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You can get graduate-level certifications and real college credits through Coursera’s MasterTracks program – here’s what it was like to complete

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Coursera's MasterTracks are multi-course grad-level programs that offer certificates and college credit upon completion.MasterTracks include Machine Learning for Analytics to Sustainability and Development and are offered by schools like Duke and Yale.Below, you'll find a personal review of a MasterTrack program and some answers to common FAQs.Table of Contents: Masthead Sticky

As remote lifestyles become more common, affordable online education is taking on new value – especially when providing more access to career advancement opportunities.

Many such offerings are available through sites like Coursera. Its MasterTrack programs, in particular, offer a portion of an on-campus master's program online for cheaper prices and a more flexible time commitment than in a traditional classroom setting.

Students work at their own pace and receive access to real-world projects, live sessions, and virtual office hours. When they've completed the program, learners receive a certificate they can add to their resume and LinkedIn to demonstrate aptitude (and their commitment to personal growth).

What's nice about MasterTrack is that if you like what you studied and wish to pursue a full master's degree in the subject, most MasterTrack programs provide instructions on how students may transfer those online credits into an on-campus program in order to save time and money (rules vary by program and school). Other MasterTracks offer scholarship opportunities and fast-track applications for full master's programs to those who complete the program online.

edX also offers MicroMasters, which are slightly different from Coursera's MasterTrack programs. There are fewer edX options than MasterTrack courses, but they offer up to 50% of a master program's curriculum and are eligible for financial assistance. A MasterTrack, on the other hand, typically doesn't exceed one-quarter of a graduate degree's curriculum. To read more about the difference between edX MicroMasters and Coursera MasterTracks, you can check out our coverage of both platforms here.

Here's everything you should know if you're considering enrolling in a Coursera MasterTrack, including a personal review of the University of Illinois' Instructional Design MasterTrack program.

What you'll find below:Some common FAQsA personal review of MasterClassCoursera MasterTrack FAQs:What is a MasterTrack certificate?

MasterTrack certificates are for those who want to develop skills for career advancement and receive a certificate from a university to back it up. It's also a good option for those who need a flexible time commitment or want to test out a lower-cost program before enrolling in a full master's degree.

Each MasterTrack is a stackable, for-credit program comprised of several courses completed over a few months. In some cases, MasterTracks allow students to earn credit toward the full master's degree program from which the MasterTrack Certificate program is based, though this varies by institution.

How much does a Coursera MasterTrack cost?

MasterTrack courses cost between $2,000 and $5,000, depending on the specific program.

How is a MasterTrack billed?

Students can pay all at once, and receive a 5% discount for doing so. Otherwise, there are payment installation programs available for a handful of programs.

How does receiving credit for an online MasterTrack certificate work and can you apply it towards a full master's program?

You receive a certificate upon completion of a MasterTrack to share on their resume and LinkedIn.

Additionally, once you've finished your MasterTrack program, you can apply to the institution's full master's program. If admitted, your certificate will sometimes transfer and equate to a certain number of classes or credits in the program. However, the exact details vary by program.

For instance, after completing the University of Chicago's Machine Learning for Analytics MasterTrack, you can apply to the MScA degree from the school. If admitted, your MasterTrack certificate equates to the first two classes in the program (approximately 18% of course requirements), giving you a cheaper headstart on your degree.

For the Supply Chain Excellence MasterTrack, your certificate would equate to three credits (one course). For ASU's The Big Data MasterTrack, learners are awarded 9 out of 30 credits required to complete the program.

Other programs don't work this way, though. For instance, completing the Blockchain Applications MasterTrack from Duke isn't exchangeable for credit. But, it makes you eligible to earn a scholarship that fast tracks your application process and covers 10% of tuition for the Duke University's Master of Engineering in FinTech.

How closely does a MasterTrack online module for a master's degree from a university resemble that university's in-person curriculum?

According to Coursera, MasterTrack certificates are similar to the full program experience they're designed from. They feature live expert instruction and feedback combined with interactive, team-based learning.

What MasterTrack programs are offered?

Coursera offers 22 MasterTracks in topics that range from Machine Learning for Analytics from the University of Chicago to Blockchain Applications from Duke University to Sustainability and Development by the University of Michigan. Most programs include 4-6 courses.

Browse the list of all MasterTracks here.

How long does it take to complete a MasterTrack program?

It varies. The range is about 4-8 months, depending on the program. However, the time commitment is flexible and self-paced, especially in comparison to an entire master's program.

Will MasterTrack students always have access to their program materials?

Students will not have access to the course content forever. They're given access based on the estimated time it takes to complete the program.

Do MasterTrack programs cap enrollment at a certain number?

According to Coursera's MasterTrack team, there are enrollment caps depending on the bandwidth of each university partner, the instructors, and their faculty.

Coursera provides best practices for their partners on factors like an ideal student to faculty ratio.

If a student completes a MasterTrack program and decides to pursue a master's degree from the university that offered it on Coursera, will they have a better chance of being accepted?

Currently, MasterTrack certificate holders do not receive preferential treatment during the application process, which is conducted independently by the university, according to Coursera.

But, it's worth noting that a student's success in the online program likely helps build the case that they'd continue to do well in the on-campus program.

Can you audit MasterTrack courses?

No, unfortunately. MasterTrack courses are available only to learners who have paid for the full program. You may not subscribe to a MasterTrack or pay for individual courses within a MasterTrack.

Is financial aid available for MasterTrack courses?

Financial aid or free audit access is not available for MasterTrack courses.

Note: Similar MicroMasters programs from edX can offer financial aid.

What is the refund policy?

Students have two weeks following the start of the first course to receive a refund on the payment.

A review of MasterTrack

When I decided I was interested in instructional design as a potential career pivot, I knew I probably needed additional schooling to break into the field, since many jobs ask for at least a master's degree or equivalent experience. The main factors in my decision boiled down to money and time – since I wasn't sure if I'd love instructional design, I wanted a program I could finish in under a year and one that I felt wasn't a big financial risk.

The University of Illinois' Instructional Design MasterTrack program hit all those points for me: The program was about 4-5 months long, fairly flexible, and cost $2,384. (Not included in that total was a textbook I needed to rent for the class, plus a $57 surprise fee when I paid my tuition via credit card.)

The program consisted of two courses, which I took back-to-back. Both involved live-recorded weekly Zoom classes, short video lectures, assigned readings, graded short-answer questions, and a few final projects. By the end, I completed final group projects for both courses and an individual instructional design e-portfolio that I could show to future employers.One of my group project members described this as a "master's class at twice the speed" which is pretty accurate. While I only took one class at a time, this MasterTrack program felt more like a bootcamp due to the amount of information I'd need to learn to be proficient in instructional design by the end. There's an emphasis on multiple hands-on projects, so I was being challenged to create something right away and essentially practice what I would be doing as an instructional designer.

At the same time, going through the information this quickly (especially all remotely) made it hard, at times, to fully process everything, or even fully enjoy the class. Compared to some other online classes I've taken and loved, like edX's rhetoric course or Coursera's Science of Well-Being, I was less engaged with this one because it felt like the end goal was to train me to do a job rather than learn something for the pleasure of learning it. The workload could also feel like a lot if you have a full-time job or kids (or both!) and feel like you have to cram in studying and homework on weeknights and weekends.

But given that I picked this as an affordable, quick, and flexible way to advance my career by learning a new skill set, I feel like the experience the course provided definitely helped me, especially in my current role as an e-learning editor. -Julia Pugachevsky, e-learning editor

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