Navigating the Requirements for Alternate Teacher Certification Programs

Interest in alternative certification for teachers increases with each passing year. Want to join an alternative teacher licensing program? We share guidelines to help navigate the requirements for enrollment.

But first:

What Is Alternative Teacher Certification?

Alternative certification program (ACP) for teachers refers to a teacher certification path that’s unlike the traditional teacher certification program. The standard teacher certification path requires would-be teachers to complete a degree in education, and it’s only accessible through a four-year college or university environment.

By contrast, alternative teacher certification programs do not require candidates to have a degree in education. Interested candidates can have a four-year bachelor’s degree in any field. In most cases, they should also have an undergraduate major in the area where they wish to pursue certification. While some programs accept candidates with bachelor’s degrees, others are specifically for those with master’s, graduate, and professional degrees.

ACP candidates take a shorter time to attain certification than traditionally-trained teachers, with most trainees finishing the program in 12-18 months. Through alternative training, trainees can qualify with a master’s degree, which usually takes two years. Or they can train towards attaining a post-graduate certificate, a process that can take a year or less.

And the programs are not exclusively offered in universities and colleges. Instead, students can also access the training through:

  • Community colleges
  • School districts
  • Education service centers
  • For-profit organizations
  • Non-profit organizations.

How Does Alternative Certification Work?

The journey to alternative certification for teachers is unique to each certification program. Prospective students should compare how different certification programs work to find a suitable program.

  • Some programs offer training workshops throughout the year
  • Some programs schedule their training to match the traditional school calendar
  • Others allow participants to begin teaching while pursuing the alternative training
  • Others require applicants to complete the training before they can start teaching
  • Still, others only accept applicants who have been offered a teaching contract
  • And some expect participants to complete the training within a prescribed period.

How To Navigate the Requirements for Alternative Teacher Certification

Since each state has distinct requirements for alternative teacher certification, it’s hard to give a blanket guide that covers every state. However, there are areas of overlap, as explained below.

Qualifying Undergraduate Degree

Applicants should ensure that they get their bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution. Some states require colleges and universities to be accredited by specific regional accrediting associations. Check your state’s accreditation requirements on the Department of Education website and confirm that the earned degree is accredited by the relevant authorities.

Deliver Fingerprints for Background Checks

In most states, applicants must undergo background checks. Candidates should confirm whether this applies to their state before they start the application process. If it does, they will submit fingerprints to the state DOE. Each state has guidelines on carrying out this process, with applicants generally expected to obtain the service at their local police station and other state agencies that offer fingerprinting services.

The DOE will state the validity of the submitted fingerprints. For example, they may require candidates to apply for certification training within 30 days of submitting fingerprints. Candidates who submit their applications after 30 days must have their fingerprints retaken. So always counter-check the timelines to avoid unnecessary delays and expenses.

Choose the Right Endorsement Area

The endorsement area refers to the fields in which applicants can earn alternative teacher certification. These specialties vary from state to state, so candidates should, again, check that they select only the endorsed areas of specialization. For example, some states offer alternative teacher licensure for special education, but many do not.

Suppose a particular specialization they’re interested in is not offered in their preferred state. In that case, applicants may consider applying for certification in another state that provides alternative certification for the endorsement area.

Check Examination Requirements

Some states, like Montana, do not have examination requirements for applicants wishing to pursue alternative teaching licensure, except for endorsement areas that demand it, in which case candidates have three years to complete the exams. They carry out transcript reviews, though, to determine applicants’ suitability for licensure recommendation.

In many states, however, applicants must pass set examinations. Almost every one of these states has a passing score that alternative teacher license applicants must attain to qualify for a teaching certificate.

Check the necessary examinations for your state and concentrate your studies on these areas to ensure you meet the minimum PRAXIS scores required to enter the alternative teaching certification program. Note that you must pass a different PRAXIS test to complete the program and earn a teaching certificate.


The road to alternative teacher licensure can be complex for many, but it is surmountable with patience and a guide to show you what to focus on. Pay special attention to the requirements, as that’s where most of the hard work lies. Once your application goes through, the rest is considerably easy.

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