Despite the fact that sometimes you can find the same institution offering the same courses in both certificates, diplomas and degrees are remarkably different. Firstly, an undergraduate degree is considered to be of a higher academic award than a diploma. A diploma on other hand, is seen to be the equivalent of the first two years in university.
Completing a degree program takes double the time of a diploma. A degree takes four years and a diploma takes two to three years. This is because diplomas are highly focused and specialized than the more comprehensive degrees. They also place higher emphasis on practical and industry-specific skills than degrees which value theoretical academic knowledge and more holistic students. Thus, diplomas have more specific fields of study such as Cullinary Arts, Information Technology, Film and Video Production, Hospitality, Business, and more.
However, with a degree there is a significantly wider range of options for you to study and explore. Almost anything under the sun is an undergraduate degree major. From anthropology to psychology including everything offered by diplomas. More specialized and ‘esteemed’ fields such as Law or Medicine are only available to be studied as degrees. Still, both have a mixture of assignments, presentations, quizzes and final exams in a semester. Both also may require you (depending on the course) to take a semester of internship too.
Requirements and Cost
To gain entry into a degree course you will first need a pre-university program such as foundation, A-levels, matriculation or STPM, unless you do an American-style degree program. For diplomas, all you need is high school or SPM qualifications. In addition, compared to pre-university programs themselves, diplomas have lower entry requirements. For example, a diploma in business usually requires only 3 credits in SPM while a foundation in business requires 5 credits.
In terms of tuition, diplomas have an overall lower cost while degrees have are at higher cost. If there is a need for financial aid, both degree and diploma students are eligible for PTPN loans while pre-university program students such as those in A-level, Matriculation and most foundation (save a select few) programs are not.
However, it is important to note that unlike degrees, diplomas may not be recognized internationally. Malaysia takes inspiration from the British higher education framework and the qualification of diploma is used in places like the UK and India. Even there, more distinguished and higher ranking institutions only offer degrees. In other countries, a diploma may only be offered by polytechnic or vocational schools, or may not even exist at all.
In contrast, a degree by an officially accredited institution is recognized internationally. This makes it significantly easier for degree students to transfer, work or study abroad than diploma holders. It is especially harder to gain entry in more prestigious international institutions as a diploma student.
Career and Post-Grad Studies
Though with both qualifications you are able to enter the workforce upon graduation, having a diploma will earn you a significantly lower salary than your degree-wielding competitors. A research done by Jobstreet Malaysia found that degree holders had as high as twice the salary of diploma holders. The career options of diploma holders may be limited as well due to employees seeking out degree holders more than diploma holders. Additionally, for further studies after graduation, degree holders can undertake Masters or PhD courses while diploma holders will need to enter year two or three of a degree program first.
Which is better?
In conclusion, though you can’t say which is “better”, graduating with a degree undoubtedly earns you more opportunities and displays significantly better outcomes. Still, a diploma may be suitable for you if you have financial constraints, are not as academically inclined, want to work in a more practical field, or seek to enter the workforce earlier. Conversely, a degree may be your choice if you are seeking to pursue a more specialized field of study, want more options, or desire to work or study abroad.