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Certification versus Certificate Programs

Understanding the difference between certification and a certificate program can help you determine what makes sense for your education or career.

Certification is the official professional or legal approval to do something. Aspects of professional certification may include the following:

  • Earned from a professional society, educational institution or private certifier
  • Must be renewed periodically or may be valid for a specific period of time
  • Renewed through earning continuing education units, or CEUs, or by completing courses designed to provide updated or new professional or legal information about a profession — for example, aviation, construction, technology, health care, business, real estate, teaching, finance, etc.

Certificate programs are a growing segment of the continuing education marketplace. A certificate is an official document giving proof of finishing school or completing a training course. Courses can be open to new students or experienced professionals and allow students to demonstrate their knowledge of content at the end of the program. Aspects of certificate programs include the following:

  • Results from an education process
  • Awarded by educational program providers or institutions
  • Indicates completion of a course or series of courses with a specific focus, but is different from a degree-granting program
  • Demonstrates end-result knowledge of course content
  • May provide the basis or gateway for achieving a degree

Consider the difference between paralegal certification and a paralegal certificate program.

  • A certified paralegal has completed a certification exam, typically given by one of two major paralegal organizations. The certified paralegal has met certain educational and work requirements and has passed an examination.
  • A paralegal certificate shows that a student has successfully completed a paralegal program of education, typically offered at a college or university. Prerequisites vary, but many schools require an entering paralegal student to have either an associate or bachelor’s degree in another area. Upon completion of the program, the student receives a certificate of completion in paralegal studies.

Note: A paralegal may work in the field without obtaining paralegal certification.

Additional resources that may be helpful in researching occupations, certification and education requirements include:

If you have questions about certification or certificate programs, comparing and choosing schools, succeeding in school or finding employment, call 800-342-9647 to speak with a career coach.

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