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Diplomas and Degrees: How Are They Different?

An associate's degree student

Thinking about going to college? If so, you’re probably also thinking about your future career and the education you need to get there.

Depending on what you want to do, there are different types of degrees and credentials such as diplomas/certificates you can consider. Does the career you want typically require the type of training you receive in a diploma program? Or does your chosen career require an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree?

Let’s break down the different types of degrees and diplomas/certificates, so you can choose the path that is best suited for you and your career goals.

Diplomas and Certificates

Diplomas and certificates are awarded by technical schools, community colleges and some four-year universities. They indicate the same level of qualification, but due to individual state regulations, a diploma in one state may be called a certificate in another state.

A diploma or certificate:

  • Is typically less expensive compared to degree programs.
  • May take as little as nine to 12 months to complete.
  • Indicates you have received an overview and entry-level education in the given field.
  • Is often the first step to prepare you for entry into a career field.
  • May indicate a career competency to potential employers.
  • Does not typically require general education courses.

Who should pursue a diploma or certificate?

A diploma or certificate is an option for students looking to get an overview and entry-level education in their field of choice.

Kylie Wheelis, academic manager for Brightwood College, says there are also benefits to starting with a certificate or diploma and then moving upward.

“Some programs are designed to start with a diploma and then roll into an associate’s degree,” says Wheelis. “We encourage our students to get their foot in the door to begin their education. We have many students who come in just looking for the diploma, but since so many of our programs continue up, we see a lot of those students end up following this path.”

Associate’s Degrees

According to Wheelis, a diploma or certificate can prepare you to pursue an entry-level position in the field you want, but continuing past the initial diploma or certificate could make you more valuable to an employer.

An associate’s degree:

  • Indicates a higher level of education compared to diplomas and certificates.
  • Takes two years to complete.
  • May require general education classes.
  • May be required in certain career fields.

“Pursuing an associate’s degree or another form of higher education may take a little longer,” Wheelis says. “But an associate’s degree could potentially give you a leg up on other applicants and candidates who may not have as much schooling as you.”

Bachelor’s Degrees, Master’s Degrees and Doctorate Degrees

Undergraduate and graduate degree programs are intended for students who are committed to spending several years pursuing a degree. Some occupations may require at least a bachelor’s degree, while a master’s degree may be required for higher-level positions.

A bachelor’s degree:

  • Indicates a higher level of education compared to an associate’s degree.
  • Takes approximately four years to complete.
  • Requires general education classes and in-depth studies in English, math, critical thinking and more.
  • Is required to attend a graduate school.
  • May be required for certain occupations.

Master’s Degrees

A master’s degree:

  • Indicates a higher level of education compared to a bachelor’s degree and guides graduates to a focused area of expertise.
  • Typically takes about two years to complete, depending on the program.
  • Requires a bachelor’s degree.
  • Includes in-depth study into a particular field.
  • May be required for high-level positions.

What career is right for you? Take our quiz to find out!

Doctorate Degrees

Those who earn doctorate degrees may do so because they know that the position they want requires a doctorate degree, or they plan to pursue high-level teaching or research positions.

A doctorate degree:

  • Is the highest level of academic degree.
  • Takes four years to complete after having completed a four-year bachelor’s degree.
  • Often requires a research thesis and prepares students for higher level teaching and research positions.

What Type of Diploma or Degree is Right for You?

Not every job requires education as high as a bachelor’s degree, master’s degree or a doctorate degree. When thinking about college and career training, it’s important to know the difference between diplomas and types of degrees. Before you make a decision about your education, be sure to understand what training and credentials are typically required for the career you want to pursue.

Brightwood College offers diploma/certificates and associate’s degrees in healthcare, information technology, trades and more. Request more information from Brightwood College or give us a call at (866) 543-0208.