Stacking: Certificates as Degree Components

Stacking: Certificates as Degree Components

A certificate can be a good first step towards a graduate degree.  It can provide a stable intermediate point during the plan of study.  This concept is sometimes called “stacking” one or more certificates into a Master’s degree.  Each degree at NPS may have distinct requirements, so it is difficult to provide a comprehensive list of all the degrees for which the Robotics Engineering certificate can serve to fulfill the requirements; however it is likely that the four courses from the Robotics Engineering certificate may count towards the following degree programs:  

  • 608 Master of Science in Engineering Science Aerospace Engineering Distance Learning Master’s Program 

  • 592 Electrical and Computer Engineering Degree Programs  

  • 311 Systems Engineering Non-Resident Master's Degree Program 

  • 376 Computer Science 

For a list of all DL programs offered at NPS and contact information see 

In general, students wishing to pursue a graduate degree are strongly encouraged to understand the degree requirements before taking any classes.  A good way to do this is to work with the degree program administration (academic associate, program manager, etc.) to develop a plan of study (what classes they will take and when) before starting the program. 

Applicants to NPS can only apply to one program at a time, so a student must choose rather to apply to either the certificate program or a degree program. For students pursuing a degree program, they must apply to the degree program and be admitted before they can be nominated for the degree.  Two possible options are listed below.  Please contact NPS Admissions at <> for additional information. 

Option 1: Apply to the Certificate Program 

If the primary goal is to complete a certificate, and the student is not sure what graduate program is the best fit, they could apply to the certificate program first.  If during the certificate they decide they would like to continue with pursuing a degree, they would then apply again to the degree program.  One potential risk for this option is that the degree program admission requirements may be more constrained than the certificate admission requirements. 

Option 2: Apply to Degree Program

If the primary goal is to complete a graduate degree, and the student has selected a specific degree program, they could apply to the program first.  To take the certificate as one part of the degree requirements they would complete an Academic Certificate Enrollment Request Form (see registrar website).  One potential risk of this option is that students eligible for the certificate may not be accepted by the degree program. 


The following are some theoretical examples.  These examples have not (yet) been authorized by the degree programs, but could be a good place to start in creating and individualized plan. 

  • A student could do the Robotics Engineering certificate (assuming one of the elective courses is an Aero course) and do the Applied Optimal Trajectory certificate.  This results in eight classes, five of which are Aero courses.  These classes, with the addition of a thesis may satisfy the degree requirements. 

  • A student could do the Robotics Engineering certificate and complete four more ECE courses (as part of a certificate or not) to complete the requirements of an ECE MEng degree.  With the addition of a thesis they could be eligible for an MSEE and MSES(EE) degree. 


  • SE offers DL graduate certificates and degree programs that are tailorable to sponsors and their students 

    • Stackable certificates can meet master’s degree curricula requirements leading to MSSE, MSES or MSSEM degrees

    • Certificates are identified by tiers and are typically taken in sequence but not necessarily as it varies by certificate  

      • Tier I SE Fundamentals, Tier II SE/SEM Core, Tier III Domain Specialty, Tier IV Capstone Final

    • Other department certificates such as Robotics Engineering can be considered tier III domain specialty certificates

    • Each tier certificate can be tailored dependent on the ultimate curricula (311 or 711) and degree desired

    • For more information, please have interested students contact myself, Prof. Warren Vaneman or Heather Hahn.