Certificate programs offer an excellent, low-risk way to dabble in an interest while not quitting your day job. And who knows? If you love your newfound knowledge, you can always take your new passions to the next level.

Whether it’s just for fun or for career change, you’ll want to investigate the certificate program to ensure it will meet your needs. Some provide academic credits, but others won’t count toward a degree of any type; some advanced certificates require you to hold a degree already, while other programs are open to anyone.

You’ll also need to decide between online, in-person or hybrid programs, and think about how much of a time commitment you’re willing to make — some programs are ultra-short-term (under two weeks), but others may require multiple courses over the course of a year or two. Tuition can vary considerably, but even some noncredit programs can cost up to $6,000 a year.

Here are a few unusual, standout certificates you can pursue in the Seattle area.

Food & Wine Pairing certificate. Prepare your palate for the world of wine. This South Seattle College certificate program offers beginning and advanced coursework on topics such as viticulture (grape growing), the science of winemaking and how to evaluate a wine.

Discover what makes a successful pairing, which foods match with various wine varietals, and plan menus appropriate to your wine selections. You’ll prepare food, help manage campus events, learn proper service techniques and wine terminology.

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The 46-credit program takes about four quarters to complete, if attending full time at South Seattle College’s campus. Of course, you must be 21 years or older to apply.

Ethical Hacking certificate. So-called white-hat hackers look for vulnerabilities that put a company at risk. They can save millions by preventing unethical hackers (the black-hat kind) from stealing consumer or business data.

This three-course, eight-month certificate program offered by University of Washington Professional & Continuing Education teaches you to perform password, wireless, mobile and cloud attacks, among others. Called “pen testing” or “penetration testing,” you’ll try to find the weaknesses in enterprise (large corporate) networks.

Students learn how to analyze security policies for problems and improve those policies. The class is online, with real-time evening meetings. The only potential catch: at least one year of programming language experience is necessary.

Crime Analysis certificate. If you think you’d like to be a detective, this online graduate certificate may be for you. The Seattle University program trains you for a career as a crime analyst — someone who identifies and evaluates crime patterns and trends, often for law enforcement.

Learn to analyze arrest and conviction data, investigate using agency databases and the internet, map criminal actions and identify emerging crime patterns — then communicate the information. Elective options include courses on terrorism, data mining and hot issues in contemporary law enforcement.

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Students can complete the 25 credit hours on either a full-time or part-time basis, in either one or two years.

WSU offers an online 18-credit undergraduate certificate in organic agriculture geared not only toward agriculture professionals but also home gardeners and anyone interested in beginning a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm. (Courtesy of WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences)
WSU offers an online 18-credit undergraduate certificate in organic agriculture geared not only toward agriculture professionals but also home gardeners and anyone interested in beginning a community supported agriculture (CSA) farm. (Courtesy of WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences)

Organic Agriculture certificate. This online, 18-credit undergraduate certificate from Washington State University could prepare you to start an organic farm or go into food-industry management.

Learn about healthy soil and the science of organic farming, then partake in a professional internship working with an organic farmer, business or certifying agency. Dig into electives such as plant breeding, nutritional science and analysis of sustainable food systems.

For those already holding an undergraduate degree, consider WSU’s online Graduate Certificate in Sustainable Agriculture. The certificate offers courses in honey bee biology, pesticides and management of fruit crops, among others.

Wilderness First Responder Certification. Whether you’d like to work as an outdoor tour guide or just love traveling to remote international destinations, this noncredit certification from National Outdoor Leadership School could save your life — or someone else’s.

Learn how to conduct a patient assessment, provide emergency care, assess vital signs and perform an evacuation. Classroom time is split between skill acquisition and putting those skills to work, such as a four-hour night rescue. Finish off the coursework with a written and practical exam.

The 9- or 10-day in-person classes take place at a variety of locations throughout the year. Woodinville, Friday Harbor, Leavenworth and other outdoorsy Washington destinations have all hosted this course.

Classes are noncredit, although you can apply for credit through Western State Colorado University and the University of Utah. An alternative certificate in the same vein is Western Washington University’s one-year, on-campus Mountain Research Skills credit-bearing undergraduate certificate that includes fieldwork in Peru.

Other intriguing options

Watch Technology certificate at North Seattle College

Certificate in Applied Animal Behavior at UW Professional & Continuing Education

Certificate in Natural Science Illustration at UW Professional & Continuing Education

Event Planning certificate at Edmonds Community College

Emergency Management & Business Continuity at Edmonds Community College