What's the difference between a diploma and bachelor's degree?

What's the difference between a diploma and bachelor's degree?
SEEK content teamupdated on 14 December, 2023

Diploma or a bachelor degree certificate? Both qualifications offer advantages for graduates, but which one is more appropriate for you depends on your career objectives, learning style and availability. Understanding the pros and cons of these qualifications can help you make an informed decision about which path will help you reach long-term career goals. 

In this article, we outline the difference between a diploma and a bachelor’s degree, explain the level of education each qualification provides, and explore job opportunities related to each. 

What is a diploma?

A diploma is a qualification you receive once you complete a course. Unlike degrees, diplomas are more practical and skill based, aimed at preparing you for a specific career or industry. They are offered by vocational schools and technical colleges (like TAFE), and some universities. 

A diploma course can take anywhere from a few months to three years to complete, depending on the subject and the institution. Costs can also vary. On average, diplomas are cheaper and shorter than bachelor's degree study, making them a more cost-effective and flexible option for many students. 

There are several types of diplomas, including:

  • Postgraduate diplomas: aimed at those who have already completed a degree and want to gain specialised skills in a particular field.
  • Advanced diplomas: these are more comprehensive, and often focus on advanced skills and knowledge in a specific area.
  • Vocational diplomas: focused on practical skills for specific trades or industries.

Diplomas are often required for roles that need specific technical or practical skills. Common careers that may require a diploma include:

Is a diploma a degree?

Is a diploma an undergraduate degree? The short answer is no, a diploma isn’t a degree. While both are educational qualifications, they differ in several key ways:

  • Level of study: a diploma is often considered a lower level of qualification than a degree.
  • Duration: diplomas usually take less time to complete than degrees.
  • Knowledge: degree programs offer more in-depth study.
  • Recognition: degrees are generally more recognised globally.

What is a bachelor’s degree?

A bachelor's degree is an undergraduate degree gained from a college or university. When studying full time, it generally takes three to four years to complete a full course. With this in mind, bachelor’s degree programs are usually more expensive than diploma programs.

There are many different bachelor's degrees available, offering studies across a vast range of fields:

  • Bachelor of Arts: humanities, media/communications, social sciences and fine arts
  • Bachelor of Science: science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields
  • Bachelor of Engineering: specialised studies for engineering students
  • Bachelor of Business Administration: business and management studies
  • Bachelor of Laws: for students pursuing a career in law

Common roles that typically require a bachelor’s degree include:

Bachelor vs Diploma

When weighing up a diploma vs degree, consider your end goal. They offer very different educational pathways, though there are also some similarities. Here are some of the key differences:

  • A bachelor's degree is generally considered a higher level of education compared to a diploma. It involves a more in-depth study of a subject, while a diploma focuses more on practical skills.
  • Bachelor’s degrees typically take three to four years of full-time study, while diplomas can be completed in a shorter period.
  • Generally, a bachelor’s degree is more expensive than a diploma as the course usually takes longer.
  • A bachelor's degree often opens doors to salaried and executive positions and professions. Diplomas are more suited for technical or vocational roles.
  • Bachelor's degrees are widely recognised internationally and are often prerequisites for postgraduate study. 

There are a also few similarities between the two courses worth noting:

  • Both are designed to provide education and training for specific careers. 
  • Both are typically awarded by accredited institutions, so the education provided meets certain standards.
  • Both can serve as stepping stones to further education. For instance, a diploma holder may choose to take on a bachelor’s degree, and a bachelor's degree can be a prerequisite for postgraduate studies.

Is a graduate diploma higher than a bachelor degree?

A postgraduate qualification is considered higher than a bachelor's degree. It’s generally completed after a bachelor’s degree and is considered the next step in study, offering a focused program to gain specific skills or knowledge.

Diploma vs certificate

A certificate is a qualification you receive on completing a specialised training program or course. They can range from just a few weeks to a year in length and are focused on specific skills or knowledge in a particular area. Certificates are offered by community colleges, vocational schools, organisations (like St John Ambulance) and universities. Here are some key differences between an undergraduate certificate vs diploma:

  • Diplomas generally take longer to complete than certificate programs. A diploma course offers a more in-depth education, while a certificate is usually focused on specific skills.
  • A diploma is generally considered a higher level of qualification than a certificate. 

There are plenty of similarities between the two as well. Both diplomas and certificates are designed to provide practical skills and knowledge that can be directly applied in the workplace. They are both considered flexible study options, with part-time, online and evening classes.

Diploma vs graduate diploma

A graduate diploma is a postgraduate qualification that you can study after completing a bachelor's degree. Through a graduate diploma, you will gain further qualifications to help get you ahead in your career. On the other hand, a diploma is an undergraduate qualification that focuses on practical skills in a specific area. 

One of the biggest differences between the two is that a graduate diploma requires an undergraduate degree before you can study, and as a result, is considered a higher level of study. A diploma can be started right after secondary school and is more focused on practical skills. Both diplomas and graduate diplomas are shorter than degree programs, making them a great option if you’re looking to quickly boost your qualifications or you can’t commit to long-term studies. 

International credentials equivalencies

An opportunity might arise for your career to take you abroad to live and work in a different country. For this reason, it’s important to understand how different qualifications, such as diplomas and bachelor’s degrees, are recognised around the world. 

International equivalent of a diploma

A diploma can refer to various levels of education in different countries. For example, in the US, finishing high school gains you a ‘high school diploma’, which is very different to a diploma in Australia. An Australian diploma might be seen as equivalent to an associate's degree in the US.

International equivalent of a bachelor’s degree

As part of the UNESCO Global Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education, an Australian bachelor’s degree is recognised around the world. A degree may even be a prerequisite for a work visa in some countries. A bachelor’s degree undertaken at an Australian university is seen as equivalent to a bachelor’s degree from a college or university in the US.

If you’re looking to undertake further education, it’s essential to have a clear understanding of the different paths available, particularly when it comes to choosing between a diploma and a bachelor’s degree. Each of these qualifications has its unique strengths and caters to different career objectives. The choice between the two should be based on your professional goals, the time you can commit to education and your personal interests. 


Is a diploma higher than a bachelor’s?

No, a diploma is not higher than a bachelor's degree. A bachelor's degree is considered a higher level of academic qualification, typically involving more comprehensive study over a longer period. Diplomas are more focused on practical skills and are usually shorter.

Does a diploma count as a degree?

No, a diploma doesn’t count as a degree. A diploma is a different type of qualification that focuses more on practical skills and training, while a degree involves a broader area of study.

What are some diplomas and certificates equivalent to a U.S. bachelor's degree?

An Australian bachelor’s degree is equivalent to a US bachelor’s degree and is the best course of study if you’re looking to work in the US.

Can I pursue further studies with a diploma?

Yes, you can pursue further studies with a diploma. Many educational institutions offer pathways for diploma holders to transition into degree programs.

What jobs do not require a diploma?

Many jobs do not require a diploma, especially in retail, administration, entry-level hospitality, and certain areas of manual labour and trades. These types of positions often value on-the-job training and experience over formal qualifications.

What jobs do not require a bachelor’s degree?

Numerous jobs do not require a bachelor’s degree, including roles in skilled trades, IT and tech support, sales positions, certain healthcare roles like medical assistants, and creative fields like graphic design, where a portfolio can be more important than a degree.

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