Online Certification Programs

As an alternative to earning a degree, students have the option of pursuing certification, a path that is more oriented toward preparing a student for a career rather than for higher education. A certification proves that a student has mastered a set of standards, passed an assessment, and has obtained experience in the field. Certified professionals are often given a title, such as registered dental assistant or certified paralegal, which indicates an advanced level of experience and knowledge. They must also uphold continuing education requirements in order to maintain their certifications, showing potential employers that they stay current on emerging trends within the field and keep refreshed on traditional methodologies.

My certification can help my career, as I can eventually be a chaplain for my job.

Rose AscherlOnline Student

Certification is usually awarded after the passing of an assessment. Certification programs exist to prepare students for these assessments by enrolling them in relevant coursework that both instructs them in their fields of choice and establishes their eligibilities for the assessment. Third-party organizations, usually non-profit in nature, certify those who pass the assessments by measuring them against a set of standards. The exact standards vary based on field and the certification requirements.

What Is Required of Online Certification Students?

The amount of work required by a certification program varies based on the field and the program itself. Some certification programs, such as the American Sports and Fitness Association's Kettlebell certification program, are put together so that lectures are not necessary. John Chip, a certified athlete team trainer, said that he found lectures to be mostly excess reinforcement, "because the courses were so well mapped out." The tests were challenging, but Chip found that taking the time to study helped him tackle the material.

Other programs, such as dental assisting certification programs, require more traditional work. "We had daily assignments that came from the book," said Carol Bolen, a registered dental assistant (RDA), "and the lectures were a lot of fun." In order to pick up on the important aspects of dental assisting, engaging in traditional course work was an important part of being an RDA student. "You learn about the different instruments and terminology through [such course work]. There were only a few exams, but they prepare you for the big state board exam that grants you a certification," Bolen said.

What Is the Online Environment Like?

Many certification programs are offered in the classroom, both in schools and through third-party organizations. Students who have careers and/or family obligations may find that the dates and times of these certification programs do not fit into their schedules. Pursuing a certification online provides a viable alternative for these individuals, allowing them to complete the necessary coursework and assessments on their own time. Online plans are also self-paced, which allows students to go as fast or as slow as they need to complete the program.

The online aspect of certification programs opens up a world of education for students that otherwise might be unable to seek certification. Rose Ascherl, a single mother and full-time customs officer, decided to pursue an international certification as an ordained minister via an online program.

"I believe online certifications are wonderful for career opportunities," Ascherl said. "They are conducted at one's own pace and respectable."

Due to the convenient nature of the online program, Ascherl was able to obtain certification without interrupting her daily responsibilities. "My certification can help my career, as I can eventually be a chaplain for my job," said Ascherl.

Internship requirements vary based on the program and field. According to Chip and Ascherl, internships were not necessary components for receiving certification. However, their respective programs did provide networking opportunities and contacts to help them progress within their fields. Bolen had to complete a lengthy internship in order to sit for the state certification exam. "It's mostly unpaid grunt work, but you learn the finite details, as well as how an office conducts its business," said Bolen. Without her internship, Bolen would have had a harder time getting to know the software programs used to keep client data. Overall, internships are an important facet of an RDA's education, though not mandatory.

How Does Earning Certification Online Impact Your Career Prospects?

Certifications can help both establish and progress careers, and it can even be a necessary step, as it is in becoming an athletic trainer or a registered dental assistant. "The certifications 100% made my career," said Chip, who went on to describe his happiness with being an athletic trainer. For Bolen, certification was necessary; without it, she could not legally practice as an RDA. Ascherl is able to use her certification as an ordained minister to move within her current position. Individuals that obtain their certifications find a world of career opportunities open to them.

If you find your passion and stay focused, then certifications are the way to go.

John ChipCertified Athlete Team Trainer

Most certifications require individuals to stay up to date. In order to keep the certification relevant to the field, individuals must fulfill continuing education requirements, such as by completing additional course work or retaking exams. In many cases, refresher courses are available online as well for added convenience for students that have utilized their certifications to hone careers.

As with any educational program, potential students are recommended to research their programs of choice to make sure that they comply with state standards. Obtaining certification is more than just taking a test; it's being prepared for the working world and everything the field may throw at you. Certification programs exist to establish that level of readiness within students.

"Certification programs taught me more about work than attending a four-year institute would have," said Chip. "If you find your passion and stay focused, then certifications are the way to go."

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