Comparing an Undergraduate Certificate vs. an Undergraduate Degree

Updated 11 August 2023

There are many ways to continue your studies after finishing high school, two of which are undergraduate certificates and undergraduate degrees. Both of these can improve your employability, but there are many differences between them, including some of the advantages they offer. Understanding these differences can help you decide which type of course is best for your career goals. In this article, we compare an undergraduate certificate with an undergraduate degree, share their definitions and explain the many differences between them.

Undergraduate certificate vs. undergraduate degree

Before looking at a comparison of an undergraduate certificate with an undergraduate degree, it may be helpful to understand what each can offer you and whether either is the right fit for you regarding your studies. Undergraduate certificate degrees are offered at mainly at universities, but some TAFE institutions offer them too. Undergraduate degrees are mainly found at universities.

An undergraduate degree typically takes between three and four years to complete. In contrast, an undergraduate certificate requires fewer courses to study and can take as little as six months to complete. They each have their advantages and their drawbacks, and you can choose between them depending on your lifestyle or situation.

Related: What Is a Graduate Certificate? (With Benefits and FAQ)

What is an undergraduate certificate?

If you're looking to make yourself more employable and you haven't finished any further education, you might consider an undergraduate certificate. This is an introductory credential that you can achieve through a university or TAFE, but it's much shorter than a degree. This is because the educational standing of this qualification is a level below a degree. Unlike a degree, you may only study four courses in an undergraduate certificate, and it typically takes six months to complete.

Related: Best 6-Month Online Certificate Courses (With Benefits)

Advantages of undergraduate certificates

Here's a look at some of the aspects of studying an undergraduate certificate and why it might be the correct choice for you:

Short timeframe to complete

Undergraduate certificates take considerably less time to complete than undergraduate degrees, making them ideal for those who prefer not to commit to three or four years of a single course. Many people return to study after a certain time away as they're completing their studies while working a job, often to advance in their career. A certificate that you can complete more quickly might suit you if you've got limited time that you can spend studying.

Related: What is VCAL? (Victorian Certificate of Applied Learning)

Less expensive than an undergraduate degree

A major and important point for most, is that undergraduate certificates are far cheaper than undergraduate degrees. While there are some certificates that can cost more than $5,000, this is still less than half the price of a three year undergraduate degree. This can make undergraduate certificates a great option for those who have a limited amount of funds to access or want to avoid student loans.

Related: Certification for Project Managers: 15 Qualifications

Undergraduate certificates can still help you find employment

You can enter many professions without an undergraduate degree. When you're applying for work or responding to job advertisements, an undergraduate certificate can demonstrate to a potential employer that you've either studied in a field that's relevant to the position or, at the very least, show your commitment to learning. An employer can see that you've dedicated yourself to a specific area of study and that you're ready and able to enter the workforce. This can give you a significant advantage over competing candidates, and an undergraduate certificate might be the deciding factor in your successful application.

What is an undergraduate degree?

If you're looking to expand your education with a wide-ranging and multi-faceted field, you may consider an undergraduate degree. An undergraduate degree takes typically between three and four years to complete and while they can focus on a specific area of expertise, such as a Bachelor of Marketing revolving around marketing, they can still cover a broader range of topics.

This qualification could be ideal for you if you're looking to explore different areas to study because you're still unsure about what you want to commit to regarding your future. For example, with a marketing degree, you may also study public relations, advertising or business and decide that one of these is more for you.

Related: Tertiary Qualification: Options for Study After High School

Advantages of an undergraduate degree

Here's a view of some of the reasons why you might want to choose to study an undergraduate degree:

More well-rounded and in-depth study

One of the most highly sought aspects of an undergraduate degree is that completing one shows that you've studied an entire range of areas related to the subject rather than just the subject itself. Coursework can last between three and five years, and in each year of four semesters, you can study between four and six unique subjects. For example, you may study history and mathematics at the same time as computer literacy and legal studies, which means you're gaining a more in-depth knowledge of the world and how it relates to your future employment.

Another aspect of this is that an undergraduate degree can often be quite broad, which means that you might find your niche passion or skill when you've applied yourself to it. For example, a Bachelor of Marketing and Communications covers marketing, advertising business and public relations (PR), among other subjects. You might only discover that you have an interest in PR because you first studied the initial undergraduate degree.

Related: Tips on Writing an Associate Degree Abbreviation on a Resume

Range of study beyond a single career

An undergraduate degree provides opportunities to study more of a multitude of subjects and fields. This means that, once you've finished your studies, a degree makes you eligible for a greater range of employment opportunities. For example, somebody who studied a Bachelor of Business Finance can apply for work in accountancy, business, marketing, advertising and even more aspects that link together and are part of running a business.

Related: 8 Rewarding Careers in Science to Consider (With Benefits)

Further study can result in a higher earning potential

Typically, with further study for your undergraduate degree, you can potentially earn a higher salary as a professional in whichever field you choose. You can begin with your undergraduate degree, such as your associate degree or bachelor's degree, and then pursue your master's degree or doctoral degree. It's typically true that those who complete a master's degree or doctoral degree find employment with far greater earnings than those who find employment with their initial undergraduate degrees.

Related: Electrical and Electronic Engineering Degree (With Careers)

Making connections with students and faculty

One of the typical aspects of studying for an undergraduate degree is that it's an important place to make connections, which is often even more valid for those who study at more accredited universities or colleges. Those with whom you study for an undergraduate degree are typically those you're going to be seeing afterwards in the workforce. One of your fellow students may even become your manager.

These can include teachers who may still work in the industry they're teaching and combine this work with lecturing to future employers and employees. The connections you make during your time of study can be an important part of your future because knowing more people lets you find more potential positions. Many institutions and employers pay particular attention to students who studied at the same university as themselves and might prefer them when choosing to fill a position.


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