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If you’re a prospective educator in California, you’ll have to pursue a credential—sometimes called a state certification—before you can start working full-time.

There are multiple credentials to choose from, and you’ll need to consider the training and examination requirements of each one. This guide is here to help.

Below, we’ll dive into the single subject vs. multiple subject teaching credential conversation (and shed light on other common certifications) to help future educators choose the best credential for their career path.

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Which Types of Teaching Credentials Are Available?

After completing a California teaching certificate program, prospective teachers can pursue higher education opportunities to sharpen their knowledge in a specialty. Let’s explore some of these certifications in detail.

#1 Multiple Subject Credentials

A multiple subject credential program qualifies prospective educators to teach all subjects offered in a self-contained classroom.1 The public education system offers self-contained, multiple-subject classroom environments in a variety of contexts, like:

  • Elementary education
  • Specialized K – 12 programs

While teachers credentialed in a single subject must only pass one subject matter exam, multiple subject credential candidates must pass three: 

  • Subtest I, which covers:
    • Reading, Language, and Literature
    • History and Social Science
  • Subtest II, which covers:
    • Science
    • Mathematics
  • Subtest III, which covers:
    • Physical education
    • Human development
    • Visual and performing arts

#2 Single Subject Credentials

A single subject credential program certifies teachers to instruct students in one specific discipline, like:3

  • Art
  • Chemistry
  • Health Science
  • World Languages
  • Mathematics
  • Social Studies
  • English
  • Etc.

This credential is ideal for educators interested in teaching only one subject. If you’ve dreamed of specifically teaching high school English, for instance, this might be the credential for you.

But, just because you achieve one credential at the beginning of your teaching career doesn’t mean you’re locked into this subject; you can pursue additional credentials to expand your expertise and teaching opportunities throughout your career.

#3 Special Education Credentials

The special education credential provides a certification path for teachers interested in special needs instruction in a variety of settings, including:4

  • General education settings (i.e., traditional schools)
  • Development centers
  • Special schools
  • Home/hospital settings

Teachers may also receive credentials in specific areas of special education, including:

  • Mild to Moderate Support Needs (MMSN)
  • Extensive Support Needs (ESN)
  • Deaf and Hard of Hearing (DHH)
  • Visual Impairments (VI)
  • Early Childhood Special Education (ECSE)

Each of the specialties above (except for ECSE) qualifies teachers to provide special education instruction to students from Kindergarten to age twenty-two.

#4 Designated Subjects Credentials

In addition to the more traditional credentials listed above, California also offers credentials for teachers interested in niche or technical instruction: designated subjects credentials.5

There are five designated subject credentials available:

  1. Career Technical Education
  2. Adult Education
  3. Special Subjects
  4. Adult Education: Supervision and Coordination
  5. Business and Industry Partnership Teacher Authorization

These credentials are best suited to prospective instructors who want to:

  • Teach a skilled trade (like plumbing or electrical skills) to K – 12 students or adults
  • Offer instruction to adults only
  • Teach students (K – 12 or adults) industry-specific concepts
  • Coordinate or oversee an adult education program 

#5 Other Teaching Credentials

California also offers four additional specialized teaching credentials:

  1. American Indian Languages and Culture Teaching Credential – This credential authorizes teachers with fluency and cultural knowledge in one or more federally-recognized tribes to instruct on these subjects.6
  2. Exchange Certificated Employee Credential – This credential is designed for instructors in an international teaching exchange program, like the Fulbright Teacher Exchange Program, to teach in California.7
  3. Sojourn Certificated Employee Credential – This credential certifies teachers educated outside of the US to instruct in bilingual contexts, teach a foreign language, or provide cultural enrichment per their qualifications. It also provides a pathway to single subject and multiple subject credentialing for teachers educated outside of the US.8
  4. Eminence Credential – This credential offers a teaching certification to prospective instructors with expertise “beyond the boundaries of his or her community.”9

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Choosing a Teaching Credential: Which Is Right for You?

With so many options, even expanding to education settings like elementary school and middle school, which teaching credential is right for you? Let’s explore a few hypothetical teaching positions and the credentials that are most likely to be compatible with these career goals:

  • Traditional elementary school teacher – Multiple subject credential
  • Traditional middle or high school science teacher – Single subject credential
  • Preschool special needs teacher – Early childhood special education (ECSE) credential
  • Adult education coordinator – Adult education: Supervision and coordination credential

That said, it’s important to remember that you can pursue additional credentials throughout your teaching career as long as you meet the requirements for that certification.

Types of Teaching Credentials at Alliant International University

Alliant International University offers certificate and degree programs preparing California educators for the following credentials:

We lead numerous programs that prepare students to pursue California’s Pupil Personnel Services credential, a non-instructional certification primarily focusing on mental health services such as becoming a school counselor or psychologist:

Prepare for a Successful Teaching Career at Alliant International University

Whether you’re a graduate student pursuing your first California teaching credential or preparing to add another certification to your list of qualifications, Alliant International University offers the coursework, hands-on learning opportunities, and career support you need to succeed in educational leadership.

Our high-quality instruction, flexible learning options, and support networks are designed with future teachers in mind. Our education certificate and degree programs can help you build a foundation for an impactful career in the California or Arizona education systems.

Learn more about our California School of Education and apply now.


  1. “Multiple Subject Teaching Credential (CL-561C).” California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.…-(cl-561c). Accessed July 27, 2023. 
  2. “Verifying Subject Matter Competence by Examination.” California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.…-(cl-674m). Accessed July 27, 2023.
  3. “Single Subject Teaching Credential Requirements for Teachers Prepared in California (CL-560C).” California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.…-(CL-560C). Accessed July 27, 2023. 
  4. “Education Specialist Instruction Credential.” California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.…-(CL-808CA). Accessed July 27, 2023. 
  5. “Teaching Credentials Requirements.” California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. Accessed July 27, 2023. 
  6. “American Indian Languages-Culture Credential.” California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.…-(cl-893). Accessed July 27, 2023. 
  7. “Exchange Certificated Employee Credential.” California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. Accessed July 27, 2023. 
  8. “The Sojourn Certificated Employee Credential.” California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.…-(cl-568). Accessed July 27, 2023. 
  9. “Eminence Credential.” California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. Accessed July 27, 2023. 

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