There often appears to be a perception that accounting diplomas are inferior to accounting degrees. However, employers often disagree with this statement. Employers appoint both people with accounting degrees and accounting diplomas, depending on the requirements of a specific post.
Some factors for consideration when choosing between obtaining a degree or a diploma are discussed in this article.
Time required for studies
An accounting degree takes three to four years to complete full-time while an accounting diploma can be completed full-time within one to two years.
For a student who needs to start earning a salary, four years can be a very long time. Doing a diploma essentially cuts the time required for studies in half.
As a diploma course is shorter in duration and generally requires a student to take less subjects, it is often more desirable from a cost point of view to do a diploma rather than a degree.
Scope of subjects
A degree’s curriculum requires students to master a wider scope of subjects than a diploma course. Typically a degree will include courses that are peripheral or even unrelated to the actual accounting courses. A student with a degree will thus have a wider knowledge of subjects other than straight accounting courses which might, or might not, come in handy in future.
The curriculum of diploma courses is more focused on subjects directly related to the accounting field and results in a more specialised qualification than a degree. With a diploma course students have the option of taking additional subjects of their own choice that are not part of the prescribed curriculum but which can enhance their qualification if they so wish.
Both accounting degrees and accounting diplomas aim at preparing students to fulfil accounting functions in the job market. Some courses are shared between these degrees and diplomas, e.g. financial accounting and cost accounting. Other courses, like economics, statistics and personal finance might only be included in an accounting degree’s curriculum. As mentioned above, a diploma student can, however, take courses like statistics in addition to the courses required by an accounting diploma to increase their knowledge base.
The employment potential of an employee usually starts with some kind of qualification, which could be a degree or a diploma. However, to find employment with a qualification behind their name, students will need to develop their soft skills in addition to their qualification(s). Although a qualification is a good start, the fact that an employee does not have sufficient soft skills can sink his/her application for employment or a promotion.
Employers do look at the education of a potential employee, but other factors are increasingly taken into account when a decision about the appointment or promotion of an employee must be made. This is evidenced by the fact that an increasing number of employers now require candidates to complete evaluations, ranging from personality tests to soft skill questionnaires, to determine their overall suitability for a specific post. Some employers even use graphology (study of handwriting) as an element of the application sifting process.
Factors like attitude, interpersonal skills and performance will often be as deciding a factor as the qualification of an employee or potential employee. There are employers who follow the motto of “appoint for attitude, train for skills”, as it is easier to train someone to increase their knowledge than to change their attitude.
Costs is also a factor employers consider when they employ people. The higher the qualification, the higher the salary will be. It is understandable that employers may feel they are paying for knowledge that they do not require in a specific post when they appoint an applicant with a degree at a higher salary than a diploma candidate who can come in at a lower cost to the company and still be qualified to do the work that a specific post requires of them.
If a student wants to carve out an academic career, it will be necessary to do an accounting degree.
Another option is doing both a degree and a diploma. In some instances it may be to the advantage of an employee to hold both qualifications.
If a student already has a diploma behind their name, they could be able to get some credits for relevant diploma subjects already completed if they want to proceed with a degree at a later stage.
Today’s job market requires candidates to be sufficiently trained in theoretical knowledge as well as interpersonal skills and other soft skills. As far as theoretical subject training is concerned, a degree or a diploma could be equally suitable for a student. Which one to choose, will depend on the personal circumstances of each individual and what he/she wants to achieve careerwise.
This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied upon as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice.