Certificates, Certifications, Licenses, and Degrees

There are so many different types of credentials available these days that it’s hard to distinguish among the choices. Let’s define each:

Certificates are typically awarded based on completion of training on specific subject matter. They typically do not assess how well you learned or can apply that material.

Certifications involve a testing process developed by an independent certifying body that covers the competencies required to excel in a specific job or field. If you pass the exam, you have the right to say “I am a certified [fill in the blank],” which allows you to display letters after your name. Certifications typically involve a recertification process to ensure that you are maintaining your skills over time.

Licenses are certifications that are legally mandated by the state before one is allowed to practice a particular profession. A license to practice medicine is a legally mandated certification. Doctors must have both a medical degree as well as license to practice medicine.

Degrees are college and university awarded diplomas signifying that the holder has completed a course of study in a specific subject.

Employers generally prefer a certification over a certificate because they provide proof of competence and credential holders must keep their skills current.

Understanding the various credentials will help you decide which is right for you