4 Things to Ask Before Choosing a Certificate, Diploma or Degree

Looking to stay productive or become more ready for the digital future? One great way to do this and stand out from the crowd is to gain credentials in digital skills, especially those related to data, AI, cloud technology, and other up-and-coming industries.

The three most common ways to gain such credentials are Certificates, Diplomas, and Degrees. Each has its own advantages, which makes it difficult for those who just want one to start with. Here's a quick guide to help you choose between a Certificate, Diploma, and Degree.

Someone holding a rolled up document: A certificate, diploma, or degree.
Choosing between a Certificate, Diploma and Degree can be difficult if you don't know where to start.

To start, let's define what each term means:


Often provided by universities, polytechnics, private academies and companies, certificates are formal documents which show that you have completed a course and/or certification exam. The content covered tends to be either broad, i.e. covering each topic briefly, or deep, i.e. covering a specific topic in detail. Admission is flexible and the length of certification courses range from a day to weeks and even months, but are usually the shortest between the three.


Diplomas certify that you have successfully completed the requirements set by the endorsing university, polytechnic and/or (in some cases) high school. Most diploma courses have fixed admissions, are completed within about three years of study and are typically associated with broad and deep practical and/or technical training.


Degrees certify that you have successfully met the requirements of your chosen course of study, which typically have admissions once a year and take three to four years to complete. Since degrees are only awarded by universities, degree holders are often expected to have high critical thinking and analytical skills honed by academic rigour. Courses are typically broad and deepest of the three, especially for specialised degrees.

To determine which you should go for, ask yourself these guiding questions:

1. How quickly do you need to acquire these skills?

Keep in mind that diploma and degree courses will take years to complete. If you're in a rush to gain credentials (e.g. you want to gain them before the Circuit Breaker ends), a certification course would be best as it can be completed in the shortest amount of time. Certification courses often have much more flexible admissions too; many certification courses have multiple intakes per month, making it much easier to gain credentials quickly and without much commitment.

2. How much time do you want to commit?

Its easy to say you want to learn new skills, but actually committing is a whole different ball game. Before you jump straight into a course, think about your commitments and what is realistically the best option for you. For instance, certification courses may be more suitable for working adults who have to balance work, family and studies, and those who just want to gauge their interest in data analytics courses.

On the other hand, diploma and degree courses may be better for those that were already planning to enrol in these full-time programmes, such as recently ORDed NSMen and individuals who just completed their 'O' or 'A' Levels.

3. Are you financially capable of enrolling in the course you want?

Even if you're really interested in a course, you may not have enough extra cash to spend on a course.

In general, certificates tend to be the cheapest and can range from a few hundred to about $3,000. This varies depending on your selected course and course provider.

Diplomas are the middle ground and tend to cost about $8,700 for a three-year course of study after the Ministry of Education (MOE) Tuition Grant. These exclude any administrative fees, which differ slightly between polytechnics.

The most expensive of the three, full-time degree courses in local universities are, on average and after MOE Tuition Grant, about $29,700 to $39,600 for a three- and four-year study respectively.

Interested but simply don't have the means to fund your desired course? Don't fret - additional sources of funding may be available for all three types of courses. Those enrolled in diploma and degree courses can seek scholarships from their schools or external institutions, while those seeking certification courses could be eligible for subsidies or funding programmes like CITREP+, SkillsFuture Credits and NTUC UTAP.

4. Is there a specific topic or learning outcome you must achieve from the course?

Are you looking for a basic introduction or an in-depth course? Do you want to get a job in the field once you graduate from the course? These can drastically change the type of course you pursue. For instance, someone looking for a basic introduction to gauge their interest can easily do so through certification courses. On the other hand, someone looking for in-depth discussions of very specialised topics may need to go through multiple degree courses, i.e. Bachelor's then postgraduate courses like Masters or PhD programmes.

I still can't decide!

If you can't decide, we strongly suggest attending free workshops or certification courses to get started - you don't want to invest time and money into longer courses, only to find out you have absolutely no interest in the topic.

Once you've done so, ask yourself these questions again. The answer should be clear by then.

In summary...

Certificates, diplomas and degrees differ in terms of the following:

1. Endorsing institution

2. Completion time

3. Content covered

4. Flexibility of schedules and admissions

Remember: You don't have to choose only one type of course. Plenty of people enrol in more than one type of course. For example, those enrolled in a diploma or degree course may want to obtain an additional certificate to supplement these credentials, while some may discover a new passion through certification courses and subsequently, pursue a part-time diploma or degree course to further specialise in their area of interest.

Ultimately, this depends on your own schedule and needs. The possibilities are endless! :)

Written by: Chloe Thio (Gen Infiniti Academy)