FAQ: What Is a Diploma?

Updated 3 April 2023

Diplomas are a type of credential offered by many universities and institutions in Australia that can help individuals pursue different careers and higher levels of education. If you're hoping to pursue a diploma, it's important to understand what you can do with it and how it differs from other credentials or degrees. In this article, we discuss what a diploma is, what its equivalents are and the answers to other frequently asked questions about the credential.

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What is a diploma?

A diploma is a level five qualification that allows individuals to work in a variety of fields and can provide them with a basic level of knowledge in a specific area of study. Diplomas often take one to two years to complete and teach students important skills, such as communication, problem solving and teamwork, to help them succeed in a professional setting. Though individuals can pursue certain industry, enterprise and paraprofessional careers after receiving their diploma, many use the credential to pursue higher levels of education, such as a bachelor's or master's degree.

What is the equivalent of a diploma?

There are no major credentials that are directly equivalent to the diploma. However, there are other credentials you can pursue which provide a similar level of expertise or study. Directly underneath the diploma are varying levels of certificates that individuals can pursue to help them display an understanding of different subjects, or pursue higher levels of education. For example, a first-level certificate can help individuals develop basic knowledge and education to prepare them for further study and credentials, while a second-level certificate can help students demonstrate knowledge on a particular topic, such as media technology.

Directly above the diploma is an advanced diploma and an associate degree, which are level six credentials. Those two qualifications allow students to focus on a certain subject or topic and develop technical knowledge to pursue paraprofessional careers. Paraprofessionals often work in medical, law, engineering or education assisting master professionals with their duties and developing their skills for the career.

Related: Certificate vs. Diploma (With Similarities and Differences)

What are the requirements for a diploma?

The requirements of a diploma can vary depending on the university or institution where you're pursuing it. For example, some universities may require you to pursue a bachelor's degree simultaneously so you graduate with both credentials. Most often, institutions will require individuals to have, at the very least, a year 12 higher school certificate (HSC), which many students receive after completing their final year of secondary school. If you're hoping to pursue a diploma, consider researching the different schools or programs you're interested in and see if they require certain prerequisites.

What are the advantages of getting a diploma?

Here are some of the major advantages to pursuing a diploma:

Short study period

Earning a diploma often takes less time than earning other types of credentials, specifically bachelor's degrees. A diploma often takes one to two years to complete while a bachelor's degree takes three to four. If an individual wants to pursue even higher education, such as a doctoral degree or master's degree, it can take even more time depending on their area of study.

Less expensive

Because a diploma takes a shorter amount of time, it's often less expensive than other credentials as well. Sometimes, earning a diploma can cost less than half of what someone might pay for a bachelor's degree. Depending on the diploma you're pursuing and the institution you're attending, the government might also help you pay for certain courses or programs. If you're attending a university or other institution, consider asking a course provider about different payment options available to you.

Flexible learning schedule

Unlike degrees and other credentials that follow a strict academic schedule, individuals can often pursue a diploma course or program any time of the year. Students can also find many online diploma programs that allow them to take the courses at their own pace. Taking courses at their own pace can help individuals pursue their diploma part-time while also completing other tasks or fulfilling different job responsibilities.

Related: How To Stay Focused When You Work From Home

Find jobs quickly

Many employers of vocational jobs and positions are often looking for skilled employees to join their company or organisation. Earning a diploma and developing key technical skills can help individuals pursue certain vocational jobs immediately after graduating. If you're trying to decide which diploma program interests you the most, consider researching current vocational jobs and see which ones are currently offering the most employment opportunities.

Related: Vocational Training: Definition and Different Types

Fewer prerequisites

Though it can depend on which program or institution you're attending, many diploma programs don't have very many prerequisites you need to start your studies. Having fewer requirements to join the program can often help you attend the program or vocation in which you're most interested. This can be especially true for online diploma courses, which rarely have a limit on student acceptances.

What is the difference between a diploma and other credentials?

The Australian Qualifications Framework established the level of each educational credential to ensure that every diploma, degree or certificate displays the same level of understanding and experience no matter where someone is working in the country. These are the major differences between diplomas and two other levels of credentials that individuals generally choose from:

Bachelor's degree

Individuals can attend a three to four-year program to achieve a bachelor's degree in a subject of their choosing. Bachelor's degrees are a level-seven qualification and often demonstrate a theoretical and technical understanding of a subject to help individuals pursue different jobs and positions, as well as attend higher levels of education. Though a diploma can help people pursue vocational programs or some paraprofessional roles, some employers might prefer a bachelor's degree because it can show them that the candidate has a thorough understanding of their field or industry.

However, individuals can first pursue a diploma to develop a certain level of knowledge and skill, and then pursue a bachelor's degree to further improve their understanding of a subject. Sometimes, pursuing both a diploma and a bachelor's degree can show employers that someone is passionate about their career and that they have an impressive occupational expertise.


The time it takes to pursue a certificate can vary depending on its level as well as the specific program an individual is pursuing. There are four levels of certificates individuals can earn that make up the first four levels of qualifications. Each level varies in different ways, including:

  • Certificate I: a first-level certificate helps individuals demonstrate a basic functional knowledge and skill set to help them find employment and seek further education. Individuals can pursue first level certificates in specific subjects or focuses to help them start a vocational program or position.

  • Certificate II: a second-level certificate allows individuals to perform jobs that mainly focus on routine or repetitive work. The credential can take anywhere from six months to one year to complete and often focuses on cognitive skills to help individuals pursue employment or further develop their knowledge in higher-level certificates and credentials.

  • Certificate III: a third-level certificate allows individuals to pursue positions and roles that require a broad range of technical skills and knowledge they might not be able to pursue with a second-level certificate. Some training for a third-level certificate can take place on-the-job which often varies the overall completion time from one year to four years.

  • Certificate IV: a fourth-level certificate is a slightly more specialised certificate program compared to a third-level certificate. This credential often allows individuals to pursue employment opportunities that provide them with more freedom or situations that require strong critical thinking capabilities.

Though some employers might prefer their candidates to hold a diploma or higher, third and fourth-level certificates can sometimes require just as much studying and training as a diploma, teaching them invaluable skills and industry expertise. Some universities and institutions also allow individuals to pursue a bachelor's degree with a certificate or diploma, allowing people who earn a certificate the opportunity for further education and higher-level credentials.

Related: What Is On-The-Job Training?

Is a diploma worth it?

Whether a diploma is worth it often depends on your career aspirations and personal interests. For example, if you're hoping to pursue a vocational career path, such as a plumber or electrician, pursuing a diploma or certificate might be a more efficient use of your time because you can learn the basics through education and develop further skills with on-the-job training. However, if you wish to pursue a different career, such as a doctor, it might be better for you to earn a bachelor's degree right away so you can continue to pursue higher qualifications.

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