Diplomas, Degrees & Certificates: Which is Right for You?

May 14, 2012 Category: College Tips

The school and graduation process used to be pretty straightforward: you went to high school, graduated and got a diploma. If you chose to go to college, you applied, got accepted, graduated and got a degree. However, the landscape of the Education field has changed drastically in the past few decades. The word “diploma” doesn’t just apply to high school graduates anymore and these days, more and more individuals are receiving their training for certain job positions through certificate programs instead of earning a degree. So which document is the right one to obtain? That all depends on your academic and future career goals.


What is it?

Diplomas are similar to certificates but should not be considered the same thing. The major differences between the two are the duration it takes to complete a diploma, the nature of the work involved and the educational institution issuing this document. Additionally, finishing a diploma program results in receiving a grade or other academic recognition.

What does it involve?

Which Degree to ChooseWhile earning a certificate can take a few weeks to a few months, it typically takes about two years (or more) to complete a diploma program. For diplomas offered through clinical schools, the workload involved consists of both traditional classroom instruction, as well as a clinical component.


What is it?

As the more “traditional” approach, degrees are documents that show an individual’s completion in a specific field of study. There are several types of degrees available: Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s and Doctoral. Associate’s degrees typically take two years to complete, while most Bachelor’s degrees take four years. Master’s degree programs usually require two years. Doctoral degree programs are the longest, often requiring several years of study after earning a Master’s degree.

What does it involve?

Unlike diplomas and certificates, pursuing a degree program calls for the completion of specific core classes for a designated major, as well as completing additional classes that are designed to provide students with a well-rounded education overall. These include General Education courses like history, English and math, among others. Unless the degree-specific curriculum is satisfied, a student cannot graduate.


What is it?

Certificate programs are often short-term and can be obtained in a few weeks or a few months, although there are a few that take 1-2 years to complete. However, certificates do not involve taking core classes that would count towards a major or earning a grade. Instead, it is a document that allows a person to show proof of certification by participating in–and completing–classes related to a certain subject.

What does it involve?

Certificate programs are flexible in the sense that they provide just enough education/training for a person to learn basic knowledge/experience in a particular subject or trade. Many people opt for certificates because they are often more affordable (compared to getting a degree), meet basic requirements for many entry-level jobs, allow a person to switch careers and even serve as an effective way to acquire additional skills that can be used to advance a working professional’s career position.

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