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Academic Graduate Certificate Programs

A note about the distinction between graduate and professional certificates:

A graduate certificate program is a stand-alone program that has a formal application process and a distinct matriculation (see the definition, below).  In contrast, a professional certificate program does not require a formal application process or matriculation. Students can enroll in academic courses that comprise a professional certificate through Extended Education without being matriculated at Cal Poly, and upon successful completion of all the courses required for a professional certificate can request a digital Certificate of Completion from Extended Education. The individual courses will also be listed on the student's official Cal Poly transcript.  For information about professional certificates, see


  • Academic graduate certificate programs are designed to provide a specialized area of study that meets the requirements for professional competence and to expand access to specialized knowledge. The subject matter is advanced and narrow in focus.
  • The programs are typically designed for working professionals who are seeking to advance their career opportunities by obtaining specialized knowledge in their field or in a new field.
  • This policy does not apply to Continuing Education Units (CEUs) or other non-credit certificate programs offered by Continuing Education. This policy does not apply to existing academic certificate programs at Cal Poly, including Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL), Technical Communication, Organizational Leadership, and Gerontology.


An academic graduate certificate program:

  1. declares that a student has satisfactorily completed a sequence of advanced academic courses that provide instruction in a stand-alone, coherent body of specialized knowledge; and
  2. is designed to meet requirements for professional competence, expand access to specialized knowledge, or meet occupational needs for advanced interdisciplinary work.

An academic graduate certificate program:

  1. is a stand-alone program that is distinct from a specialization taken in conjunction with or as part of a degree program;
  2. provides a set of learning experiences with a specific set of educational objectives;
  3. consists of 12-24 quarter units (3-6 courses);
  4. may be provided via Special Sessions (self-support) through Continuing Education (see Executive Order 1099); and
  5. has a formal application process and a distinct matriculation.

Specific Requirements

  1. The educational background and prerequisites for admission into the graduate certificate program must be clearly stated.  A student may not be conditionally admitted to a graduate certificate program.
  2. The graduate certificate program advisor must verify that applicants have the appropriate and relevant background to meet the prerequisites of the program and to be successful in the program.
  3. Admission to a graduate certificate program requires a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution with a major in a relevant field of study. The applicant must have attained a minimum GPA of 2.5 in the last 90 units attempted or have earned a GPA of at least 2.5 in the last degree completed. Work experience may substitute (at the discretion of the program) for the relevancy of the bachelor's degree and for the minimum GPA requirements.
  4. Courses taken to satisfy the requirements of a graduate certificate program may be applied to the requirements of a graduate degree program; however, students must apply separately for admission into a graduate degree program.
  5. Students who are enrolled only in a graduate certificate program are exempt from the continuous enrollment requirement for graduate students.
  6. The graduate certificate program may allow a maximum of one 4-unit course in transfer credit, as determined by the graduate certificate program advisor.  Per Executive Order 1099, students should not take more than 4 units of a graduate certificate program while not matriculated.
  7. International students who will not attend courses on campus do not need an F1 VISA.  Even if the graduate certificate courses are online, international students must satisfy Cal Poly's English language requirements.

Establishing Academic Graduate Certificate Programs

  1. An academic graduate certificate program, and all its courses, must be approved by the Provost upon the recommendation of the Academic Senate through the regular curriculum approval process.
  2. A graduate certificate program will generally consist of courses at the 500 level. No more than half of the courses may be at the 400 level. No course-work may be below the 400 level.
  3. Online forms are available for Academic Graduate Certificate Programs on the Cal Poly Portal under "Academics."  Questions on forms should be directed to Susan Olivas at the Office of the Registrar.
  4. The Financial Aid Office should be contacted prior to the establishment of a new graduate certificate program to ensure that federal regulations regarding “Gainful Employment” are satisfied.
  5. Academic graduate certificate programs do not require approval by the CSU Chancellor’s Office
  6. Academic graduate certificate programs will be published in the catalog.
  7. A graduate certificate program will be required to undergo program review at a frequency determined by Academic Programs.

Awarding an Academic Graduate Certificate

  1. A minimum GPA of 3.0 is required for successful completion of a graduate certificate program. Students may not elect to take courses required for the certificate as credit/no credit.
  2. A graduate certificate program must be completed within 3 years.
  3. The title of the graduate certificate will appear on the student’s official transcript.
  4. Completion of the graduate certificate program will be commemorated by a document bearing the University seal and signed by the program’s college dean(s).

-Sources Senate Resolution AS-726-11 and Executive Order 1099

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