Have you ever completed a program and received a piece of paper with a shiny gold seal at the end? What you received was probably a certificate of achievement. Certificates of achievement are so ubiquitous that you can buy blank ones at office supply stores. So, does receiving one actually mean anything? That all depends on the program that gave one to you.


A certificate of achievement is a low-level award or recognition. Their purpose is to recognize that a benchmark has been achieved or that a project has been completed.

What Is a Certificate of Achievement?

A certificate of achievement is a recognition of progress or completion given out by a variety of institutions, including employers, primary schools, secondary schools and institutions of higher learning. Sometimes certificates of achievement are called a certificate of accomplishment or a certificate of recognition, but for the most part, these are synonyms and all contain the same things.

A certificate of accomplishment or achievement should not be confused with a diploma, degree or any form of professional licensure. Usually, a certificate of accomplishment only indicates that its recipient completed a course or program. In primary school classrooms, they may be used as small rewards. In high school and college, they tend to be more like an indication of completion, but they should not be confused with a certificate of completion, which is a different thing entirely.

What Should I Include in a Certificate of Recognition?

If you are a teacher, at some point in your career you’ll probably give out certificates in your classroom. You may be wondering what you should write on it. Certificate of recognition content should fit the award. In most cases, you won’t need to write much, and there won’t be much content at all. A sample certificate of recognition might look like:

Heading: Congratulations!

Underneath: This award is to show that (student’s name) has mastered his multiplication tables.

Remember to include your signature, the date and a special seal to signify that the award is meaningful.

What Is a Certificate of Completion?

A certificate of completion should not be confused with a certificate of accomplishment or achievement. While a certificate of achievement is something that a teacher might fill out for a student for doing something in class, such as achieving perfect attendance, a certificate of completion carries much more weight.

Certificates of completion are often offered to students in lieu of a high school diploma. Sometimes they’re given to students who have completed all of their requirements to graduate except fulfilling standardized testing. In other situations, students with special needs or exceptionalities may be presented with a certificate of completion when they finish a course of study parallel to high school education.

Sometimes schools call certificates of completion certificates of achievement, but they are not the same as the handwritten awards teachers give out in class. The purpose of a certificate of completion is to reward students with special needs for sticking it out through their education. However, like with certificates of achievement, most certificates of completion are not accepted by colleges or employers as a replacement for a high school diploma.

What Are College Certificate Programs?

Another thing that sounds similar to a certificate of recognition or achievement is a college certificate program. However, these aren’t the same thing either. Certificates earned in college are often given to students after the completion of specific coursework. A bit like a minor, this coursework might prepare a student for a specialized vocation or career. College certificate programs vary widely in their offerings, ranging from nail technician training to certificates in technical writing.

Most of these programs award certificates that name the skill or expertise gained by the student. So, instead of a certificate of achievement, a student may earn a certificate in technical writing. A certificate is vastly different than a certification, most of which require students to complete rigorous testing requirements. Although many jobs require certifications, very few require certificates.

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