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Graduate diploma vs master's degree

Graduate diploma vs master’s degree

Which is right for you?
Study tips
Published 23 Mar, 2023  ·  4-minute read

So, you’re thinking a postgraduate program might be the best next step in your career. The question is: which one?

Whether you’re looking to get a promotion, specialise in a niche area of your industry or change careers entirely, knowing what to expect from a graduate diploma vs a master’s degree is the key to choosing the right program level. You may even discover that a graduate certificate is all you really need for now – or that a higher degree by research is where you truly belong.

Let’s explore the key differences between these various degree types, looking at:

  • completion length
  • common benefits
  • connections to further study.

Program duration guide

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

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


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Graduate certificate vs master’s degree

A graduate certificate (grad cert) is much shorter than a full master’s degree. It typically takes between 6 months (full-time) and 2 years (spread out part-time) to get a graduate certificate.

For comparison, most master’s programs take at least 1.5 years of full-time study. The benefit of that extra time commitment is that getting your master’s is highly worthwhile. Employers are likely to place higher value on a master’s degree (vs a graduate certificate), as many see these as the pinnacle of developing industry knowledge and skills. Does that mean a graduate certificate isn't worth it, though? Not at all.

Study a graduate certificate if:

  • you feel like updating or extending your industry knowledge and skills will help you feel more confident in your workplace
  • you’d like to specialise in a niche area of your organisation
  • you’re considering a career change and want to test the waters of a new industry.

After completing your graduate certificate, you may want to continue your study and transition into a graduate diploma. Starting with the grad cert is a great option if you’re unsure about your chosen field, as it gives you the flexibility to finish with those foundational skills or progress seamlessly into a higher degree in the same field. A graduate certificate is worth it because it gives you the option of continuing your study or taking your new knowledge straight back to the workforce.

A group of UQ graduates stand chatting in their caps and robes in front of sandstone cloisters

Graduate diploma vs master’s degree

Think of a graduate diploma (grad dip) as the halfway point between a graduate certificate and a master’s program. You can get a graduate diploma in as little as 1 year if you study full time, or you can pace yourself and study it part time for up to 4 years.

While you still don’t quite get the prestige of master’s degree, a graduate diploma is still "higher" than a bachelor degree (it's a postgrad qualification after all) and it delivers more in-depth knowledge than a graduate certificate. So, some employers may be more likely to see a grad dip (vs grad cert) as a noteworthy accreditation.

Study a graduate diploma if:

  • developing your industry knowledge could help you secure the promotion* or senior role you’ve got your heart set on
  • you want a degree that holds more weight than a graduate certificate, but you don’t have time to complete a full master’s program at the moment
  • you’d like to explore a new career path or speciality, and you think you’ll proceed into the relevant master’s degree if everything goes well.

While a graduate diploma or certificate is enough for some professionals, many use these as a stepping stone towards a master’s degree. This provides a useful opportunity to delve deeper into your study area, so you’ll have a better idea of how and where you want to specialise when you transition to your master’s.

Hamish Litt

I am currently studying a Graduate Diploma in Agricultural Science, but I love it so much that I am in the process of changing to a Master of Agricultural Science.

Hamish Litt
Graduate Diploma in Agricultural Science

Coursework master’s degree vs research master’s degree

Completing your master’s degree via coursework isn’t the only option. You may also like to investigate more research-intensive options, which include:

This pathway is most likely relevant to you if you’re driven more by academic goals rather than professional ones. That is, you’re looking to contribute to your specialist field of interest through research, more so than developing work-ready skills and knowledge.

However, these ambitions aren’t mutually exclusive – a research master’s can help your professional career, just as a coursework master’s can open the door to more academia. It all comes down to your priorities and preferences. If you’re on the fence, the choice often boils down to one key question: would you prefer to study in classes or complete an independent research thesis?

Either way, studying a master’s program will distinguish you as a skilled and knowledgeable person in your chosen field.

Study a master’s program if:

  • you know the formal accreditation will help you progress in your career
  • you want peers and employers to recognise you as an expert in your field
  • you’d like to explore your passion in depth while seeking new professional opportunities.

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