A postbaccalaureate certificate ("postbac") is awarded when you complete courses beyond your undergraduate studies in a non-degree granting program. The name literally means "after the bachelor's degree" and allows you go deeper or broader in your studies. Classes are offered at both the undergraduate and graduate levels, depending on the school. Unlike a master's or doctorate program, however, you won't receive a "degree", but rather a "certificate." This isn't simply a technicality. It means that the program isn't viewed as being on part with a degree granting program, whether that's actually true or not.
To help you figure out whether a postaccalaureate certificate is a good choice, we've compiled a list of defining characteristics below. Think of it as an answer to the question: "What am I getting into?"
You'll Grow Intellectually
A postbac, by definition, is designed to further your undergraduate education without having to attend graduate school. Let's say that you majored in Economics, but you don't feel that you're ready to work as an economist or apply to competitive graduate programs in Economics (perhaps you didn't take courses in a particular specialty, like Econometrics). In this case, a postbac would be a perfect way to fill in any gaps. In some circumstances, postbacs can also be used as a vehicle to explore completely different disciplines -- for example, an Economics major who wants to explore History. Usually, it's much more difficult to pursue a postbac that's not related to your undergraudate degree, though it's sometimes still possible.
You'll Have a Better Chance of Getting Into Grad School
Okay, now we've hit the jugular. The top reason why people enroll in postbacs is to prepare themselves for graduate school. As you've probably figured out, getting into grad school is a competitive affair and a postbac is the perfect way to set yourself up for success. First, you can use the postbac to fill in any gaps in your undergrad coursework. For example, if you studied Classics and want to pursue a PhD in Classics, but you didn't take enough clasess in Latin to be competitive as a graduate applicant, you could complete a postbac in Classics to strengthen your Latin skills. Second, a postbac can be a good way to boost your grades if your undergraduate GPA wasn't too hot. And, finally, postbacs are a great way to get recommendation letters from top faculty since they're often offered by respected schools like Columbia and UCLA.
You'll Be Marketable to (Some) Employers
Like a master's degree, a postbac will increase your marketability with employers relative to only having a bachelor's degree. Besides priming your graduate school applications, and a subsequent professional career, a postbac can be an attractive terminal certificate. A variety of employers value the additional training that a postbac certificate offers, and this can open up doors. Let's take an example. Say that you're an English major that wants to become a journalist but the job market is very competitive. Well, a postbac in journalism might just give you the edge you need over other English majors. Because a certificate program takes less time and money than a graduate degree, it can be a practical way to get more training.
You'll Be in School for 1-2 Years
Here's the clincher. Completing a postbac certificate takes 1-2 years, which can be as long as a master's degree, but at the end of the journey you're left with a certificate. You'll still have to complete two to four semesters of coursework but you normally don't have to write a master's thesis or complete a master's project. And unlike some master's programs, you won't be required to do any internships, so your summers will be yours.
You'll Typically (*Sigh*) Pay Tuition
You'll typically have to pay your way through a postbac program. Tuition is lower than undergraduate programs and public universities tend to offer lower rates than private institutions. If your goal is to strengthen your application for graduate school without spending a fortune, consider a well-regarded public university system, like the University of California or the University of Texas.
You'll Find it Relatively "Easy" to Get Admitted
Getting accepted to a postbac is relatively easy compared to graduate programs. We're not saying that everyone gets admitted, but it's certainly a lot less competitive than a master's or doctorate program. Since you're not getting a degree, but rather a certificate, the university's standards of admission are less stringent. That means they can let more applicants in the door. And since there's usually no funding for a postbaccalaureate certificate, it makes accepting you all the more simple. So, essentially, it comes down to whether you have the means and desire to take this extra step and whether it's necessary in your case.