Diploma vs. Certificate: What’s the Difference?

Are you confused about all of the different accomplishment items there are? What’s the difference between a certificate and a diploma anyway? Don’t they do the same thing?

Well, kind of. There are a few differences between certificates and diplomas that make them distinct from one another. We’ll try to explain so you can figure out what you need for your employment or application plans.

So diploma vs. certificate: what’s the difference? Let’s talk about it.


Both diplomas and certificates are considered as the results of post-secondary education programs and courses. Not everyone who gets a certificate or diploma needs to have gone through high school (or even college) though.

We often think of diplomas as the resulting document of a degree program (and are colloquially named as such; check here when looking for options for replacements), but there are actually differences between diplomas and degrees as well.

Instead, consider diploma and certificate programs like “extra” education.

Certificates tend to be worth fewer credits when they’re done in conjunction with degrees. They can be worth as few as 9 credits and as many as 30, though this may vary depending on the degree. Diplomas are worth more than 30 credits, and sometimes go as high as 72.

Time Spent

Because there are more credits involved in a diploma, a diploma will usually take longer than a certificate.

Certificate programs are brief. They’re intended to teach a small amount of comprehensive information in a short time so the student can return to work or improve their resume quickly.

Diploma programs are different. They take about the same amount of time as an associate’s degree (or 2 years).

Depth and Specificity 

Both diploma and certificate programs are intended to give you a specific category of information in an in-depth way. However, the amount of information varies.

Certificates are often comprised of one or a handful of classes in a specific area. For example, you may get a certificate in a specific programming language. You’ll learn all you need to know about that one language and how to use it.

Diploma programs are more comprehensive and in-depth. They’ll explore different aspects of the subject to give the students a wider view.


Diploma programs are career-focused, and they usually work best as an addition to a degree program. You’ll learn the ins and outs of that career so you’re ready to start post-graduation.

Certificates are often done without a degree program in place, but they can also be associated with a degree. Instead of learning a full set of skills for a career, you’ll learn skills that can contribute to a career or boost your resume.

For example, if you’re going for a degree in education, you may opt to get certificates in things like TESL or teaching children with special needs.

Diploma vs. Certificate: Which Do You Need? 

When it comes to choosing between diploma vs. certificate, there are great reasons to opt for both. You can learn plenty of important and specified skills to make yourself a great job candidate and improve your overall quality of work.

Employers love to see extra education on a job application to prove that you’re serious about what you do!

For more helpful advice on job searches, education, and more, check out the rest of our site!