Different types of university degree levels

University degree levels

Higher education in Australia offers a variety of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees, each catering to different academic and career aspirations.

Understanding these different degree types can help you make informed decisions about your educational path from the outset.

University degree levels

Types of undergraduate degrees

Undergraduate degrees are the first level of university study and include diplomas, associate degrees and bachelor's degrees. An undergraduate degree offers industry experience, knowledge and skills in a chosen field of study and is designed to get you started in your chosen career.

What is a diploma?

A diploma is a qualification that focuses on practical skills and knowledge in a specific area. It usually takes one to two years to complete and can lead directly to employment or act as a pathway to further study. Diplomas are considered a great step towards skilling to a new career or preparing you for further study.

What is an associate degree?

An associate degree is an undergraduate qualification that generally takes two years with a full-time study load to complete. This qualification sits between a diploma and bachelor. Associate degrees offer a balance of theoretical and practical knowledge, making them suitable for immediate employment or further study.

What is a bachelor’s degree?

A bachelor's degree is a comprehensive undergraduate qualification that typically takes three to four years to complete. It provides in-depth knowledge and skills in a specific field and is often required for professional careers or advanced study. Bachelor's degrees are considered the highest level of undergraduate study.

Types of postgraduate degrees

Postgraduate degrees are advanced qualifications that you can do after completing an undergraduate degree. They include graduate certificates, graduate diplomas and master's degrees, each offering specialised knowledge and skills in a particular field.

A postgraduate degree will build on the knowledge and skills gained during undergraduate studies. They are designed for students seeking advanced expertise, research opportunities or career advancement.

What is a graduate certificate?

A graduate certificate is a short postgraduate qualification that typically takes six months to a year to complete. It is lower than a graduate diploma and a master's degree and is often used to update specific skills or knowledge in a particular field. A graduate certificate is a great option to help pivot your career in a different direction or take it to the next level without committing to a three-year degree.

What is a graduate diploma?

A graduate diploma is a postgraduate qualification that you can usually do in a year of full-time study. The qualification is higher than a graduate certificate but lower than a master's degree. Graduate diplomas are another great way to advance your career, and can also be used as a pathway into a master’s.

What is a master's degree?

A master's degree is an advanced postgraduate qualification that generally takes one to two years to complete. It provides specialised knowledge and research skills in a specific field. Master's degrees are higher than graduate certificates and diplomas and can create opportunities for both professional and academic careers.

Types of research degrees

Research degrees are an advanced study program that focuses on original research and advanced study in a specific field. They include the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and professional doctorates and offer a chance to deeply explore a topic that interests you.

A research degree involves extensive research and the production of a thesis or dissertation. They are designed for students who want to contribute original knowledge to their chosen field and are generally done by those pursuing academic or research-based careers.

What is a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)?

A Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is the highest university degree and typically takes three to six years to complete, at which point you will be an expert in your field. It involves conducting original research and producing a dissertation that contributes new knowledge to the field, as well as equipping you with key critical thinking skills. It is usually necessary to have a PhD if you want a career in academia and research.

What is a Professional doctorate?

A professional doctorate focuses on applying research to practical problems in a specific profession. It usually takes three to four years to complete and is designed to help you advance your career through applied research.

The difference between a doctorate and a PhD is that a PhD is an academic degree focused on original research, data analysis and the evaluation of theory, while a professional doctorate focuses on applying research to practical problems, creating solutions for complex issues and developing professional practices within your field.

What degree qualification should I do?

Choosing the right degree qualification depends on various factors, including the amount of study time you have available and the duration of the program, but the most important thing to consider is your career aspirations.

Here are some considerations:

  • Study time: How long are you willing to study to earn a qualification? How much time can you spend studying each week? Consider whether you’ll be studying full or part-time, which will affect how long your studies take. If you’d like to finish faster, you may consider doing a shorter degree like a diploma or certificate. They can often be used as an entry pathwayto a longer degree if you decide to extend your studies.
  • Costs of study: How much does each qualification cost? Consider whether you need to pay upfront or can get HELP. Look into scholarships available for the various degrees you’re considering. What’s the return on investment likely to be on each qualification?
  • Future career aspirations: Research the minimum qualifications required for your chosen career and the potential for further advancement. If a diploma or certificate is enough to kickstart your career, start there
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