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Professional Licensing and Certification Programs: What You Need to Know

Oct 14, 2011 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Specialized training is in big demand in the US. According to a 2011 report by the Georgetown Center for Education and the Workforce, the US economy is projected to have an education shortfall of over 4.7 million people with postsecondary certification through 2018—more than those with Associate’s, Bachelor’s, or graduate degrees combined. But before you sign up for a licensure or certification program, there are a few things you should know.

The selection is huge

There are approximately 600 industry associations in the United States, offering thousands of licenses and certifications that qualify you for specific jobs and careers. Choosing the right one can be a difficult process—and could require knowing the state-level and industry-wide requirements and expectations for such programs.

There’s a difference between licensure and certification

Woman holding certification

Getting into the right career can be difficult—and getting licensed or certified requires knowing exactly what you want.

Licenses are regulated by state, whereas certifications are generally overseen by private industry associations. In general, licenses tend to be required to practice—and may have requirements of a certain number of practice hours or a degree, from an Associate’s to a medical degree, to sit for the licensing exam. Certifications may or may not be optional, depending on the industry—but requirements to take the exam may not be as stringent.

Licensure and certification programs are job-specific

These programs tend to be much more vocationally-focused than a traditional Bachelor’s degree. The goals are different—most Bachelor’s degrees aim to provide students with a well-rounded education on the way to focusing on a specific concentration, while certification and licensure programs exist specifically to qualify you for a certain job or career.

You may not need to take classes

Some credentials are awarded based only on your scores in a standardized test or another evaluation process. While there may be classes available, you can also study on your own or simply take the test based on your own prior experience. Others—particularly licensing credentials—may require an Associate’s, Bachelor’s, or advanced degree before sitting for the exam.

You may be able to get licensed or certified as part of your degree program

For example, teaching certification may be included as part of an education-focused Bachelor’s degree. Including your licensure or certification with a required degree may save you a significant amount of time in completing both. Check with your college to see if your industry requires licensure or certification, and whether they offer a program that includes preparation and testing for the credential.

Choosing the right credential may take some research

In some cases, there’s only one way to earn a credential as dictated by your state’s rules. In others, however, there are dozens or even hundreds of certifying bodies—and some are better than others. Do some research to find out the industry opinion of various credentials and credentialing bodies. Find out if any are accredited by highly respected accrediting agencies within your industry. In addition, talk to the organization to discover how they determine their credentialing requirements—they should be highly relevant to current industry needs and expectations.

Getting into the right career can be difficult—and getting licensed or certified requires knowing exactly what you want. Unlike traditional college, a professional credentialing program isn’t a period of self-discovery—it’s designed for people with very clear career goals. But if you know what you want and you know that you need that credential, it could pay off. Do some research into your industry, find out what’s needed and expected—and you’re likely to be able to choose the right credentialing organization for your goals.



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