Diploma vs. Degree

What is the difference between degree and diploma? There is a great difference between the words “degree” and…

What is the difference between degree and diploma?

There is a great difference between the words “degree” and “diploma” in different parts of the word. This is especially true in the United States where the interpretation of diploma is different from what it is in the rest of the world. Therefore, it is not uncommon for people to confuse the two words. They are similar in the fact that both are awarded at the successful completion of an educational program that gives a person academic qualifications.

What is a degree?

A degree is awarded by an academic college or university and specifies the level of education attained, such as a Bachelor’s, Master’s or Doctorate degree. The first degree program in which a student enrolls in university is an undergraduate degree and is a Bachelor’s degree in a specific field of study. It generally takes three or four years to complete this program of studies. The next level is the graduate level and the degree awarded is a Master’s. A Doctorate degree is the highest level of education and is called a Ph.D.

In some countries of the world, a degree can only be granted by an accredited university and in others a university can only award a certificate. In the US, both colleges and universities can award both degrees and diplomas.

What is a diploma?

A diploma has the same definition as a degree in that it is an award one earns by completing a course of study. In the Greek language it means a folded piece of paper. This term is usually applied to the certificate one receives after graduating from high school, as well as different courses in college or university. Some countries do limit its use and have a different interpretation than the US. In the United States, it means the document that one receives at a formal graduation ceremony to signify the completion of an educational milestone.

In Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom, a diploma refers only to the document one receives upon graduating from high school or a course of study at a college or vocational institution. The course of study is two years or less and in this way it is different from a degree program, which is longer in duration. The type of course is also considered to be at a lower level than a degree. Many countries in Asia also have the same distinction between degree and diploma.

In the United States, the term diploma is applied to the certificate received upon completion of a Bachelor’s degree at a university as well as the certificate received in colleges and vocational schools. The word diploma, though, is not used in association with graduate degrees such as Master’s and Doctorate degrees. This is the same system that is used in Germany.


  1. There is a different interpretation for degree and diploma in different countries of the world.
  2. Technically, a diploma is a certificate awarded at the successful completion of an educational program.
  3. A college diploma in the United States refers to a Bachelor’s degree from either a college or a university.
  4. In Canada, the UK and Australia, a diploma is the certificate awarded after the completion of a two-year college program or upon graduation from high school.
  5. In some parts of the world, diplomas can only be awarded by a university.
  6. Both universities and colleges in the US grant degrees.
  7. Diplomas are awarded for specific programs and can be part of a degree program.
  8. Some diploma programs can take as much as 3 years to complete, such as Nursing.
  9. Programs that lead to a diploma are more oriented towards getting a job.
  10. A degree program focuses on academics and a diploma program focuses on training and qualifications for a job.


Before deciding on a degree or diploma program, students need to research the program of study to make sure they understand the difference between degree and diploma.


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