The landscape of higher education is evolving, and for good reason —not all learners are seeking a degree from a college or university. Many learners want or need to gain new skills or knowledge in a format that fits into their busy lives.

Microcredentials, certificates and condensed courses can offer learners a noncredit pathway to achieving their educational goals outside of a degree program. With so many offerings, you may be wondering what the best option is for you—credit or noncredit?  

The first question you should ask yourself is; What is your end goal?

Do you want a job that typically requires a certain degree or degree type (Bachelor’s, Master’s, etc.) as a job requirement? Have you been interested in getting a degree but you don’t have the time to attend college full-time?

In these cases, you should search for courses or programs that provide college credit, which can be applied to a degree program immediately or when you are ready to matriculate into a degree program.

If you need a quick upgrade in your competency around a certain subject or skillset and you don’t plan on earning a degree, then a noncredit option may be more suitable for you.

Here is a breakdown of the differences and advantages of credit and noncredit options:

Credit Courses and Programs

Credit courses and programs are designed for learners who are interested in earning college credits towards a degree or certificate. 

Important points about credit courses/programs:

  • Credits add up and can be applied toward a degree or credit certificate.
  • Depending on your enrollment status, you may be eligible to receive financial aid to help with the cost of your courses.
  • College credit is granted only by authorized higher education institutions, and a unit of credit is often transferrable between institutions.
  • College credit is granted only when a student successfully achieves the specific requirements of the course.

A credit course or program may be ideal for you if:

  • Your employer offers education benefits that have a grade or credit requirement.
  • You want to earn an associate degree but think you may pursue a Bachelor’s degree at some point.
  • Your dream job requires a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree as a job requirement.
  • You are enrolled at a four-year college and are home for the summer, and you want to enroll in a course that will transfer to your home school and apply towards your four-year degree.

Noncredit Courses and Programs

Noncredit courses are intended for learners who want to focus on acquiring specific knowledge, learn a new skill, upgrade existing skills, or develop personal interests without the consideration of accumulating college credit. By providing condensed and focused learning experiences, noncredit courses and programs allow students to build a unique portfolio of knowledge, skills and/or competencies in a short amount of time, whether for professional advancement or personal interest. Upon completion, students receive a certificate of completion or digital badge

Important points about noncredit courses/programs:

  • Noncredit courses typically cannot be applied directly towards a degree or credit-bearing certificate programs. However, some institutions are pursuing ways to evaluate the effort and assessment of learning in noncredit courses to determine if they can “stack” into a credit program as evidence of prior learning or experience. This is only at the discretion of each institution and is not as widely interchangeable as college credit.
  • Federal financial aid is restricted to only certain types of noncredit courses, or certain types of institutions that provide them. You will need to check specifically for each course and provider as to whether aid is available.
  • Noncredit courses can often lead to the achievement of a professional “certification”, which is evidence that you have achieved some specific competency at a certain level. Certifications can be preferred, or even required, by an employer.
  • If noncredit courses are to be used for professional improvement or career enhancement, then they should include some measurement of the specific knowledge, skills or competencies targeted by the course that would appeal to employers.

A noncredit course or program may be ideal for you if:

  • You want to improve your skills and enhance your resumé.
  • You want to learn more about a hobby that interests you.
  • You’re working toward a professional certification, so you can land a job in your desired field.


View all credit and noncredit programs available through the College of Professional Studies.