5 Useful Certifications to Develop Your Career — and Increase Your Salary

 August 11, 2020
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If you’re looking to change careers to pursue a promotion, you may be looking to improve your application. One cost-effective option is seeking professional certifications, as you can add credibility without spending money on another degree.

But not all certifications for jobs are created equal. While some career certificates lead to increased pay, others can be a waste of your hard-earned cash. Below, we’ll outline five certifications worth the expense — plus how to pay for them.

5 fields with worthwhile professional certifications

Some certifications are well-known and highly valued in their fields. Below are five certifications that can help you take the next step in your career.

1. Human resources
2. Public relations
3. Web development
4. Business
5. Project management

1. Human resources

Most job listings for human resources professionals include a caveat that “SPHR/PHR certifications are preferred.” Offered by the HR Certification Institute, the Senior Professional or Professional in Human Resources (SPHR/PHR) accreditations can set you apart from other applicants.

In fact, certified human resources professionals earn nearly $20,000 more than their non-certified peers, according to PayScale. The programs are rigorous and the tests difficult, but the payoff may be worth it for you.

Need some inspiration?
Read about how a human resources professional paid off student loans — and then borrowed again to further his career.

2. Public relations

Less than 20% of the Public Relations Society of America’s membership has the Accredited in Public Relations (APR) certification. Well known for its rigorous application and test, getting your APR can be a way to stand out in a crowded public relations job market.

While the process can be expensive — it involves an application fee, an online course charge and textbooks — the results can pay off. Professional development scholarships could also soften the blow of initial costs.

According to PayScale, the average salary for a public relations specialist is $48,846. But a PR specialist with an APR certificate has an average salary of $56,464, an increase of over 15% in salary.

3. Web development

In a constantly changing field, programmers need to keep on top of the latest languages and trends. One of the hottest areas in web development is Ruby on Rails.

And being proficient in Ruby can be lucrative. Ruby on Rails developers have among the highest pay in the U.S. among programmers, with annual salaries averaging around $122,000, according to Indeed.

While certification is not necessary to enter the field, it can help show your knowledge. The Ruby Association offers the Certified Ruby Programmer distinction, which shows that you have high-level expertise in Ruby development capabilities.

You might also check out coding boot camps that specialize in Ruby on Rails or similar skills.

4. Business

Back to non-IT certifications: Lean Six Sigma is an approach to business that uses the full team to eliminate waste and inefficiencies. It’s an in-demand accreditation in a wide range of fields, from manufacturing to banking.

People certified in Lean Six Sigma — and there are White, Yellow, Green and Black Belt certifications available — can command high salaries.

Lean Six Sigma black belts earn an average of $83,107 a year, and that’s not counting any bonuses.

5. Project management

If you are looking into a career in project management, you may want to consider pursuing a Project Management Professional (PMP) credential. It is one of the most well-known certifications.

While a PMP looks good on a resume, it can also lead to an increase in salary. A 2020 survey performed by the Project Management Institute found that PMP certified professionals earned 22% more on average than non-certified project managers.

What to look for in professional certifications

In some situations, a professional certification can make the difference between landing a job and getting passed over for an interview. But in others, a certification is just a nice-to-have, or can even be completely ignored. It is dependent on your field and the program you complete.

While you may be hoping for easy certifications that pay well, worthwhile accreditations are challenging and rigorous. That’s what makes them valuable additions to your application.

Easy to get Hard to earn
Some certifications are very simple. You pay a fee, then take a test. Assuming you pass, the testing company issues a certificate. These are typically the least valuable forms of certification. Other certifications require you to join a professional organization and have a certain number of years working in the industry before you can apply for the certificate program and testing. These forms of accreditations tend to be more highly respected, as they show you have the expertise and knowledge in the field. They can result in better job offers and higher salaries.

When you are evaluating the best certifications for you, check out the profiles of leaders in your field — LinkedIn can be a great resource for your research. Find out what societies they joined and what certifications they have; those are likely to be well-respected programs that would be beneficial to you, too.

If you’re earlier in your career, your professional network could be bare. In that case, visit the Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop website to find certifications related to your role.

How to pay for professional certifications

The harder-to-earn certifications are usually harder to pay for. Whether they cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, it’s always best to save up before resorting to student loans.

In fact, your first stop should be your current employer, if you have one. Many companies offer education reimbursement to employees pursuing professional development courses that will make them more valuable in the workplace.

Without employer support, affording a costly but worthwhile professional certification can be more difficult. Try these strategies, too:

  • Ask the certifying organization about scholarships
  • See if your state provides grants for continuing education
  • Work a side hustle and sock away earnings
  • Negotiate a raise at work and leverage your larger paycheck
  • Wait for tax season and apply for tax refund
  • Cut down on current expenses and tally up savings

If tactics like these aren’t enough, borrowing a student loan could be necessary. Check with your certificate-granting program to see if it’s eligible for federal student aid, including grants and federal student loans. If it’s not, private student loans could come in handy.

Long-standing lender Sallie Mae, for example, has career training loans if you’re pursuing a culinary, aviation or technical certificate, among others. (Although licensure is different from certification, Sallie Mae also provides bar study loans for aspiring lawyers.)

Before zeroing in on a specific loan, however, seek out lenders like Sallie Mae that allow borrowing for professional development certificates. Many banks, credit unions and online companies limit their lending for undergraduate degrees.

You might begin your quest with our recommended private student loan companies. Then you can shop around for your best deal.

Andrew Pentis contributed to this report.

Interested in a personal loan?

Here are the top personal loan lenders of 2022!
LenderAPR RangeLoan Amount 
7.99% – 23.43%1$5,000 - $100,000

Visit SoFi

4.37% – 35.99%$1,000 - $50,000

Visit Upstart

7.46% – 35.97%*$1,000 - $50,000

Visit Upgrade

99.00% – 199.00%2$500 - $4,000

Visit OppLoans

7.99% – 29.99%3$5,000 - $40,000

Visit Happy Money

7.99% – 20.88%4$5,000 - $50,000

Visit Citizens

7.99% – 35.99%5$2,000 - $36,500

Visit LendingPoint

8.30% – 36.00%6$1,000 - $40,000

Visit LendingClub

9.95% – 35.99%7$2,000 - $35,000

Visit Avant

1 Includes AutoPay discount. Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

Fixed rates from 7.99% APR to 23.43% APR APR reflect the 0.25% autopay discount and a 0.25% direct deposit discount. SoFi rate ranges are current as of 8/22/22 and are subject to change without notice. Not all rates and amounts available in all states. See Personal Loan eligibility details. Not all applicants qualify for the lowest rate. Lowest rates reserved for the most creditworthy borrowers. Your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including evaluation of your credit worthiness, income, and other factors. See APR examples and terms. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account.


2 Includes AutoPay discount. Important Disclosures for Opploans.

Opploans Disclosures

Direct Deposit required for payroll.

Opploans currently operates in these states: . *Approval may take longer if additional verification documents are requested. Not all loan requests are approved. Approval and loan terms vary based on credit determination and state law. Applications processed and approved before 7:30 p.m. ET Monday-Friday are typically funded the next business day.

  1. To qualify, a borrower must (i) be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident; (ii) reside in a state where OppLoans operates; (iii) have direct deposit; (iv) meet income requirements; (v) be 18 years of age (19 in Alabama); and, (vi) meet verification standards.
  2. NV Residents: The use of high-interest loans services should be used for short-term financial needs only and not as a long-term financial solution. Customers with credit difficulties should seek credit counseling before entering into any loan transaction.

  3. OppLoans performs no credit checks through the three major credit bureaus Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion. Applicants’ credit scores are provided by Clarity Services, Inc., a credit reporting agency.

  4. Based on customer service ratings on Google and Facebook. Testimonials reflect the individual’s opinion and may not be illustrative of all individual experiences with OppLoans. Check loan reviews.

  5. Rates and terms vary by state.


3 Includes AutoPay discount. Important Disclosures for Happy Money.

Happy Money Disclosures

  1. All loans are subject to credit review and approval. Your actual rate depends upon credit score, loan amount, loan term, credit usage and history. Currently loans are not offered in: MA, MS, NE, NV, OH, and WV.

4 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  1. Rates and offer subject to change. All accounts, loans and services subject to individual approval.
  2. Loyalty Discount: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower has submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, student loans or other personal loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI and VT. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) disclosed in the Truth-In-Lending Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan, and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
  3. Automatic Payment Discount: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their Citizens Bank Personal Loan during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account two or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.

5 Important Disclosures for LendingPoint.

LendingPoint Disclosures

Applications submitted on this website may be funded by one of several lenders, including: FinWise Bank, a Utah-chartered bank, Member FDIC; Coastal Community Bank, Member FDIC; Midland States Bank, Member FDIC; and LendingPoint, a licensed lender in certain states. Loan approval is not guaranteed. Actual loan offers and loan amounts, terms and annual percentage rates (“APR”) may vary based upon LendingPoint’s proprietary scoring and underwriting system’s review of your credit, financial condition, other factors, and supporting documents or information you provide. Origination or other fees from 0% to 7% may apply depending upon your state of residence. Upon final underwriting approval to fund a loan, said funds are often sent via ACH the next non-holiday business day. Loans are offered from $2,000 to $36,500, at rates ranging from 7.99% to 35.99% APR, with terms from 24 to 72 months. Minimum loan amounts apply in Georgia, $3,500; Colorado, $3,001; and Hawaii, $1,500. For a well-qualified customer, a $10,000 loan for a period of 48 months with an APR of 24.34% and origination fee of 7% will have a payment of $327.89 per month. (Actual terms and rate depend on credit history, income, and other factors.) The $15,575.04 total amount due under the loan terms provided as an example in this disclaimer includes the origination fee financed in addition to the loan amount. Customers may have the option to deduct the origination fee from the disbursed loan amount if desired. If the origination fee is added to the financed amount, interest is charged on the full principal amount. The total amount due is the total amount of the loan you will have paid after you have made all payments as scheduled.


6 Important Disclosures for LendingClub.

LendingClub Disclosures

  1. Checking your loan rate generates a soft credit inquiry on your credit report, which is visible only to you. A hard credit inquiry, which is visible to you and others, and which may affect your credit score, only appears on your credit report if and when a loan is issued to you. Your loan APR will depend upon your credit score and other key financing characteristics, including but not limited to the amount financed, loan term length, and your credit usage and history. A representative example of payment terms for a Personal Loan is as follows: a borrower receives a loan of $16,980 for a term of 36 months, with an interest rate of 13.49% and a 6.00% origination fee of $1,019, for an APR of 17.89%. In this example, the borrower will receive $15,961 and will make 36 monthly payments of $576. Loan amounts range from $1,000 to $40,000 and loan term lengths range from 24 months to 60 months. Some amounts, rates, and term lengths may be unavailable in certain states. For Personal Loans, APR ranges from 8.30% to 36.00% and origination fee ranges from 3.00% to 6.00% of the loan amount. APRs and origination fees are determined at the time of application. Lowest APR is available to borrowers with excellent credit. Advertised rates and fees are valid as of July 11, 2022 and are subject to change without notice. Loans are made by LendingClub Bank, N.A., Member FDIC, Equal Housing Lender (“LendingClub Bank”), a wholly-owned subsidiary of LendingClub Corporation, NMLS ID 167439. LendingClub Bank is not an affiliate of LendingTree, LLC which is an unrelated third party (“third party”). LendingClub Bank is not responsible for any products and services provided by this third party and may receive compensation if you visit the third party’s websites or use any of its products or services. Credit eligibility is not guaranteed. Loans are subject to credit approval and may be subject to sufficient investor commitment before they can be funded or issued. Certain information that LendingClub Bank subsequently obtains as part of the application process (including but not limited to information in your consumer report, your income, the loan amount that your request, the purpose of your loan, and qualifying debt) will be considered and could affect your ability to obtain a loan. Loan closing is contingent on accepting all required agreements and disclosures at Lendingclub.com. “LendingClub” is a trademark of LendingClub Bank.

7 Important Disclosures for Avant.

Avant Disclosures

*If approved, the actual loan terms that a customer qualifies for may vary based on credit determination, state law, and other factors. Minimum loan amounts vary by state.

**Example: A $5,700 loan with an administration fee of 4.75% and an amount financed of $5,429.25, repayable in 36 monthly installments, would have an APR of 29.95% and monthly payments of $230.33.

Based on the responses from 7,302 customers in a survey of 140,258 newly funded customers, conducted from August 1, 2018 – August 1, 2019, 95.11% of customers stated that they were either extremely satisfied or satisfied with Avant. 4/5 Customers would recommend us. Avant branded credit products are issued by WebBank, member FDIC.


* Important Disclosures for Upgrade Bank.

Upgrade Bank Disclosures

Personal loans made through Upgrade feature Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) of 7.46%-35.97%. All personal loans have a 1.85% to 8% origination fee, which is deducted from the loan proceeds. Lowest rates require Autopay and paying off a portion of existing debt directly. Loans feature repayment terms of 24 to 84 months. For example, if you receive a $10,000 loan with a 36-month term and a 17.59% APR (which includes a 13.94% yearly interest rate and a 5% one-time origination fee), you would receive $9,500 in your account and would have a required monthly payment of $341.48. Over the life of the loan, your payments would total $12,293.46. The APR on your loan may be higher or lower and your loan offers may not have multiple term lengths available. Actual rate depends on credit score, credit usage history, loan term, and other factors. Late payments or subsequent charges and fees may increase the cost of your fixed rate loan. There is no fee or penalty for repaying a loan early. Personal loans issued by Upgrade’s bank partners. Information on Upgrade’s bank partners can be found at https://www.upgrade.com/bank-partners/ .