sense or may be the only realistic option,” said Becker. “Once I finished up the certificate, I reflected on what I had learned and knew I wanted to expand on that.”

The Smeal College of Business offers an integrated portfolio of online graduate degree programs, including the Penn State Online MBA as well as master’s degrees in marketing analytics and insights, corporate innovation and entrepreneurship, supply chain management, and strategic management and executive leadership.

Students can pair their certificate and master’s degree choices to align with their unique goals. For example, one student may earn both a certificate and master’s degree in corporate innovation and entrepreneurship while another student may earn a certificate in business management foundations or strategic leadership before moving on to pursue their MBA.

The Penn State Online MBA has 22 concentrations, many of which meet some or all of the requirements for a graduate certificate. Concentrations include accounting, business analytics, health care business, homeland security, management consulting, project management, and more.

“The diversity of graduate certificates offered by the Smeal College of Business enables many opportunities to concentrate in one or more specialty areas for our online students,” said Brian Cameron, associate dean of professional graduate programs in the Smeal College of Business. “In our online MBA, we are proud to offer a wide array of concentration options, many of which also count as credits in these certificate programs.”

Student Heather Heiland said she gained a strong foundation through her certificate in marketing analytics that prepared her to start a master’s degree.

“Because I have a liberal arts background, I was afraid I wasn’t ready for advanced classes,” said Heiland. “The certificate program seemed like a great place to begin.”

Heiland completed the marketing analytics certificate program in 2019 and enrolled in the master’s in marketing analytics and insights. She expects to graduate in 2021.

Heiland said that she began looking into higher education because she decided she wanted more for her career. Now, she said she is confident that the skills she’s learned in her courses will give her the competitive edge she needs to move up in her career.

“I recently made a huge career move, and it was made possible by my certificate and ongoing education,” said Heiland. “I was able to move up into the exact position I wanted because I was able to leverage my existing sales experience with my data analysis education. I know that this is only the beginning for my career and am very excited to see how the completion of my master’s degree will take me even further.”

Many of the graduate certificate programs offered online by the Smeal College of Business are now accepting applications for admission for Penn State’s spring semester, which starts in January, and the summer semester, which starts in May.