What is the difference between certificates, diplomas and degrees?

Published by MAXSolutions on January 30, 2024
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If you have been thinking about studying as a way to find a new career, you may be overwhelmed with the choice you have.

With so many different types of qualifications out there, it can be confusing trying to work out which is right for you.

Understanding the difference between certificates, diplomas, and degrees can help you make a better decision about your future and what level of study you need.


A certificate qualification is generally one that is in a vocational industry. This could be in fields as varied as construction, support work or business.

Certificates come in four levels I, II, III, and IV with each level representing an increase in complexity in the theory you are taught, as well as the practical skills you must be able to display.

Sometimes you can complete level 1 or 2 certificates while still at high school. These certificates lay the groundwork for foundational skills in the field you are studying as well as general employability skills

Levels 3 and 4 are longer in duration and regularly include things like work placements. At this level, you will find apprenticeships or traineeships that enable you to earn while you learn with training either held at your workplace or workshops.

A career in vocational industries could be a great fit if you enjoy more practical tasks and hands-on work. There is strong demand for employees in vocational industries so there are plenty of opportunities available Australia-wide and significant earning potential.

You can find more about courses we offer at MAX here.


A diploma is usually for industries that balance practical skills with more theoretical and specialist knowledge.

Sometimes a diploma represents an extension of the knowledge you have already learned in previous study.

Studying a diploma could be a good choice if you want to take on further responsibilities in your job or are looking to opportunities for promotion.  

Diplomas can also be required for ‘paraprofessional’ roles.

A paraprofessional is someone who works in a supportive role within many fields such as healthcare, education, and social services.

You will learn specialised skills that will enable you to assist more qualified professionals in your chosen field.

Diplomas are also a great way to enter an industry and gain experience before undertaking more study such as at a university level.


A degree is generally something you will go to university to study for.

What you can study in is wide-ranging and there are far more generalist options available for you to study that are not necessarily tied to one career path.

Study in a university degree is far more theory “heavy” and you will not engage in as much practical work as more vocational subjects.

You will still find practical placement in some degrees such as in the medical or educational fields, however, there is not as much of a focus on this compared to certificates or diplomas.

How much will it cost me?

There are a variety of options when it comes to funding your study. For studying up to a certificate three, many states provide funding to make your study completely free!

You can find information about certificate-level funding offered by MAX here:

Diploma-level study can also be covered if the area of study is in a government-identified priority industry. You can find information about it the Prioity Skills List here

For all types of vocational qualifications, you may be eligible for a VET loan which can cover your upfront costs of study. Payments towards these loans are made after you start earning income and come out of your pre-tax income. You can find out more information about VET loans here.

If you are considering university study a HELP loan can help and functions in a similar way to the VET loan discussed above. You can find out more about HELP Loans here.

Have more questions about study?


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