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Diploma vs. Degree vs. Certificate: What’s the Difference?

Updated Dec 18, 2019

After you have complete your schooling, the next step is higher education. Higher education is the first step that you will take towards building a career. The most common way to go about it is to join an undergraduate degree course. Private and government universities offer these courses.

Another option is joining a diploma course that is shorter than the degree courses. Many employed individuals go for a diploma while working. You can also enroll in a diploma while pursuing a graduation course. Certificate courses are also available for students and professionals.

Let us understand a little more about these courses.

Diploma vs. Degree

The key difference between a diploma, degree, and certificate with a comparison chart.

Basis of comparison Degree Diploma Certificate
Duration 3 to 5 years 1 to 2 years One month to 1 year
Offered by Only a UGC and AICTE approved university can offer a bachelor's or master's degree. A university, college or polytechnic institute can offer a diploma course. Private technical institutes or government institutes offer these.
Enrollment fees High Low Lowest  
Minimum qualification Higher secondary Class 12th or High school Class 10th 
Job prospects Very high Low Lowest
Knowledge Comprehensive  knowledge covering all aspects   In-depth knowledge in a specific area of your subject Basics are covered

What is a Diploma?

A diploma is a short term course lasting for 1 to 2 years. Most diploma courses are technical and very specific. A diploma course will help you to gain knowledge and skills on a particular subject. It will give you a good understanding of the subject matter. The aim of these courses is to offer practical knowledge as opposed to theoretical knowledge.

Diploma courses are offered by private institutes, government universities, and polytechnic colleges. The curriculum is designed in such a way that you get extensive practical training. The focus is on equipping the students with skills relevant to the industry. Many diploma courses offer job training and internships.

You will be eligible for a diploma after completing class 10th. Some diploma courses need you to complete the class 12th. For postgraduate diploma courses, you have to complete graduation.

After passing the diploma course, you can go for a graduate degree. Or you can start looking for jobs. Suppose you are pursuing a diploma in engineering. In that case, you will be able to enroll in the second year of B.Tech. You have to clear a lateral entry examination for that.

The most popular diploma courses are as follows:

  • Diploma in Engineering
  • Diploma in Hotel Management
  • Diploma in Animation and multimedia
  • Diploma in Computer Science
  • Diploma in Fire and Safety technology

Advantages of a Diploma Course

The benefits of pursuing a diploma course are as follows:

  • It takes lesser time than a full-fledged degree. You can complete it within two years.
  • The prerequisites and eligibility criteria are not very stringent as a degree course.
  • Most diplomas have a flexible curriculum. Classroom and online courses are offered. Moreover, they do not follow a higher educational calendar – allowing you to enroll at any time of the year.
  • These courses make you job-ready. For example, a diploma in computer programming will make you skilled in languages such as Java and Python.

Disadvantages of a Diploma Course

Difficulties in pursuing a diploma course are:

  • After completion of a diploma course, you will have a skillset on that particular subject. If you want to learn more, you will have to go for a full-time graduation course.
  • Moreover, the graduates or master’s degree holders will always be preferred over diploma holders when it comes to jobs. You are likely to receive a lower salary than a graduate or a master’s degree holder.
  • Even if you get a decent job, you will face stiff competition while applying for a promotion or a raise.

What is a Degree?

A degree is a long term course on a particular subject. These courses last from 3 to 5 years. Degrees are very detailed courses. They will give you a thorough understanding of the topic you choose. It is generally the first step students take after class 12th. Later on, you can apply for a master’s degree or post-graduation to enhance your knowledge. For example, B.Tech courses teach you basic engineering concepts along with mathematics, physics, and chemistry in 4 years.

An MBBS degree is a little longer. It consists of 4.5 years of academics and one year of mandatory internship.

The different types of degrees are as follows:

  • Bachelor’s degree
  • Master’s degree
  • Doctoral degree

These degrees are provided only by private colleges or government universities. For higher education, you need to pursue a degree that is approved by the UGC (University Grants Commission). The institute that is offering you the degree has to be affiliated to AICTE.

The basic eligibility to pursue a graduate degree is to pass class 12th successfully. You will be able to choose a course based on your class 12 stream. For a post-graduation degree, you must have completed a bachelor’s degree in the relevant field.

After completing your bachelor’s degree, you can enroll in a master’s degree. You can then go for post-doctoral research in the respective subject. Alternatively, you can start applying for jobs.
You can also look for jobs after completing your master’s degree. Many students start preparing for competitive exams such as IBPS and UPSC for getting government jobs. This is because the essential criteria for government jobs are graduation.

The most sought after degree courses are:

  • B.Tech in Computer, Electronics, Telecommunication, Civil, Biomedical, Mechanical, and Chemical engineering.
  • BBA – Bachelors in Business Administration
  • BCA - Bachelors in Computer Applications
  • Bachelors in Arts
  • Bachelors in Commerce
  • Master’s in Business Administration
  • Master’s in Computer Applications
  • M.Tech
  • M.Com – Master’s in Commerce

Advantages of a Degree Course

These are the benefits of pursuing a degree course:

  • Unlike diploma or certificate courses, a degree coursed will give you in-depth knowledge of the subject you choose.
  • A degree will set you up for further studies. You can pursue post-graduation and doctoral degrees. After master’s, you can apply for positions such as lectureship or associate professorship.
  • Candidates having a graduation or master’s degree under their belt are preferred over diploma holders. If you are pursuing graduation from a reputed university, you will be able to sit for campus placements.

Disadvantages of a Degree Course

There are certain disadvantages to degree courses:

  • Some courses require a lot of time, such as MBBS (5.5 years). To obtain a Ph.D. degree, it might take a maximum of 6 years.
  • In some institutes, bachelor's degree courses are costly. Courses on management, medical sciences, and fashion technology are usually expensive.

What is a Certificate?

A certificate is a particular and concise term course. The certificate course can last from 2 months to 1 year. These types of courses are aimed at a specific field of study. It can be on a subject that is part of a larger domain. You can gain particular certifications after taking a series of courses in a particular topic. You can pursue these certifications along with your graduate degree courses or post-graduation courses.

Similar to a diploma, certificate courses equip you with the skills needed to get a job. The curriculum is designed in such a way that you get maximum practical training. Professionals take up certifications to enhance their skills and be promoted. For example, IT professionals choose certifications, such as:

  • CCNA (Cisco Certified Networking Professional)
  • MCSE (Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer)
  • CEH (Certified Ethical Hacker)

Government institutes, private colleges, and technical institutes offer certificate courses. The best institutes offering certifications include:

  • EC-Council
  • Maya Academy of Advanced Cinematics
  • Arena Animation
  • Aegis School of Business
  • Jigsaw Academy

The eligibility criteria for certificate courses are not very strict. Students passing class 12th from a recognized board are eligible for specific certifications. School students can also take up certifications. They can easily enroll in animation basics, computer programming, game design, and graphic designing.

Advantages of Certifications

Benefits of certifications are:

  • You do not have to adhere to an educational calendar for enrolment. You can join these courses any time you want.
  • Many of the certifications can be pursued at your own pace. Apart from classroom training, you can pursue certifications online.
  • These help you to upgrade your skills as a professional. Having specific certifications under your belt can even help you change departments within your organization

Disadvantages of Certifications

Some difficulties related to certifications are:

  • Only certificates will not get you lucrative jobs. You will need a graduation degree, at least for securing a well-paid job.
  • Certificate holders are less preferred over graduates, master’s degree or diploma holders.


If you are looking to build a strong foundation for your career, a degree course is a must. But in case you are looking to get a job quickly, diplomas and certificates can be chosen. Certifications can help you to apply for higher positions within your company. However, pursuing a degree course will help you gain maximum knowledge about a particular subject.