Guest Author - Susan D. Bates
The terms certificate and certification are often confused because of their similarities in sound. This article clarifies the difference between these and associated terms as they relate to education and careers.
Certificate - A certificate from a college is an academic credential awarded to students who complete a certificate program. The term certificate can also refer to the document that is given to the student at the end of the program which attests to the completion of the program requirements.
Upon graduation, students earning certificates are said to have earned a certificate, whereas student in a degree program would be said to have earned the degree that corresponds with their academic program. Some examples of degrees include associate degree, bachelor's degree, and master's degree.
Certificate Program - A certificate program is an academic curriculum created by a college consisting of a group of related courses. Certificate programs require fewer courses than degree programs. These programs generally require few or no general education courses.
Certification - A certification is a professional credential conferred by an outside agency attesting to the achievement of high qualifications within a particular career field. In many cases, professional organizations within the career field confer these credentials. Professionals who earn a certification are considered to be certified.
Each conferring agency has their own criteria for granting their certifications. In most cases, professionals are required to pass a certification examination in addition to meeting other requirements. Criteria to take a certification exam might include qualifications such as a minimum level of education, completion of a type of degree program, completion of a program with a specific accreditation, or a minimum number of years experience working in the field. Some professionals within a career field might not be eligible to apply for the certification.
Certifications may be desired or required by employers. However, in most cases they are not a legal requirement to work in the career field.
The term license can also be confused with the term certification. A license is similar to a certification; however, a license is generally conferred by a government agency and can be a legal requirement to work in the career field.
Certified - A professional who has been granted a certification is considered to be certified. In many cases the certification will last for a specific period of time. At the end of the certification period, professionals will have to apply for certification renewal if they wish to remain certified. There are often specific requirements to renew you a certification, such as completion of professional development coursework.
Use the definitions above to distinguish between certified, certificate, and related terms. Understanding the differences in these terms can be very important when researching degree programs and professional credentials.