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What is a college diploma?

In the United States, a “college” is the colloquial name of any type of post-secondary higher education institution, whether it is an actual college, giving our technical instruction, a four-year university, or a community college. For Americans, colleges are institutions where students can acquire postsecondary academic degrees. There are degrees for just about any type of profession or field of study, so you can get a degree in anything you’d like!

However, in other English-speaking countries, the word “college” is not used colloquially to mean any type of postsecondary institution. In the United Kingdom, for example, “colleges” are two-year high school-level training institutions that are attended by students between 16 and 18 years old. They are meant to be a more specialized type of high school that gives out a certification in a field, usually a technical one. The British refer to universities as “unis.” In Canada, a “college” is often a community college or other type of postgraduate institution that gives a broad range of undergraduate degrees, certificates, and technical diplomas in a variety of fields. A “college diploma” in an American context, therefore, implies an academic degree from a two-to-four-year postsecondary institution.

So what does it mean to have a college diploma?

It means two things. First, it means that you have completed all the requirements for a postsecondary degree as recognized by your academic institution. Second, it means that the academic institution has recognized the completion of a degree by issuing a diploma or a piece of paper that serves as official and legal recognition of this achievement. Therefore, having a college diploma means having graduated from a postsecondary institution with a specific degree and having the official paper that serves as evidence of your degree.

College diplomas cover at least four types of postsecondary degrees. These are: bachelor’s, master’s, doctorates, and diplomas (both graduate and postgraduate). A Bachelor’s Degree is a standard four-year degree that indicates a level of specialization. A Master’s Degree is a more elevated, more specialized degree that requires the completion of a research project or thesis and that is anywhere between one to three years in length. The Doctorate is the most specialized degree you can get! It requires the completion of a very specific research project that contributes to its discipline, it takes usually between four to ten years to complete, and is often acquired when the individual is interested in working as a university professor. Otherwise, this type of specialized degree is not required for gaining a job in the vast majority of fields.

The college diploma shows your academic achievements and a source of immense pride. While it is not necessary to go to college to gain meaningful employment or a successful career, most Americans still hold the college diploma as a status symbol of hard work and intellectual ability.