There are many levels of education in the American education system, with different credentials at every level. Students can earn diplomas or degrees to prepare for countless careers.
There’s a big difference between a diploma and a degree, and with a wide range of academic offerings, it’s easy to lose sight of the right education pathway for you. This article will help you decipher the difference between a diploma vs degree and help you select the right pathway for your career goals.
What Is a Diploma?
A diploma is an academic certificate certifying that a student has finished a short and specific training program. Diplomas are offered through high schools, vocational schools, community colleges, and other two-year institutions across the United States.
Diploma programs offer 30 to 72 transferable credits and take 12 to 18 months to complete. After you earn your diploma, you will have the technical knowledge and skills required to apply for entry-level positions in many industries.
Types of Diplomas
- High school diploma
- Technical diploma
- Graduate equivalency degree (GED)
What Is a Degree?
A degree is an academic award given to a student after successful completion of specialized study in a specific field. You can earn a degree at a community college, a four-year college, or a university. They can take between two to six years and require 30 to 64 or 120 to 130 credit hours depending on your major and desired level of education. Degrees are awarded after completion of an undergraduate or graduate program.
Types of Degrees
- Associate degree
- Bachelor’s degree
- Master’s degree
- Doctoral degree
Is a Diploma Faster Than a Degree?
Yes, a diploma is faster than a degree. Diploma courses take between one and two years, while most degree programs take three to five years. The exception is an associate degree program, which is a two-year program that is more demanding than a diploma. Diploma programs are perfect for people who want to gain the knowledge and core skills required for an entry-level job.
Is a Diploma Easier Than a Degree?
Yes, a diploma is easier than a degree. Diplomas apply a holistic approach to learning, whereas degree programs are in-depth and intensive. Diplomas focus more on practical knowledge and helping students gain hands-on experience in a field of study.
Degrees are an advanced study of theoretical and practical learning, and the coursework is designed to explain how and why things happen. Additionally, you need higher education credentials to apply for a degree program.
Is a Diploma Better Than a Degree?
No, a diploma isn’t better than a degree. Although each education path has its advantages, degrees offer more comprehensive programs designed to prepare students for higher-level positions. The National Center for Education Statistics found that the employment rate for people with one or more degrees is 86 percent, higher than 69 percent for people with a high school diploma. However, a diploma is an excellent option for those seeking accessible and affordable vocational training.
5 Key Differences Between a Diploma and a Degree
1. Length of Study
Diploma programs are typically shorter than degree programs. A diploma takes one to two years, whereas a degree usually takes three to five years. However, you can get an associate degree after completing a two-year program.
Diploma programs require fewer academic qualifications than university degree programs. In fact, most diploma programs have an open admission policy. On the other hand, academic degrees have strict prerequisites for prospective students. Undergraduate degrees require a high school diploma or GED, and graduate degrees usually require a bachelor’s degree.
The average tuition rate for diploma vs degree programs is quite different. Degrees are more expensive because they are more comprehensive and take more time, and degrees offered through private schools are more expensive than those offered by public schools. Diploma programs offer an affordable education option through short-term courses that focus on one subject.
Degrees are administered by universities and colleges, whereas diplomas are administered by universities, educational institutions, and private companies. A degree program offers a wider range of options, with the flexibility to change majors. Diploma courses are subject-specific and have no room for changing programs.
5. Career Options
Diploma programs are quick and inexpensive compared to a degree, allowing you to launch a career sooner than degree holders. Many future career options don’t require a degree, such as firefighter, medical assistant, or massage therapist. However, a degree offers a wider array of career opportunities than a diploma, and with a degree, you are eligible for higher-level job opportunities.
Jobs That Require a Diploma
- Dental assistant. Dental assistants offer support to dentists through preparing dental tools and handling patient care. You only need a high school diploma or GED, but many community colleges also offer certificate programs to better prepare you for the job.
- Vocational Nurse. You only need a one-year vocational program to work in a nursing facility as a licensed vocational nurse. This role involves offering bedside care, assisting nurses, providing meals, dressing wounds, and updating patient information. You will receive on-the-job training, but you can also pursue an advanced degree to become a registered nurse.
- Electrical Technician. An electrical technician installs, maintains, and inspects electrical systems. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, electrical technicians are among the highest-paid workers without a degree, with an average salary of over $50,000.
Jobs That Require a Degree
- Registered Nurse. You need a bachelor’s degree to work as a registered nurse (RN). This nursing role involves providing hands-on patient care and educating individuals about different health conditions. You can pursue an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and later advance to a post-graduate degree where you can work as a nursing consultant, administrator, or research nurse.
- Engineer. There are many types of engineering jobs, but they all require a bachelor’s degree as a minimum qualification. These jobs are complex and you must understand the fundamentals before launching a career. In some cases, coding bootcamps make it easier for aspiring engineers to get engineering jobs.
- Advertising or Marketing Manager. Advertising and marketing managers work with organizations to market brands, attract target audiences, and increase company revenue through sales. The job relies on your networking skills, knowledge of market trends, and industry experience. Some relevant degrees for these positions are a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing, Statistics, or Project Management.
Should You Get a Diploma or a Degree?
Choosing between a diploma and a degree depends on your education level, financial situation, and desired career path. A degree offers more benefits, including career flexibility, high-paying opportunities, and access to mid-level and senior-level positions.
However, if you can’t afford a four-year degree program, diploma programs are an affordable option that will provide you with vocational education. Remember, you can always enhance your skills later through coding bootcamps, online courses, or additional education to further your career.
Diploma vs Degree FAQ
Diploma courses are more technical and shorter compared to degree courses. There is demand for diploma holders as more employers prioritize skill and hands-on experience. However, professional degrees make you more marketable, and you can find higher-ranking roles with a higher annual salary.
Yes, in most cases you need a diploma to enroll in a degree program, but there are some exceptions. Sometimes you can meet the university prerequisites to apply for a degree program without a diploma.
A diploma program has many benefits, but the lack of general education classes limits your academic reach as a student. In addition, most job opportunities for diploma holders are entry-level careers and you will need additional education to get an advanced position.
Yes, you can get many different jobs with a diploma. You don’t need a formal degree for technical careers such as electrical technician, plumber, flight attendant, car mechanic, and chef.
About us: Career Karma is a platform designed to help job seekers find, research, and connect with job training programs to advance their careers. Learn about the CK publication.