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Study abroad : Subject Guides

What is a diploma?

In a world of so many qualifications, understanding what each is and what it means for your study and career path is essential. We’ve got the key details on diplomas.

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When you’re considering your study abroad options you’ll be looking for a qualification that fits your needs. Admittedly there are quite a few options and knowing the difference is crucial. Courses are offered at different academic levels and thus are defined or named to reflect this. We guide you through diplomas and explain what they are, how they are different from other qualifications, what types there are and your post-study options. 


How is a diploma defined?


Let’s start at the beginning. A diploma is an accredited academic qualification offered by higher education institutions that serves to demonstrate a level of knowledge in a particular field and subject. 


Usually, a diploma is a shorter qualification than a degree, lasting on average a year or two. Diplomas can be vocational, professional or academic qualifications and can be used for admission when applying to study at a higher level or to further career prospects


Diplomas can also be offered at different levels. This includes a graduate diploma designed for students who have completed undergraduate studies or an advanced diploma that looks to enhance specialised knowledge.  


Remember that it’s always a good idea to check with your prospective university or college about their diploma qualifications as the definition can change slightly depending on which country you study in


Explore some of the institutions offering diplomas in Canada:



What is the difference between a diploma and a certificate?


Both certificate and diploma courses are short course qualifications in specific subject areas. The major point of difference is that certificate courses are generally much shorter and do not necessarily have a graduation requirement attached. 


Certificates are often pursued by students looking to gain accreditation in an area related to employment. This can often be important in industries where employers want evidence of skills and competency, but not necessarily an academic qualification. Certificate courses often have multiple start dates in the year and are designed for working professionals. 


Find out a bit more about your study options by reading our guide to pre-master’s courses.


What is the difference between a diploma and a degree?


Several things set a degree and diploma apart. The first is the duration of the qualification. Diplomas can be completed within a year full-time, while degree study will keep you occupied for a minimum of three years. 


The second point of differentiation is the academic level at which the course content is designed and delivered. Diplomas can cover material that is set at a high-school level through to a second-year university level. Degrees are set up at a slightly higher level and will have a higher load of subject matter to deal with, from more general subjects through to major subjects. 


The other area in which diplomas and degrees are different is the number of credits you require to receive your qualification. Diplomas usually have fewer modules required for completion and would not include some of the practical competencies needed for professional degrees such as engineering or architecture


Discover more on how to find a qualification that suits your personality.


What is a postgraduate diploma?


Postgraduate diplomas are qualifications designed at a master’s degree level, but that do not have the same academic or time requirements of a full degree. For example, for a postgraduate diploma, you will not need to write a dissertation. 


The qualifications are often aimed at students who have completed an undergraduate degree and are looking to improve their career prospects. Postgraduate diplomas are offered in a wide variety of fields from veterinary science and business to archaeology and law. 


Diplomas offered at a postgraduate level have a couple of advantages over postgraduate degrees. Firstly, they generally cost less. Secondly, you can finish the qualification within less than a year. They also can be more flexible in terms of the study options available from distance learning to part-time study. 


Take a look at these institutions in Australia where you could study for a diploma:



What types of diploma courses are there?


If you’re thinking about studying for a diploma there can appear to be a dizzying array of options. Depending on the country you study in the qualifications may also be named slightly differently. We’ve narrowed it down for you to include the main types on offer namely:


  • Advanced diploma 
  • Postgraduate diploma 
  • Extended diploma 
  • Graduate diploma 
  • Foundation diploma
  • Diploma of Higher Education


Always check with your prospective university what their degree abbreviations mean and at what level the qualification is being offered.


What can I do with a diploma?


A diploma will equip you with some essential skills that can help you secure employment or improve your career prospects. Diplomas are often designed with practical, real-world scenarios in mind. Depending on what type of diploma you study and the area in which you specialise you could work in industries as diverse as information technology, graphic design, accounting and engineering


Diplomas can also be the key that opens the door to further study, at both an undergraduate or postgraduate level. This recognition of prior learning and expertise can help you meet entry requirements. For some careers, you will need a professional degree and so starting your path with a diploma can help.  


While you’re here why not check out our guide to the types of bachelor’s degree qualifications you could study and how you can map your career and study path. You may also want to start searching for diploma qualifications and you can do this using our course matcher tool

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