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FAQ: Certificates and Letters of Specialization

Q: What's the difference between a "letter of specialization" and a "certificate"?

A: They are very, very similar. Both confer an official paper certificate, which is signed by the English Department Chair and the HFA Dean. Both require you to complete 5-6 courses that meet certain requirements. The main difference is that a certificate will show up on your transcript, whereas a letter of specialization does not.

Q: Is that really the only difference?

A: From the university's perspective, there are also some differences in the approval process that departments must follow when proposing or making changes to a letter of specialization or certificate. This is why they must have different names. But this isn't really something that directly affects most students.

Q: How do I know which to choose? What if I'm having trouble choosing?

A: We advise that you choose based on your interests and career goals. Some students find it beneficial to pursue two areas of specialization that they see as complementary (e.g., pursuing CW and PWTC, or SPOW and PWTC, or NMDH and CW ... and so on). Some amount of double dipping is allowed, but it depends on your situation, so it's a good idea to talk with an advisor to confirm your plans.

Q: Since a certificate shows up on my transcript, wouldn't that be better for my career?

A: Most employers won't care whether it is a "letter of specialization" or a "certificate." Rather, they care that you have the skills and knowledge gained in the process of earning it.

Also, employers learn about your credentials from YOU — from your resume, conversations at career fairs, your LinkedIn profile or Handshake account. So, whether or not the credential appears on your transcript is less important than the way you present and talk about the skills and knowledge you've acquired in your job materials and in interviews.

Q: What if I'm not an English major?

A: Students from any major can pursue letters of specialization and certificates. The process is just the same as it is for English majors. It's a great way to amplify your skills in writing, technology, or critical thinking.