Earning an associate's or bachelor's degree can go a long way toward preparing people for their chosen professions. However, if graduates want to take their careers -- and earning potential -- to the next level, oftentimes more education and training is required, as well as demonstrating proficiency in their field. This can often be accomplished by completing a professional certification, which, in many cases, can potentially propel workers into a salary of $60,000 per year or more.
Examples of the benefits of certification can be seen in many industries, including health care, technology and business. The following careers illustrate how certifications have the potential to help take workers to the next level of their careers.
Developments in health care legislation and technology have changed the way medical care is delivered to patients. Certifications can help health professionals keep up with the latest developments in the field, making them an asset to both employers and patients alike.
1. Dental hygienist
Median annual earnings (2013): $70,210
Dental hygienists provide vital services to help patients with their oral health, including teeth cleaning, taking x-rays and educating patients on oral hygiene habits. In order to enter the profession, dental hygienists must typically earn an associate's degree at the minimum. People seeking to advance in their careers -- obtaining jobs in research and education -- may also complete a bachelor's or graduate-level dental hygiene degree.
Every state has some form of licensing requirements for dental hygienists. To qualify for a certification, students must complete a dental hygiene degree from an accredited program, pass the National Board Dental Hygiene Examination and complete a regional or state-specific examination.
2. Magnetic resonance imaging technologist
Median annual earnings: $66,050
When a patient undergoes an MRI screening, magnetic resonance imaging technologists are the ones who administer these important medical tests. MRI techs are responsible for handling the equipment and ensuring images are high quality enough for a physician to accurately interpret. Additionally, magnetic resonance imaging technologists work with patients to ensure they understand the procedure and are comfortable during the screening. In order to perform the duties of this profession, MRI technologists are required to complete specialized training from a relevant degree program.
For students who want to further demonstrate their expertise and open up the potential to advance in their careers, certifications are available through The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists. In order to qualify for this credential, professionals must complete a degree program at an accredited institution, as well as pass an examination and meet the organization's professional ethics requirements.
Technology is constantly evolving, and in order to keep up with this fast-changing field, professionals often brush up on their skills and knowledge by earning a certification.
3. Network or database administrator
Median annual earnings: $72,560
Network and database administrators are the wardens of a company's digital lifeblood, so it's imperative these professionals are skilled at taking care of the day-to-day operation of an organization's computer networks. In most cases, these professionals must obtain a bachelor's degree in an IT discipline in order to find employment, though some related jobs may require a graduate-level degree. Certifications for these professionals can also help job candidates stand out in a crowd of applicants.
There are several certifications available to network and database administrators, most of which are issued by software companies. The most common certifications in this field are available from Cisco and Microsoft.
4. Technical writer
Median annual earnings: $65,500
Technical writing can be the perfect career for those who wish to marry the written word with technology. These professionals can enter the field through either side of the spectrum: On the one hand, some technical writers have earned a degree in English, communication or journalism, while on the other hand, some of these professionals studied engineering, computer science, or even medicine before entering the field.
With such a large pool of applicants to choose from, employers often look for workers who have gone the extra mile and earned a professional certification, such as those issued by the Society for Technical Communication and the American Medical Writers Association.
5. Web developer
Median annual earnings: $62,500
When people surf the Internet, they're looking at the work of web developers, who are responsible for designing and creating websites, as well as monitoring the amount of traffic a web site receives. Those who want to pursue these careers can find employment after earning a bachelor's degree, and if they want to further their education, they can earn a certification from software companies like Microsoft.
With businesses constantly changing the way they sell their goods and services, and compete in a global marketplace, it's always a good idea for professionals to stay ahead of the curve by pursuing a certification.
6. Training and development manager
Median annual earnings: $95,400
An employee's success is often directly related to the amount and quality of the training they receive. Training and development managers are responsible for overseeing employee training, which entails assessing what type of training employees need, creating training budgets and developing and monitoring the effectiveness of company training programs. Depending on the employer, training and development managers may be required to earn a bachelor's or a master's degree.
To sharpen skills and keep abreast of workplace training pedagogy, these professionals may earn certifications from organizations like the International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI) and the Association for Talent Development (formerly known as the American Society for Training and Development). To receive a certification from the ISPI, professionals must be able to demonstrate at least three years of professional experience, as well as commit to the organization's code of ethics. Similarly, those who want to earn a certification from the Association for Talent Development must work in the field for at least five years and successfully complete an examination.
7. Human resources manager
Median annual earnings: $99,720
Human resource managers help shape an organization's workforce by overseeing the recruiting, hiring and training of employees. They're also responsible for dealing with potential staff issues, which can include disciplinary action, mediation and termination. Human resource managers can seek employment by earning a bachelor's degree in HR, though some employers may favor candidates who have earned a certification from the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans or the HR Certification Institute -- which requires passing an examination and proving professional experience.
"Dental Hygienists," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2014-15 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dental-hygienists.htm
Licensure, American Dental Hygienists' Association, Accessed September 19, 2014, http://www.adha.org/licensure
"Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2014-15 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes292035.htm
Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologist, The American Registry of Radiologic Technologists, Accessed September 19, 2014, https://www.arrt.org/Certification/Magnetic-Resonance-Imaging-Technologist
"Network and Computer Systems Administrators," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2014-15 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/network-and-computer-systems-administrators.htm
"Technical Writers," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2014-15 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/media-and-communication/technical-writers.htm
"Web Developers," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2014-15 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/computer-and-information-technology/web-developers.htm
"Training and Development Managers," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2014-15 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/training-and-development-managers.htm
Apply for CPT, International Society for Performance Improvement, Accessed September 19, 2014, http://www.ispi.org/content.aspx?id=82
FAQs, Association for Talent Development, Accessed September 19, 2014, http://www.astd.org/Certification/Get-Started/FAQs
"Human Resources Managers," Occupational Outlook Handbook (2014-15 Edition), Bureau of Labor Statistics, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/radiologic-technologists.htm
Our HR Certifications, HR Certification Institute, Accessed September 19, 2014, http://www.hrci.org/our-programs/our-hr-certifications
International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, Accessed September 19, 2014, http://www.ifebp.org/Pages/default.aspx