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Diploma vs. Degree: What’s the Difference?

“What is the difference between a diploma and a degree?” is a question that Alison frequently receives from our learners. Diplomas and degrees differ in purpose and applicability, time commitment and cost. Learn about both options and discover the advantages offered by Alison’s free online diplomas.

What is a Diploma?

An online diploma refers to post-secondary, non-degree education in a specialized field.

Alison offers hundreds of free, online diploma programs for those seeking career or vocational training. Our diplomas are available in a wide variety of industries, including healthcare, technology, business and many more.

Professionally, an online diploma might be right for you if:

  • Your employer indicates you need it to meet the requirements of your current job.
  • You wish to boost your skills in a particular area in order to earn a promotion.
  • You’re starting a business or looking to make a career transition and want to gain marketable skills.

Some of our learners also choose to enroll in a diploma program to enhance life skills or general knowledge about a subject.

Personally, an online diploma might be right for you if:

  • You want to improve your skills in areas such as communication or negotiation.
  • You are seeking knowledge or strategies to enhance your well-being through improved health, relationships, etc.
  • You would like to satisfy your curiosity or round out learning in a field that interests you.

At Alison, our free online diploma programs are more comprehensive than our certificate programs, focusing on several subjects within a particular field of study. All of our diplomas are offered in a self-paced format and are designed to be completed in eight to 10 hours.

By the end of each diploma program, our learners have gained a broad understanding of a particular topic and a great resumé booster.

What are the Requirements for a Diploma?

At Alison, we believe that all learners should have free and easy access to our diploma programs.

Since our diplomas are offered online, you need only an internet connection and internet-connected device to enroll. Alison’s system allows you to narrow your search quickly and find the diploma option that fits with your learning goals, desired subject area, training needs and time. It takes just one click on the blue “Start Now” button to enroll.

Learn at your pace and track your progress on our learner dashboard. Upon completion of the instructional modules and assessment, you can choose to download a diploma as proof of your achievement.

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of a Diploma?

Online diplomas offer a number of advantages when it comes to accessibility, flexibility and affordability.

At Alison, our diploma programs are all absolutely free. Unlike traditional educational institutions, they do not run on a semester or quarter system, so you can get started learning whenever and wherever you want.

Our diplomas are designed by universities and experts, and most can be completed in fewer than 10 hours. They offer comprehensive, subject-specific learning that can be applied immediately in your professional or personal life.

While a diploma has many advantages, a degree may be more appropriate for some individuals. See below for more information.

What is a Degree?

A degree is an academic award typically granted by traditional institutions of higher education. A degree is considered “post-secondary” if it follows the completion of high school. A degree is considered “postgraduate” if it follows the completion of a bachelor’s degree.

Degrees fall into one of four categories:

  • Associate’s - post-secondary education generally completed in two years; usually offered by community colleges and vocational schools
  • Bachelor’s - post-secondary education generally completed in four years; usually offered by colleges and universities
  • Master’s - postgraduate education generally completed in two years; often includes research component, exam or thesis demonstrating mastery of subject
  • Master’s - postgraduate education generally completed in two years; often includes research component, exam or thesis demonstrating mastery of subject

Unlike diplomas, degrees require both subject-specific classes and general education classwork.

A degree might be right for you if:

  • You know that it is a minimum requirement in your desired industry or job.
  • You would like to have the widest variety of career and compensation options available to you.
  • You wish to pursue additional, postgraduate degrees or perform academic research.
  • You are seeking the networking opportunities typically afforded by traditional higher ed institutions.

A degree and a diploma need not be mutually exclusive. Those who obtain degrees may later choose to supplement their learning with applied diploma programs specific to their job or industry, and those who obtain a diploma may find that they wish to continue their learning journey and apply to a degree program.

What are the Requirements for a Degree?

There are academic prerequisites for those wishing to obtain a degree. A high school diploma is required to enroll in an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree program; those seeking a Master’s Degree or Doctorate must first complete a Bachelor’s Degree.

Depending upon the institution, there may be an admissions process, including a review of previous academic transcripts, standardized test scores, written essays and extracurriculars.

Once enrolled in a degree program, you must complete specific coursework, meet grade requirements and obtain a minimum number of credits.

Traditional institutions run on a set academic calendar and tend to employ synchronous learning methods. As online learning becomes increasingly popular, however, it is possible to find more flexible degree options.

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of a Degree?

There is no doubt that a degree offers many advantages. It may be a minimum requirement for even entry-level jobs in some industries. It opens the greatest number of doors in terms of career options. It can significantly boost an individual’s lifetime earning power. And it often provides enhanced employment benefits.

That being said, a degree is not the best choice for everyone. It typically requires a significant investment of both money and time. It is generally less flexible than an online diploma. And it may not be necessary or directly applicable to your preferred vocation.


Diploma vs. Degree. While that phrase may seem to the two options against one another, a diploma and a degree, in fact, serve very different functions.

Whether a diploma or a degree is the most appropriate educational path depends upon your learning needs and career requirements, the time and money that you have budgeted, and what options are most accessible and practical for you. They are also not mutually exclusive and can serve as supplemental, complementary forms of learning.

Alison is proud to offer lifelong learning options through our free online diploma program . Think an online diploma may be the right choice for you? We invite you to join millions of other learners across the world and get started today.