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Which Is Better: A Medical Sonography Degree or Certificate?

sonography ultrasound tech field

Wisconsin Tech Colleges / Flickr / CC BY-ND

If you’re looking to be an active part of patient treatment, why not consider the unique and rewarding career of medical sonography? From tracking the progress of a pregnancy to checking for breast cancer, the possibilities are just about limitless.

For prospective medical sonographers (often referred to as ultrasound techs), there are a couple ways to break into this field. You can either study through ultrasound technician certification programs or professional diagnostic medical sonography degree programs. Whichever you choose, both are excellent paths to a lucrative career in the allied health industry.

So what’s the right way for you to become an ultrasound tech?

First Of All, What’s Diagnostic Medical Sonography?

The responsibilities and educational requirements for sonographers and ultrasound techs are essentially the same. These professionals identify patients’ ailments by “playing detective” and searching the body for signs of illness or injury via sonograms and ultrasounds.

Ultrasounds are the vibrations and sounds used to create a medical image. Sonograms are the actual medical image that is created from ultrasounds.

These elements are used for everything from checking a baby’s health during pregnancy to searching for kidney stones. You’ll see them performed everywhere from hospitals to physician’s offices to medical labs.

Are DMS Certificates and Degrees the Same?

sonography certificate training and program

Wisconsin Tech Colleges / Flickr / CC BY-ND

There are various types of sonography programs, and the job duties will be a little different, depending on the one you decide to pursue.

Diagnostic sonography differs from types of sonography (like vascular technology or echocardiography). While these tests harness the same technology, they require different education and experience. It’s possible to specialize in these areas, but workers need to start with the same basic education and testing.

There are different types of diagnostic medical sonographer schooling. You can attend a sonography certificate program that lasts 2 years or longer. Alternatively, you might choose a two- or four-year sonography degree program.

Each of these offers distinct (and abundant) job opportunities and the chance to be a part of the medical treatment team. There are, however, distinct advantages and disadvantages to each. The steps to becoming a diagnostic medical sonographer start with education and depend on what works best for you.

Attending an Ultrasound Tech Certification Program

ultrasound tech certificate fast track

Wisconsin Tech Colleges / Flickr / CC BY-ND

Certificate programs generally take place at a technical or vocational school, rather than a college or university.

An accredited diagnostic medical sonography certificate usually involves 2-3 years of study and typically includes an extensive clinical internship (which can last as long as 8 months). Students who graduate from a CAAHEP-accredited program are eligible to take certification exams offered by the American Registry for Diagnostic Medical Sonography (ARDMS).

Certification testing includes exams on physics, Sonography Principles and Instrumentation (SPI), and specialty testing.

Graduates are able to focus on abdominal, breast, fetal echocardiography, obstetrics/ gynecology (OBGYN), as well as pediatric sonography*. These individual certifications will give you the ability to choose your future career path within the medical sonography world.

*Specialty eligibility depends on the type of program students have graduated from.

A Fast Track to the Job Market

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, this field is set to grow by a staggering 23% from 2016 to 2026 – and there’s no sign of it slowing down.

Pursuing a certificate is a great choice for current allied healthcare professionals (like medical assistants) who are already working in the medical field. Gaining additional certificates in diagnostic medical sonography can significantly increase job opportunities and salaries.

For those who aren’t in the healthcare field yet, this is an excellent way to start an exciting new career. With a certificate, you can start work and continue your education later on. This makes it much easier to continue moving onward and upward.

Pros of Ultrasound Technologist Certificate Programs

What are the benefits of joining a sonography certificate program?

In a nutshell, these programs are shorter and allow you to start working more quickly than if you studied for a sonography degree. Vocational and technical schools also offer day and evening programs, which are designed especially for working individuals and parents.

Cons of Sonographer Certification Programs

Generally, most employers hire sonographers based on their knowledge, technical skills, and certification. Having a degree doesn’t necessarily offer a significant advantage over someone who holds a certificate.


How Is a Sonography Degree Different Than a Certificate?

sonography degree different than certificate

Wisconsin Tech Colleges / Flickr / CC BY-ND

Having a bachelor’s degree – rather than just an associate degree or certificate – offers serious advantages in this highly competitive field.

Spending time at a college or university offers students more time to practice their skills before taking their certification exams, and they may also have the opportunity to study multiple specialties. These classes allow students to qualify for additional certifications and broaden their employment possibilities.
The Cons of a Sonography Degree
Certainly, the most obvious downsides of pursuing a sonography degree are how time-consuming and expensive it can be. A degree takes more time than a certificate, meaning that it takes longer to start working. This logical also means that it’s more costly to complete a degree program.

What Is a Typical Sonographer Salary?

Medical Sonography - Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 2018 median income for diagnostic medical sonographers was $72,510. The best-paying positions were at outpatient care centers, where the average position received a staggering $86,000. The lowest-paid locations were at medical and diagnostic laboratories, which still commanded an impressive $70,000.

Both types of sonographers have an equal chance of getting hired, however, the biggest difference typically revolves around income. Understandably, a bachelor’s degree requires a more thorough education, and these types of applicants tend to earn higher average salaries.

Remember: As you gain experience and add specialty areas to your list of certifications, your pay can increase dramatically. Therefore, in order to balance the scales, it’s highly recommended that certificate holders become certified in more than one area.

There’s No Better Time to Start a Career in Sonography

No matter how you look at it (or where you look for an ultrasound tech job), the field of medical sonography is overwhelmingly positive.

With a great job outlook and fantastic pay opportunities, this career might be the right choice for you. If you’re in the New Jersey area, visit our DMS page to discover more about sonography certification programs!




43 thoughts on “Which Is Better: A Medical Sonography Degree or Certificate?

  • edith says:

    what is the reel (details) difference between medical sonography and ultrasound? the training it’s the same? can a sonographer be an ultrasound, or a ultrasound be a sonographer? please help me established the difference. thanks

    • AIMS says:

      Although the terms sonography and ultrasound have different definitions, sonographer and ultrasound technologist can be used interchangeably when used as job titles.

      • Nk says:

        I am39 years old , without any degree related to ultrasound, is that too late to start diagnose ultrasound associate program and looking for the job?

      • Guirnalda says:

        If you don’t complete a program accredited by CAAHEP will that hinder employment/ advancement in any way? I ask because I’ve researched several schools that aren’t and instead are accredited by ABHES and I wanted to know if it really even makes a difference?

        • Neha Gautam says:

          Honestly, your best chance at employment is by going to a program that is CAAHEP accredited. 99% employers look for that.

    • Bianca says:

      If I do diagnostic Medical sonography do I have to specialize in either brain/cardiac/obgyn ? What would be the best schooling to become Cardiac sonographer if my school only offers the general program?

      • Heather Adams says:

        You start with general and you would have to continue on later to specialize in other things like cardiac

      • Emma says:

        I know southern Illinois John A logan(2year college) and St louis mo Forest park community college(2year college) both have a program where you can just start with cardiac sonography instead of taking general sonography first. Just go online and check the schools programs page where you want to go and see what programs they have. I do know brain requires bachelors for someone to want to hire you though. But also know that cardiac sonographers make a bit less then other choices, not tons but enough to make a difference.

        • Eric Camacho says:

          So if I get a certificate on sonogram are the pay the same as having a degree or what’s the difference on the pay

    • Angelina Vargas says:

      What is the salary different between a certificate and segree for diagnostic sonography

  • Karen says:

    What is the best ACCREDITED school to attend for both Sonographer certificate AND/OR degree in Dallas, Texas metroplex?

    • Anna says:

      Go to and click on Diagnostic Medical Sonography and click on the state you’re in and click on all programs, which will give you certificate, Associates Degree and Bachelor programs. It will give you the names of all the accredited programs in your state. Good luck!!

    • Heather Adams says:

      Dallas el centro ;
      Parker university and i think that is a profit school so expect to pay an arm and a leg.; collin college just staryed there program as well. Only schools i am aware of in north texas

  • Reagan says:

    If I were to only get a certificate, would I still make decent pay?

  • Kit Hannigan says:

    Thanks for mentioning how certificate programs are shorter and that they allow you to start working far more quickly than if you studied for a sonography degree. My daughter is looking to break into a medical profession, which is something really unexpected since she’s trained to be an engineer. I guess the heart wants what it wants so I’ll be sure to share this article with her so she can decide if a sonography certificate would be a good entry point for her.

  • Wendy says:

    If I have a four year degree in Business Management, how long will it take me to get an Associates in Sonography?

  • Iana says:

    If I have a four year degree in psychology from another country (not USA) can I get an associate’s certificate in sonography?

  • Leslie says:

    Hello I live in Houston, TX and I am currently working as a physical medicine tech. I am looking for a career change. I’m interested in cardiac sonography. My issue is finding a program where I will still be able to work full-time during the day. Are there any programs that anyone knows of that are online or either offered in the evenings? I have looked online ever where and haven’t had any luck. Also I would like to know what is the pay difference from someone who has a certification vs a Associate degree

  • Brandon says:

    If I have a BSc. in Biology how long would it take me to do a certificate or degree in DMS.

    • Ash says:

      I have same question if I have bsc (3 years degree )from another country (not US) how long would it take me to do a certificate or degree in Diagnostic medical sonography

  • Alexis says:

    If wanting to get a certificate in medical sonography, are prerequisites still required?

  • Makayla says:

    My college dosent have a Sonography program, but its like my fream job! So can i take the classes like biology anatomy, psycology, and graduate nd get a job, even though i wasent in a the program?

  • Sheeraz Naqvi says:


    I have a BS degree in Biology and I want to become a Sonographer. Is 1 year certification program better for me? Please reply soon.


  • akinpelu oluwaseun says:

    hi,am a graduate of medical anatomy, how can I get dis DMS,….or how do I get d training??

  • Darrell Benton says:

    my wife has a phd in immunology and has bachelors degree as a physician she is currently going to school for songraphy could she work in the usa with the qualifications in songraphy when she immigrates to the usa this summer

  • Becky Evans says:

    I have a Bach. Degree in Radiological sciences, I am certified in radiology as well as computed tomography and I have worked in these areas for 5 years. I have the opportunity to get cross-trained in US, since we have a machine here. We have a registered sonographer that comes to our facility once a week to perform ultrasound exams. Is there an online program that I can do to get a certificate to perform ultrasounds (simpler exams such as carotids/legs for DVT, abdomen + Doppler, etc.)

    Thanks for your help!

  • vicky says:

    If you take the basic sonographer cert program, how do you specialize in a certain field ie: cardio/obgyn ? I’m sure just taking CE classes won’t do it . Thanks

  • […] Medical sonography certificate and degree programs have their share of similarities and differences. Ultimately, only you can decide which path is best for you. […]

    • Gabby says:

      Hello, I have an AAS on Diagnostics Medical Sonography but I want to get my bachelors degree to continue my education, so what is something related to sonography that will look great with my resume later on.

  • Gabby says:

    Hello, I have an AAS on Diagnostics Medical Sonography but I want to get my bachelors degree to continue my education, so what is something related to sonography that will look great with my resume later on.

  • Rod says:


    I have a Bachelor’s degree in business and want to change career.
    Is it a better path (fast/better paid) to go for a degree or a certification? how long would it take me?

  • Latiesha says:

    Hello, I have a Bachelors in Health Science. Because of having this, would it be adequate for me to do the sonography certificate and then possibly still get the jobs that the Sonography degree’s get? Since I have the Bachelors in Health science? Or would I still be better off (salary wise) to go for the sonography degree – on top of having my bachelors in health science.
    With having this previous degree, how long would the sonography certificate take and how long would the sonography degree take?

    Thank you

  • Xiaoyu says:

    I am clinical doctor in other country (not USA). If I would like to become Sonography technologist in USA. Should I get the bachelor degree in John Hopkins or other location in Maryland?

  • Jim Drewno says:

    Do you have to take the pre requisite classes at a community college before doing the program ?

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