Full Guidelines for For-Credit Certificates (revised August 3, 2016)
Guidelines for Suspending or Discontinuing Certificate Programs  (administrative revision June 2018)
Trends in Certificate Awards
List of Certificates (Official Registrar’s List) 

Contact Jocelyn Milner, Director of Academic Planning and Institutional Research, in the early stages of your planning to assure that you are structuring your request so that academic approvals will flow as smoothly as possible.


DEFINITION: A certificate program is a designated set of for-credit courses focused upon a specific topic or theme.  Certificates give students the opportunity to pursue a subject of interest in a formalized way and to have completion of the course of study recognized by the awarding of the certificate.  After approval, the for-credit certificate is documented on the student’s UW-Madison transcript and becomes part of the official student record.  Certificates add opportunities for flexibility not available in majors and degrees.

Undergraduate Certificates

Undergraduate Certificates are available to degree-seeking UW-Madison undergraduates; are offered at an undergraduate level of content and intensity are designed to complement undergraduate degree/majors; 12-21 credits.  May be open to University Special (non-degree seeking) students who hold a bachelor’s degree if provisions for these students are planned and approved by program faculty.

In June 2014, the University Academic Planning Council (UAPC) endorsed principles that affirm the expectation that all certificates requirements will be easily encoded in the degree audit system (DARS) and that students will declare certificates electronically.

Undergraduate Certificates – Guidelines
Undergraduate Certificates – Proposal Instructions and Form
Undergraduate Certificates – Undergraduate Assessment Guide and Templates

Graduate and Professional Certificates

Graduate and Professional Certificates are available to degree-seeking graduate and professional students (GRAD, LAW, MED, PHARM, VMED “careers” and any careers that may be added at the post-baccalaureate level); designed to complement graduate or professional programs of study; usually 9-12 credits.

Graduate/Professional Certificates – Guidelines
Graduate/Professional Certificates – Proposal Instructions and Form
Graduate/Professional Certificates – Graduate Assessment Guide and Templates

Capstone Certificates (Post-baccalaureate level)

Capstone Certificates (Post-baccalaureate level) are for University Special (non-degree seeking) students who hold a bachelor’s degree or equivalent; at least 9 graduate/professional level credits (rarely more than 16 credits); designed to “cap off” undergraduate educational experience or to offer a focused professionally oriented educational experience.  Students apply, are admitted, and enroll as prescribed by the Capstone Program.

Capstone (post-bachelor’s) Certificates – Guidelines
Capstone (post-bachelor’s) Certificates – Proposal Instructions and Form
Capstone (post-bachelor’s) Certificates – Graduate Assessment Guide and Templates
Capstone (post-bachelor’s) Certificates –  Budget Template

Capstone certificate programs are eligible for federal financial aid, subject to federal Gainful Employment requirements. See July 20, 2018 memo on Title IV Eligibility for Students Enrolled in Capstone Certificate Programs.

Noncredit Certificates

Noncredit certificates are not formally approved through this process. This type of certificate is based on not-for-credit activity which is not posted to the UW-Madison student transcript. Noncredit certificates may carry continuing education units (CEUs).  Consult the Division of Continuing Studies.  Policy guidelines for noncredit Certificates were approved in June 2011.

Not-for-Credit Certificate Guidelines
Noncredit Classes and Certificates


Specific details about the approval process are provided in the guidelines for each certificate category.  All certificates require approval by the program faculty who are sponsoring the certificate program (most often a department).  Subsequently, the school/college that houses the certificate considers the certificate for approval.  After school/college approval, the dean forwards the proposal to the provost.  The Graduate Faculty Executive Committee will consider graduate/ professional and Capstone certificates.   Continuing Studies will be consulted on certificates that serve University Special students.  For all categories of certificates, the provost will seek a recommendation for approval from the University Academic Planning Council.  All certificates must be accompanied by statements of support or concurrence from departments or academic units that provide courses and from schools/colleges/divisions that may have overlapping interests with the certificate.  Refer to the detailed guidelines for the specific category of certificate.

Consideration for All Certificate Types


Originally certificates were intended to be a resource neutral approach to recognize a course of study that a student would complete along the way to completing their degree and major.  Over time, certificates have become more prominent in the program array, more complex in their design, and often require devoted resources or put resource demands on other units.  Faculty who propose certificates should plan for resources that support instruction, student services, compliance with state and federal regulation, and other demands.  Faculty should understand how the certificate offering is related to degree and major offerings.  For undergraduate certificates, faculty should design the certificate so that it does not extend time to degree.  Certificates may not be subdivided into options or other sub-plans.


Certificate programs may be discontinued as a decision of the program faculty for a number of reasons.  Program faculty should follow the guidelines for discontinuing a certificate program.

Certificate programs that meet all three of the following three conditions may be discontinued at the discretion of the provost:

  1. The sponsoring unit and the program faculty are unresponsive to requests from the school/college or Office of the Provost for information about the status of the certificate program.
  2. No student has had the certificate recorded to their official student record and their transcript for three consecutive years.
  3. The certificate program has not completed a review five years after implementation or the regular 10 year program review in a reasonable time.

These conditions signal insufficient interest by faculty and students to continue the program and provide a mechanism to discontinue a program when program faculty have left the university or are not otherwise available to formally request a discontinuation.


In some cases, certificate programs may be subject to federal US Department of Education regulations that differ from regulations associated with majors and degrees.  For example, certificate programs available to University Special students designed to prepare students for specific occupations must comply with “gainful employment” regulations promulgated by the US Department of Education (effective October 1, 2011).