Certificate vs Diploma vs Degree: Which Qualification Level is Right for Me?

Certificate vs Diploma vs Degree: Which Qualification Level is Right for Me?

Why choose a diploma level study

In today’s rapidly evolving job market, acquiring the right qualifications has become essential for career advancement and personal growth. However, with the plethora of options available, it can be overwhelming to chose the right educational path. Three popular choices can be certificate, diploma, and degree. Each has its own merits, outcomes, and target audience. Find out which learning journey is right for you. 

What is the difference between a certificate, diploma and degree?

What is a certificate?

Certificate IV qualifications are often undertaken by students who wish to begin their career journey with well-rounded knowledge in a single area. Certificate qualifications are heavily practical, coupled with important theoretical content. They are an excellent choice for those with limited or no experience in their chosen field as a way to start their future career with a broad range of skills.

A certificate qualification is earned when a student chooses to specialise in a single skill set or industry area. Plumbers, electricians, and other trades will fall into this category but can also include literature, business, and technological fields. The study will often be restricted to a single field and will require a large amount of practical training which can often take the form of an apprenticeship. For study other than trades, certificates are an excellent pathway to take if you do not have previous experience in the field of study or want to test the waters of an industry.

What is a diploma?

Diplomas are a natural step up from a certificate and are one of the common levels of qualifications for a variety of industries.

Diplomas are ideal for those seeking a career change or school leavers looking to begin their tertiary studies. They focus on highly practical skills that are applied directly to the workplace. Those already working in the field often choose diploma qualifications to increase their skills and be a contender for senior opportunities within their industry.

Diplomas combine technical skills training with applied theory. ‘Applied theory’ refers to a more advanced way of working where critical thinking is used to make decisions grounded in real-world facts. Critical thinking skills give graduates an advantage over others who complete solely theoretical training.

What is an advanced diploma?

An advanced diploma builds on the diploma qualification, with learning materials and more advanced outcomes than a diploma. It’s a highly regarded course for those looking at securing senior management or leadership positions in the future.

Advanced diplomas offer an excellent choice for those with significant work experience in their industry, looking to formalise and upskill their expertise. A great way to fast-track your career, advanced diplomas focus on practical education alongside theoretical, conceptual and problem-solving skills. The course provides students with advanced skills such as planning, decision making and critical analysis. Therefore, advanced diploma graduates are eligible for highly skilled and challenging roles in their chosen industry.

What is a degree?

Degrees come in many different forms including associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral. Studying for a degree can in some specific fields lead to more opportunities, as degrees cover a broader range of theoretical knowledge over a longer study period. Degrees are in allocated slots of semesters or trimesters, with mostly face-to-face and some online learning options available.

Which one is right for me?

Duration requirements

Certificates, diplomas and Advanced Diplomas are generally able to be completed in under 24 months. At the College for Adult Learning, you are able to complete your qualification in your own time, at your own pace. If you want to complete your studies quicker than your allocated course duration, or need to defer or extend your course, you can. 

Degrees are by far the longest to complete, ranging from two to four years or more, depending on the level of study. 

Career prospects

Certificates can enhance your employability, especially in specialised fields where specific skills are highly valid. They can serve as a valuable credential for career advancement or a pathway to further education.

Diplomas can open doors to entry-level positions and mid-level career opportunities. Diplomas often incorporate hands-on training and practical experience to prepare students for the workforce. You can be an excellent choice for those seeking a career-oriented education. 

Advanced diplomas are perfect for those seeking senior-level positions where you’re ready to expand upon your previous experience and knowledge.

Degrees have a focus on theoretical learning, so while they may provide in-depth academic knowledge on a topic but may not provide the practical skills needed to go straight into your chosen career path. 


Not all qualifications are made equal. It’s important to study accredited courses at any level.  The College for Adult Learning is proud to be an established Registered Training Organisation (RTO) providing nationally accredited and endorsed qualifications in the Vocational Education and Training (VET) sector. Our certificates, diplomas, and advanced diplomas all are accredited training. 


Certificates are generally the cheapest study option, with diplomas and advanced diplomas getting slightly more expensive. However, the cost is a fraction of the price of a degree. Where a certificate can cost as little as $2,000, the average tuition for a bachelor degree is between $15,000 and $33,000. 

You can even earn a double diploma qualification for a significantly more affordable price than a degree. 

Study options

Certificates, diplomas and advanced diplomas have a wide range of study options, depending on the RTO and what suits the learner best. At CAL, you can enjoy flexible learning options to get qualified your way. Study at your own pace, completely online. You’ll also have access to our industry experts and learning coaches to help create a tailored learning plan for you, making sure your study fits your life, not the other way around. 

Degrees offer much less flexibility, with often having set lecture times and exams that must be completed in person.

Advanced Diploma v Degree

The Australian Qualifications Framework is a system that divides qualifications into ten different levels, depending on the course complexity, how difficult the qualification is to obtain, and the level of independence students require to complete the course. It considers the depth of knowledge gained, the technical skills levels received and how knowledge is used in the real world.

The following qualifications fall under these levels: Certificate IV (level 4 AQF), Diploma (level 5 AQF), Advanced Diploma and Associate Degree (level 6 AQF).

Both advanced diplomas and associate degrees are at level 6 AQF. The main difference is that advanced diplomas are highly practical and offer a real-world application. In contrast, associate degrees comprise more theoretical course material.

Employers highly regard both qualifications, however, advanced diplomas are often favoured over degrees due to graduates being job-ready, with the well-rounded skills needed to hit the ground running in the workplace.

Those who complete a degree often need up to 12 months to learn the practical nature of their role, to accompany the theoretical skills they received during their course.

Advanced diplomas are an excellent choice for those looking to secure a dream role and be employable from graduation (or even while doing the course). The advanced skills received means that graduates are more likely to be considered for senior roles or promotion opportunities as they arise.

Choosing the right qualification level to study will depend on your learning and career goals. However, studying a certificate, diploma or advanced diploma has a range of real-time benefits to getting qualified faster to more affordable education. Find the perfect course for you at the College for Adult Learning.