A “Diploma” is not a “Degree”

By Maeve Maddox

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The word degree has many meanings, but in academic terms, it refers to a certification awarded at the university level.

The B.A. degree (Bachelor of Arts), for example, is awarded upon completion of a four-year program of study requiring a specified minimum of credits.

An M.A. degree (Master of Arts) requires two or more years of study beyond the B.A. and carries with it the passing of certain examinations and, usually, the completion of a thesis or other research project.

The Ph.D. degree (Doctor of Philosophy) requires several more years of study, examinations, and research projects beyond the M.A.

In addition to the degrees awarded by four-year institutions of higher learning, community colleges offer the Associate Degree upon completion of two years of study beyond high school.

A diploma, on the other hand, is a document testifying to the completion of a course of study. Any graduate, whether of a university, a high school, or a six-week course in Spanish, will receive a diploma.

High schools issue diplomas and certificates of attendance, but they do not award degrees. To describe a person as having “a high school degree” is an error of fact as well as one of diction.

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25 Responses to “A “Diploma” is not a “Degree””

  • dailytri

    Great tip! So many people error on this one and it always amazes me they don’t know the diff.

  • light

    by the way, in Germany we hava a University Degree that is called “Diplom” or english Diploma.

  • pelf

    How I wished more people knew this! 🙂

  • bob

    The german “Diplom” ist equal to a Master degree.

  • Guru

    Dear sir, can we say SSC certificate to “SSC Diploma”?

  • Maeve

    As the letters “SSC” stand for “Secondary School Certificate,” either choice, “SSC certificate” or “SSC Diploma” is a redundant expression. The “C” already stands for “certificate.”

    The words “certificate” and “diploma” mean pretty much the same thing: a document verifying that some sort of requirements have been met. “Diploma” carries an academic connotation, while “certificate” can be used in a broader sense.

  • latha

    everyone are saying that suprem court has announced that diploma is consireded as degree is it true…. i want to know about this

  • Manju (DONIMALAI)

    Yes latha, the suprem court is annouced that diploma is equal to degree

  • Lera

    I counsel my nieces and nephews to go to a 2yr community college here in the States, and to get a $2,000 Diploma in whatever field they desire to enter.

    In the USA a 4-yr College/University ‘Degree’ is just a massive debt trap that makes people into Debt Slaves. We have to pay for Uni here, it is expensive, and the debt can not be forgiven for any reason.

    In my professional experience I have found those with degrees to be no more capable than HS Graduates. Once you look through 100 resumes, and 90 are from College Graduates, and you see the incredible lack of spelling, diction and grammar proficiency, then you will see why I prefer to hire ‘hungry’, bright, HS Graduates.

  • Karthik

    I am a diploma holder in EEE and now m working ABB (MNC).
    1st thing is, is diploma is a degree? if yes then can I directly study master degree?????
    Can you please direct me. I wana go for higher studies.

    Waiting for reply
    Thanks and Regards,
    Karthik kumar D

  • SEENU

    I feel Diploma(three year) is equal to Degree.

  • SEENU

    Dip(3Year) is equal to Degree

  • krishna S

    Hey Guys any Proof or document. with any one on the Subject 3 year Diploma is equal to Degree..please refer.

  • kevin briggs

    If they are equal then why isnt the pay equal if you enter a job with a high school diploma vs entering with a associates degree!?????
    riddle me this!

  • Chethan

    Diploma is equivalent to degree, in the terms of promotion to higher cadres in Govt sector with certain years of experience.

  • rick

    I believe germans would say their 2nd grade is equal to an american high school diploma because they are full of themselves…….. A diploma is from basic education and a degree is from higher studies everyone knows this!!!

  • Finnish guy

    First of all, the German universities are not equivalent to US colleges, since ALL German universities award doctorates and do academic research. The German Fachhochschule is comparable to colleges, because they cannot award doctorates. Also, the Diplom (FH) from Fachhochschule does not allow one to apply for doctoral programmes directly.

    German Diploma is a full university degree and requires previous secondary high school education, which ends when you are 18-19 years old. In the US, people start their Bachelor classes much earlier, typically at the age of 17, due to the shorter school system.

    Previously there were three kinds of degrees available at German universities:

    – 5 year Diplom (in Engineering, Natural Sciences, Business etc.)
    – 5 year Magister (in Social Sciences)
    – Doktor (in all disciplines)

    The Diploma entitles its holder to apply for doctoral programmes directly without any additional exams. Course work can be required as a part of the doctoral programme.

    After the bologna process, Diplom and Magister are abolished and split into Bachelor and Master. So the system is now as follows:

    – 3 year Bachelor
    – 2 year Master
    – X year Doctor

    In Finland, where I come from, we still use the old German style Diplom-Ingenieur degree (called Diplomi-insinööri in Finnish) which is translated as a Master of Science (Technology). This is explicitly stated in the degree paper and used consistently in the University system.

  • Gabriela

    Hi, in Europe, when completing a Bachelor, Master or Doctorate studies we recieve a Diploma, accompanied by a Diploma Supplement and a Trascript of Records. These are official English terms of the European Union. Diplomas Supplements are issued in tertiary education only.

  • Doug

    A Diplom only translates to “Diploma” literally, it should not be translated, nor should Magister, they are not equivalent systems. And you could get a Diplom in social sciences. A Diplom, even at an FH, will normally include a dissertation/thesis. When applying for a position in the United States one should refer to “Diplom (5 year degree with Thesis)”. In the UK substituted “Dissertation”. In both cases the title and advisers should be identified and I would put the title in German with the translation in parentheses following. Eg. “University of Berlin, Diplom (5 year degree with Thesis) in Economics, Thesis title: Das neue Kapital (The New Capital), advisors: Drs. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.”

    Beyond the German case; while the article is correct that, at least in the United States, one should not refer to a “High School Degree”, it is incorrect with respect to the use of “diploma”. In many schools one may receive a “Professional Diploma” for example, which, while not technically a “degree” in the US, is equivalent and may be issued for advanced study less than a masters; particularly highly specialized study. It is very relevant and it is not “wrong” and definitely not misleading to refer to it as a degree.

  • caroline

    So I just graduated from a british high school, which stops at ‘year11’ and I want to study in the US, so can I do university foundation in the UK and den go into university in the US? And also is it possible for me to start degree in a university in US despite the fact that I passed out of year 11 not year12?

  • Dustin

    To provide some context on the Canadian system:

    Community Colleges / College of Applied Arts and Technology (CAAT) award 1-year Certificates, 2-year Diplomas and 3-year Advanced Diplomas.

    Generally, only universities can offer degrees, which come in 3-year (General) and 4-year (Honours) degrees. Some colleges are offering degrees (4-year programs) but these do not have wide acceptance yet and it may be difficult to gain admission to a university with these credentials.

  • Timothy

    They ARE! the same thing, only Diplomas have less of the Bull attached to them. Here’s my point. I I have a Diploma In engineering from a community collage, I sat in the same class rooms, studied the same curriculum that my piers did. I had to make the same grades and do all the same stuff, same amount of time. The only thing they had to have for their AAS that I didn’t was the Bull Crap classes! They had to take Biology and Dissect frogs and bugs. They had to take a Public speaking class and a minor like dance class. Now I got the same education in the classes without out the bull, red-tape and debt! Now those dance, and Biology classes are nice but they have nothing to do with mechanical engineering! They are just money grabbers!

  • Maeve Maddox

    Timothy,
    Thank you for your comment. It has given me an idea for a future post on my teaching site.

    In my view, you did not get “the same education” as your peers in the degree programs, but you got what you wanted. That is certainly the most important thing. I agree with you that students should not be forced to take courses they regard as “bull crap.” When that happens, the students go through the motions of taking a course without benefiting from it.

  • Timothy

    What did I not get the same education as my peers? Thats the same as saying some working person who study’s on line or went to night school doesn’t have the same education as a big-name university graduate! I once had a boss who said he would never hire someone who studied on line and never sat in a classroom as he did! We need to except the fact that times change and the traditional university education is becoming more and more less, as people like me are taking the trades or mechanical classes!

  • Maeve Maddox

    Timothy,
    This post is about the difference between the English words “diploma” and “degree.”

    As for differences between the education received online, in a community college, at a state university, or in an ivy-league university, they also exist.

    Differences can exist between the education received by students who attend the same school. Some reluctant students barely scrape through their courses, whereas others learn everything set before them.

    You are right in that the traditional university education is no longer being held up to young people as the only kind of desirable post-secondary educational path.

    That does not mean a traditional university education has stopped being desirable. It just means that US educators are finally beginning to acknowledge the fact that not everyone wants or needs a university education.

    The only education that matters is the one that will help us have the life we want.
    And yes, your former boss has a very limited idea of education. The ultimate value of any type of training or education is determined by what it enables the person who received it to do.

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