Certificate vs. Endorsement: What’s the Difference?

Lyne Ssebikindu
Lyne Ssebikindu
Elementary school principal; Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction

The difference between an endorsement and certification is that certification refers to getting a license to teach. A certificate provides proof to employers and demonstrates education achievement; meanwhile an endorsement refers to the specific area in which you are going to teach. It can be a high, middle, or elementary school.


Subject endorsement refers to a specific area, such as reading, math, science, or social studies. An endorsement is the area a teacher is qualified to teach. Most teachers have at least one endorsement, and in some states the endorsement doesn’t stand alone; it is used as an add-on. Normally it is easier to add an endorsement to an existing license. Before an endorsement is obtained, teachers must obtain a license and certification. Endorsements indicate that you have completed graduate courses in the area of your endorsement, and generally, educators add on an endorsement after experiencing teaching for a couple years. Teachers must be authorized to teach in particular fields, e.g. grade bands or subjects.

States have varying provisions for teaching. Right now, there is a big demand for teachers and employment growth is high. Because of the current teacher shortage, school districts are looking to paraprofessionals as instructional assistants to assist with bridging the academic gaps in instruction. Districts are encouraging paraprofessionals to enlist in college and pursue their licensure. Most paraprofessionals have been involved with instruction in the classrooms and have dealt with challenging behaviors. Districts are finding out that paraprofessionals are part of the answer, and, in most cases, they only lack a degree. Many districts are offering tuition assistance to the paraprofessionals, though.

Some states have made changes to accommodate teachers who earned credentials in different fields, although many teachers are placed in positions that are associated with their specific endorsement. Some districts are also allowing teachers to start teaching first and then pursue the qualifying coursework needed to become a licensed teacher.


There are specific standards for each teaching certification which refer to a common set of expectations for what children can do at different grade levels. To obtain certification, candidates must earn the qualifying degree and meet specific requirements, which vary state-to-state. Teachers who want to pursue teaching careers in different states should inquire about the requirements for that state as each one has a guide that details requirements for an endorsement or certification. Some states reserve the word endorsement for an add-on credential.

It’s also important to note that completion of the program does not guarantee certification. Candidates must meet certain requirements such as students teaching and completion of the Praxis assessment to obtain certification. Each state has a guide that details requirements for an endorsement or certification. Some states reserve the word endorsement for an add-on credential. The number on your certification is likely the number of the endorsement as well.

Common Teacher Endorsement Areas

Certification Programs

Pros and Cons of Graduate Endorsement Programs

Before seeking a certificate or endorsement, candidates should consider the pros and cons and what they want to get out of the experience.

Advantages of an Endorsement

  • Not as time-consuming as obtaining a degree
  • Allows flexibility with transitioning into another field
  • In most states, there is a financial benefit after you complete the necessary coursework
  • Multiple opportunities to teach different subjects and grades
  • Opportunities for promotion or advancement
  • An advantage in the hiring process
  • Creates additional opportunities for an educator’s choices
  • When a teaching certificate is renewed, does not require additional in-service points to keep the teaching certificate
  • Easier to add endorsements than to earn an initial certification

Disadvantages of an Endorsement

  • Candidates must devote their time: it can be time consuming completing the required coursework
  • There is a financial responsibility: it can be expensive

Pros and Cons of Graduate Certificate Programs

Advantages of a Certification

  • Indicates that your knowledge in a specific discipline has been proven through an assessment
  • Provides designation after one’s name such as M.A. or Ph.D.

Disadvantages of a Certification

  • You have to earn a degree, so the process may take a bit longer
  • Background checks and specific requirements for at least one teaching area
  • In most cases, an educator will only hold one certification in a given state at a given time
  • Certification requires more administrative work

How Do I Decide What’s Right for Me?

Consider the primary reason for pursing certification and endorsement; when you have all the information needed, then make an informed decision that will result in longevity of your educational career. For example, it is crucial for students to enroll in an accredited degree program and obtain endorsements needed to teach specific subject areas. If considering different states, stay abreast of the requirements and protocols.

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