Certificates, certifications and licenses are terms that are often confused, but there are important distinctions. A certificate verifies that a person has completed a course or series of courses at an educational institution. A certification verifies that a professional has met a certain set of criteria for a skill or job as measured by a third-party assessment. A license is verification by a government agency that a professional is able to perform a particular occupation in a particular location, such as a certain state.


Certificates are typically granted by programs or institutions such as universities as a result of education focused on one topic (but separate from a degree program). Course content is developed by faculty committees, academic leaders or instructors or occasionally through defensible analysis of the topic area. A certificate demonstrates that the learner understands course content at a specific period in time and is often listed on a resume as evidence of knowledge for prospective employers. Both newcomers to the workforce and experienced professionals may earn certificates, but they often provide a gateway for achieving a degree.


Certifications are awarded by a third-party, standard-setting organization when a candidate passes an assessment process indicating mastery of a defensible set of standards. The standards are developed through a comprehensive job analysis resulting in an outline of the required knowledge and skills for a particular profession. Certifications are not associated in any way with higher education or degrees and typically require some level of professional experience before beginning the process.

Upon earning a certification, professionals often receive a designation to use after their names as a way to differentiate experienced, certified professionals from their peers. After initial certification, the awarding organization requires proof of continuing education (often called continuing education units, or C.E.U.s) to that ensure the professional standards are maintained.

There are several certifications available to training professionals. Read about them here.


Licenses are similar to certifications, as they indicate competency of a set of standards and must be renewed with continuing education. However, unlike certifications, licenses are mandatory to legally practice an occupation. Licenses are often required for health, public education, legal and financial careers.

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