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Certificate, Diploma, Applied Degree, Degree... What's the Difference?

People sometimes use terms such as certificate, diploma, applied degree and degree to mean the same thing. However, there are some important differences in the way these words are used in Alberta's post-secondary education system.

Consider the differences when you plan your career.

Alberta Journeyman Certificate (Apprenticeship) programs:

  • are available in more than 50 designated trades in Alberta
  • require registered apprentices to complete a specified number of on-the-job training hours and periods of technical training at an approved training provider, followed by the successful completion of industry examinations
  • enable certified journeypersons and completing apprentices to work in other Canadian jurisdictions where the designation is recognized, provided they have successfully written an Interprovincial Standards (Red Seal) exam.

Alberta Occupational Certificate Training programs:

  • are available in 9 designated occupations in Alberta
  • have varied requirements for certification based on industry standards
  • may be provided through one or more of the public institutions or private providers. Formal training in designated occupations is the responsibility of industry.

Alberta Green Certificate program:

  • is an apprenticeship-style agricultural training program available to students and adults
  • allows high school students to earn up to 17 credits for successful completion—the program is looked upon favourably by employers and agricultural colleges
  • includes 9 technician-level specialties: beekeeping, cow-calf, dairy, equine, feedlot, field crop, irrigated crop, sheep and swine
  • provides learning on the job under the supervision of experienced farm personnel and the sponsoring departments.

For more information, visit Alberta Green Certificate Program.

The certificate, diploma, applied degree, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree and doctoral degree programs described below are offered by Alberta’s post-secondary institutions.

Certificate programs:

  • prepare students for entry into specific occupations
  • generally require 1 year or less of full-time study at a college or technical institute and are also available through part-time programs
  • require completion of some high school studies (often specified grade levels and subjects) for admission.
    • Exception: 
      Universities also offer a variety of certificate programs. University-level certificate programs may require high school graduation, some post-secondary education or mature student status for admission.

Diploma programs:

  • prepare students for employment in a particular field or group of occupations
  • generally involve 2 years of full-time, applied study at a college or technical institute
  • require high school graduation (often with specified grades and subjects) for admission.
    • Exceptions: 
      Many colleges also offer general studies or liberal arts programs at the diploma level.
      University-level diploma programs require 1 year of academic study or equivalent beyond a bachelor's degree and may be applicable to related master's degree programs.

Applied Degree programs:

  • provide enhanced career preparation that combines theoretical approaches to learning with elements of practical application, providing a broader range of career and employment opportunities beyond entry-level in an industry
  • are offered by some public colleges and technical institutes
  • are four-year programs (usually a two-year diploma plus 2 additional years) consisting of 6 semesters (about 3 years) of academic studies and at least 2 semesters (about 1 year) of related paid, supervised work experience in the industry
  • have admission requirements that may be similar to those of diploma programs. Completion of a related diploma program may be a prerequisite for admission to an applied degree program.
  • Note: Students graduating from an applied degree program will not have direct access to graduate studies. However, they may be able to upgrade or meet additional course requirements to gain access.

Bachelor's Degree programs:

  • provide a theoretical or academic approach to learning with direct access to graduate studies
  • are offered by universities, technical institutes, select colleges and private institutions offering approved degree programs
  • involve the equivalent of 3 or 4 years of full-time study (the length of program varies by discipline and by institution)
  • have entrance requirements such as a minimum grade or average in specified Grade 12 subjects, including English 30-1. Admission to faculties with enrolment limits may require marks higher than the specified minimum average.
    • Exception:
      Athabasca University has an open admissions policy (few or no specific entrance requirements) for students 16 years of age and older.

Master's Degree programs:

  • generally involve a minimum of 2 years of full-time university study beyond the bachelor's degree level—there are time limits for completing degree requirements, and program lengths may vary
  • require a completed bachelor's degree for admission—applicants who have a three-year undergraduate (bachelor's) degree are generally required to complete an additional qualifying year
  • may require completion of a thesis or a course-based (non-thesis) program.

Doctoral Degree programs:

  • require 2 or 3 years of full-time university study and research beyond the master's degree level—there are time limits for completing degree requirements
  • involve planning and carrying out high quality research to advance knowledge in the student's major field of study
  • include the preparation and defence of a dissertation on an approved topic.

Choose the post-secondary option that’s right for you

Learn about your post-secondary options and the type of certification, diploma or degree that suits your career plan and ambitions.

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