Certificates: Are They “Legal” or not?

by Janet McCormick

“Is this Certificate recognized by the state?” is a question I get often from nail technicians, and I am perfectly OK with explaining this.  The misconception that most licensees have about school and specialty training is important to sort out.”

First of all, training certificates are not “recognized” by the state. And, no, they will never be.  State Boards are a licensing or registration entity. State Boards are only concerned that you have taken the required hours, performed the required duties, and passed an exam as accepted by the student’s state of residence or school location. They also state a scope of practice (SOP), meaning the regulations within which a professionally licensed person must work.

States do not disapprove or approve specialty certifications. However, there is one situation in which the state intervenes: if a certification course trains working outside your state regulations (SOP), the state must step in.  This is usually cleaned up promptly by the State Board.


Let’s step over into “certifications” now. There are several levels of them. If the attendee can sit in a seat and fiddle with his or her phone during the class and still get a certificate, it is a Certificate of Attendance (COA). It requires no brain work, nothing but sitting in a chair – you can even sleep there if you wish, and you will get a COA. Usually you are required to be there – sometimes not – but you will still get the COA.

Next, is the Certificate of Completion (COC). This certificate, if legitimate, requires some steps along the way, such as taking a quiz at the end of a topic, but they may not have to be graded. Their purpose is to reinforce learning. The course is usually organized in the principals of learning, and at the end, a comprehensive exam is required to be passed. After completing all the required steps – possibly an internship or white paper, or both, the person receives a “Certificate of Completion,” and is certified in the learnings covered. Recipients sometimes work long and hard to achieve these certifications.

Last is a Certificate of Competency (COMP).  A Certificate of Competency is skill training and requires practical exams and usually case studies that must be approved by a trainer or even a group of experts in the skill on an agreed upon grid of competencies. There is considerable effort required upon the part of the professional to demonstrate they have obtained the desired competency. The state does not get involved, but these certifications are prestigious and grant credentials professionals are proud to show off.  For example, unions or manufacturers work together to set them up create and maintain a high level of skill for workers.

Nail Tech Certifications

OK, back to nail technicians. Our State Boards are agencies of the state that follow rules set up by the state legislature for persons wanting to become licensed in their state. Every state had different rules, and all require board exams, whether administered by a national organization,  by the state or by the school (example, Florida). They only issue licenses, according to their rules which incorporate demonstration of only the minimum standards required to obtain licensure. None at this current time approve or disapprove of career development certifications.  Some actually require professional licensees to obtain certificate of attendance in subjects like HIVAIDS or Domestic Violence to obtain or  renew a license

No state that I know of requires approval of specialty certifications beyond licensing, saying “the quality of the course will determine if it progresses or falls away.” It is not neglect on their part. It is the law. To set up a “certification board” would be separate and expensive so I will go out on a limb and say it will not happen.

Summary: States license (or register) professionals. That’s it. And unless a certification class teaches students to work outside their cosmetic license, certifications are legal. I believe in specialty certifications because the state legislatures do not require a high enough level of training for our technicians to be successful – they teach only the lowest level of basics. If a technician wishes to work above the level of bare financial existence, he or she must take more education. So why take one that is designed to sleep through – a COA? Take ones that teach a skill (COMP). Take one that require you to study and set you up for success (COC).

Just my opinion: Learn the differences between licenses and certifications and use them toward your success! Or step out of the way and let other technicians pass, without shouting inaccurate information!

To start your journey toward becoming a Certified Advanced Nail Technician – click here to see the ANT Program.