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Difference Between Certification and Licensure

Certification and licensure are some of the commonly mistaken or misunderstood words in the examination and practice fields. They, therefore, may take different definitions per field. While they might work hand in hand or one after the other in a series, they are different from each other. So, what sets the two apart from one another?

Some of the professions that require certification and licensure include the health, engineering, legal, and accounting ones. To draw the key differences between them, you can refer to the specific departments for clarity.


What is Certification?

Certification refers to a written assurance, permission, or official representation proving that an act has been done, an event has occurred, or a legal formality has been complied with.

Depending on different fields, as well as laws, the term is also defined as a process by which a non-governmental entity, institution, or organization grants recognition to individuals after they have met predetermined qualifications. The qualifications are usually specified by the organization or institution, for instance, a medical school or a CPA college.

Attaining certification is voluntary and is not a requirement for one to practice in a profession (losing it either does not prevent one from practicing as long as they have licensure). Usually, it is taken as a self-governing standard taken to inform one’s peers, consumers, and other professionals in their field of practice or the training they have undertaken.

Hallmarks of Certification

As functionally defined, certification is:

  1. A voluntary process.
  2. Issued by a private or non-governmental organization (by the government in specific cases).
  3. Issued to give the public information about the persons it is issued to after they have completed the certification process successfully.


What is Licensure?

Licensure is defined as the permission an individual gets from a competent authority to engage in an occupation or business in a particular field. It can also be defined as that process through which a government agency grants official permission to individuals who may want to engage in a particular profession or occupation. This is usually by certifying that the persons have attained the minimum education qualifications required in that field.

Licensure can never be issued by a non-governmental agency or entity. It may also be referred to using different names or titles, but all the titles will have the legal effects of the actual meaning of a license.


Difference Between Certification and Licensure

The following are some of the striking differences between Certification Vs. Licensure:


Certification refers to a voluntary credential that is used to represent the holders to the public, consumers, and employers as proof that they have met certain standards in their area of practice or occupation. Licensure, on the other hand, is a compulsory credential issued by a specific government agency or entity to identify the holder as a licensed or legally practicing professional in that field.

Issuing Authority of Certification Vs. Licensure

The major difference between the two involves the administering authority. Certification is usually issued by a non-governmental agency, entity, or organization, for example, an association of nurses or a dentists’ board. Conversely, licensure must be issued by a government agency or entity.

Voluntary or Compulsory?

Certification is generally voluntary meaning it is not mandatory for one to have it to practice in a profession. On the other hand, licensure is mandatory, and one cannot practice in a field, for example, the health field without obtaining it.

Purpose of Certification Vs. Licensure

A certification serves the purpose of assuring potential clients, consumers, and members of the public that a professional has met some standards set for the profession or area of practice. Conversely, licensure is issued to provide a legal definition of which individual can use the title of a licensed professional in a particular jurisdiction and field.

Examples of Certification Vs. Licensure

According to the Illinois Board of Examiners (ILBOE), a candidate who wishes to get a certification from the board must pass all four sections of the board-issued Uniform CPA plus the AICPA Ethics exam. It is after then that the ILBOE will issue them with a certificate number, but the candidate will not be licensed as yet.

According to the board, for one to acquire its licensure, they must pass all the four sections of the same exam (the Uniform CPA exam) and also pass the AICPA Ethics exam. The persons must also have the certificate number issued by ILBOE after passing the certification process. Also, the persons must submit the necessary documents to the IDFPR and meet all the licensure requirements for the IDFPR to issue the license number.

Certification Vs. Licensure: Comparison Table


Summary of Certification Vs. Licensure

For each profession, there are minimum qualifications that one must have for them to work in it. This is so especially for professions that require one to interact with citizens in a more specialized way, like in the health and legal professions. For each profession, one can either acquire a certificate or have licensure, but the former is voluntary while the latter is compulsory. The major difference that one should understand while looking for either is that certification comes from private or non-governmental entities while licensure must be from a government body or entity.


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References :

[0]"Certification Vs. Licensure | Illinois Board Of Examiners". Illinois Board Of Examiners, 2019, https://www.ilboe.org/certification/certification-vs-licensure/.

[1]"Certification Vs. Licensure :: Allied Health @ Bellevue College". Bellevue College, 2019, https://www.bellevuecollege.edu/ahe/current-students/certification-vs-licensure/.

[2]"Certification Vs. Licensure | American Board Of Audiology". Boardofaudiology.Org, 2019, https://www.boardofaudiology.org/cochlear-implant-specialty-certification/certification-vs-licensure.shtml.

[3]"IC&RC - Licensure Vs. Certification". Internationalcredentialing.Org, 2019, https://internationalcredentialing.org/lic-cert.

[4]"National Registry Of Emts". National Registry Of Emts, 2019, https://www.nremt.org/rwd/public/document/certification_licensure.

[5]Image rcedit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Engineering_education#/media/File:Engineering_Bachelor's_Degrees_by_discipline.png

[6]Image credit: https://pixabay.com/illustrations/certification-education-loan-choice-3285393/

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