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While a bachelor’s degree is enough to help you land entry-level jobs, it might not be enough to pursue higher roles within your field. This is especially true for fields that require advanced knowledge, such as social work and healthcare.
In today’s competitive world, you need to stand out in the crowd of applicants. You can do so by pursuing a graduate degree and obtaining a license or professional certificate, perhaps both, to increase your chances for a well-paying position. While these two have different meanings and serve different purposes, they will both help you expand your professional opportunities.
What are Licensure and Professional Certification?
Being licensed and being certified are two different things that are commonly interchanged. You need to understand the distinction between these terms since certain sectors demand licensing while others do not.
So, what is licensure, and what is professional certification?
A license is something you obtain from your state or local government. A license means the state permits you to carry out a specific activity. Not all professionals are required to be licensed. However, acquiring a license becomes paramount if you’re aiming for jobs that demand a higher level of responsibility, public safety, and specialized knowledge. Great examples of industries requiring a license include real estate, architecture, engineering, construction, insurance, healthcare, and pharmaceuticals.
While distinct from state licensure, professional certifications hold significant value in affirming an individual’s expertise and proficiency within a specific industry. A professional certificate is something you obtain from a third party. This indicates that you’ve finished an industry-specific training or course.
Professionals seek certifications voluntarily to enhance their credibility, stay current with industry trends, and distinguish themselves in a competitive job market. A few credentials that come to mind include Google Analytics, Certified Information Systems Security Professional, Hubspot, Project Management, and Human Resources certificates.
Why Pursue Licensure and Professional Certification
A licensure and professional certification are the best ways to expand your horizons in familiar but new territories. Because let’s face it, you wouldn’t trust someone with your life if they’re not permitted to perform a particular activity. For instance, you wouldn’t allow a surgeon without a medical license to operate on you. Clients seek professionals with recognized credentials; licensure or certification is a testament to your competence and commitment.
Obtaining a license and professional certificate in your field deepens your expertise and transforms your relationship with clients, fostering a profound trust that transcends industry boundaries and attracts opportunities. And, of course, as your knowledge and trustworthiness rise, your earning potential will follow, setting you apart in job markets and providing financial security.
However, it’s important to be mindful of credential expiration. Although professional certifications have no expiration dates, professional licenses do. Licenses are subject to renewal to ensure you brush up on your skills. This may also incur expenses, although they are minimal compared to the advantages of holding a license.
Lastly, the geographical flexibility of licenses and certifications allows seamless relocation, providing opportunities to diversify your work experience nationwide or statewide. This adaptability enriches your professional journey, creating a diverse resume and showcasing your expertise in different corners of the country.
Challenges in Obtaining a Licensure Degree Program
Pursuing a graduate degree that prepares you for industry-specific licensure and professional certification has several benefits. But at the same time, it also comes with significant challenges. Before plunging into this academic journey, you should know the strains it may cost you to prepare for what’s about to come.
One of the most common challenges in pursuing a licensure or certification is the financial strain it may cause you. This applies especially to those with limited financial resources, low-paying jobs, and a family to maintain. Graduate degrees, in general, are expensive, especially those leading to professional licensure.
According to the Education Data Initiative, the average cost of a master’s degree in the US is $65,134. Master of Arts degree, where most majors lead to licensure, is more expensive than other master’s degrees, with an average cost of $78,930. This includes exam fees, application processes, study materials, and sometimes mandatory continuing education.
It’s important to understand that the relationship between obtaining a license or certification and immediate career advancement can be complex. While pursuing licensure or certification is an investment in one’s professional development, the expected returns, such as increased job opportunities or salary advancements, may not always match the financial investment made. The perceived value may not align with employers’ expectations, leading to potential disappointment.
Graduate degrees demand higher academic rigor, research proficiency, and specialized knowledge than bachelor’s degrees. It’s not uncommon for graduate students to feel burnt out or stressed while juggling work and academics. Additionally, changing requirements may necessitate further education or training, potentially disrupting careers.
Lastly, credential maintenance can be challenging, as failure to meet requirements may result in the credential’s expiration. Limited recognition and ethical considerations may also pose risks, and job market saturation can dilute the perceived value of the credential. Limited geographic mobility can also be a challenge, as some licenses are state-specific.
Nevertheless, if you play your cards right, you’ll see that licensed-oriented graduate programs are worth the risk.
Key Considerations in Choosing a Licensure-Oriented Graduate Program
Selecting a graduate school that focuses on licensure is a big decision that must be carefully considered. These are essential things to have in mind if you’re pursuing a program in psychology, teaching, healthcare, or any other sector that calls for licensure:
This is the first thing you should consider when evaluating a licensure-oriented graduate program. Accreditation is a formal recognition granted to an educational institution or program by an accrediting agency.
While regional accreditation is the highest accreditation US colleges and universities can obtain, you must be aware that some licensures, for example, in healthcare professions, may require specific programmatic accreditation and institutional accreditation. Therefore, it’s crucial to understand the unique accreditation requirements relevant to your chosen field.
Understand the specific licensure requirements for the field you are interested in. Professionals have different licensing exams and prerequisites, so make sure the program meets these requirements.
Research the reputation of the graduate program, faculty, and institution. Look for alumni reviews, testimonials, and success stories to gauge the program’s effectiveness in preparing students for licensure.
You should look for a program taught by licensed and experienced faculty members. These professionals will impart knowledge from the books and bring real-world insights and practical experiences into the classroom.
Look for faculty members with a strong track record in research, publications, or contributions to the professional community, as this can enhance the program’s overall quality.
Clinical or Practical Experience
Determine the extent of hands-on experience, on-campus work opportunities, internships, or clinical placements the program offers. Practical experience is crucial for applying theoretical knowledge and developing the skills necessary for licensure.
Inquire about the licensure exam pass rates of graduates from the program. Higher pass rates may indicate the program’s effectiveness in preparing students for professional exams.
Cost and Financial Aid
Graduate degrees leading to licensures and professional certifications are often costly. In this case, if you don’t have unlimited financial resources, you need to analyze the program’s total cost, including tuition, fees, and additional expenses.
You should also research potential financial aid options, scholarships, or grants to help alleviate the financial burden.
Inquire about the level of support provided to graduates after completing the program. Some institutions offer career services, job placement assistance, or continuing education opportunities.
Ethical and Legal Considerations
Be aware of any ethical or legal considerations associated with the licensure process in your chosen field. Ensure that the program adheres to ethical standards and prepares you to meet legal requirements.
10 Graduate Programs That Lead to State Licensure or Professional Certification
Arizona State University
Arizona State University is among the most innovative schools in the United States. ASU is known for its innovative undergraduate and graduate degree programs and is great in offering various master’s and doctorate degrees, leading to professional certifications and state licensures. You can explore their Professional licensure and Certification and learn more about their offerings.
Meanwhile, some of ASU’s most popular graduate degrees leading to licensure and certifications include:
- Counseling, MC
- Project Management, MPM
- Advanced Nursing Practice
- Family Nurse Practitioner – Graduate Certificate
- Family Psychiatric & Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (Graduate Certificate)
- Nursing (Entry To Nursing Practice), MS
- Pediatric Nurse Practitioner (Graduate Certificate)
- Architecture, MArch
- Music Therapy, MM
- Environmental And Resource Management, MS
- Lean Six Sigma Black Belt (Graduate Certificate)
- Education, MA
- Juris Doctor, JD
- Legal Studies, MLS
- Accountancy And Data Analytics, MACC
- Real Estate Development, MRED
- Taxation And Data Analytics, MTAX
- Social Work, MSW
The acceptance rate at ASU can vary by program and campus. Generally, ASU is considered a moderately selective institution.
University of Central Florida
The University of Central Florida employs various faculty and researchers dedicated to advancing their fields and molding students to become leaders. As far as enrollment goes, UCF is the most prominent institution in Florida and among the biggest in the country. It employs about 13,000 people and has a $1.8 billion operational budget. In fiscal year 2023, UCF researchers were awarded $217.1 million for supported research.
UCF offers several graduate programs for licensure and certificate-seeking professionals. Here are some of their offerings:
- Accounting, MSA
- Counselor Education, MA
- Counselor Education (MEd) School Counseling
- Educational Leadership, EdS
- Applied Behavior Analysis (Graduate Certificate)
- Aerospace Engineering, MS
- Civil Engineering, MS
- Master of Social Work, MSW
- Medical Doctor, MD
- Doctor of Nursing Practice, DNP
- Nursing, MSN
- Family Nurse Practitioner (Graduate Certificate)
- Clinical Psychology (MA) Applied Pre-Licensure/Non-Thesis Track
UCF’s acceptance rate has been competitive, and admission is selective.
Wilmington University is one of the best higher education institutions dedicated to the advancement of working adult students. Thanks to their open-access curriculum, graduate students can customize their degree schedules and align them with their current lifestyles and careers. Wilmington is primarily famous for its teacher education programs leading to state licensure and certifications, including:
- M.Ed. in Elementary Studies (K-6)
- MA in Secondary Teaching (6-12)
- M.Ed. in Career & Technical Education (9-12)
- M.Ed. in Special Education
You can also choose from a pool of graduate degrees in Wilmington, each accredited by a designated programmatic accrediting agency.
Wilmington University typically admits a significant percentage of applicants.
Western Carolina University
Western Carolina University is a famous school known not only for its academics but also for top adventure that encourages students to explore the beautiful surroundings of the Appalachian Mountains to lessen academic strains. WCU offers numerous graduate degrees that lead to certification or licensure as professionals.
A few of the graduate programs leading to state licensure and certifications include:
- Art Education, MAT
- Clinical Psychology, MA
- Education, MAEd
- Nurse Educator (Graduate Certificate)
- Nursing, MSN
- Nursing Practice, DNP
- Physical Therapy, DPT
- Social Work, MSW
- Sport Management, MS
WCU’s acceptance rate is generally competitive.
Alaska Pacific University
Alaska Pacific University is an excellent choice for students seeking to study in a student-centered, collaborative learning environment. Not only does APU offer rigorous academic programs, but it also offers several exciting adventures for both local and non-local students. They provide activities and field trips exposing students to the cultures and locations of the vast Alaskan wilderness.
APU offers the best graduate degree programs that prepare students for licensure and professional certifications. These programs are accredited to ensure that students are equipped with in-demand industry standards. Here’s a complete list of their offerings:
APU’s acceptance rate is among the highest in the United States.
Florida Atlantic University
Florida Atlantic University is proud to be ranked as one of Florida’s most diverse higher education institutions. FAU is also a fastest-evolving college committed to pushing the boundaries of scholarship and innovation. The University has exceeded its counterparts in student accomplishment rates and has boosted its research spending in recent years.
FAU offers training and education at the graduate level for students who want to prepare for state licensure and certifications in various fields, including education, architecture, accounting, and social work.
Here are some of FAU’s graduate offerings that prepare students for licenses and certifications:
- Executive Masters of Accounting
- School Counseling, MEd
- Speech–Language Pathology/Audiology, MS
- Computer Science, MS
- Computer Engineering, MS
- Medical Education, MD
- Master of Science in Nursing, MSN
- Master of Social Work, MSW
FAU’s acceptance rate can vary, and it is generally considered a moderately selective institution.
Texas A&M University
Texas A&M University offers graduate students a pathway to a more affordable education without sacrificing academic quality and rigor. Texas A&M’s reputation for excellence is known nationally and internationally.
The university has successfully established a great standing thanks to its excellent educational programs, knowledgeable teachers, dedication to research, and successful graduates. Because of the excellence of their graduate and professional programs, numerous of the university’s colleges and schools have also garnered top rankings.
Texas A&M offers several tracks that lead to certifications and licensure required for employment. This includes:
- Clinical Nutrition, MCN
- Architecture, MA
- Accounting, MS
- Doctor of Dental Surgery in Dentistry, DDS
- Oral and Maxillofacial Pathology Certificate
- Pediatric Dentistry Certificate
- Athletic Training, MS
- Counseling Psychology, PhD
- Juris Doctor, JD
- Family Nurse Practitioner, MSN
Admission to Texas A&M can be selective. However, the acceptance rate may vary by program.
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Virginia Tech is a preeminent worldwide research university with more than $650 million in research conducted each year. Students admitted to this university have access to some of the nation’s top research facilities, including the VTC Fralin Biomedical Research Institute.
Virginia Tech’s graduate programs are designed to be intellectually stimulating, providing students with unparalleled opportunities to engage in groundbreaking research across various disciplines.
If you’re looking for graduate programs that train students for licenses and certifications in the field of education, Virginia Tech offers several graduate programs in education and teaching. Here’s a sample of their offerings:
Admission to Virginia Tech is competitive, and the university has a moderately selective acceptance rate.
Auburn University has one of the strongest alumni associations in the SEC. The association allows alums and students to maintain relationships with their alma mater and one another. Alums can discuss insights, share experiences, and create new professional contacts through regular events, reunions, and networking opportunities.
The university provides several tracks and degree programs that prepare students with undergraduate degrees for state licensure and industry-specific certifications. Here are some of them:
- Fisheries, Aquaculture & Aquatic Sciences, MS/PhD
- Master of Landscape Architecture, MLA
- Elementary Education, MS, MEd, EdS, PhD
- Teaching English as a Second Language or TESL and Teaching English as a Foreign Language or TEFL
Auburn University’s acceptance rate is moderately selective.
Adams State University
By exploiting its rural setting, Adams State University seeks to provide fair education access and foster successful lives for its students, faculty, and community, especially those from historically underserved communities. This is one of the best institutions for seeking training in education and teaching professions. Adams also serves as an excellent training ground for aspiring counselor educators.
Here are the esteemed graduate degrees leading to certificates and licenses provided by Adams State:
- Education Curriculum & Instruction with Endeavor STEM Certificate
- Initial Principal Licensure, MA
- Special Education Generalist, MA
- Post Baccalaureate Alternative Teacher License with Masters in Curriculum & Instruction
- Counselor Education, MA/PhD
Adams State University boasts high acceptance rates.