All Things Qualifications – Your Complete Breakdown

Posted September 10, 2019, by Jenny Sakr

Broadly speaking, there are two categories of qualifications in Australia – vocational (vocational courses are usually practical courses aimed at preparing you for employment in a range of vocational occupations) and higher education (university courses which usually more heavily grounded in theory and are generally considered more academic).

Under those two umbrellas, there is a range of different qualifications tiered to provide different levels of training. It’s important to know what qualification is best suited to your career goals – a wrong choice at a vital educational crossroads could see you forking out unnecessary cash or spending more time than necessary chasing a qualification you may not need or want.
Entry-level courses offer a basic overview of a subject, while others are a lot more industry-focused and may require work placement. Below is the hierarchy of qualifications and a breakdown on each. 


Combine your studies with valuable on-the-job experience with a traineeship. This qualification is a structured training programme ideal for those wanting to build workplace skills while learning. They are often available in non-trade areas such as hospitality, building and construction, manufacturing and beauty therapy, and come with a paycheck, so you can earn while you learn! Traineeships are available to anyone who’s eligible to work, doesn’t matter if you’re fresh out of school or wanting to re-enter the workforce – there are no prerequisites.

Duration: 1 to 2 years

Certificate I & Certificate II

These are the most basic, entry-level tertiary qualifications you can earn after high school. With each of these qualifications, you will gain the essential level of knowledge about your chosen topic/field. 

Duration: Certificate I 4-6 months | Certificate II 6-8 months 

Certificate III and Certificate IV

Take your level of knowledge and depth of learning a little further with a Certificate III and Certificate IV course. In a nutshell, with certificate level qualifications, the higher the certificate the more breadth of information you’ll cover. These qualifications will give you the opportunity to go move out of entry-level positions and apply for roles with more responsibility and complexity, as well as pave the way for further study. 

Duration: Certificate III 12 months | Certificate IV up to 18 months

Diploma and Advanced Diploma 

Gain comprehensive training; build more in-depth skills with a Diploma or Advanced Diploma! Both these qualifications offer a broader level of training than a Certificate III or IV. A Diploma will equip you with the confidence to take on higher levels of responsibility. Start to really build your problem-solving skills and management skills with an Advanced Diploma. Like Certificates, Diplomas are generally awarded through TAFEs and private registered organisations. 

Duration: Diploma up to 2 years | Advanced Diploma up to 3 years

Single Units

Whether you want to develop personally or professionally, single course units are the ideal way to fill in a skill or knowledge gap, gain a specialist skill, learn something new, or simply get a taster for a topic. It’s a great way to upskill and get your mind jogging without the commitment of a full-length degree. 

Associate Degree

In a nutshell, an Associate Degree is a uni qualification that offers broad-based competency in a given field. To be eligible for an Associate Degree course, generally you need to have completed year 12 or a Certificate III or IV. Associate Degrees are similar to Advanced Diplomas, but are more academic rather than vocational. Consider them a shorter bachelor degree offered by universities, private providers and VET providers alike.

Duration: 2 years 

Bachelor Degree

A Bachelor Degree is the base undergraduate* qualification and the prime gateway to many professional fields. Cover a range of subject areas and get the skills to understand and evaluate new information, as well as build essential skills including critical thinking, research and writing. 

Major in at least one area and have the option to extend your degree and go more in-depth in your chosen area with a further year of honours study. Studying honours is usually a prerequisite for postgraduate study and is a great way of showing your commitment to learning. 

Equipped with these important skills and highly a regarded Bachelors qualification, you’ll be held in good stead in any professional environment. 

Duration: 3-4 years, plus optional 1 year of honours study

Graduate Certificate and Graduate Diploma 

Deepen and expand your knowledge after you’ve completed a Bachelor Degree and advance your vocational skills in a specific field with a Graduate Certificate or Graduate Diploma. 

Classified as a postgraduate qualification, a Graduate Certificate generally requires a Bachelors Degree or in some cases relevant work experience, and a Graduate Diploma is usually taken on after a Bachelor Degree or Diploma with the exception of appropriate work experience for some. Think of a Graduate Diploma as being similar to an Associate Degree, however, more vocational and less academic.

These qualifications will help set you apart from the crowd, offer you more practical skills and add another element to your professional experience. 

Duration: Graduate Certificate 6 months | Graduate Diploma 12 months 


A Masters is all about mastering your understanding on a specific area of knowledge. A Masters Degree comes in three main forms; Masters Degree (Research), Masters Degree (Coursework) and Masters Degree (Extended) the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF), explains how these degrees will “qualify individuals to apply an advanced body of knowledge in a range of contexts for professional practice or scholarship and as a pathway for further learning.” 

Getting accepted into a Masters program generally requires a Bachelor Degree, Honours Degree or Graduate Diploma. 

Going on to do a Masters says something similar to prospective employers as an Honours Degree, that you’re passionate about a certain area, and driven enough to devote the time and money to turn it into a career.

Duration: 1 to 2 years 


The Doctoral Degree is the highest qualification available in Australia and it’s this qualification that gives graduates the coveted title of ‘Dr’ (outside a medical qualification). 

A Doctorate requires a significant amount of detailed research to either uncover or develop new information, data and theories in a specialised area and requires students to take on a large research project and thesis outlining their findings. To qualify you must have a Masters Degree. 

Duration: Up to 4 years 

The right qualification for you depends on two things – where you’ve come from and where you’re going. Getting to your end goal takes planning and time – you can’t just jump straight to a Doctorate, you must follow the right path. 

With the exception of Certificate I and some vocational courses that require only practical experience, you’ll usually need to prove that you’ve got what it takes to complete a qualification, and often that means having a lesser qualification – like having a higher school certificate to do a Bachelor Degree, or having a Certificate IV to qualify for a Diploma.

Getting qualified is the ticket to helping conquer your career aspirations – or sometimes you just want to do it for yourself – either way, that feeling you get on graduation day is sure to be worth all those late-night cramming sessions!


Jenny Sakr
Jenny Sakr

Jenny found her way with words while interning during uni, since, she's produced articles on it all – from hair and beauty to homewares, travel, career advice and study tips. On a weekend you're most likely to find her lining up for a table at the latest cafe or restaurant.

Academy Xi
ACBI (Australian College of Business Intelligence)
AIBI Higher Education
AIM Business School
ALC Training
Australasian College of Health and Wellness
Australian College of Physical Education
Australian Institute of Business
Australian Institute of Management Education and Training
Australian Institute of Personal Trainers
Billy Blue College of Design
Builders Academy Australia
Building and Construction Training Australia
Celtic Training
Collaboration Learning
College for Adult Learning
Demi International
Ducere Global Business School
Ella Bache College
Endeavour College of Natural Health
Foundation Education
Gateway Training Academy
GROW Training Group
Hader Institute of Education
Hammond Institute
Industry Skills Training
Insight Training
James Cook University Online
La Trobe University
Lumify Learn
MCI Institute
Melbourne College of Further Education
Monarch Institute
Monash College Future Skills
National Business Institute of Australia
Nepean Industry Edge Training
Onfit Training College
Open Colleges
Original Campus
Outsource Institute
Parker Brent
Pet Stylist Academy
Phillips Institute
RMIT Online
Sero Institute
Serve It Up
The Hotel School
The Institute of Applied Psychology
Torrens University Australia
University of Adelaide
University of the Sunshine Coast
UNSW Online
UTS Online
Victoria University Online
Torrens University Australia
Torrens University Australia
University of East London
Southern Cross University