Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education

Understanding certificates, certificate programs and certification

A common tactic of degree mills is to use terms like “certificate program,” “certificate,” and “certification.” However, they can’t always deliver on their promises.

Certificate Program

A certificate program can be for college credit or offered as professional development by an organization. The result of a certificate program, whether completed on a campus or elsewhere, is not a degree, but a certificate.

Certificate programs are great for those who need to fulfill specific job requirements. In some industries, a certificate program can take the place of a degree, but this is not true across the board. If you are pursuing a certificate now but will need a degree in the future, opt for a certificate program offered by a college or university and confirm with the institution in writing before you enroll in the certificate program if you will be able to apply your coursework toward that degree.

If you choose to pursue a certificate program that is not for college credit and not offered by a college, you can learn if the organization offering the certificate program is in good standing with the Secretary of State’s Office at and the Commission on Proprietary Education at .


Certification is not the result of a certificate or degree, but is the passing of a test administered by a state board. A certificate program or degree program prepares you for the certification test.

If your job requires certification, you should contact the licensure board in the state where you plan to live and practice. They will be able to provide licensure requirements and recommend the programs that will be a best fit. Some boards in Kentucky are:

For more boards that administer professional licensure, visit Kentucky’s government portal at

DISCLAIMER: This office cannot give legal advice to any individual or take any legal action on behalf of any individual.

Last Updated: 9/6/2021