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Difference between Certificate, Diploma and Degree

Choosing a programme type to study abroad can depend on your career goals, budget, location, industry and the time you’re willing to spend abroad. Here, we will explore the differences between studying a degree, diploma or certificate abroad, and discuss how to decide which one is right for you.  


What’s the difference between a diploma, degree and a certificate? 


What is a certificate? 

A certificate is awarded after completing a short course in a specific subject or skill. Available both as an undergraduate and postgraduate program, certificates are the shortest type of higher education and vary in their complexity. Skills learnt in a postgraduate certificate can be studied from scratch, or as a way to upskill in an in-demand area quickly. Certificates do not typically have a high workload, so you can spend more time enjoying your experience abroad.  


You can get a certificate in areas such as:  

  • International business, translation, interpreting, media and journalism 
  • In-demand skills, including laboratory techniques or business management 
  • Professional skills, ranging from bookkeeping to IT and cyber security  


Why study for a certificate? 

You should consider a certificate programme if you:  

  • Only want to learn one specific skill 
  • Can only study abroad for a short period of time 


What is a diploma? 

A diploma is a 1-2 year programme in a specific educational area or discipline. The difference between a diploma and certificate is the scope and detail which is taught, as a diploma provides a more in-depth education for a specific subject. Diplomas can prepare you for more jobs as they often provide a well-rounded education in the subject. A diploma has more contact hours than a certificate, so you will likely feel more like a ‘student’.  Many diploma courses can also be studied at universities as degrees, but diplomas are a faster and less expensive way to do so.  


Examples of diplomas include: 

  • Specific careers, such as healthcare administration or salon management 
  • Specialised training such as early childhood care  
  • Training in creative careers for graphic design, pottery or fashion 

Why study for a diploma? 

Studying a diploma might suit you if: 

  • You desire a specific career  
  • You want a short-term study abroad experience but to still feel like a student 
  • You want hands-on overseas experience you can include in your resume 


What’s the difference between a diploma and certificate?  

Although they sound similar, the difference between a diploma and certificate is the scope of education you will receive. A certificate will focus on one subject or skill, whereas a diploma will include more education and training related to a specific career. Likewise, the study abroad experience will differ as they have different workloads and cohort size. 


What is a degree? 

Degrees are studied at formally recognised or accredited universities, involving in-depth education in a specific major. International students can study degrees at the associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, MD or PhD level, and one major can be applicable to many careers. Degrees are often required for corporate, academic or professional roles, and higher level degrees (master’s and PhD) have a more intense workload compared to a certificate or diploma.  


Why study for a degree? 

You should consider studying a degree abroad if you:  

  • Desire a career in academia, medicine or corporate professional roles 
  • Can spend at least 1-2 years studying abroad, and want an in-depth student experience 


What is the difference between a diploma and degree? 

A diploma will give you the education and skills required for a specific career, such as childcare, counselling or graphic design. The difference between a diploma and degree is that a degree will provide you with a more thorough education in a specific academic discipline, which can be applicable to many careers. Additionally, studying abroad at the degree level will provide you with the most typical ‘student’ experience.  


How to decide between a diploma, certificate or degree: 

When exploring your programme options for studying abroad, there are other factors to consider beyond the education provided by a diploma, certificate or degree. Consider the differences between studying a certificate, diploma and degree abroad against your priorities to help make your decision. Depending on your circumstance, you might consider:  


What you want to study

Universities abroad all have slightly different structures, and majors can differ greatly between certificates, diplomas and degrees. Likewise, if you want to study advanced science or engineering programs abroad, they might only be available at universities. 


Where you want to study

Some universities and colleges don’t offer as many postgraduate certificates compared to diplomas and degrees. Likewise, student visa status might be affected by the type of programme you wish to study, so make sure to check that your desired certificate or diploma qualifies for a study abroad programme.  


How long you want to study for

If you want to quickly upskill, or cannot study abroad for an extended period of time, a shorter course might be right for you. Likewise, advanced degrees like a master’s, PhD or MD can last between 2-7 years, lengthening your time abroad further. 


Whether you want to study an advanced degree

Advanced degrees, such as an MBA, PhD or MD have a higher workload and commitment required. If you want to study abroad purely for the experience, consider a less intense programme such as a diploma or certificate.  


Your budget

As they are fundamentally different educational programs, diplomas, degrees and certificates will have varying costs associated with them. Postgraduate degrees, diplomas and certificates have higher fees for international students; and a degree of any level will most likely be the most expensive option. However, practical and hands-on certificates or diplomas can have extra costs associated as well, such as for equipment, software or uniforms.  


Your career goals

If you are studying abroad purely for the experience, choosing a diploma, certificate or degree to study might be an easy decision. However, if you want to use your education abroad to advance your career, carefully consider the utility of the programme you wish to study. 


Whether you need qualifications or accreditation

Some careers in science, finance, medicine, healthcare and engineering require professional accreditation in order to be hired and practise professionally. Although companies value study abroad experiences, being accredited is also important. Although you might receive a similar education through a certificate, accreditation might only be achievable through a diploma or degree. 



Diploma vs Certificate vs Degree: Summary 

Certificate, Diploma or Degree


Overall, the differences between diplomas and degrees are not what matters the most; your own goals and desired study abroad experience should guide your choices. Discussing this with an Advisor at Intake Education can help you feel confident in your educational choices for any certificate, diploma or degree level. 


Preparing for Study Abroad

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