You’ve decided on a career path as an educator. Do you know what next step you should take?

There are many directions you can go in this rewarding career of teaching, and many decisions are still ahead of you. Most importantly, what type of teaching appeals to you most? To help guide you, one very important decision to make is whether to fulfill your teaching license or to solely complete a teaching certificate(s). Although the words license and certificate seem like interchangeable terms, there are in fact substantial differences between them. You will need to understand the contrasts as you set forth down your path as a teacher.

What Is a Certificate?

The biggest difference lies in the fact that certificate programs do not necessarily abide by the statutes and regulations of the state. Meaning, the coursework completed in getting a certificate can vary from school to school and certificate to certificate. Certifications in teaching can be offered by any school of higher learning in any area or focus the school may choose. Sometimes these certificates are approved by the state as various state teaching licenses. Keep in mind, however, that it is just as common for these certification programs to not be state approved nor lead to state licensure.

What Is a License?

A teaching license, on the other hand, can only be approved and granted by the state. The procedure of obtaining a teaching license through your university must follow follows strict mandates set forth by the state. Your college or university must be approved and accredited by the Department of Education in order to offer state licensure programs. In all 50 fifty states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, a license is a requirement for teaching in the public school system, although the specific requirements for teacher certification vary on a state-by-state basis. The rules for licensure are set by each state’s’ board of education.

Which One Is Right for You?

The most common path for prospective teachers is to obtain the state-mandated teaching license along with your bachelor’s or master’s degree. Taking this path gives you the ability to teach in the licensed state and also provides flexibility no matter what or where you teach within the state. Teaching certificates, on the other hand, cater to prospective teachers who desire to focus on a specific type, subject, or discipline of teaching. That’s why many students end up obtaining a state-approved teaching license as well as completing some form of specialized teaching certificate. The benefits of doing this come into play upon graduation when you are more skilled and specialized in your calling. Going this route will show potential employers your education and skill set is beyond the ordinary, making your professional teaching candidacy more sought after by employers.

Remember, all public and many private schools require a teaching license. Teaching certificates, however, are what tend to set you apart from the herd, not to mention what help you take your learning to the next level. Lastly, keep in mind that some states have referred to their “license” as a “certificate” and/or getting “certified.” For this reason, be sure to know exactly what your school is offering and what your state requires for employment/teaching in the classroom.

Here at Concordia, we offer both certification and licensure programs so you can have complete flexibility and control over your education. Check out our programs and degrees page to learn more.

— Kali Thiel is director of university communications for Concordia University Wisconsin and Ann Arbor. She may be reached at or 262-243-2149.

If this story has inspired you, why not explore how you can help further Concordia's mission through giving.