Online Certifications & College Certificate Programs

Certification refers to a credential verifying a certain skill set for an individual. A certification is usually granted by a review board, assessment or education process—you have to pass a test or a course of study to earn one. Certifications can take as long as a year to complete, or as little as a few weeks.

Licensure and certification both require candidates to demonstrate a certain level of ability or knowledge. However, there are several key differences between licensure and certification. When you earn a license, you are legally empowered to practice a certain profession. Licenses are generally granted by the government for reasons of public protection. By contrast, certification is usually granted by a professional association not associated with the government—and you can often practice your trade without certification.

Why Get Certified?

It proves your expertise. Certification provides a concrete credential proving that you have expertise in a certain skill set. It shows employers that there is no doubt you have a certain level of knowledge and ability. It provides a much more solid confirmation of your skills than a simple list of qualifications on a resume.

It gives your resume an edge. Certification can make your resume stand out to employers. If your skills are in demand, demonstrated experience plus a certification can make you highly qualified for the positions you’re applying for. In addition, if your experience is thin in a certain area, a certification credential can help “fill out” that area of your resume.

It provides opportunities for advancement. Some employers expect a certification when looking to fill certain positions. Your education level can also give you leverage in negotiating better pay. If you’re interested in advancing within your company, your employer may be willing to pay for your certification.

Types of Certification

Permanent certification. A few certification credentials last for a lifetime; you don’t have to recertify periodically. Examples of permanent certification credentials include

Renewable certification. Most certifications have to be regularly renewed, or they will expire. The renewal process may be as simple as attending a certain number of continuing education classes, or may require periodic retesting. Examples of renewable certifications include

Exam-based certification. Some certifications require only that you pass an exam; you don’t have to participate in a certain education program, and you can study on your own or not at all if needed. Some examples of exam-based certification include the ISTQB Certified Tester exam or the CSQE for the American Society of Quality.

Instructor-led certification. Instructor-led certifications require candidates to take a class or a series of classes, sometimes culminating in a final exam. The candidate must pass all classes to become certified. Some examples of instructor-led certifications include the CSTP or the CSTM certifications from the International Institute for Software Testing.

Industries That Encourage Certification

Information Technology. There are dozens of certifications available in a wide variety of skill sets within the IT industry. Certifications are so numerous that many employers expect them from prospective employees, and certification or lack of it is often a key factor in hiring decisions.

Education. With the advent of No Child Left Behind, teachers are required to earn licensure in order to work in public classrooms. In addition to licensure, teachers can earn certification. Sometimes this is granted at the same time teachers earn licensure, and sometimes teachers must present a portfolio for assessment and pass a written exam, depending on the state’s requirements. Teachers with certification may be eligible for specific benefits that vary depending on the state and school district, and they are often allowed to keep their licensure when they move across state lines.

Financial management. There are several different types of financial certifications available, and they are proving increasingly valuable in the marketplace. With the precarious state of financial investments today, commercial and individual investors can’t afford to take chances with their money—and it’s becoming increasingly important for financial advisors to prove their skill sets.

Health care. Several careers in health care support—including medical assistants, billing and coding specialists, EKG technicians, nurse technicians, and healthcare educators—strongly encourage or require certification.

Certification can open doors. A certification credential proves your expertise and sets you apart from your peers and fellow job applicants. With certification, you’re more likely to get hired—and at a higher wage.