Diploma vs Degree? Comparing the Differences (2023)

Choosing to continue your education by any means and for any purpose is admirable. There are various routes you can take for the type of reward you want to earn upon graduation. For example, you can choose between a diploma vs. degree, or perhaps you may choose to get a certificate instead. Understanding the differences between the two is the first step to take on the path that is right for you.

Higher education is beneficial for a variety of reasons. Along with supporting a higher salary, you have the opportunity to hone your own skills and connect with people from around the world. Let’s take a look at all there is to know about degrees vs. diplomas.

Diploma vs Degree? Comparing the Differences (1)Photo byEkrulilafromPexels

Defining Diploma vs Degree vs Certificate


A degree is granted by colleges and universities to students who complete higher learning. These can be either graduate degrees or post-graduate degrees.

Types – There are various levels of degrees you can earn, including:

  • Associate
  • Bachelor’s
  • Master’s
  • Doctorate


A diploma is granted for completion of high school. There are also post-graduate diplomas from universities and colleges. These are awarded for in-depth and specific coursework that is more specialized than a certification.

Certificate Programs

There are two types of certificates that exist — one for academic purposes and another for legal certification.

  • Academic Certificate: This is given to a student who completes a course or certification program in a particular area of interest. It does not result in a degree.
  • Legal Certificate: This type of certificate legally certifies that someone can work in a specific profession, like a cosmetology license that allows someone to be a manicurist.

Key Differences: Diploma vs Degree

Diploma vs Degree? Comparing the Differences (2)

What is a Technical Diploma?

You can also elect to earn a technical diploma. A technical diploma is awarded concurrently with a high school diploma. It signifies that a student has completed vocational training in a technical field.

Vocational high schools may offer technical diplomas in subjects like: culinary arts, welding, and media production, for example.

When to Use a Certificate

It’s useful to earn a certificate when you want to work directly in a specialized field. For example, a certificate will provide people who want to work in professions such as: electricians, plumbers, HVAC specialists, etc.

For the most part, these certificate programs will rely on apprenticeship and hands-on learning to prepare a student to enter the role.

When to Use a Diploma

Like a certificate, a diploma also prepares students to enter a highly specialized field; however, they are more in depth. You can earn a diploma at a technical college or university. These programs generally take about 2 years to complete.

When to Use a Degree

Degrees have many different forms, including undergraduate and postgraduate. They are used for different goals.

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Frequently Asked Questions

If you’ve read up to this point, you’re probably feeling like there are a lot of options to choose from. Let’s tackle 10 frequently asked questions to help lead you along your academic journey.

1. What are the Pros and Cons of Earning a Degree?


  • Be prepared for a career (some careers will require degrees)
  • Earn more money than non-graduates
  • Learn independence
  • Expand your mind and network
  • Become an expert in a field


  • Requires time
  • Can contribute to debt (unless you get financial aid or attend an online and tuition-free university like University of the People)
  • Not guaranteed a job

2. What is an Associate’s Degree and When is It Useful?

An associate’s degree can be the first step to deciding whether you want to earn your Bachelor’s degree. It also can land you an entry-level position in your field of choice. An associate’s degree is useful if you’ve already completed some college units. It can also be a good choice to test out a career change before committing to something bigger and more costly like a bachelor’s degree.

3. What Types of Careers Can You Pursue With a Degree?

When you continue your academic career and graduate with a degree, you continue to expand your horizons. The higher the degree you receive, the more options you’ll have for higher paying jobs. The only consideration is what degree you will need for your desired position.

4. What are Certificate Requirements?

Each certificate will vary by profession. First, decide what you want to apply yourself to professionally. Then research what qualifications you need to complete a certificate program.

5. What are the Pros and Cons of a Certificate?


  • A good choice for those looking to try a new career
  • Can start learning in a certificate program any time throughout the year
  • Highly focused material for your desired profession
  • Many people work while earning certificates
  • Generally have coursework at night for the aforementioned reason


  • Limited for specific professions

6. What Careers Use Certificates?

There are a wide array of career options for those who earn certificates. For example, these are just some of the professions that require a certificate:

  • Cosmetologist
  • Massage Therapist
  • EMTs
  • Medical Assistants
  • Nursing Assistants
  • Industrial Engineering Technician
  • Court Reporter

7. What Do You Learn in Diploma Programs?

Diplomas are hands-on and provide tailored coursework for the specific diploma you’re earning. They are practical.

8. What are the Pros and Cons of a Diploma?


  • Doesn’t take long to earn
  • Cost effective
  • Flexible and made to support working professionals
  • Practical knowledge


  • Missing general education classes so you won’t earn a degree, but instead solely a diploma

9. What are Some Career Options for a Diploma?

Some career options that require a diploma include:

  • Personal Trainer
  • Electrical Technician
  • Dental Assistant
  • Vocational Nurse
  • Mail Superintendent
  • Subway Operator
  • Transportation Inspector
  • Business Operations Specialist
    Gaming Manager

10. What Type of Program is Right for Me?

This is truly subjective and depends on your career goals and outstanding circumstances. You’ll want to consider the following before selecting your route:

  • How much time do you have?
  • How much money or financial aid do you need?
  • What field do you want to enter?
  • What are your skills?

Reasons to Choose a Diploma Over a Degree

There are some reasons why it may be useful to choose a diploma over getting a degree. Whether you are pressed for time or can’t commit to a degree program, diplomas can help you on your way to achieve success. They are also a useful alternative if you want to explore subjects and professions before committing to earning your degree in a single field.

Diplomas benefit you in the following ways:

  • Diplomas make you job-ready, faster
  • You are more likely to be hired and valued
  • You will potentially earn more from the beginning
  • Diplomas can be completed in significantly less time than degrees
  • Diplomas are a fraction of the cost and provide better value for money (unless you choose to attend an online and tuition-free degree granting institution like the University of the People)
  • Diplomas often have less rigid prerequisites
  • Learning is flexible
Diploma vs Degree? Comparing the Differences (4)
Photo byAndrea PiacquadiofromPexels

What Do Employers Want?

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Earning a diploma, certificate, or degree will depend more on the job title you want. Some professions only require diplomas, whereas others will require a degree. That’s why it’s important to first assess your goals and then choose what to earn.

Another Option: Online Degrees

Considering a degree but don’t have much money or time? Consider online university. Online universities like the University of the People rival the education of traditional four-year universities. The online nature of the degree means that they are more flexible and less costly. In fact, the University of the People is tuition-free.

You can earn your associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s degree for a fraction of the cost you would elsewhere. There are four programs to choose from, including:

  1. Health Science
  2. Business Administration
  3. Education
  4. Computer Science.

If you want to earn a degree with the flexibility like that of a diploma program, get in touch with UoPeople today.

The Bottom Line

No matter what higher education you choose to pursue, you will be one step closer to success. Every person’s goals are different. That’s why it’s nice to have the option to choose between certificates, diplomas, degrees and online degrees to find the educational path that best suits your needs!

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