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Certificates, Diplomas, and Degrees Explained

Learn about the most common types of certificates, diplomas, and degrees offered by post-secondary schools.

Consider types of Minnesota State schools and a liberal arts education to see how these awards might match your educational goals. Also check the requirements for each school. You might need a specific degree before being eligible for another.

Undergraduate Certificates, Diplomas, and Degrees

These awards usually take four years or less to complete. The actual completion time depends on how much time a student can commit to their studies. Part-time students, for example, may require more than four years for an undergraduate award.

  • Certificate. These are academic programs of nine to 30 credits that are completed in a year or less by full-time students. Some programs provide specialized training for people who already have diplomas or degrees. Others are for those who want to quickly complete a program that leads to a specific job.
  • Diploma. An academic program generally of 30 to 72 credits intended to provide students with skills leading directly to a specific job.
  • Associate Degree. An award that normally requires at least two but less than four years of full-time college work. There are different types of associate degrees with varying transferability.
  • Bachelor's Degree. An award that normally requires at least four but not more than six years of full-time college work. Also includes bachelor's degrees that are completed in three years.

Graduate Certificates and Degrees

Entering one of these programs generally requires prior completion of an undergraduate award.

  • Post-Baccalaureate Certificate. An award that requires completion of an organized program of study requiring 18 credit hours beyond the bachelor's. Designed for those with a bachelor's degree who do not meet the academic requirements of a master's degree.
  • Graduate Degree. A degree awarded for education at a level beyond the bachelor's degree. State universities offer graduate certificates, master's degrees, and specialist degrees in various professional and liberal arts fields.
  • Master's Degree. An award that requires the completion of a program of study of at least one but not more than two of years of full-time academic work beyond the bachelor's degree.
  • Post-Master's Certificate. An award that requires completion of an organized program of study of 24 credit hours beyond the master's degree, but does not meet the requirements of academic degrees at the doctor's level.
  • Doctorate Degree. The highest award a student can earn for graduate study. The doctor's degree classification includes such degrees as Doctor of Education (Ed.D.), Doctor of Juridical Science (J.D.), Doctor of Public Health (D.P.H.), and the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.).
  • First Professional. An award earned after the completion of a program necessary to practice in a profession. Requires at least two years of college work prior to entering the program and a total of at least six academic years to complete the program. First professional degrees may be awarded in the following 10 fields:
    • Chiropractic
    • Dentistry
    • Law
    • Medicine
    • Optometry
    • Osteopathic Medicine
    • Pharmacy
    • Podiatry
    • Theology
    • Veterinary Medicine

Continuing Education Units (CEU)

One CEU is normally defined as 10 contact hours of participation in an organized continuing education experience under responsible sponsorship, capable direction, and qualified instruction.

Source: Minnesota Office of Higher Education, Minnesota State Colleges and Universities, IPEDS Glossary