What Is the Difference Between Diplomas and Certificates?

It's easy to get confused when trying to differentiate between certificate and diploma programs. Colleges can define diplomas and certificates differently without demonstrating any distinguishable difference between the two. If you're uncertain of the differences between diplomas and certificates, read on for details regarding the distinction.

Diplomas and Certificates

You may recognize the term 'diploma' as the piece of paper you receive at a graduation. A 'certificate' is also a piece of paper that acknowledges a certain achievement. Although both of these terms can be defined as formal documents, certificate and diploma programs, usually available though community colleges and vocational schools, are types of academic programs that train you in a specific trade or skill.

Although some schools use the terms interchangeably, diploma programs are typically more comprehensive than certificate programs. The length of time it takes to complete these programs varies by school; however, you can expect earn a certificate or diploma in less than two years. For example, a certificate program may take you between 30-40 credit hours, while a diploma program can be completed in 40-60 credit hours. Additionally, some schools may not offer financial aid if you're enrolled in a diploma or certificate program.

Diploma Programs Defined

At the postsecondary level, diploma programs are usually short-term and less comprehensive than associate's degree programs. Community colleges offer diploma programs as educational opportunities for students who aren't pursuing full-time degrees. Diploma programs usually consist of several courses in a specific subject area or skill and can lead you toward entry-level employment in a professional field.

Certificate Programs Defined

At many institutions, 'certificate' is the preferred term for an award given out to non-degree-seeking students who have completed a postsecondary education program. Depending on the academic institution, the aforementioned description of a diploma could also apply to a certificate. Certificate programs could also involve taking a series of courses within a diploma program. Additionally, certificates are available at the postbaccalaureate level. If you're looking into academic programs at a certain school, check with their course catalog to find out the specific requirements for certificate and diploma programs.

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