Certificate vs. Certification: Is There a Difference?

Have you ever seen these statements while browsing online? “Enroll in our Certificate program”, “Get Your Certification Today!”, and, “Get Certified by Enrolling in Our Online Certificate program.”

The words “Certificate” and “Certification” are used often in the world of education. Often they are used interchangeably, but is there a difference? This is a question that we are often asked at NISM, and so we would like to clarify the differences by comparing the two programs:

How is it developed?Content is developed under a standardized process of job analysisContent developed faculty members, committees, deans, instructors, etc.
Who administers the program?Usually a third-party, standard-setting organizationColleges, universities, or other educational institutions
Who qualifies?The exam specifications determine the audience for the certificationProgram prerequisites determine the audience
How do you prepare?Industry experience, study of content or a combinationIndustry experience, study of content or a combination
What does it indicate?Signifies that an individual has obtained a pre-defined set of skills, and is able to practice a profession with a minimum level of supervisionSignifies that an individual has completed a course or a course series, similar to a diploma
What designation do you receive?Typically results in a designation to use after one’s title (ex. SMS)Typically listed in an individual’s educational experience on a resume
Additional Requirements?Continuing education requirements in order to maintain certified statusOnce the program is complete there are generally no additional educational requirements

For more information about the process of certification please visit the Institute for Credentialing Excellence. The National Institute for Social Media is a certification agency who offers the Social Media Strategist (SMS) certification exam.

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