The Differences Between a Diploma, a Degree, and a Certificate

The Differences Between a Diploma, a Degree, and a Certificate

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In this article, we have gathered all the information you need to compare diplomas, degrees, and certificates.

Here is a table that summarizes their main differences:

InstitutionsTechnical schools,
Vocational schools,
Community colleges
High schools,
Technical schools,
Vocational schools,
Community colleges
NamesBusiness Certificates
Health Care Certificates
Technology Certificates
Criminal Justice Certificates
High school diploma
Technical diploma
Bachelor’s degree
Master’s degree
Doctoral degree
LengthLess than 1 yearAbout 1-2 years2-4 years or more
Heating installer,
Web developer
Hotel management,
Graphic design,
Digital marketing
Political economy,
Electrical engineering

Let’s be honest: higher education is complicated. It is impossible to summarize all the differences between diplomas, degrees, and certificates in a single table.

So let’s look at it in detail.

What is a diploma?

We’re going to start with a diploma because that’s the first academic reward you get for completing high school. 

However, after high school, numerous higher education institutions still reward them. 

Programs that require 1-2 years of study usually give you a diploma after completion. 

These programs are affordable and teach technical, practical, and more skill-based knowledge rather than theories and abstracts. These programs aim to prepare you for a specific job. 

What can you do with a diploma?

You can think of diplomas as a flexible ticket to a specific career. 

For example, one popular diploma program in the country is the Medical English Course. 

If you acquire such a diploma, you can work as a medical transcriptionist or a similar position. 

Diploma advantages

Diplomas, as mentioned above, don’t take too long to acquire. 

They’re also cheaper compared to degrees but still help you land a stable job. 

What makes diploma courses attractive is that they don’t require you to participate in complicated enrollment procedures. As long as you’ve finished high school, you can enroll in a diploma program.

Diploma programs usually offer internships as well, so you’re going to have an early experience in your future career.

What is a degree?

A degree is the highest qualification of the three. 

It’s an advanced education achievement where you can choose an area of study to be your “major.”

Now, unlike a diploma course, things will be more sophisticated. 

A degree course requires an exam, a specific grade to have, and possibly an undergraduate degree (depending on what you’re taking, e.g., law school requires you to have an undergraduate degree to get accepted).

With that in mind, degree programs are significantly more expensive and take anywhere from three to as long as nine years to finish. 

What can you do with a degree?

Unlike diplomas, degrees have more versatility. 

Since degrees cover more than your primary subject, you are pretty well-rounded and capable of handling several positions. 

Moreover, degree-holders have higher pay due to being an expert in a specific field. 

Perhaps, the best thing about having a degree is the fact that you can pursue other degrees faster and in less time as you’ve already completed several of its prerequisites.

The more formally educated you are, the more opportunities you will get in life. 

Other degree advantages

For starters, having a degree can instantly mean earning almost $10,000 more per year than with only having a diploma (source).

That alone gives you a better life, even if it takes longer to complete.

You are more in-demand and desirable. Remember, only 27% of adults in the country have a bachelor’s degree (source).

Plus, you have a more successful network, giving you more opportunities for financial growth. 

What is a certificate?

Last but not least is a certificate. 

Now, from the word itself, it’s a document attesting a particular fact. Technically, a degree and a diploma is a certificate.

However, we’re not about the general meaning; we’re talking about the academic one.

An academic certificate is the easiest of the three to acquire, but it does not mean that it’s the least valuable.

A certificate is a reward that you usually get for completing a quick course, study, training, or even lesson. We’re talking about days to months in duration. 

Some certificates are expensive and still require prerequisites. Usually, they’re requirements for certain professions.

However, most certificates are vocational, affordable,  and there to help boost your skillset. 

Can I get a job by only having a certificate?


To become a gym instructor or a personal trainer, you only need to have a certificate. 

Other gig-based jobs, such as being a makeup artist, require the same thing. 

Granted, you can be both without any certificate, but it sure does boost your credibility when you have a qualification to show to your clients. 

Let’s recap the key differences

A certificate is what you get after completing a class, training, or hands-on experience in a particular task. This program is often short and can be for anyone.

Diploma programs prepare you for a specific career. This course is ideal for those who want to get a stable job as soon as possible and would like to avoid the costs associated with a degree.

An academic degree is the highest of the three and is perfect for people who want to become an expert in a particular field. Although costly and lengthy, a degree provides more opportunities.

The bottom line

Although there are plenty of qualifications out there, there’s no ultimate key to success. Yes, they are tools for a better life, but they’re not necessary.

Several millionaires or people who have made a positive impact in our world today have none of the above. 

There’s no need to rush acquiring a degree, diploma, or certificate. If you’re still confused, it’s best to continue exploring until you find the one that you want to achieve in life. 

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