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Strayer University

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Purdue University Global

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Saint Leo University

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Syracuse University

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Capella University

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Southern New Hampshire University

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Colorado Christian University

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DeVry University

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Grand Canyon University

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Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology

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What Is the Difference Between Diplomas and Certificates?

College diploma programs are separate from the physical diploma or degree that one earns after finishing an undergraduate or graduate degree program. Find out the difference between diploma and certificate programs, and see comparisons to degree programs.

What is a Diploma?

While a diploma is often thought of as the actual paper that one receives after earning some type of degree, a diploma program is different. A diploma program is a postsecondary award that takes less than 4 years to complete. Here we'll take a look at some of the differences between diplomas, certificates and degrees.

What is a Certificate?

Certificate programs are also postsecondary awards that take less than 4 years to complete. Students can pursue undergraduate certificate programs and graduate certificate programs in a wide range of subjects.

Diploma vs. Certificate

The main difference between a diploma and a certificate is the scope of the program and the time to completion. Diploma and certificate programs are sometimes available in the same subject, but diploma programs generally take a more in-depth look at a subject than a certificate program and may help prepare students for a particular career. Certificate programs may also help certify students for a particular career or specialization, but they are often available in more subjects at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Certificate programs are often used as additional training for students who already have a diploma or degree.

Diploma programs are commonly 30 to 72 credits and can usually be completed in less than 2 years, which is the normal time it takes to complete an associate's degree program. Certificate programs can typically be completed in months instead of years and may only require somewhere between 9 and 30 credits.

Diploma vs. Degree

While a diploma program can be completed rather quickly, a degree program generally takes 2 or more years to complete and focuses on a specific major. Degree programs are available at the undergraduate (associate's and bachelor's degrees) and graduate (master's and doctoral degrees) levels and may include additional areas of specialization and other unique program options. At the undergraduate level, degree programs are also likely to include general education courses in core subject areas, such as math, English, and science, while diploma programs typically do not.

The difference between certificate programs and degree programs includes length, with certificate programs being much shorter. Certificates also usually serve as additional coursework in a subject that is complementary to a degree program.

Examples of College Diplomas

Diploma programs are generally career-focused and can often be applied to credits toward a degree, such as an associate's or bachelor's. Some diploma programs may be available online and in other flexible formats to accommodate students' schedules. Examples of the subjects a diploma program might cover include:

  • Practical nursing
  • Legal office assistant
  • Accounting assistant
  • Wildlife/forestry conservation
  • Medical billing and coding
  • Pharmacy technician
  • Floral design
  • Home inspector
  • Motorcycle repair technician
  • Certified personal trainer

Examples of College Certificates

Certificate programs are also typically available in convenient, flexible formats, such as online and/or evenings and weekends. These programs can often be taken as a stand-alone program or in conjunction with an undergraduate or graduate degree program. Some examples of undergraduate certificate programs include subjects like:

  • Biblical studies
  • Criminal justice
  • Project management
  • Teaching English as a Second Language (TESL)
  • Web development

Graduate certificate programs may be available as postgraduate-level certificates, such as executive certificate programs in areas like education. Other traditional graduate certificate programs may cover topics in areas such as:

  • Autism education
  • Marketing
  • Global health
  • Sports management
  • Public policy