AMU APU Careers & Learning Online Learning Original

How to Choose Between a Certificate and a Certification

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By Taylor Sparber
Career Coach

and Rachel Dhaliwal, GCDF, CCSP, EQ-i 2.0
Senior Career Coach

Contrary to what many people believe, there isn’t one single path to a job. The knowledge gained from a bachelor’s or master’s degree is useful for some people, while other workers only require on-the-job experience and basic industry knowledge. As you plan your career path, make sure you understand your options and pursue those that best suit your financial, personal, and educational needs.

If you’re a working mom or busy professional, you may not have time to pursue a degree program. Perhaps you’re already well-established in your industry and simply need to strengthen your skillset or brush up on industry trends. What do you do then? 

The Basic Differences between Certificates and Certifications

If you don’t need to obtain a degree — either because you already possess one or because one is not required — then obtaining a certificate or certification may be your best option. So what’s the difference between a certificate and a certification?

Deciphering between the two “certs” and deciding which is best for you can be confusing. When you’re exploring a career route, identifying the education, training and experience you need is crucial in determining which one would be most helpful for you.

There are several differences between certificates and certifications, including their requirements, achievement processes, and resume placement.

Image courtesy of Anna Hosey, Career Services.

The Benefits of Obtaining a Certificate

With the majority of our student population consisting of adult learners, it is not uncommon for many to consider whether taking the classes for a certificate program would be suited to their needs. For some students, a certificate is a great alternative to a degree.

The university currently offers over 100 undergraduate and graduate certificates. Depending on your career goals, consider a certificate if:

  • You want to become more knowledgeable in a particular area or stand out among other candidates without the need to pursue a full degree. Some job roles do not require a bachelor’s or master’s degree, so having a certificate could prove useful.
  • You’re making a pivot in your career. A certificate can provide industry-specific knowledge for degree-holding, established professionals who want to pursue a career change.
  • You want to stand out in your current role. Obtaining a certificate can help you build on your industry-specific skillset and knowledge.

Certificates are open to all learners, do not require you to take as many classes as a traditional degree program (certificates usually require only six to nine courses) and do not require Continuing Education credits to maintain. On your resume, the certificate can be placed in the “Education” section.

The Benefits of Obtaining Certification

Certifications, on the other hand, attest to your existing expertise that has been acquired from your skills, knowledge and professional experience. A certification demonstrates that you possess the competence and expertise required for a particular industry.

It is important to note that certifications are administered and provided by third-party entities, such as professional organizations. Certifications often require a combination of education and professional experience, as well as a completed exam. To keep your credentials current, Continuing Education Units (CEUs) are commonly required.

Some industries for which certifications are highly desirable or necessary include cybersecurity, healthcare, business, the environment, and information technology. Consider obtaining a certification if:

  • A prospective employer requires certification to ensure an employee is properly qualified for a position. It is key to research careers you are interested in pursuing to identify whether or not an industry certification is required.
  • There is high competition in your desired field. Certifications can help you to stand out from other candidates. Maintaining a certification provides proof that you have the right skills and knowledge.
  • You need to stay current in your industry. Employers commonly seek employees who have made the effort to stay current in their industry. Having a certification demonstrates that you continue to follow industry trends, desire to grow in the field and keep up to date on evolving practices.

Certifications are only available to people who meet specific requirements, as determined by the organization that administers them. Depending on the type of certification you earn and your specific industry, you may place your certification in different sections of your resume.

For instance, your certification may appear on your resume as a designator after your name, such as “Sandra Smith, PHR.” You may also include it in the “Skills” or “Certification(s)” sections of your resume.

Choosing between a certificate and a certification requires research on the industry field and roles you’re seeking. Understanding the difference between certificates and certification helps you determine which route will best suit you. Depending on the job you wish to pursue, there are numerous certifications from which to choose.

Obtaining a Certificate

If you would like to discuss whether a certificate or certification would be more appropriate for you, current students and alumni are invited to speak with a Career Coach to discuss your research and options. Please contact to get started.

For questions about the certificate courses, content and program options available at the university, contact the Academic Advising team.

About the Authors

Taylor Sparber graduated from Shepherd University in 2017 with a bachelor’s in social work and a concentration in psychology. She began her career in higher education working for the Student Life Department at Lord Fairfax Community College, which led to her work as a Disabilities Fellow for Shenandoah University. She currently works in the Career Services Department as a Career Coach for STEM students, where she strives to build strong relationships with both current students and alumni. Taylor enjoys supporting students and alumni by teaching them job search strategies and helping them find value in their skills and experiences.

Rachel Dhaliwal is a Senior Career Coach and serves as the point of contact for those interested in applying for the PMF program. In addition to supporting students and alumni throughout their career journey, she trains and mentors coaching staff. She holds a B.S. in Psychology from Troy University, as well as the Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF), Certified Career Services Professional (CCSP) and the EQ-I 2.0/EQ 360 Certification credentials.

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