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What is a Certificate of Completion?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A certificate of completion can mean different things depending upon the program in which a person participates. Many trade and vocational schools, and a number of junior or community colleges offer training in various fields that don’t result in a college degree. In lieu of this degree, people who complete these programs may have a certificate showing that they’ve fulfilled all of the requirements of the program to certain standards, and this may be called a certificate of completion. Some vocational and job training programs have the option of earning college degrees too, and some people might earn this certificate and an associate of arts (A.A.) degree at the same time, or by taking a few more courses.

What makes matters confusing is that sometimes a certificate of completion is not an assurance people have fulfilled all training requirements of a vocational or academic program. In high school, students who don’t earn a diploma for various reasons might earn this completion certificate instead. This may affect ability to get into four-year colleges, though it usually doesn’t make a difference when enrolling in community or junior colleges. Various colleges may treat the certificate in different ways, and it’s easy to find out how it will be viewed by looking at admission requirements. If a college asks for a diploma or a G.E.D., the certificate of completion from a high school may not be adequate.

Trade schools and vocational schools can also sometimes have finals that need to be passed in order to gain a diploma or an end degree. When these are not passed, the student may earn a certificate of completion, but not the same level of recognition that would be earned by passing finals. This again varies, and some programs have eliminated final testing in favor of only offering completion certificates.

The way these certificates are treated can very much depend on the way a job in the field in which a person trains is treated. Completing a program and earning a certificate may not be enough to guarantee getting a job. Many programs also require people to earn certification, which isn’t the same as a certificate of completion. Usually, people get certification for different jobs by taking exams, such as real estate, nursing, or contracting exams that will license them to work at a certain level in their chosen profession. Certification or licensing shouldn’t be confused with a certificate that says a person has completed a certain amount of training, but this certificate may be necessary in order to take tests that will lead to licensing.

Practical Adult Insights is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen , Writer
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.

Discussion Comments

By WildRacer — On Sep 07, 2010

I once spent a summer working as an intern with a number of ethicists at a San Francisco medical center, where I in fact handed out certificates of completion to attendees of a conference on medicine and the law.

By Slothrop — On Sep 07, 2010

A certificate of completion is also often given out to someone who has completed a continuing education course for his profession. This is found in areas such as medicine and social work.

Tricia Christensen

Tricia Christensen


With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Practical Adult Insights contributor...
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