August 13, 2019
 | EducatorsParentsStudents

Certification vs. Degree: What’s the Difference?

Education can be a tricky subject.

Why? Because there isn’t just one way to get an education.

Students can go to a community college, attend a four-year university, apply for an apprenticeship or earn a certificate. Whether you are a student, have a student or are teaching students, it is important to understand different types of education.

When it comes to differentiating between a certificate and a degree, it is easy to get confused.

This is where we come in. We want to break it down and make it easier to understand what makes a certificate and degree different.


Academic degrees are awarded from institutions of higher learning.

Generally, there are four different degree types:

  1. Associate’s
  2. Bachelor’s
  3. Master’s
  4. Doctoral

The most commonly earned degree is a bachelor’s degree. This type of degree focuses on an area of studying (called a “major”) and typically requires at least 120 credit hours of work. This roughly translates to four years in an institution.

That’s a long time to take classes that vary in subject matter.

In fact, typical degree programs will consist of general education courses (science, math, history and English) on top of courses within your specific area of focus.

Degrees are intended to indicate formal academic achievement and offer in-depth learning at an accredited university.


Someone who is certified, as defined by NCCER, is an individual who has successfully completed both a journey-level assessment and performance verification.

Basically, it requires one part book knowledge combined with one part hands-on knowledge. This two-sided knowledge requirement is what makes a certification stand out.

There are certificates in masonry, ironworking, carpentry and other crafts within construction that provide you with good credibility among employers in the industry. While owning a certification isn’t required to have a career in construction, individuals often seek one to get a step ahead in the professional field.

Certifications offer individuals training, personal enrichment and a variety of benefits for those seeking to learn more about their current career or a new industry.

But, how long does this take?

Collectively, the classroom element of certification is far less than that of a degree, as the material is more directly focused.

Since certification also requires a few years of experience in the field, it can take around 3-4 years to earn, similar to a bachelor’s degree. However, keep in mind that craft professionals are working and earning a salary during these years, so they aren’t starting out at entry level upon completion like a college student.

Earning a certificate assures the portability of skills from any subject area. It takes determination, hard work and time, just like any other form of education would.

Let’s Compare: Certification vs. Degree

Can you spot the differences?

Certificates focus on only one subject and require both book knowledge and hands-on skills. Reaching a certified level can take a few years, but certificate candidates spend much of their time working on-site and earning pay.

Meanwhile, degrees allot time for learning about different subjects and are mainly based on classroom-style education. Bachelor’s degrees also take a few years to complete, but graduates typically have little experience and are considered entry-level.

We aren’t here to say one is better than the other. We are here to help you understand what makes each form of education unique.

Choose Your Path

Start looking at different career opportunities and determine which route you prefer, obtaining a certificate or a degree. But if you think one is not enough, you can acquire both!

Interested in the construction industry? Research accredited two- and four-year universities that explore studies of construction management, engineering other related majors.

Or, start by getting NCCER Certified and earning industry-recognized credentials that craft professionals will recognize.

Whether you start your training off by earning a certificate or a degree, discover more and begin a career in construction today!