What Type of Education is Right For Me? Engineering Professional Development, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Whether your company has just adopted a new technology, given you increased responsibilities, or you’re eyeing a promotion, continuing education can help you fill a knowledge gap while earning credentials to advance your career.

But what kind of education should you choose? The type of education (course, certificate, or degree) and the location of your classes depend on how your present life intersects with your future career goals. Learn the benefits and considerations for each option to help you sort through these big questions.

Are you looking for a leadership role at your current job?

Where Do You See Yourself in Three Years?

Outlining your career goals is an important step toward choosing a professional education program. Are you looking to change careers? Do you want to get promoted? Or, do you want to learn how to perform better at your current job?

Tip: Make a list of three things you could realistically accomplish in your career in the next couple of years.

Once you have answered this question, take some time to research the requirements of your desired goal—and the opinion of your employer or potential employer. For example, some employers value work experience over education, while others list a degree as a requirement for consideration.

You should also consider how much time you are willing to dedicate to your education if you plan to maintain a full-time job. While an online degree is convenient, with the flexibility to decide when to watch lectures and work on assignments, it is a much larger time commitment than a short course or a certificate program.

What Type of Education is Best For You?

Short Courses

Learn a specific skill to immediately apply on the job. Typically, no background knowledge is required; you can sign up for a short course at any time with minimal financial and time commitments. It is most appropriately used as a short-term solution to improve performance at your current job quickly and dramatically.

Bonus: Short courses can provide you with in-person networking opportunities and hands-on activities.


With more benefits than a short course, and without the intensive time and financial commitment of a degree program, certificates can build your resume and address a new role you’ve taken at your current job. For example, UW-Madison’s Technical Leadership Certificate can help those transitioning from technical expert positions to manager roles by teaching them how to lead teams, coach and mentor future leaders, and managing projects.

Certificate programs provide an opportunity to take several courses, usually with hands-on group activities.

They are also ideal for someone looking to switch to a new role in the industry because it can provide more knowledge than a short course alone. Another example is the Maintenance Management Certificate, which will help maintenance professionals perform better in their current roles by learning the latest best practices and technologies.

However, certificates require more time and more courses. Still, the workload is much lighter than a degree program.


If you’re looking to drastically advance or change your career, consider an advanced degree. You will build a deep knowledge of a skill set, with both breadth and technical depth. You’ll know more than just how to apply skills—you’ll learn how to think. The longevity and versatility of an advanced degree can make you more competitive in the job market, or help you gain a promotion.

68% of graduates in UW-Madison’s Master of Engineering: Engineering Management report receiving promotions or salary increases.

However, an advanced degree requires a bigger financial and time commitment, and even the most flexible programs (like UW-Madison’s online master’s programs) will require several years of work. However, a degree can help you reap benefits long after graduation.

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