Are you a high school student exploring your higher education options? A degree and a diploma are two possible options at this stage. But which one should you go for? They are both excellent options, and your choice between degree vs. diploma depends on a few important factors. Read this blog to discover how you can choose between degrees and diplomas.

The education you receive can play an important role in shaping your life, so it’s good to put in some thought before you make this decision. When choosing your education, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. The program you select will be a product of your own goals, interests, and passions. For this reason, there is no right answer to the degree vs. diploma debate; the choice between a degree and a diploma is dependent on what suits your life best. 

Here Is a Quick Way to Think about Degrees and Diplomas

A degree is known to provide more in-depth knowledge and offers a wide range of career options. Pursuing a degree generally requires committing to at least two years of education. 

A diploma is known to be less intense; the curriculum is generally focused on skills needed for a specific job. 

As a high school graduate looking for further education, you can either enroll in a diploma or pursue a degree, like a bachelor’s or associate’s. Let’s first understand both of these options in detail.

What is a Degree? 

A degree is awarded to you after you complete a program at a college or university. Since you’re a high school graduate, chances are that you’re going to choose between a bachelor’s or associate’s degree. As per the data from the National Center for Education Statistics, in the year 2020-21, colleges and universities awarded 3.1 million undergraduate degrees. From these, 1.0 million were associate’s degrees, and 2.1 million were bachelor’s degrees. This data suggests that a bachelor’s degree was a more popular choice among students. 

Now, discussing some pros and cons of choosing to get a degree


In-depth education: Your degree will equip you with in-depth education and skills in your chosen field. Many employers also prefer degree holders over less qualified candidates.

Job opportunities: Specific industries like healthcare, education, law, and others mandate a degree as an entry requirement. Having a degree opens up a number of job options that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to access. 

Stability: With your degree, you can apply to industries that are known to be stable. But even in times of economic instability, your education and qualifications will position you as a good candidate who is worth retaining. 

Good salary: As per data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), you stand a better chance to earn a good salary if you hold a degree. The median weekly earnings of associate degree holders are $1005, the median weekly earnings of bachelor degree holders are $1432, and the median weekly earnings of diploma holders are $853. On average, you can earn more if you have a higher education. 

Networking: ‘Your network is your net worth’. The connections you make in college could prove valuable in helping you land the job you want. They might even approach you at some point, offering you a role because of how much they appreciate your skill set. 

Personal growth: College experience goes beyond studying. The extracurricular activities you participate in and the learning you get contribute to your personality development. 


Expensive: Needless to say, the expense! Each semester can cost a lot, and in addition to that, you may have to shell out for accommodation, commute, food, and other needs that you have. Overall, it may take a toll on your finances. The high cost of education can lead to student loan debt, impacting your financial well-being for years after graduation. 

Time-consuming: The path to pursuing your degree can be 4 years long if you choose to get a bachelor’s degree, while an associate degree can take about 2 years. The time commitment can delay entry into the workforce, and you may find it challenging to balance academic demands with other life priorities. However, in the long run, these degrees offer a better shot at growth and job satisfaction.

A need for further education to advance in your career: While you can enter the job market with your undergraduate degree, you might find that some positions you want require a higher degree or additional training. To advance in your career, you might need to invest more time in gaining further education. Further education is also required to learn more skills and remain competent in the market. This need for further education can put a strain on your time and money. 

Limited practical experience: A majority of degrees are more focused on the theoretical aspects of the subject, with rather limited practical exposure. This might lead to a feeling that you’re starting from scratch when you finally start working. But you’ll have on-the-job training coming to the rescue. 

All degrees have a different value in the job market: Not all degrees hold the same value in the job market. Some degrees are viewed as more prestigious than others. Earning a degree that isn’t as sought after in the market could lead to not finding employment options as quickly or even making you consider alternate careers.

What is a Diploma? 

A diploma is an academic or training program that can be completed faster than a degree. The duration can vary based on the program; while some diplomas can be completed in a few months, others can take up to a year or two to complete. The number of credits offered by a diploma ranges from 30 to 70. Diplomas teach you job-specific skills, meaning you can earn a diploma in a specific field. A diploma example could include a diploma in web design or a diploma in nursing.

Here are some pros and cons of earning a diploma:


Specialized training: Diplomas are designed to provide career-specific training. So you will get to learn only what is relevant to the job you wish to pursue. This can be advantageous if you have a clear idea of the field you wish to pursue. 

Shorter duration: Diplomas are generally shorter in duration and can be completed quickly, which means that you stand a chance to enter the workforce sooner and begin building your career sooner. 

Less expensive:  Diplomas are known to be a more affordable education option. A diploma costs less than a degree. Along with that, since the duration of your diploma will be shorter, you will save on the extra expenses of accommodation, food, and similar needs. You can also choose to pursue your diploma online, further reducing your costs.

More hands-on experience:  Most diplomas focus on the practical skillset required for the job and prioritize hands-on learning. This means that you will feel prepared upon your entry into the job market. 

Entry-level jobs: Some industries value practical skills over formal education. With your diploma, you can begin working in an entry-level position and gain experience and skills.


Fewer job options: Diplomas may limit the range of job opportunities compared to having a higher-level degree, particularly in professions where a degree is a standard requirement.

Limited career growth: Advancement opportunities may be constrained for individuals with only a diploma, especially in career paths that typically require higher education for leadership or specialized roles.

Need for further education to advance: Some professions may require individuals to pursue additional education, such as a degree or certifications, to progress beyond entry-level positions.

Less pay: In certain industries, positions that require higher education may come with higher salaries. Without a degree, you might find yourself earning less than your counterparts with more advanced qualifications.

Industry perception: There might be a perception in certain industries that individuals with only diplomas lack the comprehensive education and skills that those with degrees possess. Because of this, you may not be viewed as the best candidate for the job. 

Difficulty in changing career paths: The specialized nature of many diploma programs can make it challenging to switch to a different career path without additional education or training.

Narrow skill sets: Diplomas often focus on specific skills needed for a particular job, which can be a disadvantage if a broader skill set is required for career flexibility or advancement.

Here is a table summarizing the difference between a diploma and a degree.

Aspect DiplomaDegree
DurationShorter (a few months to 2 years)Longer (2 to 6+ years)
Scope and FocusSpecialized training in a specific field or industryBroad education with general and specialized subjects in a chosen major
Career OutcomesEntry-level positions in specific industries or professionsOpportunities for a wider range of careers
AcademicsPractical and hands-on trainingA combination of theoretical and practical
Admission RequirementsGenerally relaxed, high school diploma or equivalentStandardized tests like SAT/ACT may be required
CostMore affordable than degreesTend to be more expensive

Associate Degree Careers

1. Radiation Therapists:

Radiation therapists work with patients who have cancer or other serious diseases. They administer radiation treatments to patients as prescribed by oncologists. The degree curriculum may cover topics like anatomy, radiobiology, and physics and include clinical rotations. The 2022 median annual salary for this role was $89,530 per year.

2. Nuclear Medicine Technologists:

Nuclear medicine technologists prepare and administer radioactive drugs for diagnostic and treatment purposes. The education aspiring technologists will receive includes topics like nuclear physics and radiopharmacy, as well as clinical experience. The 2022 median annual salary for this role was $85,300 per year.

3. Dental Hygienists:

Dental hygienists clean teeth, examine patients for oral diseases and provide preventive dental care. The coursework for this career may include dental anatomy, radiography, along with clinical practice. The 2022 median annual salary for this role was $81,400 per year.

4. Diagnostic Medical Sonographers:

Diagnostic medical sonographers use ultrasound equipment to create images for medical diagnoses. The degree curriculum covers anatomy, physiology, and ultrasound physics, along with clinical training. The 2022 median annual salary was about $78,210 per year.

5. Magnetic Resonance Imaging Technologists:

MRI technologists operate magnetic resonance imaging scanners to create detailed images of internal body structures. The curriculum you will study as an aspiring MRI tech includes anatomy, patient care, and MRI physics, along with clinical practice. The 2022 median annual salary recorded was $67,180 per year.

Careers With A Bachelor’s Degree

1. Computer and Information Systems Managers:

Computer and information systems managers oversee an organization’s technology strategy. They analyze the technology needs of the company, plan and implement computer systems, and ensure data security. A bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field is common. Coursework may cover programming, database management, and project management. The 2022 median annual salary for these managers was $164,070 per year.

2. Architectural and Engineering Managers:

Architectural and engineering managers coordinate and direct activities in architectural and engineering companies. They manage projects, budgets, and teams of professionals. A bachelor’s degree in architecture or engineering is typical, with coursework in design, structural analysis, and project management. These managers earn a median annual salary of $159,920 per year, as of 2022. 

3. Marketing Managers:

Marketing managers plan and execute marketing strategies to promote products or services. They analyze market trends, coordinate advertising campaigns, and manage marketing teams. A bachelor’s degree in marketing, business, or a related field is common. Coursework may include marketing principles, consumer behavior, and market research. The 2022 median annual salary for marketing managers was $138,730 per year.

4. Financial Managers:

Financial managers oversee an organization’s financial health, making strategic decisions to maximize profitability. They create financial reports, manage investments, and develop long-term financial plans. A bachelor’s degree in finance, accounting, or a related field is typical. Relevant coursework covers financial analysis, investment principles, and accounting. Financial managers earn a median annual salary of $139,790 per year as of 2022.

5. Information Security Analysts:

Information security analysts protect an organization’s computer systems and networks from cyber threats. They monitor for security breaches, install security software, and develop strategies to safeguard sensitive information. A bachelor’s degree in computer science or a related field is common, with coursework in cybersecurity, network security, and programming. The 2022 median annual salary for information security analysts was $112,000 per year

Career Options With A Diploma 

1. Makeup Artists, Theatrical and Performance:

As a theatrical and performance makeup artist, you’ll specialize in creating visually compelling looks for actors, performers, and production settings. Getting into this field might be difficult as it can get competitive, and there might be fewer job openings for this role. Your curriculum may cover techniques for stage and film, special effects makeup, and color theory. The 2022 median salary for this role was $96,370 per year.

2. Surgical Assistants:

Surgical assistants play a crucial role in operating rooms, aiding surgeons during procedures. Your diploma program may include courses in anatomy, medical terminology, and surgical techniques. The 2022 median annual salary for this role was $56,350 per year.

3. Electrical and Electronics Installers and Repairers, Transportation Equipment:

In this role, you’ll focus on installing and maintaining electrical and electronic systems in various transportation vehicles. Your curriculum in trade school may cover vehicle electronics, safety regulations, and troubleshooting techniques. The 2022 median annual salary for this role was $64,190 per year.

4. Aircraft Mechanics and Service Technicians:

Aircraft mechanics and service technicians ensure the safety and functionality of aircraft, they repair and perform scheduled maintenance on aircraft. Your diploma program might include studies in aviation maintenance, engine systems, and safety procedures. The 2022 median salary for this role was $70,740 per year.

5. Heating, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration Mechanics and Installers:

HVAC technicians work on installing, maintaining, and repairing heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration systems. Your diploma curriculum may cover topics such as system design, troubleshooting, and environmental regulations. HVAC technicians earn an annual median salary of $51,390 per year as of 2022. 

1. Self-Reflection on Career Goals:

Begin by asking yourself about your long-term career goals. Determine whether your chosen field requires a specific level of education or if practical skills and experience are more valuable. Consider the industries you are interested in and research the typical educational requirements for entry.

2. Learning Style Preferences:

Reflect on your preferred learning style. Degree programs often emphasize theoretical knowledge and research, while diplomas focus on practical, hands-on skills. Consider which approach resonates with you more, a comprehensive academic exploration or a more concentrated, skill-oriented curriculum.

3. Financial Considerations:

Evaluate your financial situation and willingness to invest in education. Degree programs generally have a longer duration and can be more expensive. Diplomas often provide a quicker entry into the workforce, potentially allowing you to start earning sooner and incurring less student debt.

4. Passion and Interests:

Consider your passions and interests. Some careers may value specialized skills and experience gained through a diploma, while others may prioritize the in-depth knowledge provided by a degree. Choose a path that aligns with your enthusiasm and keeps you motivated throughout your educational journey.

5. Industry Requirements:

Research the specific requirements of your target industry. Certain professions may demand a degree for career advancement, while others highly value practical skills acquired through a diploma. Understanding industry expectations can guide your decisions and enhance your employability.

The choice between pursuing a degree or a diploma ultimately depends on your goals, preferences, and career aspirations. Both options have their merits and can lead to successful and fulfilling careers. Research your possible career paths, consider the specific requirements in these industries, and weigh the pros and cons of each option. The value of a degree or diploma lies not only in the credential itself but also in the knowledge, skills, and experiences gained throughout the educational journey.

How long does it take to complete a degree vs. a diploma?

The duration varies depending on the level of the program and the field of study. While associate and bachelor’s degrees typically take two to four years, master’s degrees can take one to two years beyond a bachelor’s degree, and doctoral programs often take several years. Diplomas usually take one to two years.

Can I transfer credits from a diploma program to a degree program, or vice versa?

Transfer policies vary among institutions. Some universities may accept credits earned in a diploma program, allowing you to enter a degree program with advanced standing, but this is uncommon. It’s essential to check with the specific institutions involved.