Introducing study options

What is the difference between an apprenticeship and a diploma? An undergraduate degree and a vocational qualification?

With all the higher education courses on offer there is bound to be something that suits you. Firstly, you need to research and understand the courses that are available to you. 

VET or degree – what’s the difference?

Courses can be split into two categories: vocational education and training courses (otherwise known as VET courses) and degrees.

Vocational Education and Training

  • Focus: VET covers the practical side of things, teaching technical and hands-on skills that are closely linked to specific jobs or trades.
  • Duration: They can take as little as one year to complete or as many as four.
  • Qualifications: VET courses include certificates, diplomas, advanced diplomas, traineeships and apprenticeships.
  • Relationship to work: Some options involve practical work experience or paid work alongside study.
  • Where to do them: VET courses are delivered by TAFEs in New South Wales and the Canberra Institute of Technology (CIT) in the Australian Capital Territory, and by some private institutions. 


  • Focus: Degrees are usually based around learning different areas of study or ‘disciplines’. These offer a broader approach and so can translate to a range of occupations.
  • Duration: Degrees usually take three to four years to complete if you study full time, longer for part-timers.
  • Qualifications: They can be ‘undergraduate’, which is the first degree students do, or ‘postgraduate’ which come later when someone who has already graduated wants to specialise further in a particular area.
  • Relationship to work: Degrees don’t link as directly to the day-to-day of specific jobs in the way VET courses do, but they often include work experience or practical placements as part of their courses and the lessons learned can be transferable across many occupations.
  • Where to do them: Degrees are mostly offered by the 39 universities around Australia.

Fields of study

A field of study is a group of related disciplines, skills and areas of interest. For example, the ‘business and economics’ field includes commerce, accounting, financial planning, marketing, international business, actuary studies, economics, human resources management and business administration. Finding your field of study will help you to choose your course. There are also industry areas that you can focus on with VET courses. 

Levels of study

If you search through the job ads, you will see a lot of the ‘essential criteria’ listed include degrees, diplomas, certificates and apprenticeships. Having these qualifications are immediate signals to any employer that you are committed to the profession and that you know enough to do the job.