Master’s Degree vs Graduate Diploma vs Graduate Certificate: What is the Difference?

Things can get confusing when you are deciding which path to take to pursue your postgraduate studies. You’ll meet terms like ‘postgraduate diploma’, ‘graduate certificate’ and ‘master’s degree’ but while these terms do sound similar, there are enough differences between them to warrant getting a better understanding of each term.

18 January 2023

Here to help you with your postgraduate studies decision-making is a quick and simple guide to help you differentiate between a master’s degree, graduate diploma and a graduate certificate:

Master’s Degree

Compared to a postgraduate diploma or certificate which can typically be completed within a year, a master’s programme will usually take within 1 to 2 years (or longer) to complete. A regular master’s degree will also cost more to study and will focus more on academic knowledge as compared to graduate diplomas or certificates which are focused on quickly developing practical skills in students. They include more advanced training and comprehensive coursework.

An example of a master’s degree is the University of Birmingham’s Master of Science Financial Management programme offered at SIM. The master’s programme is accredited by the Association of Corporate Treasures and works to equip its students with innovative and contemporary topics in the finance sectors to ensure graduates will be able to contribute and craft their careers in the finance industry globally.

Graduate Diploma

A Graduate Diploma is a qualification that focuses on equipping its students with specific knowledge and necessary skill sets in a chosen industry. It is usually of a shorter duration than a degree course and should be viewed as an additional specialisation that improves a person's overall employability

It is typically taken after one’s bachelor's degree and in some cases, students who acquire a graduate diploma may wish to progress to a relevant master’s degree. For a graduate diploma qualification to be recognised locally, the awarding body must be registered with the Singapore Ministry of Education.

At SIM Global Education, multiple intakes are offered yearly so prospective students do not need to worry about having to wait a whole year to take up the postgraduate diploma. The diplomas might also be offered as an online course or as a physical one where students get to participate in face-to-face lessons with their professors.

The Graduate Diploma in Digital Marketing developed and awarded by the Singapore Institute of Management (SIM) is one such example, allowing digital marketing practitioners to enhance their credentials by staying up-to-date with the latest in new media marketing, communications and analytics.

Diverse career prospects also await, with programme graduates ably equipped for the roles as listed:
  • Digital Marketing and Social Media Specialist
  • Digital Media Consultant
  • Creative Director
  • Digital Media Strategist
  • Content Manager
  • Social Media Influencer
  • Market Research Analyst
  • Web Analyst

Graduate Certificate

A graduate certificate, also sometimes called a professional certificate, is an educational credential for students looking to get certifications in a selected industry. The programme provides its students with advanced skills in a specific industry such as digital marketing or information technology.

Unlike a master’s degree which offers its students a broader view on a given course for its students, graduate certificates focus on a few select areas in an industry. A graduate certificate is also suitable for students looking to explore a new field without having to commit to it long term through a master’s degree as a graduate certificate can usually be completed in less than a year. As such, a graduate certificate is also a more affordable option as compared to a master’s degree.

However, a graduate certificate is unlike a postgraduate degree which can be used to progress to a master’s degree. Students who complete the course will instead be awarded a certificate to signify that they have completed the mandatory course and have the skills and knowledge necessary to enter a specific industry.

SIM’s Graduate Certificate in Business Sustainability aims to enable its students to be equipped with conceptual, skills-based, and practical learning in the emerging field of business sustainability. This one-year programme will help students learn to develop awareness of sustainable development responsibilities, acquire knowledge of some leading practices in Human Resource Management involvement and understand how the role of the Supply Chain plays in an overall business operation.

In the end, choosing the right postgraduate path to take really boils down to the course’s admission criteria, your preferred method of delivery, the amount of time you will be able to commit to the course as well as your financial situation. To get a better idea of which course will be best for you, you can take a look at SIM’s postgraduate offerings!