Certificate, diploma or certification:

are you confused?


Do you find the terms “certificate”, “diploma”, “degree” and “certification” confusing? If so, it’s very likely you are in good company. Many school directors, educators, and teachers themselves have difficulty understanding the subtle differences between these terms. So, let’s take a closer look at why the distinction is important.


The greatest confusion is perhaps caused by the similar sounding words “certificate” and “certification”, so let’s start with these.



A certificate is a document awarded by an educational institution at the conclusion of a specific program of study. It can refer to a specific subject matter, such as a 90-hour mat work program or 15-hour program of movement modifications for elderly clients, for example. If the program is assessment-based, then the student can be awarded a “certificate of competency”; otherwise the document is more accurately called a “certificate of attendance”.



A certification, on the other hand, provides assurance to the public that the holder who has achieved a credential from a third-party certification program (therefore, not the educational institution with whom they have done their program of study) possesses the knowledge, skills, and competency for quality practice of a particular specialty or profession. This is measured through an assessment process which is periodically reviewed.



The other terms, “diploma” and “degree”, are more easily recognizable; however, they warrant some clarification as they apply to the Pilates profession. A diploma is the document which can be awarded when a student has successfully terminated the completion of a school’s program in its entirety (450 hours of comprehensive Pilates education, for example). It represents a more in-depth body of knowledge than that of a certificate. Therefore, it would be correct for a Pilates teacher training school to award their students a “diploma” at the conclusion of their projected program of study.



A degree represents a broader scope of knowledge. It requires a more general education; a student who pursues a degree in literary studies, for example, is required to include math and science in their curriculum of courses. A degree is offered at universities and colleges and covers a wide range of subjects. Presently, it is not applicable to the Pilates profession, although some teachers may be in possession of a degree in kinesiology, the study of human movement.


This bullet point table might give clarity at a glance:  


 diploma, certificate, certification.png

It is useful to understand the terms described above and their distinct applications as they serve completely different objectives and represent separate outcomes. It’s a bit like sugar and salt; they both start with an “s”, but a good chef should not confuse their correct usage. A diligent school director willfully respects the correct usage of certificate vs. certification.

Jolita Trahan, NCPT

Owner of Pilates Network