Difference Between Diploma and Certificate

Last Updated on August 12, 2023 by Oluwajuwon Alvina

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Differences Between Diploma and Certificate Programs

What is a Certificate?

Certificate programs are also postsecondary awards that take less than 4 years to complete. Students can pursue undergraduate certificate programs and graduate certificate programs in a wide range of subjects.

What Are the Requirements for a Certificate?

Requirements for a certificate can vary depending on what the field is. In many cases, you can expect to complete a certification program in under a year. Possessing a certificate can help you build credibility in your chosen field.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of a Certificate?

Certificates are advantageous if you are looking to change careers and you already have a degree, or if you already have some work experience or schooling in your desired area of study. By completing a certificate, you can get the skills needed for a different career without having to go back to school to obtain another degree.

What's the difference between a certificate, diploma and a Bachelor degree?  - Careers Event

You can also get a certificate if you are looking to build on your current career or are looking at entering a different part of your industry.

What is a Diploma?

While a diploma is often thought of as the actual paper that one receives after earning some type of degree, a diploma program is different. A diploma program is a postsecondary award that takes less than 4 years to complete. Here we’ll take a look at some of the differences between diplomas, certificates and degrees.

What Are the Requirements for a Diploma?

Diploma programs offer field-specific classes designed to provide you with the knowledge you need to succeed in the job market. Diploma programs also provide hands-on experience, so you can learn and practice the skills you will be using on a daily basis.

What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of a Diploma?

A Diploma can be advantageous if you’re looking to make a career change in a relatively short amount of time and the field you’re entering doesn’t require a degree. Since Diplomas are often more technical or trade based, they are helpful when wanting to pursue a career such as an electrician or a dental assistant.

Some other advantages to a Diploma include:

  • They can be completed in a relatively short amount of time
  • They are cost-effective; they cost less than a full-fledged degree
  • You don’t have to worry about prerequisites or other complicated enrollment procedures you may find with a degree program
  • Class schedules are often flexible as most attendees are working professionals
  • Classes are focused on the exact skills you will need in the field
  • Diploma programs usually offer some kind of internships or externships, so you can gain practical experience and also network for future job opportunities.

Difference Between Diploma and Certificate

The main difference between a diploma and a certificate is the scope of the program and the time to completion. Diploma and certificate programs are sometimes available in the same subject, but diploma programs generally take a more in-depth look at a subject than a certificate program and may help prepare students for a particular career. Certificate programs may also help certify students for a particular career or specialization, but they are often available in more subjects at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Certificate programs are often used as additional training for students who already have a diploma or degree.

Diploma programs are commonly 30 to 72 credits and can usually be completed in less than 2 years, which is the normal time it takes to complete an associate’s degree program. Certificate programs can typically be completed in months instead of years and may only require somewhere between 9 and 30 credits.

What Are Some Career Options for a Diploma?

The health care industry is a rapidly growing field with many opportunities, though it can be overwhelming to think about entering that field. You can enroll in a Diploma program like Practical/Vocational Nursing in much less time than it takes to earn a degree. You can play a key role in a medical setting: providing care and medicine for patients and working alongside doctors and other medical personnel.

The career path to becoming a personal fitness trainer is also adequately paved with a Diploma program. Rather than getting a four-year degree in sports medicine or a related major – which may limit where you’d be able to get a job – classes for a Diploma will teach you valuable skills for helping people with their nutrition and exercise regimes in significantly less time and cost for you.

Examples of College Diplomas

Diploma programs are generally career-focused and can often be applied to credits toward a degree, such as an associate’s or bachelor’s. Some diploma programs may be available online and in other flexible formats to accommodate students’ schedules. Examples of the subjects a diploma program might cover include:

A young female graduate with a scroll background of university graduates. |  Stock image | Colourbox
  • Practical nursing
  • Legal office assistant
  • Accounting assistant
  • Wildlife/forestry conservation
  • Medical billing and coding
  • Pharmacy technician
  • Floral design
  • Home inspector
  • Motorcycle repair technician
  • Certified personal trainer

Career Options After Getting a Certificate

Where you end up going with your certificate depends on which field you choose. For instance, take a look at cosmetology. It’s more than just applying makeup and cutting people’s hair. As a cosmetologist, you’ll also be providing people with information to care for their hair, skin, and nails. A certification program provides you with the knowledge and experience you need to ensure you’re giving your clients the most accurate information and best quality services. A certificate is required for practicing; if you’re caught working – or working for someone – without a certificate, you can face serious penalties.

Massage Therapy is another fast-growing career, and to enter, a certificate can be beneficial. You might look at obtaining a four-year degree in something like Athletic Training if you choose to become a massage therapist; however, a certificate will get you working with people quicker and with less out-of-pocket cost for you.

Examples of College Certificates

Certificate programs are also typically available in convenient, flexible formats, such as online and/or evenings and weekends. These programs can often be taken as a stand-alone program or in conjunction with an undergraduate or graduate degree program. Some examples of undergraduate certificate programs include subjects like:

  • Biblical studies
  • Criminal justice
  • Project management
  • Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL)
  • Web development

Graduate certificate programs may be available as postgraduate-level certificates, such as executive certificate programs in areas like education. Other traditional graduate certificate programs may cover topics in areas such as:

  • Autism education
  • Marketing
  • Global health
  • Sports management
  • Public policy

There are a wide variety of paths of study available to prospective students, but it’s often unclear what the difference between certificates, diplomas and degrees are. The basis for the definitions below are founded on the Australian Qualifications Framework, and are recognised country-wide. There are 10 levels of qualifications as defined by the AQF. The duration of a course varies depending on the volume of knowledge being taught, the subject matter and whether it is undertaken online or on campus, full-time or part-time.

Doctoral Degree: Level 10 

Doctoral Degree qualifications are situated at level 10 of the Australian Qualifications Framework. The central purpose of the Doctoral Degree is to qualify individuals who apply a substantial body of knowledge to research, investigate and develop new knowledge, in one or more fields of investigation, scholarship or professional practice. 

According to the AQF: There are two forms of Doctoral Degree with the same descriptor within the Doctoral Degree qualification type: the Doctoral Degree (Research) and the Doctoral Degree (Professional). Doctoral Degrees can take more than 5 years to complete. 

Masters Degree: Level 9

There are three main forms of Masters Degrees within the Masters Degree qualification type: the Masters Degree (Research), the Masters Degree (Coursework) and the Masters Degree (Extended). The purpose of the Masters Degree (Research) is to qualify individuals who apply an advanced body of knowledge in a range of contexts for research and scholarship and as a pathway for further learning. A master’s degree usually takes one to two years to obtain.

Graduate Certificate or Diploma: Level 8

Once you have a bachelor degree, or can provide evidence of sufficient prior learning, you can get a graduate certificate or graduate diploma. Undertaking a graduate certificate or diploma will give you further, specialised knowledge in usually one area of study.

Man Graduate is Smiling Against the Background of University Graduates.  Stock Image - Image of people, diploma: 175140351

Depending on the course you undertake, you may extend on the knowledge you gained during your undergraduate degree or equip yourself with a different vocational skill. Individuals holding this level of qualification are regarded as critical thinkers, good communicators and problem solvers, able to process and transmit information very well. A graduate certificate usually requires 6 months, and a graduate diploma usually requires 1 year to obtain.

Bachelor Degree: Level 7

Obtaining a bachelor degree will qualify you as someone with a wide range of technical and theoretical knowledge of a subject, and the ability to apply that knowledge in a variety of contexts. It is recognised as a qualification useful for the workplace, as well as a foundation for further learning.  Studying a full-time bachelor degree typically takes 3-4 years to complete.

Advanced Diploma: Level 6

An advanced diploma qualifies you as a highly skilled worker with specialised knowledge. It enables you to undertake skilled work, or function as a paraprofessional. A paraprofessional is someone who can complete specific tasks in a profession but who isn’t licensed as fully qualified.

For example, an BSB60215 – Advanced Diploma of Business is suitable for a student who is completely new to the field, or for someone looking to take the next step up in their business career. An advanced diploma provides industry-ready skills. Obtaining an advanced diploma typically requires 1.5-2 years of learning.

Diploma: Level 5

The skills you obtain from a diploma qualify you to work in a variety of contexts framed by established parameters. A diploma provides you with a deeper understanding of a particular area of knowledge. Diplomas teach you to communicate well with your colleagues, analyse problems that may be complex, and use your best judgement to make decision.  The duration of a diploma is 1-2 years.

Certificate IV: Level 4

The content delivered in a Certificate IV is mostly factual and technical, with less emphasis placed on theoretical knowledge. It is designed to produce skilled workers with a broader range of specialised knowledge. For example, a BSB42518 – Certificate IV in Small Business Management is specifically designed for those wanting to manage or found small businesses. Depending on the course, it may take 6 months or 2 years to complete. This is because some courses are delivered for students with prior knowledge looking to upskill, and others are delivered for students with limited experience in the field, looking to obtain entry-level employment in an industry.

Certificate III: Level 3

The information taught in a Certificate III is not as in-depth as a Certificate IV. Graduates will possess some theoretical, practical knowledge and skills. They will have the ability to complete routine tasks, procedures and the occasional unpredictable issue. For instance, an employer receiving an application from an individual with a BSB30215 – Certificate III in Customer Engagement knows that person possesses specialised skills to communicate with customers appropriately, and handle complaints. Certificate III typically requires 1-2 years of study, sometimes up to 4 if training is on-the-job.

Certificate II: Level 2

A Certificate II provides the knowledge and skills to complete mostly routine work. Graduates will possess defined knowledge of a particular topic, like a Certificate II In Information, ICT20115 – Certificate II in Information, Digital Media and Technology, which certifies recipients with digital literacy. This may be used in any industry. A Certificate II usually requires 6 months – 1 year of study.

Certificate I: Level 1

The Certificate I qualification type is to give individuals formal qualifications with basic functional knowledge (and skills) to do work, go in to further learning and or for community involvement. Certificate I qualifications should ideally be designed and accredited to allow graduates to show the learning outcomes expressed as knowledge, skills and the application of knowledge and skills specified in the level 1 criteria and the Certificate I descriptor on the AQF framework. The ICT10115 – Certificate I in Information, Digital Media, and Technology is offered by Upskilled. 


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