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A Diploma or An Associate Degree - Which is Better for You?


Difference between diploma and associate degree

Both a diploma and an associate degree strive to provide students with a deep understanding of science to provide a solid base at the beginning of each student’s healthcare career. Needless to say, both are excellent programs that offer hands-on training to be a competent healthcare professional.

What is the difference between a diploma and an associate degree in the healthcare profession? How do you decide which is better for you?

  • Diplomas - focus on getting students trained, qualified and job-ready quickly with shorter, focused and practical training courses in their chosen field.
  • Degrees – are longer term qualifying programs (they may take as long as 3-4 years or longer). They enable graduates to gain all-around skills and knowledge to prepare them for jobs, further education and training or practice in various positions in their chosen careers.

While they may be similar in many ways, choosing which one you want to pursue is really about deciding which one fits in with your career goals. Here are some questions you need to consider when deciding which is best suited for you.

  1. How Hands-On Do You Want Your Training to Be?

    While it’s true that both programs offer excellent levels of practical training, diplomas by nature are geared exclusively toward a hands-on approach. For example, in ACC’s vocational nursing program, you will be expected to complete a certain number of hours of clinical shifts (approximately 800 hours) during which you'll train under the supervision of nurses, dentists or doctors in different healthcare settings like hospitals, long-term care facilities, etc.

    These courses (divided into terms of theoretical and clinical training) focus on learning about and working with the human body, as well as working with medical instruments and diagnostics equipment – all aimed at teaching diploma students to excel at patient assessment and care, diagnostic measurements and medical procedures and treatments.

    In an associate degree program, you’ll also be expected to take humanities courses which may not directly be related to healthcare fields, such as English, math and other general education subjects. These add the problem-solving angle to strong clinical knowledge and prepare students for future administerial roles in the healthcare field.

    If you who want to stay entirely focused on nursing or another healthcare field, then a diploma would be the better option.
  2. Do You Want to Study More in the Future?

    If you’re someone who loves academics and wants to pursue higher education in healthcare after gaining a few years of experience, then a better choice would be an associate degree program. These programs can open doors for a Bachelor’s and then a Master’s of Science, should you wish to continue your education in the future. With additional studies can come a higher salary and a wider scope of opportunities within the profession, however you should keep in mind that with more academics comes more time dedicated to school as well as more money that might need to be spent on tuition.
  3. Where Do You See Yourself Working?

    Generally, nurses with diplomas usually hold entry-level positions in hospitals and inpatient facilities, and are not found in specialty practices such as oncology and pediatrics. If you are someone interested in fast-tracking your RN license, then a diploma may fit your goals, but if you see yourself working in a specialty area, then an associate degree may be a better option.
  4. What are the Requirements of the State You Want to Work In?
    It is essential that you check your prospective state board’s website to determine the minimum educational requirement for places of employment in your state. In some states, the minimum requirement may be an associate degree, and not a diploma. For example, in states like Arizona, Indiana and Alaska, an associate degree in nursing is the minimum degree allowed to become a registered nurse.
  5. How Much Do You Expect to Earn?

    In terms of the pay scale, both diplomas and associate degrees vary. Shift changes and geographical areas also play a major role, but a degree holder could stand a better chance of earning more and having the opportunity to grow into a supervisor position.

    At the end of the day, both diploma and associate degree programs offer enthusiastic, aspiring students a chance to be reach their goals in the healthcare profession. Before you choose which path you want to take, make sure you make a list of your priorities and goals. Asking yourself simple questions like, “Where do I see myself in the healthcare profession in the next five to ten years?” and “Do I want to continue my education in the future?” will help you decide which program suits you.

    With years of experience and batches of successfully trained healthcare professionals, ACC provides both an Associate Degree in Nursing and a Diploma in Vocational Nursing, along with other programs for the healthcare profession. At ACC, we believe that one change changes everything, which is why starting with choosing the right program for you is essential to a successful career in the healthcare profession.

ACC cannot guarantee employment. Programs vary by campus. The views and opinions expressed are those of the individuals and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs or position of the school or of any instructor or student. For graduation rates, median debt of graduates completing this program and other important information, visit

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