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Certified Online College vs. Accredited Online College

Receiving a college education has become increasingly convenient over the years.

Since busy adults can utilize the internet to access university lectures, review course materials, and submit their assignments, online college is an attractive option. Anyone considering this type of education may encounter the terms “certified online college” versus an “accredited online college.” Understanding what these terms mean in regard to education is meaningful to make sure that the program selected will be worthwhile and meaningful.

Both certified and accredited curriculums are formal education and these terms are frequently used interchangeably. Certification differs from accreditation by recipient only. Certification and accreditation are both voluntary and credentialed by a private agency. When selecting an online university program, students should opt for an accredited school so that it is publicly recognized and meets a certain level of standard.

Certified Online College

“Certified” is a term used on behalf of an individual, while accreditation is meant for an entire organization. For example, if a student attends an online school, they may participate in programs to become "certified" in a certain area of study. Certified online colleges prepare students to earn specialized certifications in programs to help them advance in their careers, and can either be accredited or non-accredited. Certified schools include studies for occupations like court reporter, certified school counselor, certified electrician, and many medical or IT technician professional programs. Graduates of these programs then become "certified." Depending on the school, the program may also be accredited.

Accredited Online College

The term “accredited” means that an organization, such as an online university, has demonstrated a pre-determined level of quality, similar to other schools at their level, and across the nation. It also means that the educational institution adheres to such standards consistently and voluntarily in order to be recognized by a third-party for a certain level of conformity. Since not every online school elects to be accredited due to considerations like expense and various rigorous requirements, certified programs can be comparable in quality. However, they are not recognized by an accreditation agency at all, which can make the education less valuable in some situations. Accreditation essentially ensures that any degree a student receives meets a common set of quality and that the school from which a degree was conferred is meaningful and worthwhile.

Since the terms “certified” and “accredited” are used to describe similar end-results, the two terms are easily confused. Accreditation is a non-governmental criterion and established by an entirely independent agency. In addition to these terms, “licensing” can be another area of regulatory consideration. To differentiate, state "certifications" are less controlled than licensing and accreditation, and is entirely elective. These terms are both a "credential," so understanding that certification or license is received by an individual and "accreditation" is for an institution or entire program can help keep the terms become more clear. Accreditation is important for online college students because it correlates with value. Accreditation proves that an online university program has effectively prepared the degree holder to be capable of applying their training and that the education they've received meets a certain standard.

Last Updated: July 24, 2017