Diploma vs. Certificate vs. Award: which one should I get?


Award vs Certificate vs Diploma

What's the difference between qualification levels?

If you find it difficult to know your GCSE’s from your NVQ’s and your diplomas from your awards and certificates, we have put together a helpful reference guide for you so that you can work out what you have and what you need!

Level Description Academic Qualification
Entry Level With no prior experience; this level is a good starting point Entry Level Award
Entry Level Certificate
Entry Level Diploma
Entry Level Functional Skills
Level 1 When you are new to a subject; this will give you basic knowledge GCSE grades D–G
Reformed GCSE grades 1–3
Level 1 Award
Level 1 Certificate
Level 1 Diploma
Level 1 NVQ
Level 1 Essential Skills
Level 1 Functional Skills
Level 2 When you need experience or knowledge GCSE grades A*–C
Reformed GCSE grades 4–9
Level 2 Award
Level 2 Certificate
Level 2 Diploma
Level 2 NVQ
Level 2 Functional Skills
Level 2 National Certificate
Level 2 National Diploma
Intermediate Apprenticeship
Level 3 For more complex work and developing supervisory skills A Level
Access to Higher Education Diploma
AS Level
Applied General
Cambridge Pre-U
International Baccalaureate Diploma
T Level
Level 3 Award
Level 3 Certificate
Level 3 Diploma
Level 3 NVQ
Level 3 National Certificate
Level 3 National Diploma
Advanced Apprenticeship
Level 4 For those who have progressed to management experience

Higher National Certificate
Level 4 Award
Level 4 Certificate
Level 4 Diploma
Level 4 NVQ
Level 4 Higher Apprenticeship
Certificate of Higher Education
Higher National Certificate (awarded by a degree-awarding body)

Level 5 Further and more advanced training with management experience Higher National Diploma
Level 5 Award
Level 5 Certificate
Level 5 Diploma
Level 5 Higher Apprenticeship
Foundation degree
Diploma of Higher Education
Higher National Diploma (awarded by a degree-awarding body)
Level 6 For senior managers Level 6 Award
Level 6 Certificate
Level 6 Diploma
Degree Apprenticeship
Bachelor's degree
Graduate Certificate
Graduate Diploma
Professional Graduate Certificate in Education
Level 7 For those looking for seniority in their workplace that employers recognise as a high-level of professional knowledge and skills

Level 7 Award
Level 7 Certificate
Level 7 Diploma
Master's degree
Integrated master's degree

Level 8 For anyone wanting to achieve the highest formal level of education possible in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – and to become a fully qualified Doctor.

Level 8 Award
Level 8 Certificate
Level 8 Diploma
Professional doctorates


But wait, what's the difference between Award, Certificate and Diploma?

This is such a common question as they all seem as if they're on the same level yet different. Let us explain.


An Award Qualification will generally be the shortest study time qualification, usually needing no more than 130 hours of study and giving 13 credits. An ‘award’ will involve studying fewer modules and involves less Total Qualification Time (TQT) and Guided Learning Hours (GLH) as prescribed by the Regulated Qualification Framework (RQF).



The Certificate Qualification follows on from the award and, in terms of GLH and TQT, starts at just 130 hours (13 credits), although other courses might take as much as 370 hours (37 credits). A certificate qualification is often considered a good midway qualification because it will offer the knowledge you may need to progress to the next rung of the career ladder.



Diplomas, as far as the RQF is concerned, will be the most comprehensive qualification that will take the longest to complete. A diploma will usually require more than 370 hours to complete, within the RQF system giving 37 credits. A diploma will go into more depth in the studied area and provide more advanced knowledge and skills.


Which one should I pick?

Generally speaking, it is always best to opt for the Diploma course as it covers the most knowledge and skills to give you a comprehensive and meticulous learning journey, ultimately setting you up better for the future. A diploma is going to appear as the most attractive to a future employer.

But there are no rules; ultimately, the decision is up to you. If you have any queries, please get in touch with a course specialist who will be able to advise you.

Whatever level of qualification you are aiming for, in whatever area of work, we can help you from that very first award to any further qualifications that you need.

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Lisa Spencer
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