Achieving your goals: Certificates and minors can help


By Emily Ahlin / Staff Writer

It’s a tough choice — bioengineering or chemical engineering?

For many Pitt students, selecting minors or certificates can be challenging, especially when considering what potential employers would prefer to see on candidates’ resumés.

Pitt offers 46 minors and 12 certificates across all schools and includes programs like Jewish studies, public and professional writing and German language studies. Certificates are usually 18 to 24 credits, and students can add them to their declared major. When students can declare majors, minors and certificates varies across programs and depends on students’ grades in their area of study. 

Certificates and minors offer both undergraduate and graduate students a way to enhance their degrees. Minors are available only for undergraduate students, while certificates are available for both undergraduate and graduate students, according to Blaine Connor, director of academic programs in Pitt’s College of General Studies. 

The goal, according to Ryan Sweeny, an assistant director in the Office of Career Development & Placement Assistance, is relevance to their intended career.

“Employers understand the value of relevant experiences,” Sweeny said in an email. “This can certainly include a certificate or a minor, but it is more about relevance and less about what it is called. The title alone isn’t going to impress an employer; it is up to the student to explain what was involved and how it is relevant.”

A choice between a certificate or a minor, Connor said, should rest with each student’s interests.

“It is hard to generalize about whether a given certificate [or minor] would be better for a student,” Connor said in an email. “Sometimes the choice just comes down to which is available in the subject of interest, a minor or a certificate — i.e., there is no choice.”

Morgan Lindenmuth is a sophomore psychology major and plans to minor in neuroscience. While Lindenmuth hasn’t started her neuroscience coursework yet, she is “looking forward to psychology applications” in neuroscience and said having the minor would give her “more of a science background.” 

“I thought it would be helpful if I had some neuroscience background,” Lindenmuth said. “[There’s a] large overlap between neuroscience and psychology.” 

When it comes to making the choice between minors or certificates, Sweeny said it depends on relevance to career goals. This can come in many forms, and both don’t always have to fall under one general subject, like science.

One example might be a chemistry major who can’t decide whether to get a certificate in global studies or conceptual foundations of medicine.

“If a chemistry major wanted to work for an international pharmaceutical company overseas, then I believe an employer would see value and relevance in them getting a global studies certificate,” Sweeny said. “However, if that same student is planning on applying to medical school, then the conceptual foundations of medicine certificate would be more relevant.” 

Lisa Beilman is a sophomore nutrition and dietetics major and said she’s considering a Spanish minor to satisfy an interest and enhance career opportunities.

“It’s a really good asset to have, to be bilingual,” Beilman said, adding that it would “[make her] available to more patients.”

Beilman also said she was interested in languages and that, with the Spanish minor, she had “a chance to study abroad.”

But there is more to consider than just certificates and minors when it comes to earning potential, according to Sweeny.

“Because a minor or certificate is one small piece in a bigger, overall picture of a student’s resumé, I think it is hard to say that it increases earning potential,” Sweeny said. 

Many factors contribute to earning potential, Sweeny said, including relevant experiences, major, part-time jobs, volunteer experiences and campus involvement.. 

“It is the combination of all those factors,” Sweeny said. 

Sometimes, even indirect links can be helpful.

“Sometimes [a certificate or minor] does not have a direct link to the job, but that credential might catch the eye of a person reviewing a resumé who had a similar interest, just as sharing an alma mater might,” Connor said. 

Sweeny also suggested that students pursue minors or certificates that interest them.

“We also encourage students to pursue a minor or certificate if it is in an area that they really enjoy,” Sweeny said. “It may not have significant benefits when it come to applying for a job or applying to graduate school, but if it is a topic that the student really enjoys, it is still worth the effort.”

But whether or not a certificate or minor may be valuable comes back to relevance to the future.

“The minor or certificate is a great addition to a resumé if it is relevant, and we strongly believe that the more relevant items students have on their resumé, the more successful they will be in pursuing full-time work or graduate/professional school,” Sweeny said.