What is a Diploma in the UK?

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Schools don’t really teach students about the different paths of education. Most students in the UK think that they have to sit their GCSEs, then their A-Levels, then go to university and get a job. However, there are many other paths that schools don’t talk about. One of them is studying for a diploma. You may have heard the word ‘diploma’ before but not quite understood what it meant – if this is you, this article is right for you!

A diploma is a type of qualification in the UK based on learning credits. It is a certificate that qualifies you to work in a specific field – this can be anything from computing to business. Completing a diploma gives you a qualification equivalent to a certain level of education, from Level 1 all the way to Level 8. Like other qualifications, a diploma can help you proceed in education or employment.

Don’t worry if you’re still not quite sure what a diploma is or how it works. By the end of the article, you should have a good understanding!

What is a diploma equivalent to?

A diploma is the name for a range of qualifications, each equivalent to different levels of education, from Level 2 (GCSE) to Level 8 (PhD). They are worth a certain amount of “learning credits” which represent 10 hours of learning each. However, diplomas have the same function as a qualification. Keep reading to find out more.

The UK education system can be difficult to navigate sometimes. If you’re struggling to understand how it works, this Think Student article offers a useful explanation.

What level is a diploma?

The level of a diploma is the same level as the equivalent education level. There are 8 major education levels in the UK. A diploma can be studied at all levels. Below is a list of the education levels in the UK, which you can find more details for on the government website:

  • Level 1: GCSE (grades 3-1 or D-G).
  • Level 2: GCSE (grades 9-4 or A*-C).
  • Level 3: AS or A-Levels.
  • Level 4: certificate of higher education (CertHE) or higher national certificate (HNC).
  • Level 5: foundation degree, diploma of higher education (DipHE) or higher national diploma (HND).
  • Level 6: degree with honours (BA hons, or BSc hons).
  • Level 7: master’s or postgraduate degree.
  • Level 8: doctorate (PhD).

For example, if a student wanted to study a Level 2 diploma, they would study a course worth the same as GCSEs (grades 9-4). This would then allow them to study A-Levels or equivalent.

If you want to learn more about Level 3 qualifications, this Think Student article has information for you. Alternatively, if you’re interested in reading more into Level 4 qualifications, you’ll find this Think Student article helpful.

How many credits is a diploma worth?

The number of learning credits you get for a diploma depends on the level of the diploma you complete. For example, a Level 2 diploma can be worth 60 credits, whereas a Level 7 diploma might be worth 120 credits. The number of credits your diploma is worth should be disclosed to you.

How long does it take to complete a diploma?

As a general rule, diplomas take 1 to 2 years to complete. Which level of diploma you complete and which course you complete it in is a factor of this. However, the length of a diploma tends to more or less match its equivalent level of education. You should keep this in mind before beginning a diploma.

What is a national diploma?

A national diploma is slightly different from a diploma. National diplomas are usually further education qualifications (Level 3 onwards), while regular diplomas can include Levels 1 and 2. Similarly, national diplomas follow the National Qualifications Framework (NQF). There is also a Higher National Diploma, which is equivalent to Level 5 in education levels.

What is the difference between a diploma and a national diploma?

The major difference between a diploma and a national diploma is that a national diploma is worth more as a qualification. While a diploma prepares you for work, a national diploma actually qualifies you to work in your field. This is one reason why national diplomas are often preferred by students. National diplomas generally have a higher standard of education.

What is the difference between a diploma and a degree?

One of the big differences between a diploma and a degree is time. A diploma is only a 1 to 2-year course whereas a degree is 3, potentially 4 years. A degree will also typically require a greater level of knowledge and offer a higher standard of education than a diploma.

However, diploma courses are generally less expensive than a degree. For this reason, students who complete a diploma instead of a degree usually earn less on average than students with a degree. If you think a degree is right for you, this Think Student article has some useful tips on choosing the right course.

How do you get a diploma in the UK?

Depending on the level of your diploma, you will have to do more or less work. The processes for obtaining a diploma vary between levels, too. When you apply for a diploma, however, you should be told how much work you will be expected to do (typically in the form of learning credits).

For a Level 3 diploma, instead of sitting an exam like most students, you are assessed across the course which adds up to your final grade. For a HND, you are assessed on projects, presentations and assignments you are given to complete. A DipHE is closer to standard education, in which you will be assessed in essays and exams. For Level 6, 7 and 8 diplomas, you will also most likely be assessed across the course instead of in final exams.

What are the benefits of a diploma in the UK?

The biggest benefits of a diploma for students is that they generally tend to cost less than a degree and take less time to complete. However, this is not the only benefit. Another benefit is that diplomas can be worth education level equivalents, so you spend less money and time on a qualification of good value.

One of the most practical benefits of a diploma is transferable skills. While further and higher education does teach you good academic skills, a diploma can teach you skills for any workplace. Transferable skills are appealing to lots of employers.

Is a diploma better than a degree?

Whether a diploma is better than a degree is a personal choice. In many ways, a diploma and a degree offer students similar education opportunities. If you’re struggling to choose between a diploma and a degree, weighing up the pros and cons of each is a good place to start. A diploma and a degree are of relatively equal value in the education system.

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