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Graduate certificate vs graduate diploma

Graduate certificate vs graduate diploma

Study tips
Published 25 May, 2022  ·  5-minute read

Deciding which postgraduate degree to study can leave you feeling more torn than Natalie Imbruglia in the late ‘90s. Luckily, we’re here to help you understand the difference between graduate certificates and graduate diplomas – and how they compare to master’s degrees.

Returning to university studies can be daunting, especially if it’s been a little while since you finished your undergraduate program. It’s also common to feel overwhelmed by the ever-expanding job market, whether you’re searching for a new job in your field, or looking to upgrade your skills to switch your career focus or stay relevant in your current role.

But this transitional time doesn’t need to be scary – there’s no wrong choice when it comes to deciding on a postgraduate program, only different doors to the same destination. All postgraduate studies are valuable and useful for a variety of different pathways and, ultimately, each has their own benefits.

Let’s take a look at the two most accessible postgrad programs and explore the difference between a graduate certificate and a graduate diploma.

Graduate diploma vs graduate certificate

In short, the key differences are time, money and personal preference.

If you’re stuck in a graduate diploma vs graduate certificate dilemma, the big questions to focus on include:

  • How much time are you willing to invest?
  • What are the benefits of each?
  • Which pathway works best for you and your goals?

Graduate certificate

How long does a graduate certificate take?

A graduate certificate is the fastest option when it comes to postgrad programs. While there are plenty of benefits of a grad cert, perhaps the main drawcard is that it can act as a taster for your intended field of study without the lengthy timeframes. A graduate certificate typically takes just 6 months for full-time students, providing a valuable bridge to a new skill set or career switch – minus the multiple years dedicated to additional study.

Program duration guide

Graduate certificate 6 months (full time) to 2 years (part time)
Graduate diploma 1 year (full time) to 4 years (part time)
Master's Typically 1.5 or 2 years (full time) or part-time equivalent

Please use these numbers as a guide only. Programs can vary; check the relevant program page for specific details.

If you’re unsure which exact field you want to delve into, a grad cert can help kickstart your journey as you figure it out. It also gives a preview of postgraduate study without the stress of a full-blown master’s program, and it’s a great choice for career advancement and gaining an advantage in a crowded job market. If you really like it, or if you discover you’re better suited to life as a postgrad than you thought, you may want to pursue that master’s degree after all (applying the credits you’ve earned from your grad cert, of course).

How much does a graduate certificate cost?

A graduate certificate is also the cheapest option, often costing much less than a graduate diploma as it only runs for half the time. If you’re worried about the cost of postgraduate study, a grad cert is a chance to experience it without the additional debt that can sometimes accompany a master’s degree.

Don’t forget: UQ has a wide range of scholarships that can help you with study expenses. Some programs also offer Commonwealth supported places (CSPs), which can significantly reduce the cost of your tuition fees.

Find out more about scholarships

Find out more about CSPs 

Is a graduate certificate for me?

Study a graduate certificate if:

  • you want to update your industry knowledge and feel more confident in your workplace
  • you’re unsure of what field you want to move into or industry niche you want to specialise in
  • you want to upskill your professional skill set in a short timeframe.

Graduate diploma

How long is a graduate diploma?

Compared to graduate certificates, a graduate diploma is more involved, generally taking up to a year to complete with full-time study.

Like a grad cert, it too offers a preview into a new field or area of study, but while a grad cert is the entry point, receiving a graduate diploma comes with a deeper focus on study for an extended period of time.

How much does a graduate diploma cost?

As a graduate diploma is longer and includes a more in-depth focus on the study area at hand, tuition fees are slightly more expensive than a graduate certificate in the same field. It’s all about comparing the course content between the two and seeing whether that extra level of study is beneficial to your needs and worth the additional expense.

Worried about how postgrad studies may impact your financial situation? Read our tips on how to fund postgraduate study.

Here are some examples of the difference in duration and fees for graduate certificates and diplomas at UQ:

Program Duration (full-time study) Total indicative fees^
Graduate Certificate in Information Technology 6 months


Graduate Diploma in Information Technology 12 months $27,960
Graduate Certificate in Economics 6 months $18,480
Graduate Diploma in Economics 12 months $36,960
Graduate Certificate in Public Health 6 months $4010
Graduate Diploma in Public Health 12 months $8021

^These fees are indicative only. Last updated May 2022.

Personal preference

Study a graduate diploma if:

  • you can commit more time to study and will benefit from the additional courses
  • you’re confident in your prospective field of study
  • you’re interested in developing industry-specific skills and connections.

Final thoughts

So, what’s the consensus? Grad cert vs grad dip. Who wins?

Well, you’ve probably guessed this already, but it’s up to you to decide.

Neither has more intrinsic merit than the other; it simply comes down to personal preference, how much time you are willing to commit and what you need it for.

If you want your qualification sooner, a graduate certificate could be the best beginning to your postgraduate journey. However, if you have the time to invest, a graduate diploma could be the better option for you.

Curious about the difference between a bachelor’s program and a master’s? Explore your options by reading our article, How hard is a master’s compared to a bachelor’s degree?

Still not sure?

The important thing is to remember that even if you do feel daunted by the prospect of returning to study, there are plenty of prospective postgrads in the same boat – and heaps of support on campus at UQ.

If you’d like to talk to the university about your options, please contact UQ Future Students.

Ready to start your graduate certificate or graduate diploma at UQ?

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