FAQ: Degree vs. Certificate for Sonography

By Indeed Editorial Team

November 18, 2021

A sonographer is a medical professional who uses special equipment to create imaging of a patient's organs, tissues or blood flow for diagnoses. To become a sonographer, candidates can either choose a degree or certificate program, which both have benefits and drawbacks. If you're considering becoming a sonographer, then it might benefit you to learn about your educational options. In this article, we discuss a degree versus a certificate for sonography by learning more about each program and comparing aspects of each, such as their cost, career options and salary opportunities.

What is a sonography degree program?

A sonography degree program is a college program that offers students extensive knowledge of sonography. The degree program prepares students to enter the sonography field through courses, clinicals and internships. Typically, these programs are two or four years long, depending on whether you want to earn your associate or bachelor's degree. While earning this degree, you may take classes in the sciences, such as biology, chemistry and anatomy. You also take specific sonography classes like ultrasound physics. If you take all the degree requirements and pass your classes, then you graduate and receive your sonography degree.

Related: 12 Reasons Why Sonography Is a Good Career

What can you do with a sonography degree?

Once you earn your sonography degree, you can choose from several careers or specializations. A degree might help you eventually advance to a lead sonographer position. If you'd like to choose a concentration in sonography, you may need additional education or special classes while in college. Here are some career specialties you could pursue with a sonography degree:

Diagnostic sonography

Diagnostic sonography is a medical procedure that uses high-frequency sound waves to form images of various internal anatomical structures. These images help doctors and surgeons diagnose and treat a variety of medical conditions and disease processes. Because sonographers have expertise in normal anatomy and its variations, they're able to find and detect abnormalities and pathological conditions through imaging. They ensure quality in their sonographic imaging so doctors can conduct an effective analysis.

Obstetrics and gynecology sonography

Obstetrics and gynecology (OBGYN) sonography is a specialized type of sonography, the medical procedure using ultrasound equipment, used specifically on female reproductive organs and all stages of pregnancy. Candidates can specialize in obstetrics, gynecology or both. OBGYN sonographers use imaging to monitor a developing embryo or fetus with data such as their weight, estimated delivery date, healthy development and placental placement. OBGYN sonographers can help identify other conditions, such as ovarian cysts, uterine fibroids and endometriosis.

Vascular sonography

Vascular sonography is the use of special equipment to view the patient's veins and arteries. The images that the technology produces show how blood moves within the vessels and organs. These images help physicians diagnose and treat certain medical conditions, such as blood clots or blocked arteries.

Cardiac sonography

Cardiac sonography uses special imaging technology to identify, diagnose and treat heart issues. Through sonographic equipment, cardiac sonographers create 2D or 3D images of a patient's heart. These images help professionals identify heart disease or other heart-related medical conditions.

Read more: 7 Types of Sonographers

What is a sonography certificate program?

A sonography certificate program is an educational program that teaches students how to operate sonographic technology. These programs typically vary in length, but they're usually one to two years long. Students may take certificate programs at technical schools or community colleges. During these programs, students gain work-related experience through practicums and internships. To enter sonography certificate programs, candidates typically earn their high school diploma, GED or equivalent education first. Some classes students might take include medical terminology, physiology and anatomy. Most of these programs end with an exam. Once students pass the exam, they earn their sonography certificates.

What can you do with a sonography certificate?

Once you complete your program and earn a sonography certificate, you can start working as a medical sonographer. Because certificate programs take less time, this often allows you to start a position sooner. Hospitals often look for these certifications and may offer generalized sonography positions. If you're interested in a specialized position, however, your certificate program may let you take classes to choose a different specialty. Once you're certified, you can also choose to receive further education to advance your career.

Related:FAQ: Your Guide to Sonography as a Career

Degree vs. certificate for sonography

Earning a degree or certificate for sonography both have benefits and drawbacks. Here are some reasons you may choose either a degree or certificate for sonography:

Career options

Typically, a degree-holder has more career options than someone with only a certificate. Because degree programs have more course requirements, degree-holders gain more knowledge and experience. This may qualify them for more for sonographer positions or different specialties within sonography, such as pediatric sonography or abdominal sonography. A degree-holder may also have an easier time finding a job compared to a certificate-holder.

Because certification programs provide a competent, but not advanced level of knowledge, candidates may have fewer career options. They're qualified for generalized positions in sonography and technician jobs as a sonographer. If they want to pursue advancement or a specialized sonography position, however, they often need continued education.

Time

Typically, a degree in sonography takes two to four years to complete. This depends on whether you earn an associate or bachelor's degree. Earning a bachelor's degree in sonography takes longer but may provide more career opportunities.

Certificate programs take from one to two years to complete, depending on the program you choose. The program time is often divided between class work and clinical internships. A certificate allows you to start working as a sonographer in the shortest amount of time.

Experience

While completing a sonography degree, you typically gain more experience. Throughout your years of classes, you have time to gain expertise in anatomy and sonography. Degree programs also involve practicums, giving you instructed experience and time to practice your skills. Before you enter a career, you can test and develop your sonography skills.

If you choose to take a certification program, you take many of the same beginner and intermediate courses. This prepares you and qualifies you to start your career in the sonography field upon completing your program. If you're an independent self-learner and have the assurance to develop your skills on the job, then you'll continue to gain experience with your first positions.

Related: Guide to Sonography Careers: Definition, Types, Pros and Cons

Cost

Degree programs usually cost more money than certificate programs. Going to college is typically expensive since you're paying for experiences, such as room and board, along with classes. Despite the cost, colleges provide students with more class time, which can help students learn additional skills. If the cost is worth the extra experience and knowledge you might receive, then you may choose a two- or four-year degree.

Certificate programs are typically much less expensive than a two- or four-year degree because they're shorter programs. You pay for fewer classes, professors and learning materials. The cost of these educational programs may be a defining factor for many candidates. If you'd like to spend significantly less money to become a sonographer, then you might consider earning a certificate.

Salary

Sometimes, the amount of experience or education level you have can determine your salary. A professional with a college degree might earn a higher salary than someone with less education, because of the opportunities available for their qualifications. According to the BLS, a specialized position, such as a diagnostic medical sonographer, earns an average national salary of $75,920 per year, while an entry-level position, such as an ultrasound technician may earn an average national salary of $41,950 per year. This means that you might make more money if you choose to earn a degree in sonography.

If you're unable to advance into higher-paying positions without more education, you may make less money with a certificate. However, you can start earning money quicker than degree-holders can, and you may also have little to no student debt because certificate programs are usually cheaper than college. These reasons can be important to factor into an extended salary comparison.

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