What Is the Difference Between Diplomas and Certificates?

It's easy to get confused when trying to differentiate between certificate and diploma programs. Colleges can define diplomas and certificates differently without demonstrating any distinguishable difference between the two. If you're uncertain of the differences between diplomas and certificates, read on for details regarding the distinction.

Diplomas and Certificates

You may recognize the term 'diploma' as the piece of paper you receive at a graduation. A 'certificate' is also a piece of paper that acknowledges a certain achievement. Although both of these terms can be defined as formal documents, certificate and diploma programs, usually available though community colleges and vocational schools, are types of academic programs that train you in a specific trade or skill.

Although some schools use the terms interchangeably, diploma programs are typically more comprehensive than certificate programs. The length of time it takes to complete these programs varies by school; however, you can expect earn a certificate or diploma in less than two years. For example, a certificate program may take you between 30-40 credit hours, while a diploma program can be completed in 40-60 credit hours. Additionally, some schools may not offer financial aid if you're enrolled in a diploma or certificate program.

Important Information about Diplomas and Certificates

Program Levels Diplomas are usually associated with undergraduate programs, but certificates can be associated with undergraduate or undergraduate programs
Online Availability Certificate and diploma programs are available online in many fields of study
Concentrations Diplomas and certificate programs are usually focused on one topic and rarely offer concentration options
Purpose Diplomas and certificates offer students vocational training, career options, personal enrichment and a variety of other benefits for people seeking to learn more about their current career or a new field of study

Diploma Programs Defined

At the postsecondary level, diploma programs are usually short-term and less comprehensive than associate's degree programs. Community colleges offer diploma programs as educational opportunities for students who aren't pursuing full-time degrees. Diploma programs usually consist of several courses in a specific subject area or skill and can lead you toward entry-level employment in a professional field.

Certificate Programs Defined

At many institutions, 'certificate' is the preferred term for an award given out to non-degree-seeking students who have completed a postsecondary education program. Depending on the academic institution, the aforementioned description of a diploma could also apply to a certificate. Certificate programs could also involve taking a series of courses within a diploma program. Additionally, certificates are available at the post-baccalaureate level. If you're looking into academic programs at a certain school, check with their course catalog to find out the specific requirements for certificate and diploma programs.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

The schools in the listing below are not free and may include sponsored content but are popular choices among our users. Tuition and costs will vary across programs and locations. Be sure to always request tuition information before starting a program.

Popular Schools

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    Popular programs at The George Washington University:

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    Popular programs at Purdue University:

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