• Professionals with a state-issued license or professional certification often need to complete continuing education units (CEUs) as part of the renewal process.
  • Besides meeting renewal requirements, CEUs help professionals learn new skills and network with like-minded peers.
  • Many different organizations certify CEUs, but each uses criteria similar to the ones developed by the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET) in the 1970s.
  • Earning CEUs may involve listening to a lecture and participating in a small-group discussion or project.

CEUs refer to courses that professionals take to renew a license or certification. Many types of organizations offer these units, and when students complete a CEU they receive a certificate of completion. In addition to meeting renewal requirements, these certificates can bolster a resume and qualify professionals for a new career path.

On this page, readers can learn about the meaning of CEUs, answers to typical questions, and which workers can benefit the most by earning CEUs. The following sections also include valuable advice from CEU teacher Joseph Hoelscher — a professional whose work also requires CEUs.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are CEUs good for?

[CEUs] are curated and tend to highlight important developments that are most relevant to practitioners," says Hoelscher. In other words, CEUs distill the latest knowledge and professional best practices into a single course. As such, professionals can save time by taking a class instead of performing their own research online or reading multiple industry journals.

Are CEUs the same as college credits?

Although some CEUs resemble a college lecture class, they do not award college credit. However, like a college certificate or a degree, professionals can use CEUs to show a current or potential employer that they have a relevant skill set and a passion for staying current in their field.

How are CEUs calculated?

Students generally earn one CEU for every 10 hours of instruction they complete. CEUs also have specific rules concerning how courses round up or down for fractions of an hour. These rounding calculations may differ depending on the organization that offers the CEU. Workers can inquire with a state licensing agency or professional organization to learn more.

Why are CEUs important?

Professionals who have a state-issued license or professional certification generally need to complete a specific number of CEUs every so often to meet renewal requirements. Rules and regulations vary. Additionally, CEUs help professionals stay current with the latest developments in their industry.

Who can issue continuing education credits?

Companies, organizations, and schools can award continuing education credits to learners. However, before they can do so, they must submit the course for CEU certification. Readers can learn more about the certification process and the agency that developed it below.

What Are CEUs?

CEUs help professionals maintain a state-issued license or professional certification. The regulatory authority that issues a license or a certification imposes rules concerning how many CEUs individuals must earn and the time they have to do so. These authorities also mandate which CEUs are valid.

The number of units a professional needs often depends on two factors: their job and home state. Although requirements vary, the CEU process involves finding an authorized provider and keeping track of your hours and/or units.

Workers can easily find an authorized provider by joining a professional organization that offers CEU resources. Near the renewal deadline, professionals submit evidence of their CEUs to the proper agency or organization.

“CE[U]s vary in cost. I have seen some workshops and conferences that offer CE[U]s for $10 each but others that charge closer to $30 per CE[U].”

Continuing education units share some similarities with college and university certificate programs. For example, both confer new knowledge and skills. However, CEUs do not use student assessments.

Also, some CEU courses may take only half a day to complete. As a result, learners can not transfer CEUs toward a college degree or certificate.

CEUs often involve a fee. According to licensed counselor Dr. Tara Overzat, "CE[U]s vary in cost. I have seen some workshops and conferences that offer CE[U]s for $10 each but others that charge closer to $30 per CE[U]. This is especially true of trainings or when there is a highly regarded expert presenter hosting the CE[U] event."

When Dr. Overzat worked for a university, her employer covered the cost of each CEU. However, many self-employed professionals pay for CEUs out of pocket.

Who Needs CEUs?

Many fields, including healthcare, accounting, engineering, and education, require workers to earn CEUs to stay up to date with industry best practices.

Why do some professions require CEUs but not others?

Many professions require that workers earn a license or certification. These positions ask workers to stay on top of best practices so they can perform their jobs successfully. CEUs help employees learn new knowledge and skills and reassure employers that their employees can make a valuable contribution.

Can anyone complete CEUs? Are there prerequisites or requirements?

This depends on the organization or agency offering the CEUs. Some CEU opportunities aimed at teachers may only accept learners who work in a particular district. Some organizations, such as the American Public Health Association, offer CEUs to members who do not yet hold a certification or license.

How do CEUs relate to certification/licensure requirements?

Renewing a license or certification typically requires individuals to earn CEUs. Some professions may require more units than others, and more options may exist depending on the occupation. State licensure and professional certification websites explain renewal requirements.

How do you know which CEUs "count" toward your professional requirements?

Both licensure and certification websites detail approved CEUs and CEU certification agencies. Multiple certification agencies exist, many of which specialize in a specific profession or field.

“Instead of reviewing journals and hoping they cover what we need or seeking out new information as issues come up, CEUs are curated and tend to highlight important developments that are most relevant to practitioners.”

— Joseph Hoelscher

Benefits of CEUs

Aside from meeting state licensure or professional certification renewal requirements, CEUs offer the following benefits:

Career Investment

"Look at CEUs as an investment in your career and go to them looking to get as much return on your investment as possible," Hoelscher says. "Engage with the material while looking for ways to use it in your practice. If you're having difficulty doing that, then ask the presenter."

Benefits for Teachers

Hoelscher also believes that teachers like him benefit as much as their students. "Networking at seminars, especially when presenting, has benefitted me through referrals from attendees and by establishing my reputation as an expert in the areas that I present in," he says.

Networking

Online and in-person CEUs allow like-minded workers to share ideas and network. Networking can improve career prospects because having multiple professional contacts can lead to new job opportunities. Additionally, a network can help professionals when they face a work challenge.

Marketability

A certification or license increases marketability, as it shows potential employers that professionals have a specific skill set. However, CEUs can achieve a similar result; earning units beyond the number needed for recertification may demonstrate a dedication to their profession.

“These courses are much more practical than college courses or most graduate courses. They are practitioners teaching practitioners …”

— Joseph Hoelscher

What Is IACET?

The organization that became IACET developed the first CEU in 1970. Today, the organization certifies only the best CEUs by evaluating learning outcomes, content, and instructional requirements.

Schools, agencies, and organizations can partner with IACET to provide CEUs. Each year, member organizations submit paperwork to show that their CEUs maintain the same high standards. Failure to recertify can invalidate one or more CEUs.

Professionals can search IACET's website to determine whether their employer requires IACET-certified CEUs. Readers should keep in mind that although IACET is a world leader in CEU certification, other reputable certification organizations also exist.

What Organizations Award CEUs?

Multiple organizations, schools, and companies award CEUs. The first step involves creating a course that awards a CEU and then submitting it for certification. CEU providers can partner with IACET or a certifying agency that deals solely with a specific occupation.

Through the internet, professionals who need CEUs can quickly discover courses that meet their licensure or certification renewal needs. Professionals with a license should first check with their state licensing board to learn more about accepted providers.

Ways to Earn CEUs

Prospective students can register for classes that provide CEUs online through a certified provider. Hoelscher notes that in some professions, CEU cross-certification allows learners to sign up for courses that do not relate directly to their job.

"For example, I took a class to earn a certification to operate a gas chromatograph, and the organization providing the certification also obtained approval for us to earn [CEU] credit," he says.

“Engage with the material while looking for ways to use it in your practice. If you're having difficulty doing that, then ask the presenter.”

— Joseph Hoelscher

Professionals can earn CEU credit through online or in-person courses, and the registration process often involves paying a modest fee. Many courses take place on the weekends and evenings so that participants can continue working full time.

During classes, students often watch presentations from industry experts and collaborate with other learners in small groups to practice new skills. Although similar in some ways to a college class, a typical course does not require an essay or test to pass.

Although CEUs do not evaluate students directly, teachers are evaluated in terms of their performance by participants.

"Courses require evaluation of the speakers, but not the students," Hoelscher says. "Speakers are evaluated through surveys, which are often required as proof of attendance."

After they complete the course, participants receive a certificate of completion to submit when they apply for licensure or certification renewal.

After workers complete the renewal process, they cannot apply the same CEUs toward future renewal requirements. As such, they should continuously research new CEU opportunities and make continuing education a part of their professional routine.

Interview With a CEU Teacher

Joseph Hoelscher
Joseph Hoelscher

Joseph Hoelscher


Based in San Antonio, Joseph Hoelscher is managing attorney of Hoelscher Gebbia Cepeda PLLC, a law firm focused on family law, child protection, and criminal defense. He is a regular continuing education presenter for Texas attorneys; a director of the Texas Criminal Defense Lawyers Association; a published legal author; and a member of the Criminal Defense Lawyers' Project, which brings continuing education to underserved areas.

How has your experience been teaching CEU courses?

I love teaching CLE (continuing legal education) courses to Texas lawyers. My colleagues' questions often help me see legal issues in a new light and introduce me to challenges occurring outside my region before they spread into our practice.

At the same time, I meet and learn from other presenters, who are often at the top of our profession. Teaching CLE courses is a lot of work, but it is very rewarding educationally and professionally.

What should a student expect from taking CEUs?

These courses are much more practical than college courses or most graduate courses. They are practitioners teaching practitioners, so students should approach them with the desire to implement what they learn in their own practice immediately. Presenters are usually passionate about their topic, but are rarely trained teachers, so students should expect a variety of styles and be prepared for anything.

What are the benefits of CEUs? Why are CEUs important?

CEUs are a shortcut for staying current within our fields of practice. CEUs are curated and tend to highlight important developments that are most relevant to practitioners. All professionals have to stay current in our fields and CEUs, whether mandatory or not, are a great way to do that.

How have CEUs helped your career?

I've learned a lot from CEUs, including practice management and substantively. However, networking at seminars, especially when presenting, has benefitted me through referrals from attendees and by establishing my reputation as an expert in the areas that I present.

What is the format of CEU courses? Are they all similar?

All legal CEUs are similar in that they tend to be PowerPoint presentations and a lecture. Most include a paper written by the presenter and sample motions or other paperwork. Some are video presentations, especially since COVID-19, but they follow the same format, which is regulated by the State Bar.

How do you evaluate students you teach in CEU courses?

CLE courses require evaluation of the speakers, but not the students. Speakers are evaluated through surveys, which are often required as proof of attendance. Certain specialized CLE courses may rank participants or provide a certification to students who meet certain standards.

Do you work closely with the students you teach in CEU courses, such as on an individual basis?

Rarely, although some CLE courses will workshop cases or problems in small groups. Typically, working individually is reserved for certification courses in technical subjects through outside organizations where the course has been cross-certified by the State Bar for CLE credit.

For example, I took a class to earn a certification to operate a gas chromatograph, and the organization providing the certification also obtained approval for us to earn CLE credit.

What advice would you give someone completing CEUs?

Look at CEUs as an investment in your career and go to them looking to get as much return on your investment as possible. Engage with the material while looking for ways to use it in your practice. If you're having difficulty doing that, then ask the presenter.

Anything else someone should know about CEUs?

Teaching CEU courses forces you to really think about and understand your topic. When I have the option, I always select topics that are difficult or unfamiliar for me. It forces me to master new material.

Teaching fundamentals courses is a good review and does help force me to think about basic skills consciously, which can help break bad habits I've developed inadvertently. So I also don't pass up those opportunities.

Student Stories in Continuing Education

UPCEAS logo

BestColleges is a proud member of UPCEA