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6 Unusual Online Certificates for Hipsters, Thinkers, and Do-ers

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From craft brewing to community organizing, these online certificates are for the seriously non-traditional student.

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So, you’re not interested in an online MBA. You’d prefer to lead a rally, write a memoir, or brew the perfect craft beer?

Never fear. Several colleges offer online certificate programs that appeal less to sharp-suited business people and more to the garden-growing, media-sharing, beer-brewing types. Interested? Take a look at these unique distance education programs:

The Business of Craft Brewing Online Certificate (Portland State University)

Through this four-course series, “industry specialists” teach students everything they need to know to start up and run a successful craft brewery. Courses include “Basic Business for Craft Beverages,” “Craft Beverage Business Management,” “Strategic Craft Beverage Marketing,” and “Finance and Accounting for the Craft Brewery.” Students are also invited to fly out to Portland to take part in the optional “Craft Beverage Immersion Excursion,” spending three days meeting with brewery owners, tasting Portland beers, and touring the Oregon beer empire. Cheers.

Certificate in Organic Agriculture (University of Washington)

If you have a green thumb and a fondness for organic food, the University of Washington Certificate in Organic Agriculture might be for you. The college touts this 18-credit program as a good fit for “those wanting to pursue a career in organic agriculture, anyone interested in beginning a community supported agriculture (CSA) enterprise, [and] home gardeners.” As a student, you’ll take online courses such as “Organic Gardening and Farming,” “Agriculture, Environment, and Community,” and “Food Safety and Quality.”  You’ll also be required to complete an internship, which can be done by volunteering through a local organic farm, organic certifying agency, or organic business.

Sustainability Certificate (Harvard Extension School)

If you want to promote a sustainability in your community or business, Harvard’s Sustainability Certificate provides instruction from world-class thinkers. Students in this program take five courses. “Knowledge Set” courses such as “Energy and the Environment,” “Strategies for Sustainability Management,” and “Sustainable Business and Technology,” provide students with a common foundation of understanding. “Skill Set” courses such as “Catalyzing Change: Sustainability Leadership for the Twenty-First Century” and “Introduction to Sustainable Buildings,” help students take action. It’s also important to note that, although this certificate is coming from an ivy-league school, it is an open-access program. Anyone can simply start taking courses towards certificate completion without the need to apply.

New Urbanism Online Certificate (Miami School of Architecture)

Those with a passion for cities community building may be interested in the New Urbanism Online Certificate. Students earning the certificate are prepared to take the Congress for New Urbanism accreditation exam. (Although you should also be aware that the exam can be taken without the certificate). The New Urbanism certificate is self-paced and takes students through the basics of creating walkable, sustainable places. Course units include: “A Crisis of Place and the Alternative of the New Urbanism,” “Ecology & Built Legacy,” “Architecture, Local Culture, and Community Identity,” “Green Building and Historic Preservation,” and “Implementing New Urbanism.”

Creative Nonfiction Writing Online Certificate (UCLA Extension Program)

If you’re serious about writing that best-selling memoir, personal essay, or political history, take a look at this UCLA creative non-fiction program. You’ll focus most of your 36 credits on intensive creative non-fiction instruction. You’ll also have the opportunity to choose from electives in poetry, playwriting, and fiction. Best of all, students that complete the coursework are given a consultation with a UCLA Writer’s Program instructor, detailed notes, and an in-person or phone critique session.

Certificate in Community Organizing (Empire State College)

What would you like to see change in your community? If you have a quick answer to that question but don’t know how to make it happen, consider earning a Certificate in Community Organizing. Empire State’s program arms students with knowledge about justice, power dynamics, and navigating government environments. It aims to help learners develop a skill set that can be applied to create lasting change in their communities. This 12-credit program includes courses such as “Advocacy in State and Community-Level Government,” “Race, Gender, and Class in U.S. Public Policy,” and “Human Service Policy.” To complete the certificate, students are required to apply their learning by working with real communities while taking the capstone “Community Organizing” course.

Free Learning Alternatives

If you'd rather not jump into a major time commitment and write a big check just yet, take a look at these less formal free online classes. You'll find options for a wide array of subjects including photography, guitar, and writing.

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