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Difference Between Degree and Diploma

degreeDegree vs Diploma
Both degree and diploma are awards conferred on to a person on the successful completion of an educational course. However, there are several differences between both the terms and cannot be used interchangeably.

The tenure of a degree course can be around 3-4 years based on the geographical location while one can complete a diploma within 1-2 years. A degree is generally conferred to a person by an accredited or recognized university whereas a diploma can be conferred to a person by any private educational or vocational institution or polytechnic.

Also, the focus and aims of both the degree course and diploma course are different. A degree course emphasizes significance on academics. The curriculum is so structured that the person undergoing the course is provided overview of several subjects apart from one subject that the person may interested in exploring further for both career and academic interests. Typically, that one subject is called a ‘major’ or ‘specialization’ whereas other subjects are called minors or electives. For instance, if one is interested in pursuing a degree in accounting, the course will involve several other subjects that may come in use for a career in accounting such as mathematics, statistics, business etiquette and commercial law.

The diploma, on the other hand, focuses on getting a person trained and qualified in a particular business or trade. The curriculum, while teaching the minimum required academic and theoretical knowledge, emphasizes more on how to handle on the job situations. Some of them even include a short stint of apprenticeships and on-the job training as part of the diploma course. Taking the same example as mentioned above, pursuing a diploma in accounting may involve training the person on book keeping. The curriculum will not involve subjects like business etiquette or statistics.

While there are degree programs available for different and varied subjects, diplomas are most often available in subjects that are focused on a profession such as cooking, hotel management, nursing, basic carpentry and engineering skills and so on.

Most universities have a mandate that candidates interested in pursuing a master’s program should have completed a degree or 3-4 years of academic study. While a degree holder can easily get through this stipulation, diploma holders may find it difficult to resume academic study on the subject because of this condition.

It is a thought that degrees and diplomas are not treated on par in the corporate world or the actual industry or trade ‘“ that diplomas are considered inferior to degrees and having a diploma can be a show stopper for progress in career. However, some companies do not agree to this statement. Apart from educational qualifications, companies look at a multitude of factors during recruitment or promotion such as performance and attitude of the candidate. Having a degree or diploma may not affect the career of a person entering a lower rung of work but as one enters the management levels, having a degree can be a plus.


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16 Comments

  1. Thank you kindly for this clarification – it’s been more helpful than any other resources I’ve found on the web thus far.

  2. Hi! Thanks for the info. I know this was some time ago that this post was posted but I would like to ask are you certain that a degree isn’t sometimes referred to as a diploma. I am completing my last class at the U of Phoenix for a Bachelor’s degree in Marketing. When I noticed that we would receive a “diploma” I decided to look up if they are used interchangeably. Upon researching the website it refers to “obtaining a degree” but “filling out an application for a diploma after requirements are met”, and that the degree will be updated on the transcript. So the whole thing confused me. I do plan on contacting them tomorrow am for clarity and appreciate the fact that I found a clear answer to my question on your website

    • Thanks very much for this clarification. In most SA governmental institutions, the two concepts are used interchangibly by managers from the old system which happened to be absorbed by the new system. They think that one is equivalent to the other. Maybe even the concept of equivalence is confusing to them.

  3. I found this information very helpful. Thank you

  4. I found this web site and explanation very useful.

  5. my good sir i think you forgot to say they’re spelled differently.

  6. Very clearly expounded. Great structure. Good job. Thanks a lot.

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