Before we look at what is a Diploma or Degree, it is probably best to acknowledge what is meant by different ‘levels’ of study, and here, we will refer to those levels associated with England, Wales and Northern Ireland (Scotland has a slightly different level structure).
In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, there are eight levels of study, and in an academic sense, a level of study reflects the depth of knowledge taught at each stage, as well as the quality of student output expected. The level structure is comparable to the different stages of the education system, and can be broken down as such:
Level 1 (13-120 credits) – GCSE level (grades D-G, or 3-1), Level 1 Certificate, Level 1 Diploma
Level 2 (13-120 credits) – GCSE level (grades A*-C, or 9-4), Level 2 Certificate, Level 2 Diploma
Level 3 (13-180 credits) – AS, A level, Level 3 Certificate, Level 3 Diploma/Extended Diploma
Level 4 (13-120 credits) – Year 1 Undergraduate Degree, HNC, Level 4 Certificate/Diploma
Level 5 (13-120 credits) – Year 2 Undergraduate Degree, HND, Level 5 Certificate/Diploma/Advanced Diploma
Level 6 (13-120 credits) – Year 3 Undergraduate Degree, Level 6 Certificate/Diploma/Graduate Diploma
Level 7 (13-180 credits) – Master’s Degree, Level 7 Certificate/Diploma/Postgraduate Diploma
Level 8 (120-540 credits) – Doctorate, DPhil, PhD, Level 8 Diploma
Diploma, Diploma of Higher Education, Higher National Diploma, Graduate Diploma; all different qualification levels, but consistent in their terminology – so what actually is a Diploma, what level of study does it equate to?
A Diploma qualification refers to the amount of learning credits a student will study and aim to achieve in a course, but a Diploma can be awarded for any level, i.e. a Level 2 Diploma, Level 3 Diploma and so on. A student studying a Level 3 Diploma, for example, will study a course equivalent to A-Level standard, and is also a qualification which can be used for entry on to a Degree course.
A standard Degree course (i.e. BA Hons or BSc, consists of three levels of study Levels 4, 5 and 6 - 360 credits) with each level of study building on the knowledge, depth, and enquiry undertaken previously. Level 4 study allows students to develop their overall learning skills, to develop an awareness and understanding of a broad range of subject knowledge, research methods, presentation methods, and in a design-related capacity, to enhance design understanding, creative development and conceptual consolidation. Level 5 study builds on this initial foundation, enhancing the breadth and depth of study, building on the theory and exploration, as well as developing a student’s key analytical and critiquing skills. Level 6 encompasses all of the above, but again, the expectations are heightened, usually following an independent study path.
Embarking on further or higher education is a decision that should be considered carefully, and be considered from the approach of whether you, as a student, feel confident and capable of achieving the standards required. There are no expectations that a student should be fully equipped to be able to meet the standards required immediately from the very outset of a course; the skills, knowledge and understanding of the subject will be developed throughout the course with the support of tutors, but it is always good to have an idea of what the expectations are from the outset, so you, as the student, know what you need to achieve.