What Is the Difference Between Credentialed and Certified? A Comprehensive Guide

Looking to grow in your professional career? Whether you’re just starting out or looking to take the next step, you may come across the terms “credentialing” and “certification”. But what exactly is the difference between the two? It’s a question that can be perplexing for those who haven’t yet entered the workforce.

Here’s the bottom line: when you’re credentialed in a field, it means you have completed a program of study that has given you a certain level of knowledge and skill. On the other hand, certification means that you have passed an exam that proves your proficiency in a specific area of expertise. As you can see, both are important in the professional world, but they do differ in terms of what they signify.

While these concepts may seem similar, it’s crucial to understand the difference between them if you’re looking to advance in your career. Knowing whether you need to become credentialed or certified can help you map out your professional journey and choose the right path for your goals. It’s important to keep in mind that the right choice for you may not be the same as your colleague, so take some time to think about what you want to achieve and which credential is the best fit for your aspirations.

Professional qualifications

Professional qualifications are the credentials earned by individuals to prove their competency and expertise in their chosen field. These credentials are typically earned through education, work experience, and testing, and are awarded by a professional organization or governing body. The two types of professional qualifications are credentialing and certification.

  • Credentialing: This process involves verifying an individual’s qualifications, experience, and competence through an objective evaluation process. The goal of credentialing is to protect the public by ensuring that individuals who hold a credential meet certain standards of knowledge and experience. Examples of credentials include licensure, registration, or certification from a professional organization or government agency.
  • Certification: This process involves an assessment of an individual’s knowledge and skills in a specific area of expertise. The purpose of certification is to recognize professionals who meet certain standards and to promote the highest level of performance in their field. Certification may be voluntary or mandatory, and it is typically awarded by a professional organization or governing body.

Industry standards

When it comes to credentials and certifications, it is important to understand industry standards. Depending on the industry, certain credentials or certifications may hold more weight or be mandatory for certain positions.

For example, in the medical field, doctors must be licensed and board certified to practice. In the IT industry, certification in specific technologies such as Cisco or Microsoft may be required for certain job roles. In the financial industry, licensed and certified financial professionals are regulated by organizations such as FINRA, the SEC, and the CFP Board.

Industry standard certification examples:

  • Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
  • Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP)
  • Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer (MCSE)

Industry standard credential examples:

Credentials in certain industries may be mandatory or preferred, setting a standard for professionals within that field. Some examples include:

  • Medical licensing (MD, DO, RN, etc.)
  • Project Management Professional (PMP)
  • Professional in Human Resources (PHR)

Credentials vs. Certifications in Industry Standards

In some industries, there is no clear distinction between credentials and certifications, and the terms may be used interchangeably. However, understanding industry standards can help clarify the differences between credentials and certifications and their importance in certain fields.

Credential Certification
Mandatory in some industries May be optional or preferred in some industries
May involve ongoing education or renewal requirements May involve ongoing education or renewal requirements
May be required for certain job roles or levels of advancement May demonstrate mastery of a specific skill or technology

Ultimately, understanding industry standards and the requirements for credentials and certifications can help professionals advance their careers, meet regulatory requirements, and demonstrate their expertise in their field.


When it comes to credentialing and certification, it’s important to know which organizations or institutions have accredited the program or course you’re interested in. Accreditation is the process of assessing the quality of an education program or institution. Accrediting bodies evaluate whether a program or institution meets certain standards of quality in areas such as curriculum, faculty, student services, and student outcomes.

Accreditation can also be broken down into two types: institutional and specialized. Institutional accreditation evaluates entire schools, while specialized accreditation evaluates specific programs or departments within schools.

  • Institutional Accreditation: Institutional accreditation evaluates the entire school, including its mission, goals, administration, faculty, and curriculum. This type of accreditation ensures that the school as a whole is meeting certain standards of quality and is able to offer federal financial aid to students.
  • Specialized Accreditation: Specialized accreditation evaluates specific programs or departments within schools. This type of accreditation ensures that a program is meeting certain standards of quality in areas such as curriculum, faculty, and student outcomes. For example, nursing programs may be accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).

When considering a credentialing or certification program, it’s important to research and understand the accreditation status of the program and the accrediting body to ensure that it meets the necessary standards of quality. Some well-known accrediting bodies include:

  • The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA)
  • The Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS)
  • The Accrediting Commission of the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC)

Here is a table that summarizes the types of accreditation:

Accreditation Type Evaluates
Institutional Accreditation Entire schools
Specialized Accreditation Specific programs or departments within schools


Licensure is a process by which a government agency grants permission to an individual to practice in a specific profession. This process includes an evaluation of the applicant’s education, experience, and assessment of their knowledge and skills through an examination.

  • Licensure is required for certain professions to ensure public safety and protect against unqualified individuals providing services.
  • Examples of professions that require licensure include physicians, nurses, attorneys, and teachers.
  • The specific requirements for licensure vary by state and profession, but typically include completing education and training requirements, passing an examination, and continuing education requirements to maintain the license.

For example, in the field of nursing, licensure is required to practice as a registered nurse (RN) or a licensed practical nurse (LPN). To obtain licensure, an individual must typically graduate from an accredited nursing program, pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), and meet other state-specific requirements.

Licensure Certification
Generally granted by a government agency Granted by a professional organization
Required by law to practice in certain professions Voluntary and not legally required to practice in a profession
Evaluation of education, experience, and examination Evaluation of knowledge and skills through an examination

Overall, licensure is a process that ensures individuals practicing in certain professions meet specific education and training requirements while also protecting the public. It is different from certification, which is a voluntary process that recognizes an individual’s knowledge and skills in a particular specialty.

Education level

One factor that can differentiate between being credentialed and certified is the level of education required for each.

Credentialing typically involves earning a degree or completing a specific training program. Many professions, such as doctors, lawyers, and teachers, require a specific level of education before someone can become credentialed.

In contrast, certification often requires less formal education, but instead focuses on demonstrating knowledge and skills through an exam or other assessment process.

Examples of education requirements for credentialing and certification:

  • To become a licensed physician in the United States, an individual typically must complete a rigorous education program that includes medical school, a residency, and other specified training. This is an example of credentialing based on education level.
  • Alternatively, becoming certified as a personal trainer often involves completing a shorter training program and passing a certification exam. This is an example of certification based on knowledge and skills, rather than formal education.

How education level can impact career opportunities:

The level of education required for credentialing can impact career opportunities in different ways. On one hand, professions that require more formal education may be more competitive, but can also lead to higher earning potential and greater prestige. On the other hand, certifications that require less formal education may be more accessible to a wider range of individuals, and can provide opportunities to enter a new field or specialize within a broader profession.

Earnings potential with different levels of education:

According to data from Bureau of Labor Statistics, individuals with higher levels of education tend to earn more over their lifetimes. For example, the median weekly earnings for someone with a high school diploma were $746 in 2019, while the median earnings for someone with a bachelor’s degree were $1,248. However, this varies greatly by profession and industry.

Level of Education Median Earnings (Weekly)
Less than high school diploma $592
High school diploma $746
Some college or associate’s degree $887
Bachelor’s degree $1,248
Advanced degree $1,883

It’s important to note, however, that earning potential is influenced by many factors beyond education level, including experience, location, and industry.

Scope of Practice

In the healthcare industry, credentials and certifications help to establish a professional’s scope of practice. A scope of practice is the range of activities and tasks that a professional is permitted to perform within their field. These activities and tasks are defined by the professional’s level of education, training, and certification.

  • Credentialing refers to the process of verifying a professional’s education and experience to determine whether they are qualified to perform specific duties. Credentials may be granted by an educational institution, a professional association, or a government agency. These credentials provide an individual with the authority to practice within a specific field. For example, a registered nurse (RN) has met specific education and licensing requirements that allow them to provide patient care in a healthcare setting.
  • Certification, on the other hand, refers to the process of verifying a professional’s knowledge and skills in a particular area of practice. Certification verifies that a professional has met specific standards of competence through experience and education. A certification is usually granted by a professional association or a governing body within a specific industry. For example, a nurse practitioner (NP) may obtain certification in a specific specialty area, such as family practice or acute care.
  • Both credentialing and certification play a vital role in ensuring that healthcare professionals have the knowledge and skills necessary to perform their duties safely and effectively. They provide assurance to patients that their providers are qualified, competent, and accountable for their actions.

It is essential to understand the difference between credentials and certifications to ensure that professionals are practicing within their defined scope. A lack of proper credentials or certification can lead to legal and ethical consequences.

For example, imagine a healthcare facility hiring an individual without the proper credentials to practice as a nurse. The facility would be at risk of facing a lawsuit if a patient suffered harm due to the individual’s lack of training. Additionally, healthcare professionals who practice outside their scope of practice may face disciplinary action by their employer or licensing board.

Below is a chart that outlines examples of different healthcare professions, their required education and credentials, and their scope of practice:

Profession Required Education Credentials Scope of Practice
Registered Nurse (RN) Bachelor’s or Associate’s Degree in Nursing State License Assess patient health status, develop and implement nursing care plans, administer medications and treatments, provide patient education, and supervise nursing staff.
Medical Doctor (MD) Doctor of Medicine Degree Medical License Diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries, prescribe medications, order and interpret diagnostic tests, perform medical procedures, and provide preventive care and health education.
Physical Therapist (PT) Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree Licensure Exam and State License Diagnose and treat movement dysfunctions, provide patient education, develop treatment plans, and use therapeutic exercises and modalities to improve patient mobility and function.

It is crucial to ensure that healthcare professionals have the proper credentials and certification to practice within their defined scope. This ensures that patients receive safe and effective care from qualified professionals.

Continuing Education

Continuing education is crucial for professionals in any field to keep up with the latest developments in their industry. This is particularly important for those holding credentials and certifications. The difference between the two is that certification is typically a one-time achievement, while credentials require ongoing education and professional development.

Here are some key things to know about continuing education for credentialed and certified professionals:

  • Credentialed professionals are required to complete continuing education in order to maintain their credentials. This ensures that they are up-to-date with the latest knowledge and skills in their field.
  • Certified professionals are not always required to complete continuing education, but it is often recommended in order to stay current in their field and maintain their certification status.
  • Continuing education requirements vary depending on the specific credential or certification. Some may require a certain number of hours of education per year, while others may have more flexible requirements.

Here is an example of continuing education requirements for a popular certification in the healthcare industry – the Certified Medical Assistant (CMA) certification:

Requirement Details
Total Continuing Education (CE) hours required 60 CE credits every five years
Minimum CE hours in each of the follow categories General, Administrative, and Clinical: 10 hours each
Maximum CE hours from each category Practice Management: 15 hours; Professionalism: 10 hours

As you can see, continuing education is a critical aspect of maintaining both credentials and certifications. It ensures that professionals are staying up-to-date with the latest knowledge and skills in their field, which ultimately benefits their clients or patients.

FAQs: What is the difference between credentialed and certified?

Q1: What does it mean to be credentialed?
A: Being credentialed means that an individual has met specific educational and experiential requirements set forth by a particular professional organization or regulatory body. It shows they have met a minimum level of competency and are authorized to practice within their field.

Q2: What does it mean to be certified?
A: Being certified means that an individual has demonstrated a higher level of knowledge, skills, and expertise in a particular area by passing a standardized exam or meeting additional requirements set forth by a governing body. It shows that they have achieved a more advanced level of competence within their field.

Q3: Can someone be both credentialed and certified?
A: Yes, it is possible for someone to be both credentialed and certified in their field. In fact, many professional organizations require both credentials and certification to practice within their respective fields.

Q4: Are there any differences in the types of organizations that offer credentials versus those that offer certifications?
A: Yes, typically organizations that offer credentials are professional associations or regulatory bodies that operate within a specific industry, while organizations that offer certifications are often third-party entities that specialize in testing and certifying an individual’s skills and knowledge.

Q5: Is one designation better than the other?
A: There is no clear answer to this question, as it ultimately depends on the specific requirements and expectations within a given field. Some professions may favor certification over credentials, while others may place more value on earning a credential. It is important to research and understand the expectations within your desired field before pursuing either designation.

Closing Thoughts

We hope this article has helped clarify the difference between being credentialed and certified. Remember, while the two designations are similar, they signify different levels of achievement within a profession. Thank you for reading and please visit again later for more helpful content!