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Diploma vs. Associate Degree: What's the Difference?

Edited by Harlon Moss || By Janet White || Published on November 22, 2023
A diploma is a certificate awarded for completing a particular course of study, while an associate degree is an undergraduate academic degree granted after a two-year course of study.

Key Differences

A diploma is typically a certification indicating completion of a specific course or training program. It can range from high school to vocational training. An associate degree, however, is an academic degree, usually awarded by community colleges or junior colleges after completing a prescribed course of study, typically lasting two years.
Diplomas often focus on specific skills or vocational training, preparing students for particular careers or trades. In contrast, associate degrees provide a broader education, combining general education with specialization in a particular field, and can be a stepping stone to a bachelor's degree.
The time commitment for a diploma can vary widely, from a few months to several years, depending on the field and level of expertise. Associate degrees, on the other hand, have a more standardized duration of approximately two years of full-time study.
Diplomas are often more specialized and career-focused, offering practical and hands-on experience in specific fields. Associate degrees offer a mix of general education (like math, science, and humanities) along with specialization in a chosen field, providing a well-rounded educational foundation.
In terms of recognition, a diploma is generally seen as a certification of specific skills or knowledge, while an associate degree is recognized as a formal, academic credential that can facilitate transfer to a four-year university or enhance employment opportunities in various fields.

Comparison Chart

Type of Credential

Certificate of course completion
Academic degree


Varies (from a few months to several years)
Typically two years of full-time study


Specific skills or vocational training
Mix of general education and specialization


Career or trade preparation
Educational foundation, pathway to bachelor’s

Educational Level

Ranges from high school to vocational
Undergraduate level

Diploma and Associate Degree Definitions


A qualification awarded by vocational schools or colleges.
Her nursing diploma led to a successful career.

Associate Degree

A degree providing foundational knowledge in various fields.
His associate degree in computer science covered both theory and practical skills.


A document certifying completion of secondary education.
Students work hard to achieve their high school diploma.

Associate Degree

An undergraduate academic degree awarded by colleges upon completion of a course of study lasting two years.
He is pursuing an associate degree in engineering.


Recognition of completion of a particular educational course.
Obtaining a diploma in graphic design was her dream.

Associate Degree

A degree often used as a transfer credential for a four-year university.
After her associate degree, she transferred to a university.


A certificate awarded after completing a specific course of study.
She received her high school diploma last year.

Associate Degree

A degree that combines general education with specialization in a field.
Her associate degree in business administration was a stepping stone to a bachelor’s.


Official document certifying an achievement or qualification.
He earned a diploma in culinary arts.

Associate Degree

An entry-level higher education degree.
An associate degree can lead to better job opportunities.


A document issued by an educational institution, such as a university, testifying that the recipient has earned a degree or has successfully completed a particular course of study.


A certificate conferring a privilege or honor.


An official document or charter.


A document issued by an educational institution testifying that the recipient has earned a degree or has successfully completed a particular course of study.
Get a diploma
Study for a diploma
Hold a further-education diploma


A letter or writing, usually under seal, conferring some privilege, honor, or power; a document bearing record of a degree conferred by a literary society or educational institution.


A document certifying the successful completion of a course of study


What is an associate degree?

An associate degree is a two-year undergraduate academic degree.

Is an associate degree equivalent to a bachelor's degree?

No, an associate degree is a two-year degree, while a bachelor's is typically a four-year degree.

How long does it take to earn a diploma?

The duration for a diploma varies, ranging from a few months to several years.

Are associate degrees transferable to universities?

Yes, many associate degrees are designed to transfer to four-year universities.

Can a diploma lead to an associate degree?

In some cases, credits from a diploma program may count towards an associate degree.

Do diplomas focus on practical skills?

Yes, diplomas often focus on practical skills and vocational training.

What jobs can you get with an associate degree?

Associate degrees can lead to various jobs, depending on the field of study.

Are diplomas recognized internationally?

Recognition of diplomas varies by country and institution.

What is a diploma?

A diploma is a certificate awarded for completing a specific educational course.

Can you get an associate degree online?

Yes, many colleges offer online programs for earning an associate degree.

Can you pursue a diploma after a degree?

Yes, one can pursue a diploma for additional skills or specialization after a degree.

How is an associate degree different from a community college degree?

An associate degree is a type of degree offered at community colleges, among other institutions.

Is work experience required for a diploma?

Work experience is not typically required for a diploma, but practical training may be included.

Is an associate degree considered higher education?

Yes, an associate degree is an entry-level higher education qualification.

Do diplomas have majors?

Diplomas often have specific areas of focus but are not typically referred to as majors.

Is a GED equivalent to a high school diploma?

A GED is considered an equivalent certification to a high school diploma.

Can you transfer diploma credits to a bachelor's degree program?

This depends on the institution and the relevance of the diploma to the bachelor’s degree program.

Are general education courses required for an associate degree?

Yes, associate degrees usually include general education courses.

Can a diploma be in any field?

Diplomas are offered in a wide range of fields, especially in vocational and technical areas.

What is the cost difference between a diploma and an associate degree?

Costs vary, but diplomas can be less expensive than associate degrees, depending on the institution and program length.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Harlon Moss
Harlon is a seasoned quality moderator and accomplished content writer for Difference Wiki. An alumnus of the prestigious University of California, he earned his degree in Computer Science. Leveraging his academic background, Harlon brings a meticulous and informed perspective to his work, ensuring content accuracy and excellence.

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