Diploma vs. Bachelor: With How To Choose Between Them

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 18 October 2021

Education plays a significant role in candidates' suitability for job positions. Diploma certificates and bachelor degrees are two standard qualifications that educate and train individuals in a particular field to help them work in a specific area. Understanding the difference between a diploma and a bachelor course can help you determine which path to pursue. In this article, we discuss diploma vs. bachelor qualifications, what each course involves, the main differences and how to choose between a diploma certificate or bachelor degree.

Diploma vs. bachelor: exploring the qualifications

A diploma vs. a bachelor degree are two different types of tertiary education courses. Tertiary courses are ranked by the level of knowledge they deliver. Some work industries require less education and more practical experience, while others have more demanding educational needs. The Australian Qualification Framework (AQF) is the organisation responsible for assessing each qualification against criteria. According to the AQF, a bachelor's degree provides more advanced skills and educations than a diploma certificate. AQF assesses courses against specific criteria to arrive at an associated level for each type of education program.

This criterion analyses the relative complexity, the level of achievement and the learning outcomes of each course. An AQF represents the lowest program complexity and 10 reflects the highest. A diploma is ranked with an AQF level five and a bachelor has an AQF level seven, making it more complex. The following details define a diploma vs. bachelor degree:

What is a diploma?

A diploma is a qualification that many universities and training institutes across the country offer to provide students with skills and knowledge to pursue their desired careers. Diploma certificates can sometimes help graduates start their careers or pursue further study to add to their knowledge. When planning your career path, it's important to understand what level of qualification is typically required to determine if a diploma is suitable for you.

A diploma course provides students with specialised skills and knowledge in a particular area, usually developing foundational knowledge. Diploma graduates might have a technical and theoretical understanding of an area or broad field of work. They may also develop their cognitive and communication skills to apply the appropriate methods and technologies to specific situations. Diploma courses typically take one to two years to complete and are an AQF level-five course.

Related: FAQ: What Is a Diploma?

Diploma skills and knowledge

After completing a diploma, graduates can typically analyse information to perform various tasks, provide solutions to some problems and communicate information and knowledge to others in the field. These graduates might use autonomy and judgement when applying their skills and knowledge within industry parameters.

What is a bachelor?

A bachelor's degree is an undergraduate qualification that universities and some institutes offer. The degree provides students with foundational knowledge and initial career preparation. After completing a bachelor's degree, some graduates pursue further tertiary study to specialise their skills and knowledge and improve their career prospects. A bachelor degree is AQF level seven, which means it's more advanced than a diploma and takes longer to complete. These courses take a minimum of three years of full-time study to complete but can take up to five years for those completing a bachelor with honours.

Entry into a bachelor course typically requires students to complete Australian secondary school with a Year 12 certificate of education. However, some programs have more strict prerequisites where students have to receive a particular ATAR score or higher and complete specific subjects. Individuals who don't have these qualifications can take a diploma or advanced diploma course to help them meet the requirements before commencing a bachelor's degree.

Bachelor skills and knowledge

Bachelor graduates might have coherent knowledge and broad skills for the professional field and area of practice. They typically have well established cognitive, technical and communication skills, which they can use to apply suitable methods and technologies. Graduates may be able to work autonomously and use their judgement to provide specialist advice and services.

Diploma vs. bachelor: the main differences

The time and cost of diploma and bachelor degrees are significantly different and is a major part of distinguishing the two. Although, the learning outcomes, commitment and career prospects also vary broadly between the two, reflecting the difference in time and cost. You can find some of the main differences below:

Entry requirements

Most bachelor programs require completion of secondary school or an equivalent high school diploma course for eligibility. Bachelor courses assume a particular level of initial knowledge to build upon and create a cohesive learning experience. Some diploma courses may also require students to complete secondary school, and others don't. Individuals can apply for diploma certificate courses in carpentry, mechanic work and hospitality, among others, without completing high school. This means that diplomas offer an avenue for almost everyone to begin their tertiary education and pursue further qualifications to enter their desired profession.

Some bachelor courses, like engineering and law, require students to have completed specific high school subjects, like mathematics, physics or English, to enter the program. When students meet the basic diploma requirements, they can usually directly enrol in their program of choice. Although, even when candidates meet the eligibility prerequisites on a bachelor course, universities might still review the application and accept or reject candidates. Universities often consider ATAR scores, extracurricular activities and application letters while making admission decisions.

Time commitment

Diplomas usually take less than two years and can take as little as 12 months to complete, depending on the coursework and institute. Individuals may also work full-time or part-time jobs while undertaking a diploma, as they can often complete their studies in the evenings or one day a week.

Bachelor degrees take a minimum of three years of full-time study to finish and can take four to five years with an honours degree. Bachelor degrees also require students to receive a pass mark in each unit. Students might have to repeat the unit in the following semester when this doesn't occur, adding to the total time commitment.

Coursework

Given the longer time and higher AQF level, bachelor degrees typically provide students with more in-depth knowledge and advanced skills than diploma courses. Diploma courses might focus on developing students' practical skills and foundational knowledge to a level that can help them enter the field and grow their knowledge. Bachelor degrees aim to provide a broader scope of learning within a professional area and focus on theoretical understanding and practical skills. This wider scope helps bachelor graduates understand the larger context of the profession and communicate with other professionals in the field.

How to choose between a diploma and a bachelor

When deciding to pursue a diploma vs. a bachelor, you might want to consider the requirements of jobs in the profession, your career goals and your resource. Consider the following to help you plan your education path:

1. Review job descriptions for your desired career

An excellent first step to determining which course to pursue can be to understand what education level employers expect candidates to have for your desired role. You can research if a diploma course satisfies the job descriptions or if most job advertisements ask candidates to have a bachelor's degree instead. This can help you determine the most appropriate educational path for you to take.

2. Consider your time and resources

Committing to a tertiary course can take some commitment. You might also consider working while you study. Many diploma courses make it easier for you to work while studying. In contrast, a full-time bachelor course can sometimes make working alongside study more difficult due to the necessary time commitment. Part-time study options are available at most universities and may take longer to complete.

3. Plan how you want to advance in your career

If your desired profession has ample room for growth and career development, you can consider your career goals when making education decisions. Your career goals can provide insight into the level of education required to reach your career aspirations. More advanced professions might require a bachelor's degree rather than a diploma, whereas some may accept both.

Related: Upskilling for Career Development and Progression

4. Consider your current skills and experience

Some career movements may only require upskilling to expand your knowledge in a specific area. A diploma course with less commitment might be enough to support you in reaching that goal. Other goals might require you to advance your experience significantly, so undertaking a bachelor course to develop a thorough understanding of the profession could be a suitable choice.

5. Determine what skills you want to learn

Career changes can sometimes involve learning a new skill rather than studying an entirely new field. For example, if you already work in web development, a diploma in programming can help you advance your skills to become a coder. In this case, a computer science bachelor degree might be unnecessary. If your desired job involves a lot of on-the-job training and practical skills, you might benefit from a diploma course to help you gain an entry-level position and grow your skills within the role.