Certification, Certificate, Diploma, and Degree: What's the Difference?

Certification, Certificate, Diploma, and Degree: What's the Difference?

Written by: Shaminda Perera, MEAE | On November 6, 2018

Certification Vs. Certificate 

Often used interchangeably in conversation and often confused, these two terms have two very different meanings. While a certification is an endorsement of competence of professional practice, a certificate is focused on recognizing the accomplishment of a learning outcome.

Certification: This is a practitioner's professional standard that has been endorsed by an establishment who is an authority in the field of practice. There generally is a process of assessing the practitioner's competency, knowledge, skills, and/or professional portfolio, and to which a recognized credential is awarded upon successful assessment. For example, the "Certified in Volunteer Administration (CVA)" credential is a certification awarded by the Council for Certification in Volunteer Administration (more details: https://www.vmpc.ca/certification.html).

Through certification, the practitioner will earn a designation of which the acronym can follow the person's name. For example:

  • Certified in Volunteer Administration: Kristen Doe, CVA
  • Certified Training and Development Practitioner: Kristen Doe, CTDP

Certifications, most often come with a requirement for maintaining the designation which is determined either by a validity period, maintenance of credit units through continued engagement in professional development or the combination of the two.

Regulated professions often make it mandatory for the practitioners to complete the certification and it is on a voluntary basis for non-regulated professions. However, earning the certification and displaying the designation besides the name is a mark of excellence in the individual's professional practice.

Certificate: Even though it is about professional development, the outcome is pure education or learning based. There could be a method of knowledge assessment such as tests, assignments, and capstone projects. This is a one-time accomplishment which recognizes the successful completion of the education/learning program. For example, successfully passing a course that awards a "Certificate in Not-for-Profit and Volunteer Management" by a college or university will award a Certificate of Completion or Certificate of Competence.

The time taken to complete the program could vary from a number of days to months. 

Diploma Vs. Degree

Based on learning outcomes, these two terms highlight an individual's academic excellence in a particular field of study.

Diploma: This is an academic program where its intensity lies somewhere between a Certificate program and a Degree. The diploma can be awarded by a community college, university or a commercial educational institute. Most diplomas take more than one year and up to 2 years to complete. An example would be a Diploma in Learning and Development. 

The curriculum will ideally take a practical and skill-based value. There is a knowledge assessment methodology that determines the achievement of the diploma. 

Degree: A Degree is a comprehensive and intensive academic program that awards a recognized higher education accomplishment. In Canada, there are four levels of degrees that progress from (1) Associate, (2) Bachelors, (3) Masters, to (4) a Doctorate. A degree is awarded by a community college or university. The academic period can range from 2 to 4 years and maybe, even more, depending on the field of study. An example would be the Master of Education in Adult Education (MEAE) Degree.

The curriculum is more focused on building the deep and philosophical knowledge of the field of study. There is a knowledge assessment methodology that determines the achievement of the Degree which generally ends with either a research-based dissertation, thesis or a capstone project depending on the level of degree.

Just as it is with a Certification, Degrees too award an acronym that can be placed beside an individual's name. For example: 

  • Associate of Arts: Kristen Doe, AA
  • Bachelor of Business Administration: Kristen Doe, BBA
  • Master of Education in Adult Education: Kristen Doe, MEAE
  • Doctorate in Philosophy: Kristen Doe, PhD or Dr. Kristen Doe.
A person who would hold a Certification, as well as a Degree, would list both after their names most commonly starting with the highest educational qualification and ending with the Certification. For example:
  • Kristen Doe, PhD, CVA
  • Kristen Doe, MEAE, CTDP

Here are three professional development organizations related to Volunteer Management for you to explore;

  1. Volunteer MBC Learning Centre (VLC): https://www.volunteermbc.org/LearningCentre
  2. Professional Association for Volunteer Leaders in Ontario (PAVRO): https://pavro.on.ca/page-18521
  3. Volunteer Management Professionals of Canada (VMPC): https://www.vmpc.ca/certification.html

Whichever professional development initiative you are currently contemplating or you hold, its accomplishment is a mark of your commitment towards excellence in your professional practice.

Learn and Grow folks.

» Resources and Publications