Education Credentials: Certificates, Certifications, Degrees, and Licenses Explained

Jan 12, 2024
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Education credentials offer the perfect professional development to give you that competitive edge in your field that employers are always on the search for, and they’re a great way to showcase your expertise and willingness to hone your skills in your chosen field. But, in your search for which credential is the right fit, you’re seeing information regarding certificates, which seem to be different from certifications, which seem to be different from degrees and licenses—so what’s the difference among them?

With so many different types of education credentials, we know it’s not the easiest task to tell them apart (certificates versus certifications, in particular, because they sound so similar!). Whether it’s certificates versus certifications or degrees versus licenses, let’s discuss these four different types of education credentials and the length of time and maintenance needed to upkeep them, and we’ll look at a few examples for each type so that you can get a better idea of what they entail.


Certificates are granted by businesses, educational institutions, and groups, and they typically take less than two years to complete. Certificates indicate the successful completion or attendance of a series of courses focused on a particular topic, and maintenance of a certificate is not required once it has been earned.

Examples of certificates include: Certificate in Business Administration, Certificate in Hospitality Management, Certificate in Leadership and Management, Certificate of Advanced Study in Health Informatics


Certifications are granted by businesses, trade associations, industry organizations, and educational institutions, and completion time varies depending on the type of certification. Certifications indicate skill mastery, and people who complete certification programs are referred to as certified in their respective skill. Certifications require continuous honing of learned skills, and in order to remain certified, recertifications are required on scheduled intervals to ensure that certified individuals are up to date on the latest trends and requirements associated with their certifications.

Examples of certifications include: Certified Welder (CW), Certified Logistics Technician (CLT), Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)


Degrees are granted by educational institutions and typically take two or more years to complete. Degrees indicate educational coursework completed in a particular field of study, and people who complete degrees are said to hold a degree in their chosen field. Once earned, degrees do not have to be maintained, although the recipient may choose to earn additional degrees by pursuing further education.

Examples of degrees include: Associate Degree, Bachelor’s Degree, Master’s Degree, Doctoral Degree, Professional Degree (e.g., Medical Doctor, Juris Doctor)


Licenses are granted by government agencies, and completion time varies depending on the type of licensure pursued. Licenses require continuing education and predetermined hours of supervised practice, and professionals must reapply successfully to their field’s regulatory authorities on scheduled intervals to remain lawfully licensed.

Examples of licenses include: Registered Nurse (RN), Licensed Specialist in School Psychology (LSSP), Cosmetology License, Master Plumbing License, Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC)

Let’s recap. Certificates are perfect for newcomers as well as specialists who want to pursue courses as professional development in their field, whereas certifications are geared toward professionals who would like to certify in their respective specialized fields and who are expected to recertify on scheduled intervals to remain on top of trends and requirements. Degrees are granted by educational institutions signifying that holders completed courseware in their field of study that culminated in a diploma, whereas licenses require professionals to pursue continuing education and expect them to renew their licenses on scheduled intervals to remain lawfully licensed.

Want to learn more about career paths and certification courses? Explore Edmentum’s CTE library to get you started!

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