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Certificates, diplomas, and degrees are awarded to a person upon the successful completion of an educational course or program. However, there are several differences between the terms, and they cannot be used interchangeably.
Each of these academic achievements are suitable for certain specific fields or career goals and offer unique advantages and disadvantages.
A certificate is earned by a student after taking a series of courses in a particular subject. Students often earn certificates to advance their careers in their professional field, and certificates may be offered in similar programs leading to degrees.
There are also graduate certificates, often taken either alone or alongside a graduate degree program. In some programs, the student may use their electives to fulfill a certificate in order to make themselves more desirable to a potential employer.
Certificate programs taken alone are similar to associate’s degree programs. However, they take less time because general education courses are not required. Certificate courses range in length, but the majority can be completed in under one year.
Diplomas focus training and qualifying and individual in a particular business or trade. The curriculum, while teaching the required academic and theoretical knowledge, emphasizes real-world work situations. Some diploma programs include a short apprenticeships or practicums as part of the course requirements.
In general, diplomas provide enhanced career preparation that combines theoretical approaches to learning with practical application, providing a broader range of career and employment opportunities beyond entry-level in an industry.
Diplomas programs are best-suited for students who have a clear idea of what industry they are interested in, and the type of position they are hoping to obtain. Diploma programs vary in length, but are usually no longer than two years, and the majority can be completed in under one year.
An academic degree can be earned at many levels, including the associate’s (two years); bachelor’s (four years); master’s (two years beyond a bachelor’s degree); and doctoral.
A degree program differs from a diploma program in that it often requires the completion of general education courses. For example, at many universities, those earning their bachelor’s degree are required to take introductory-level English, math, and science courses.
The tenure of a degree course is generally around 3-4 years. The majority of academic degrees have prerequisite requirements; associate’s and bachelor’s degrees require a high school diploma, a master’s degree requires a bachelor’s degree, and a doctoral degree requires a master’s degree, although there are some exceptions at each level.
Education is designed to give students an understanding of a discipline but, more importantly, to teach students how to learn. In today’s fast-paced, technologically advanced society, life-long learning is a requirement, and soon it may be a competitive necessity. The proportion of adults in Canada with a post-secondary education is the highest among all OECD countries, and as the job market becomes increasingly competitive, educational qualifications remain the most effective way to stand out among a pool of applicants with similar skills and experience.
When choosing between certificate, diploma and degree programs, it is important to consider where you would like your career to take you and find a qualification that will suit your needs.