Search our Blog

Search our Blog

Friday, October 15, 2010

Degrees, Certificates and Designations - What's the Difference?

Professionals in any industry know the “alphabet soup” phrase as referring to the multitude of degrees, designations and certificates that are available to them for educational and marketing purposes. Many articles have been written on the varied use of these to gain business, earn respect and make their business card look important. But what really is the difference in the education and accreditation backing for each of these categories?

Most professionals in the workplace have a degree of some sort. Most degrees are earned in an accredited university or college. These higher education institutions have earned approval from one of the accrediting bodies published on the U.S. Department of Education’s website at . This type of accreditation indicates that the institution's performance and degrees are measured against the standards approved by the Department and enforced by through the accrediting body. In addition, a team selected by the accrediting agency visits the institution or program to determine first-hand if the institution meets the established standards.

Certificate programs are programs that are usually specific and educate the participant in a very particular area of study. Certificate programs can be accredited by a range of accrediting agencies that are either regionally or nationally approved. Certificate programs are accredited by the material and course work that is required, not on the testing measures. These programs also do not require any continued education to maintain the certificate.

Designation programs differ from certificates as it is the test or exam that is accredited for designations, not the course work and number of hours. In these programs, participants may study the recommended materials but can also incorporate other means of study and professional experiences to prepare themselves for the exam. Designation programs are accredited by a variety of accreditation bodies, with the majority of accreditation requiring national approval. Some programs such as those for physician's assistants or theological designations are regionally accredited and the accreditation must be received in the region in order to be recognized by employers. Designations are more widely recognized as a higher achievement by employers and regulators as the accreditation of the test ensures that the holder of the designation has passed not only a certain amount of study or professional experience but also met test requirements. In addition, professionals holding a designation must also perform continuing education in order to maintain a valid membership and use of the designation.

Consumers should thoroughly review a professionals displayed credentials. Taking the time to call the issuing organization, review the credential's credibility online, and check with the state regulatory office are steps a potential client should complete before agreeing to work with a professional. Any professional advising they are an "expert" simply because of a designation, certificate or degree should be avoided.

The Society of Certified Senior Advisors provides a designation to individuals who successfully complete the eligibility requirements established by the independent SCSA Certification Council. To recertify the designation, CSAs must remain current in the field of aging by completing ongoing continuing education (CE) requirements, also established by the Certification Council.

When researching what program would best suit the needs of the professional and those they will be working with, it is important to research industry standards, state requirements, accreditation validity and other aspects of a program. Finding a program that promotes education, ethics and responsibility should also be number one on an applicants list.

To obtain a copy of this handout, please visit the Free Resources section of the CSA website,

blog posting by Society of Certified Senior Advisors