Degree vs. Certificate vs. Diploma – What’s What?

As a new high school graduate or even a working professional, you may be thinking about the options you have in terms of post-secondary programs. In terms of undergraduate programs, the options consist of degree options, diplomas, and certificates. All have varying lengths, courses and work experience options. They also have advantages in terms of work options upon completion. Below, find out what’s what when it comes to your post-secondary options.

Undergraduate Degrees

In terms of undergraduate degrees, there are two different types you could work towards. These are the associate and bachelor’s degrees.

Associate degrees are two years in length and graduates can enter a career upon graduation or transfer into a 4-year degree program, so a bachelor’s degree. Generally, those pursuing associate’s degrees are aiming to transfer into a 4-year degree program at a larger university. But, some also choose to enter an associate’s degree because the program is reputable, or simply because they don’t want to be in post-secondary for more than 2 years.

Bachelor’s degrees are the more common undergraduate degree, and usually, take about 4 years to complete. These degrees involve you completing a certain number of credits and courses as well. When entering a bachelor’s degree, you may pick your major right away, or some students will wait 1-2 years before declaring a major. A bachelor’s degree allows you to explore a topic in-depth by choosing a major and prepares you for a graduate degree if that’s something you’re interested in.


Wondering what’s what with diplomas? This is another option in terms of post-secondary programs. Diplomas are usually 2 years and provide you with knowledge and hands-on experience in a short time. Generally, diplomas are offered to those looking for more technical careers, such as trades or technician careers.

Those who pursue degree programs are often working professionals looking to make a career change or advance in their current career. Or, it may be a chosen path for a high school graduate who’s very sure about what career they’d like to enter. In each case, the diploma program ensures they’re ready to enter the specific career they are keen on.


Certificates are made for those who wish to specialize in a specific area of your industry or make a career change without going back to school. They can be completed in under a year and consist of courses specific to the concentration.

These certificate programs can be very advantageous, as they allow for an extra credential to be added to a degree. Additionally, the certificate programs have various start times throughout the year. Also, if you’re working there are usually class times to accommodate that as well.

Now you know what’s what! Undergraduate programs offer a variety of choices – from certificates, diplomas, and degrees. Each has its own advantages and specific times and courses. So, be sure to choose one or a combination based on which one works best for you.

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