Certification and Licensure: When a Degree Alone Is Not Enough

Depending on your field, simply having a degree may not be enough to legally and ethically allow you to independently practice within your field. Many professions, especially those that require graduate degrees, also require licenses to practice. For example, practically all professions related to medicine—nursing, physical therapy, psychology—require certification and licensure for practice.

If you happen to be in a field that requires a license to practice, you were probably aware of this either prior to starting graduate school or at some point during your graduate training; however, there are some factors that you might not have considered. Though they vary by field, most licensing boards operate at the state rather than at the federal level because standards and processes to obtain and maintain licensure vary from state to state.

Before you begin the certification and licensure process, you should consider where you plan to work. If you relocated for grad school, do you want to continue to work in the area to which you moved, do you want to move back to your home town, or do you want to live somewhere completely different? Once you decide on a location, you can begin to research the process for getting licensed in that state. Also, remember to look up the exact terms of your license because you will probably need to renew your license every year that you continue to practice.

Another factor that many people often overlook is the cost of certification and licensure. Some types of licensure require individuals to take one or more exams, which can cost hundreds of dollars per test. Also, many exams and licensing tests are very difficult to pass on your first attempt, especially if you do not invest in preparation classes and materials, which can also be quite costly. Add on top of all this the possible costs of having to travel to a central location for an oral exam and the costly fees associated with applying for licensure. Suffice it to say, becoming licensed can be a very expensive process, and money is typically not readily available for recent, unemployed grads. However, many employers provide financial assistance to help with the cost of certification and licensure. Even if potential employers do not advertise that they offer this as a benefit of the position for which you are applying, it never hurts for you to ask. For example, if becoming licensed is a requirement for you to be hired by a specific company, you should ask during your final hiring and contract negotiations whether the company will financially help you become licensed.


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