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Basic difference between a diploma and a degree

Quite a number of people are asking what is the basic difference between a diploma and a degree?

Universally, a degree refers to a certification issued by a university after one completes a course of study of about four years. A diploma is originally defined as a document certifying that you have completed a study or a course and is lower than a degree. A diploma course can be as short as a few months and as long as three years. A typical diploma is a high school diploma issued by a high school in USA or a document certifying that you have completed a three-year course in a specific field issued by local universities and colleges.

Once upon a time there was this title called advanced diploma. I can remember it was offered by two colleges - Institut Teknologi MARA (ITM) and Tunku Abdul Rahman College (TARC). At that particular time Malaysian education policy and regulations forbid a college from awarding a degree, only universities could do that. I believe after they have been conferred university status both UITM and UTAR have stopped issuing advanced diplomas.

There is another academic diploma called Post-Graduate Diploma or PGD normally issued by a polytechnic or college of higher education in Britain. This diploma is a bit specific. Say, you take professional course like accounting or marketing. After completion of this course you will be awarded with a certificate. But you may have a problem to do your Masters program since you do not have a basic degree, just a professional qualification. To bridge this you need to sit for this PGD before you are allowed to continue with your Masters program.

If your intention is to join the job market after graduation, it is better that you have a degree than a diploma for a simple reason. A degree holder is paid more and enter at a higher entry level for a typical organization. But this may not be necessary for all courses, some non-degree professional qualifications pay much more than a degree. Private sector can be much more flexible and I have seen a lot of diploma holders from ITM and UTM holding CEO posts but basically they graduated in early 80s - and for new entrants with diplomas their chances of rising up are slim.

If you wish to start your own business you do not need a degree or a diploma. I suggest you do an off-campus degree program which is more flexible.

Success is not determined by a diploma or a degree. It is how you adapt to your environment after graduation.