What Are Certifications and Certificates?

What is a certification?

A certification is an official document given by a professional organization that shows that you have the necessary knowledge and skills needed to do a specific job. Many industries have some sort of certification that you can earn. They can go by different names, including “certificate,” “certification,” and “license.” How can you tell the difference?

  • Certificates are typically awarded when you finish an educational program. Companies, schools, and other organizations can have their own certificate programs that students or employees can complete in order to improve their skills. For example, you can earn a certificate in web design from your school or job. This type of credential shows that you have gained added knowledge in this specific area.
  • Certifications are earned when you complete an exam that confirms your professional development. They are often given by national organizations that set the standards for the industry and may be required for certain jobs. For example, you can be certified to be a personal trainer at a gym.
  • Licenses are typically given by the state government, after you undergo training and pass an exam. A license proves that you are qualified to work in a specific field. For example, you might get a state-issued license to be an electrician.

These types of credentials exist across a wide range of fields. Common certifications for high schoolers include computers/IT, fitness, beauty, healthcare, skilled trades, childcare, lifeguarding, food service, real estate, design, and business. But there are many more. As you consider different certifications, be sure to understand what’s required by jobs that interest you. Job requirements can be found directly in job postings or by viewing most common level of education on BigFuture® Career Search.

How do I get a certification?

Typically, certifications require taking a course and then passing a test at the end. Because of the wide range of certifications available, it isn’t a surprise that the requirements for certifications vary greatly. Courses can last anywhere from days to months. Some courses require in-person attendance and training while others can be completed online. 

Although some certification programs are free, most cost money. Prices can vary, so this is something to consider when choosing a certification option. Here are questions you can ask yourself before spending money on a certification:  

  • Do I need this certificate to be hired? 
  • Can I start a job sooner with this certificate?
  • Can I earn more money with this certificate?     

Can a certification help me get a job?

Certifications, certificates, and licenses can help you get a job. However, the majority of jobs require a college degree or demand experience combined with a credential. Therefore, it may be worthwhile to think of a certification as something you can pursue as part of your work or education after high school, rather than instead of it.

Certifications are required for some jobs. For other jobs, they’re seen as a bonus. When certifications aren’t required, having one can give you a competitive advantage over other job applicants. Certifications may also help you earn a higher salary. In addition, the work you put into a getting a certification can expand your knowledge and skill set, and those are things you can take with you into any future profession. Getting a certification can also put you in touch with others in your field. This is a good way to find a mentor and develop community. Finally, getting a certification shows potential employers that you’re dedicated and motivated.