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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 

Explore our Teaching Credentials

Which Types of Teaching Credentials Are Available?

After completing a California teaching certificate program, prospective teachers who aspire to further their expertise in a specific field can pursue a higher education program. 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 qualifies prospective 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 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

Learn More

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? Below are just 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.

Regardless of the chosen certification, teacher candidates usually begin with a Preliminary Teaching Credential, which provides the foundation to start teaching in a K-12 school setting. This preparatory stage helps you gain valuable classroom experience while working towards obtaining a Clear or Professional Teaching Credential.

How to Get Your Preliminary Teaching Credential

A Preliminary Teaching Credential is an initial credential allowing individuals to begin teaching in a K-12 public school setting. This is typically issued for a specific subject area or grade level. This can be a preliminary single subject credential or multiple subjects credential, or a preliminary education specialist credential, among many others. The term "preliminary" means this credential is an initial stage, and teachers must complete additional requirements to get the clear or professional teaching credential. To secure a preliminary teaching credential in California, you need to fulfill the following procedures:

  1. Meet the degree requirements - A minimum of a Bachelor's degree from a regionally accredited institution is necessary to fulfill the educational criteria for any teaching credential in California.
  2. Complete a teacher education program approved by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing -  It is important to complete a CTC-approved teacher preparation program. Depending on your academic background, you can opt for either a bachelor's degree program in education or a specific subject. Alternatively, you can pursue a Master's in Teaching degree that satisfies the requirements for teacher preparation.
  3. Fulfill the basic skills requirement - Aspiring educators must pass the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST). The exam evaluates proficiency in fundamental subjects such as reading, math, and writing.
  4. Pass the subject matter competency exam - If you prefer a single subject teaching credential, you must meet the subject matter requirements for the subject you intend to teach. However, elementary teachers working towards a multiple subject teaching credential are exempt from taking a subject matter examination.
  5. Complete a student teaching program -  Aspiring educators must finish a student teaching or internship program as an integral component of their teacher preparation.

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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