Diploma vs Degree: What’s The Difference?

    Staff Writers by: Staff Writers

    Post secondary education is designed to allow you to harness your individual talents and apply them to an area of interest. It is meant to help you develop both personally and professionally. For many people, higher education is pursued for the sake of education itself. For others, it is a pathway to a career. 

    Deciding how to pursue higher education can be a little bit tricky. There are now more options than ever when it comes to post secondary school. For instance, you can decide to pursue a bachelor’s degree at a traditional four year school, pursue an associate’s degree at a community college, attend courses online, aim for a master’s or doctorate, or even travel overseas. You can also decide to complete a certificate or diploma program. 

    The right choice for you depends upon your own individual strengths, circumstances, and desires. In order to help make things a little easier, we’ve provided a full breakdown of the basic differences between a degree and a diploma, and the benefits and drawbacks of each. 

    Differences Between A Diploma and A Degree

    Diploma and degree programs are both very common. When deciding between a diploma and degree, it is important to take stock of your goals, needs, and circumstances. Many people decide to pursue a four year degree in order to enter a particular field. In contrast, many people decide to complete a diploma program in order to receive the training they need to enter a particular job. 

    Basic Types of Diplomas

    There are a number of different kinds of diplomas. These begin at the secondary level and extend to the post secondary level. Here is a quick breakdown of some of the most common forms of diplomas. 

    High school diploma: The most common diploma is the high school diploma. A high school diploma is often considered to be the most basic level of education in terms of employment. It is generally recommended that people complete a high school diploma or secure a GED. The reason for this is that most jobs and careers require this level of education. For many people, a high school diploma is sufficient when entering the workforce. With a high school diploma, you can work as a pharmacy technician, a mail carrier, a police officer, a firefighter, and a range of other careers. 

    Post secondary diploma: Many post secondary institutions also offer diplomas. For instance, community colleges typically award diplomas to their graduates. These programs tend to be practical and career focused. Generally, they are intended to provide you with the knowledge that you need to enter the workforce quickly and directly. Some typical diploma programs at community colleges include:

    • Administrative services
    • Carpentry
    • Auto technician
    • Chemistry
    • Engineering
    • Culinary arts
    • Game development
    • Ecology
    • Police foundations
    • Information technology
    • Plumbing
    • Practical nursing
    • Community work
    • Welding

    A community college or university might also offer diploma programs which are intended to complement a pre-existing degree. These diplomas are intended to demonstrate that the graduate has expertise in a specific area of focus. Typical complementary diploma programs might include:

    • Early childhood development
    • Adult learning and education
    • Health education
    • Literacy education
    • Computing
    • Technology studies
    • Nursing science
    • Accounting
    • Management
    • Software engineering
    • Civil engineering

    Online diploma: An online diploma is not necessarily different from a post secondary diploma. Many universities and colleges offer online programs as an alternative to in-person courses. This is increasingly common. Often, online programs offer diplomas rather than degrees. However, some diplomas offered online are not offered by accredited post secondary institutions. These diplomas might indicate study of a particular area but do not carry the same amount of prestige as an accredited institution’s diploma or degree would. Therefore, this section has been included separately. 

    Basic Types of Degrees

    Like diplomas, there are a number of different degree programs out there. These tend to be at the post secondary level exclusively. There are also a number of different “levels” of degrees, which correspond to the level of expertise a student has in a particular area. For instance, a master’s degree is considered to be a step above a bachelor’s degree, in terms of specialization. In order to secure a master’s, you typically need to complete a bachelor’s first. 

    Associate degree: An associate degree is an undergraduate degree. This type of degree is typically completed in two to three years of study. Generally, an associate degree is awarded by a community college, technical college, or university. The most common areas to secure an associate degree tend to be in business, applied technology, arts, engineering, science, or nursing. Some common associate degrees include:

    • Associate of Engineering 
    • Associate of Arts
    • Associate of Business Administration
    • Associate of Science 
    • Associate of Applied Business
    • Associate of Forestry 
    • Associate of Nursing
    • Associate of Applied Science 
    • Associate of Applied Technology
    • Associate of Technology

    Bachelor’s degree: A bachelor’s degree is an undergraduate degree. It is typically awarded after four years of study at a university, though the length of the program may vary depending upon the institution in question. Generally, this is the degree referred to when people talk about a “university degree.” 

    There are a large range of degrees available, and an even larger amount of majors available. For instance, someone with a BA might have a major in English, while someone else has a BA but holds a major in Political Science.

    Many people also complete an “Honors” bachelor’s degree, which indicates that the student in question is a particularly high achiever. Some of the most common bachelor’s degrees include:

    • Bachelor of Arts (BA)
    • Bachelor of Engineering (BEng)
    • Bachelor of Pharmacy (BPharm)
    • Bachelor of Health Science (BHSc)
    • Bachelor of Science (BSc)
    • Bachelor of Journalism (BAJ)
    • Bachelor of Education (BEd)

    Master’s degree: A master’s degree is a graduate degree. This is typically understood to be a level of specialization above the bachelor’s degree. Often, people with master’s degrees work in higher ranking positions within their field or teach at the college level. For specialized jobs, a master’s degree is often required. 

    Some of the most common master’s degrees include:

    • Master of Arts (MA)
    • Master of Science (MS)
    • Master of Philosophy (MPhil)
    • Master of Business Administration (MBA)

    Doctorate degree: A doctorate degree is typically understood to be the highest form of degree within a specific discipline. People with doctorate degrees are generally considered to be experts in their field. They tend to work as researchers, academics, or very specialized workers. 

    The most common forms of doctorate degrees include:

    • Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
    • Doctor of Education (EdD)
    • Doctor of Medicine (MD)

    Key Differences Between a Diploma and Degree

    One of the major differences between a diploma and degree is the level and length of study. Most degree programs require four years of study. Graduate degrees typically require between two and seven years of further study after the initial four year undergraduate degree. Generally, diploma programs are awarded after one to three years of study. Many of these programs are designed to streamline graduates into jobs rather than further education.

    Many degrees and diplomas are offered in the same subject or field. For example, it is possible to get both a degree in Engineering and a diploma in Engineering. The difference between these two tend to be the level of intensity and the length of study. Generally, someone with a diploma in engineering will be expected to have a lot of practical understanding of the subject, whereas someone with a degree might be expected to have a certain amount of theoretical understanding to complement this. 

    There is a tradeoff made when deciding between a diploma and a degree. In essence, you need to decide whether to give your time to education or work experience. Often, people with diplomas are able to enter the workforce quite quickly. As the program length tends to be shorter, these people are able to develop real world work experience. As a result, they might enter their career at a lower level than somebody with a degree but are likely to gain useful experience more quickly. 

    In contrast, someone with a degree will likely have a more extensive understanding of the subject in question when they come out of school. Often, this makes them particularly desirable to employers or allows them to start their career at a higher level. This tends to mean that someone with a degree will make a higher salary right out of school. This is, of course, not always the case, particularly with unionized trades. 

    How To Choose Between A Diploma And A Degree 

    Deciding between a college diploma and a university degree can be a difficult decision. The first thing to remember is that post secondary education is intended to benefit you in some way. For some people, a post secondary education is about personal fulfilment. For others, it is a way to start a career. When deciding between a diploma or a degree, it is worth thinking about why you want to pursue higher education. 

    For many young people, university is more than just career training. It is a four year space for personal growth, socialization, and education. During this time, people often immerse themselves entirely in the experience. This allows many young people the opportunity to learn about themselves and attempt to discover how they want to spend their life. Though this is also possible during a two year diploma program, these programs are often less intensive and immersive. As a result, they may not allow for the same experience.

    However, many other young people do not feel the need to immerse themselves in a university environment for four years. Academia is a very particular type of environment. For many people, it is not enjoyable. Instead, some people want to use the educational facilities available to them to learn useful skills, gain career knowledge, and begin their life. 

    A diploma program is often better for people who do not have the luxury or privilege to drop everything and attend school full time for four years. If you have financial obligations, family commitments, or a job, it may be better to pursue a diploma. This will allow you to switch careers, or advance in your current career path, without putting unnecessary strain on your life. Often, people begin degrees in the hope of improving their quality of life but find themselves unable to complete them successfully. 

    That being said, a college degree can be the right choice for many people. It is not unheard of for people to complete a college degree part time while working or taking care of their family. This means that you should not feel that it is impossible to complete a university degree simply because you have pre-existing commitments. It simply means that you need to carefully take stock of your options, and your circumstances, and make the decision that best suits your life. 

    Whether you decide to pursue a diploma or degree will impact your future career somewhat. However, this does not mean that one of these options will always negatively affect your career while the other necessarily impacts your career in a positive way. The impact that your educational choice has on your career is connected to a range of other choices, as well as your personal circumstances and desires. 

    If, for instance, you want to be a civil engineer, it is possible to do so with either a diploma or degree. Obtaining a degree from a respected university might make it easier to find your first engineering position. It might also mean that you will enter your career at a higher level and a higher starting salary. Some employers will only hire people with degrees. However, you can start a career as an engineer with an engineering diploma. If you do, you will likely have a combination of work experience and practical education. This will give you a different understanding of the field and may make you more attractive to certain employers. 

    Be sure to review all of your various college degree options when attempting to decide how to pursue post secondary education. While it is always possible to return to school, university and college costs quite a bit of time, money, and energy. As a result, switching career paths later on can be a lengthy process. This means that it is usually better to take the time to carefully plan your education ahead of time. 

    Reasons People Are Choosing Diplomas Over Degrees

    Though the typical advice given to high school graduates tends to be to pursue a four year undergraduate degree, many people elect to pursue a two year diploma program instead. For many people, university degrees do not seem to be worth the time, energy, and money required.

    There are a few major reasons that people elect to pursue diplomas over degrees. First, the cost of diplomas tends to be far less than a degree program. Secondly, a bachelor’s degree is no longer a guarantee of employment. Third, many people find that a university degree is not catered to their personal needs. And, finally, a university degree program is much more time intensive than a diploma. 

    Time: A traditional university program takes at least four years to complete. In contrast, a diploma program at a community college can often be completed in two years. In addition, diploma programs are often much more flexible. While a bachelor’s degree may require you to attend a full load of courses throughout the week, many diploma programs offer courses on evenings and weekends. These courses tend to be much easier to fit around work schedules, family commitments, and other obligations. 

    Money: As previously mentioned, community college programs tend to be far more affordable than four year degrees. This is due to a combination of lower tuition rates, reduced additional fees, and shorter program length. This also means that community college students tend to have less student debt. In addition, entering the workforce sooner means that graduates are able to start making money faster, offsetting the cost of education. 

    Career: For certain careers, a community college program is better equipped to train students. Many university programs are classroom intensive and theory based. This is great for people who want to work in research, are interested in broad concepts, and want an extensive understanding of their subject. However, a classroom based program often means that the practical, day to day skills required for work are overlooked. Meanwhile, degree programs tend to offer practical experience. This is combined with coursework and theoretical instruction that is relevant to the job in question. In addition, diploma programs tend to allow graduates to enter the workforce directly. As they are already trained, many employers are willing to take graduates on as apprentices, workers, or interns. This enables graduates to begin their careers much more quickly.

    Potential Disadvantages of Choosing a Diploma Over a Degree

    There are, of course, certain disadvantages to choosing a diploma program over a degree program. 

    First of all, certain employers require employees to have university degrees. This is typical in fields such as education, engineering, finance, and journalism. If you do not have a university degree in these settings, you are at a strong disadvantage and must demonstrate your value through work experience and dedication. 

    In addition, it is necessary to have an undergraduate degree in order to pursue graduate school. For certain promotions, graduate degrees are a requirement. This means that it is possible to plateau at a certain level when you are working with a community college degree. In order to advance further, you may have to return to school.

    Cost Of Diplomas VS Degrees

    As a rule of thumb, diplomas cost less than degrees. This is particularly true in the United States. The major reason that diplomas tend to cost less than university degrees are because they take a shorter time to complete, tend to charge lower levels of tuition, and often have reduced additional fees. As a result, students who pursue diploma programs tend to leave school with lower levels of student debt. 

    The average cost of a university degree program is about $32,899.00 per year. On average, a student attending a private university will spend over $50,000 a year. A student attending an in-state public school spends over $25,000. In contrast, the average cost of attendance for a two year, in-state program is about $11,279.00. Unfortunately, the cost of higher education is only rising. 

    The average cost of tuition at a community college in the United States is approximately $4,809.00 a year for in-state students and approximately $8,586.00 a year for out of state students. Community colleges in Arkansas, New Mexico, Wyoming, and Mississippi tend to be the cheapest. In New Mexico, three community colleges charge tuition rates of less than $2,000 per year. In contrast, community colleges in Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Utah tend to be the most expensive. Pennsylvania’s average tuition rate is over $14,000 at community colleges. 

    Whether you decide to pursue a diploma or degree, it is always a good idea to look into the potential financial aid available to you. Often, students can offset much of the cost of their study by applying for scholarships or bursaries. As scholarships and bursaries are typically awarded as grants, they do not need to be repaid. This makes them far more preferable to student loans, which must be repaid and accumulate interest over time. There are far more financial aid options available than most people think. In fact, research indicates that there is over $24 billion dollars of scholarship funding available to students.

    It is also possible that your employer has a recompensation program available to compensate you for pursuing higher education. This is common in technical industries and education fields. Generally, employers are willing to pay for some education costs when it will directly benefit their own operations. If you are already working and are planning to attend school in order to advance in your current position, it is worth speaking with Human Resources or your employer about recompensation programs.

    In addition to scholarships and bursaries, students should look into work opportunities. Many colleges and universities have specific jobs available for students. These positions include research assistants, teaching assistant, security and parking enforcement, administrative positions, study hall monitors, library staff, and service positions. These jobs are often fairly well paid and are designed with the understanding that students will be attending courses full time. 

    Other common jobs available to students beyond the campus include:

    • Sales associate
    • Retail worker
    • Server
    • Bartender
    • Tutor
    • Administrative assistant
    • Receptionist

    Reducing the cost of your education as much as possible is very desirable. When you are entering the workforce, it is far easier to advance in your career as well as your personal life if you are not concerned with making student loan repayments. Often, student loan repayments can take decades. 

    One of the biggest advantages of a diploma program is the cost effectiveness. Not only are diploma programs typically shorter and cheaper than degrees, they also allow you to enter the workforce more quickly, meaning that you are able to begin earning and saving earlier. 

    Conclusion 

    Deciding between a diploma and a degree is a matter of deciding what you want your career path to look like. There are benefits and drawbacks to each path. Typically, the correct path is not set in stone and depends largely upon the individual in question. Of course, it is also possible to complete a degree or diploma and then return to school later on. 

    Often, people with diplomas are able to enter the workforce much more quickly than those with degrees. This is great for people who are not particularly interested in school and are itching to begin work. Generally, diplomas give you the practical training necessary to effectively begin work in a specific job. This allows you to gain valuable work experience early. With work experience, it is far easier to transition between jobs and qualify for promotions.

    Many people decide to pursue degrees to strengthen their knowledge of the subject at hand. People with degrees tend to enter the workforce at a higher level than people with diplomas. However, they do not necessarily have the same practical understanding of the subject as someone with a diploma, meaning that their success will depend upon applying their theoretical knowledge accurately. Often, people with degrees continue to higher levels of education to ensure career advancement. 

    In terms of cost effectiveness, diploma programs tend to be better than degree programs. Community college is cheaper and shorter than four year programs. However, the savings must also be weighed against the potential return on investment. A traditional undergraduate program will likely allow you to earn higher starting salaries, which may offset some of the tuition cost. 

    Both degrees and diplomas can lead to successful and rewarding career paths. Deciding on the right program is a matter of figuring out what you need from your post-secondary education, and then deciding which program best suits your needs. 

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