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Certificate vs. Certification

The words certificate and certification may look similar, but they actually mean different things. Treating them as synonyms may lead to misunderstandings and generate inaccurate information.

For instance, is it correct to call yourself a certified professional after obtaining a certificate?

While a certificate is an essential step to becoming certified, certificates are generally meant for entry-level professionals who are learning new skills. They may also be suitable for experienced professionals who want to enhance existing skills.

Yet, a professional only becomes certified after obtaining a certification. Having professional experience and passing an assessment are required.

Therefore, the answer to the previous questions is no.

Let's break down the differences between certificates and certifications!

i) A certificate:

  • is obtained after completing an educational process.

  • can be for both entry-level and experienced professionals.

  • helps acquire specific knowledge or skills.

  • is conclusive — you never lose it.

ii) A certification:

  • is obtained after passing an assessment process.

  • can only be for experienced professionals.

  • assesses knowledge and skills previously acquired.

  • is not conclusive — you may lose it if you don't meet specific requirements.

For instance, I recently completed the American Medical Writers Association's Essential Skills Certificate Program. As a novice medical writer, I have acquired knowledge and enhanced my skills thanks to that certificate; but that hasn't automatically made me a certified medical writer.

To earn the certified medical writer designation (MWC), I will have to meet some requirements to be eligible to take — and pass — a 2.5-hour exam. Those requirements include having a bachelor's or advanced degree in any field and a minimum of two years of experience as a medical writer.

READ: Are Translation Certification Exams Redundant?

The process I went through with the American Translators Association to become a certified translator (CT) was similar. Although the requirements varied, I had to take a 3-hour exam whose pass rate is less than 20%. It took me indeed two attempts to become an ATA-certified English into Spanish translator!

A common misunderstanding is that *a person who completes a certificate or a degree in Translation is a certified translator. To become a certified translator, you must pass an assessment that proves you meet a number of quality standards. Certifications are generally not for beginners but experienced professionals.

In summary:

  • A certificate results from an educational program but doesn't make you certified.

  • A certification results from an assessment and makes you certified.

*This statement is not correct.


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