Financial Advice

Explaining Stackable Credentials

Explaining Stackable Credentials

Are you looking to develop career skills that lead to more exciting work, better pay, and a more promising career path? Stacked credentials have emerged as popular continuing education options for individuals who have tight work schedules or can not commit to a long-term college program.

What Are Stackable Credentials?

Stackable credentials are short courses you can take on specific subjects to earn knowledge and bolster your credentials. Stackable credentials allow you to take classes at your own pace and learn topics you feel may help you personally or professionally. At the end of a course, you can earn acknowledgments, badges, or certificates you can mention on your resume. To reach the maximum reward, you can stack them together to show completion of an entire degree program, such as a bachelor's or master's degree.

Benefits of Stackable Credentials

There are many benefits to stackable credentials.

  • Complete at own pace. One of the most significant benefits of stackable credentials is that you can start them whenever you want and work at your own pace. Recordings of each class are often available, meaning you'll be able to attend at your convenience. There are no semester start dates like a traditional university.
  • Always available. Not only can you access the courses at any time, but you can access them from anywhere. Stackable credentials are delivered online so that you can access them from any device. Additionally, numerous organizations such as colleges and non-profits offer them, so you have multiple options for topics and avenues.
  • Gain new skills in a comfortable setting. If you are interested in a topic but have no prior knowledge, stackable credentials can allow you to explore the subject without feeling embarrassed in a physical class. Unlike universities, you will not have to take a test to determine your eligibility for the course. You can take the course and learn these skills in just a few weeks or months.
  • They are affordable. The average cost of attending a 4-year college is more than $25,000, meaning you will spend $100,000 or more to get an undergraduate degree. If this is not in your price range, then stackable credentials can help you gain knowledge and skills without the price tag. Some courses are entirely free, and those that allow you to earn certificates for a fraction of the cost of a university.
  • They help those who do not need a college degree. If you are looking to build skills and knowledge, stackable credentials may work better for you. Stackable credentials are excellent for those who do not need a formal degree but want to add specific skills to a resumé.

How Stackable Credentials Work

You will find stackable credentials through a basic internet search. But, before you begin, narrow down exactly what you want from the courses. Then, find an organization that offers the skills or knowledge you are looking for, at a pace that works and at an affordable cost.
However, there are specific paths you may want to consider.

  • Vertical stackable credentials. The most common way to stack credentials is from the bottom up. Typically, it is best to start with basic coursework, with subsequent courses building upon that base, similar to a traditional school program.
  • Horizontal stackable credentials. Horizontal studying allows you to take what you need in a specific subject at a level that works for you. Rather than start at the bottom and grow in the topic to higher levels, horizontal stackable credentials allow you to delve right into a topic you need and already have a background in, such as technology.
  • Value-added stackable credentials. This type of stackable credentials mixes vertically and horizontally, believing that these courses will lead to advancements in your career or field. Adding this value adds worth to you as an employee by adding additional skills and knowledge for success.

The Challenges of Stackable Credentials

While stackable credentials are currently extremely popular, they are not for everyone.

  • They can be limiting. Not all interests are available through stackable credentials. For instance, the most popular courses and programs are in-demand fields such as technology and health. If you have a particular need, stackable credentials may not be available yet.
  • You need to plan. You can complete your stackable credentials at your pace but still need to plan accordingly to take the course and follow through. To complete your program, you need to be disciplined, organized, and self-sufficient.
  • They may not be transferable. If you decide to go to a university, the stackable credentials may not be transferable like previously taken credits. While schools will evaluate your education, it is not a given that the certifications will be accepted since the courses are not necessarily degree-granting.


Stackable credentials are a great way to expand your skillset while embracing an exciting subject. While they are not always equivalent to a college degree, they are certainly a more affordable way to boost your resume. Even if you are unsure how to proceed, trying a course is often free or inexpensive so that you can test the waters first.

Related Content