Skip to main content


Graduate certificate vs graduate diploma: what you need to know

Contemplating postgraduate study? A graduate certificate and graduate diploma are great options. We explore the differences between the two qualifications.


Are you considering advancing your education beyond a bachelor’s degree? Or perhaps you’ve gained a lot of experience in your career but would like to further your skills with a postgraduate qualification.

While many professionals look to a master’s course to upskill and enhance their careers, two other study options are worth considering — a graduate certificate and a graduate diploma. Each course type benefits those looking for career advancement or a career change, but it’s crucial to understand the difference between the two to make the right decision for your future goals.

In this article, we’ll tackle the topic of graduate certificate vs graduate diploma, helping you make an informed decision about your future education and career goals.

The differences between graduate certificates and graduate diplomas

A graduate diploma and graduate certificate will build on your undergraduate qualifications or career experience, giving you a deeper level of knowledge in your chosen area of study. However, there are some important differences between the two. So, which one is right for you? Let’s look at graduate certificates vs graduate diplomas and the differences between these two postgraduate study options.

What is a graduate certificate?

A graduate certificate is the study level after a bachelor's degree and is often the first step into postgraduate study. A graduate certificate is made up of four units and gives you the opportunity to advance your expertise and skills in a specific field. It can be a stepping stone to further study, such as a graduate diploma or a master’s course. However, many students find the qualification gained from a graduate certificate is enough to meet their immediate needs to increase their knowledge and skills in a specific area.

A graduate diploma is a more comprehensive course made up of eight units and can be studied immediately following the completion of a graduate certificate. A graduate diploma provides a broader understanding of a subject and is often sought by individuals aiming to become experts in their chosen domain. It builds on the knowledge and advances skills gained in the graduate certificate of the same discipline. A graduate diploma can also serve as a stepping stone to further education and learning, such as a master’s course.

A graduate certificate typically requires about six months to a year or about 600 to 1,200 hours of study. The duration can vary depending on the university and the subject area, as well as if you choose to study full-time or part-time, so it’s important to check the specific university’s offerings. If you decide to study part-time, you can be  expected to spend between 15 and 20 hours per week studying.

A graduate diploma usually takes one to two years or 1,200 to 2,400 hours of study to complete. Like a graduate certificate, the duration can vary from university to university, and part-time study options are also often available. A part-time graduate student can expect to commit to 15 to 20 hours of study per week.

If you have expertise or previous education in your chosen study area, you may also be granted recognition of prior learning. This means the university recognises your previous study or experience and reduces the units needed to complete a graduate certificate or graduate diploma course.

The cost to study a graduate certificate or a graduate diploma can vary significantly depending on what and where you study. Tuition fees are influenced by the university and the course. The cost per unit can vary greatly and depend on the course and the field of study you wish to pursue. The cost per unit for a graduate certificate or graduate diploma could fall anywhere between $2,000 and $5,000, to give you a sense of the range. Most university websites have clear guidelines around fees, including if FEE-HELP or CSP is available for your chosen course.

Why study a graduate certificate or graduate diploma?

Now that you understand more about the difference between a graduate certificate and a graduate diploma, you might wonder if you should pursue one of these study options.

Registered nurse Jeamy Lee is studying a Graduate Certificate in Advanced Clinical Nursing. “I thought it would be a new challenge for me to learn and upskill in nursing,” he says of his decision to undertake postgraduate study. “I dream of becoming a nurse practitioner, and I thought the graduate certificate would be my first step towards that.”

Jeamy says the course’s units provide him with essential knowledge and skills tailored to his field, and he thinks he’ll continue studying once he has gained the graduate certificate.

“At some stage, I’d like to pursue a graduate diploma, then a master’s course. I think the benefit of doing the graduate certificate course first is that it sets you on the right track for further postgraduate studies. With the graduate certificate, the commitment is shorter, just one year, and then the course is done. I think that sense of achievement straight away creates a positive feeling that could encourage me to pursue further studies.”

7 reasons to study a graduate diploma or graduate certificate

Let’s take a closer look at some of the benefits of studying at a graduate certificate or graduate diploma level.

  1. The opportunity to specialise: Both graduate certificates and graduate diplomas offer you the opportunity to specialise in a specific field, allowing you to stand out in a competitive job market. As he nears the end of his studies, Jeamy says that his course has equipped him with the confidence to practise and optimise patient care in critical care settings.
  2. Career advancement: If you’re aiming for career growth within your current discipline, these courses provide the necessary knowledge and skills. For those looking to transition to a new field, a graduate certificate or diploma can serve as a great stepping stone in order to do so.
  3. Competitive edge: Employers value specialised knowledge and skills. A graduate certificate or graduate diploma can help you gain a competitive advantage when seeking new employment or climbing the ladder in your current career.
  4. Time efficiency: The shorter course time can make graduate certificates and graduate diplomas attractive for busy professionals. These options are a quicker route to obtaining valuable credentials and offer the sense of accomplishment that comes with completing a course.
  5. Focused study area: While most master’s courses cover a range of subject areas, a graduate certificate or diploma allows you to focus on those skills you want to become proficient in. For example, during a Master of Counselling, you may have the opportunity to learn various areas of counselling practice, including trauma, drug and alcohol, grief, and child and family counselling. With a graduate certificate, you can focus on just one of those areas, such as family counselling, that are relevant to your goals.
  6. Path to a master’s course: Thinking about studying for a master’s but unsure if you want to commit? If you complete a graduate certificate or diploma and wish to continue studying in the same discipline, these qualifications may help you gain entry into a master’s course.
  7. An affordable option: A graduate certificate or graduate diploma is much more affordable than a master’s course.

Studying a graduate certificate or graduate diploma online

GlobalHealth Education’s university partners offer diverse healthcare-focused graduate certificates and graduate diplomas with study options in psychology, public health, nursing, counselling, leadership, social work and mental health. These online courses are tailored to the needs of healthcare professionals and those in management and leadership roles.

There are several advantages to studying online, including:

Flexibility: Online courses allow you to study at your own pace, making balancing your education with work and personal life feasible. You can choose part-time study options and a range of start dates for many of GlobalHealth Education’s university partners, providing the flexibility to fit study around your life.

The ability to study anywhere: The freedom to study from anywhere in Australia is a significant advantage. Studying online is particularly valuable for healthcare professionals with busy schedules and those who travel or commute for work. Undertaking a course with one of GlobalHealth Education’s university partners means you can upskill or take the next step in your career while you continue working.

Unit-based learning: Some courses offered by GlobalHealth Education university partners provide the flexibility to study one unit at a time. This approach enables you to manage your workload and focus on specific areas of interest.

For busy health professionals like Jeamy, studying a graduate certificate online is not only convenient but essential. “The flexibility it provides to be able to attend class anywhere is just amazing. It means you don’t have to stop everything in your life to attend university.

“In my online study experience, Zoom classes are recorded, which is beneficial to have an opportunity to replay the lecture when doing the revisions to understand the topic further.” He adds that as a shift worker, the ability to jump into learning at a time that suits him or rewatch a recorded lecture makes studying so much more accessible.

Your advanced healthcare education starts here

Your choice between a graduate certificate and a graduate diploma should align with your career aspirations and the level of expertise you desire. Both options can also serve as valuable stepping stones to master’s courses.

Want to learn more about how to choose a postgraduate course or what is involved with online study? Explore all the courses available on GlobalHealth Education for nursing, mental health, psychology, public health, counselling, social work and leadership.

Related Articles

7 postgraduate courses to study in 2024 to advance your career 

7 postgraduate courses to study in 2024 to advance your career 

If career advancement is on your mind, set your sights on the courses that can take your career in a new direction.
Courtney Edwards
Updated on 29/05/2024
How to choose the postgraduate course that's right for you

How to choose the postgraduate course that's right for you

Ready to take the next step in your education journey? Here’s a few things to consider when making the big decision. 
Courtney Edwards
Published on 31/05/2023
Online vs on-campus courses

Online vs on-campus courses

Is an online or on-campus postgraduate course suited to you? Weigh up the pros and cons of both modes of study to help you decide. 
Courtney Edwards
Updated on 25/10/2022
Your guide to studying a master’s degree

Your guide to studying a master’s degree

Wondering if it’s time to study a master’s degree? We take a look at the benefits and everything you need to know about how a master’s can power your future.
GlobalHealth Education
Published on 25/01/2024