Certificate or non-degree courses are sometimes as beneficial as MBA programs--maybe even more so. Just ask Valerie Suares. The 41-year-old co-founder of San Jose, California-based WeLoveMacs.com, an online store for Macintosh users, completed a certificate program in e-commerce at San Jose State University after she completed her MBA degree. "The difference between a certificate program and a master's is that you can take classes in any order," says Suares. "With certificates, you can pick classes [that pertain to] your business."
While Suares has loads of brick-and-mortar experience, her certificate focused on the nuances of e-commerce. "I took the program to springboard my business," she says. "The certificate was designed for people who [want to] immediately apply the knowledge."
Even after completing the certificate requirements, Suares continued taking courses. "I practically took all the electives," she says. "I wasn't interested in getting a certificate as much as I was in learning." So how did Suares balance her schoolbooks with balance sheets? "It completely overlapped," she says. "I crafted projects that I needed for my own company. Work and school never infringed because my homework applied to my business."Suares also interacted with experienced Silicon Valley CEOs. "We had assignments which involved working together as teams building a business," she says. "I was in constant communication with team members from my class, writing presentations and designing a Web site."
Now that she's completed an MBA degree and certificate program, which was more beneficial? Says Suares, "The certificate program was the most practical educational experience I ever had."