A short guide to the different types of certificate, diploma and degree offered by New Zealand polytechs and universities

Figuring out what to study can be bewildering, and it's easy to get confused by all the strange names for tertiary-level courses. To help you figure out what sort of course is right for you, we've written this short guide to the different types of qualifications and where they sit on the New Zealand Qualification Framework (NZQF).

Getting into the tertiary course of your choice

University Entrance (UE) describes the minimum requirement for entry into degree (Level 7 or 8) study at a New Zealand university, although you may be accepted via a Discretionary Entrance pathway or after completing a Foundation Certificate. University Entrance builds on the NCEA Level 3 certificate by requiring you to have 42 of your Level 3 credits in subjects that have been approved as preparation for university-level study.

Entry requirements for certificate and diploma courses vary by subject and tertiary provider, but generally require credits at NCEA Level 1 or 2. Completing certificates and diplomas at Level 3-6 can be another route to degree-level study.

NCEA Level 3 Certificate

To be awarded the NCEA Level 3 Certificate you need:

  • 60 credits at Level 3 or above
  • Another 20 credits at Level 2 or above
  • Literacy and numeracy requirements at Level 1

NZQA's NCEA Level 3 Certificate page >>

University Entrance

To achieve University Entrance you need:

  • NCEA Level 3
  • 14 Level 3 credits in each of three approved subjects
  • Slightly higher literacy and numeracy requirements

NZQA's University Entrance page >>

Bridging + Foundation

Most tertiary providers offer bridging courses and/or Foundation Certificates for students who have either not achieved University Entrance or who lack the specific achievement in Calculus, Physics or Chemistry required for entry into diplomas and degrees in engineering, IT, food technology and some science majors.

Find out more about bridging courses >>

NZQF Level 4-5: Certificate

Certificates generally take between six months to a year to complete if studying full-time.

Certificates can provide a broad introduction to a particular subject area, for example in IT, Horticulture or Agriculture, or may be designed as preparation for diploma- or degree-level study.

Specific certificates may be required for entry into an occupation – for example, a Certificate in Electrical Trades for work as an electrician or a Certificate in Surveying for work as a surveying assistant.

Trade-related certificates may be offered through Industry Training Organisations (ITOs).

Certificates in Engineering >>

Bridging + Foundation Certificates >>

Learn more about Industry Training Organisations >>

NZQF Level 5-6: Diploma

Diplomas can be a great way to quickly get into a job in technology and engineering as they generally take two years of full-time study.

Diploma graduates are in demand in industry, especially people with the New Zealand Diploma in Engineering (NZDE), as they have strong technical expertise and hands-on skills. Diplomas are often the required qualification for advanced trade and technical occupations, for example National Diplomas in Architectural Technology (Drafting), Construction Management and Surveying, and Diplomas in Information and Communications Technology.

A diploma in Science or Technology can be a flexible way to study at tertiary level. After completing a diploma, you can generally convert it into a degree by completing an extra year of study.

New Zealand Diploma in Engineering >>

Diploma in Science >>

Diploma in Information Technology >>

NZQF Level 7: Bachelor's Degree

A Bachelor's degree is the standard undergraduate degree and generally takes three years of full-time study to complete.

Generalist degrees such as the Bachelor of Science allow you to combine a 'major' subject with supporting or 'minor' subjects. Specialist degrees – such as the Bachelor of Engineering Technology and Bachelor of Information Technology – tend to be structured around compulsory courses with some electives. Some specialist degrees – such as the Bachelor of Surveying and Bachelor of Forestry Science – take four years and may be completed with or without Honours (see below).

Bachelor of Science >>

Bachelor of Engineering Technology >>

NZQF Level 7: Graduate Certificate or Diploma

Graduate certificates and diplomas are a flexible way to study additional undergraduate-level courses after you've completed a degree.

Graduate certificates usually take one semester of full-time study to complete, whereas graduate diplomas generally take a full year.

Graduate certificates and diplomas are particularly suitable for students who have completed a Bachelor's degree and want to move into a different area. For example, somebody with a degree in Maths might complete a graduate certificate in Computer Science in order to get into work in the digital/IT industry.

Graduate Diploma in Science >>

NZQF Level 8: Four-year Honours Degrees

An Honours degree involves study at a more advanced level than a Bachelor's degree, and generally involves an independent project or short research report [thesis]. Completing an Honours degree to an approved standard is necessary preparation for further postgraduate study, for example, enrolling in a Master's degree or doctorate (PhD).

An Honours degree may be an undergraduate degree in itself, or a separate postgraduate degree that follows completion of a Bachelor's degree (see next section).

Students with a high grade average in a four-year specialist degree may be invited to undertake additional courses in their final year in order to be awarded their degree with Honours. Other four year degrees – such as the Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) at some universities and Bachelor of Food Technology (Honours) – are only offered as Honours degrees.

Bachelor of Engineering >>

NZQF Level 8: Postgraduate Certificate, Diploma or Honours year

Students who have completed a degree with a good grade average may be invited to study the same 'major' subject for an additional year at a higher (postgraduate) level in order to be awarded a Level 8 Honours degree.

Typically the Bachelor of Science (Honours) is an extra year after the Bachelor of Science, but not every degree follows this '3 + 1' format (see previous section).

Postgraduate certificates and diplomas generally involve completing courses at a similar level to the courses for an Honours degree, but don't usually include a research project or thesis. They can be a flexible way to study at a more advanced level once you've completed a Bachelor's degree.

Bachelor of Science (Honours) >>

Postgraduate Certificate or Diploma in Science >>

NZQF Level 9: Masters' Degree

A Master's degree is a postgraduate qualification open to students who have completed an undergraduate (Bachelor's) degree, generally in the same subject or a closely related area. It usually takes either one or two years to complete a Master's degree, and may involve courses at an advanced level or a thesis based on a research project (or a combination).

Specialist Masters' degrees may be offered in subjects that are not available at undergraduate level, for example, the Master of Dairy Science and Technology, Master of Meteorology (weather science), or Master of Engineering Geology.

Master of Science >>

Specialist Master's degrees >>

NZQF Level 10: Doctorate (PhD)

The doctorate or PhD is the highest tertiary degree, and is generally only open to those who have already completed an Honours or Master's degree, generally in the same subject or a closely related area.

In order to be awarded a doctoral degree, students must have undertaken extensive research and written a thesis over the course of three to five years.

In most fields, PhD graduates will need to complete a number of two to three-year 'postdoctoral' positions in order to eventually compete for permanent positions as lead researchers or university lecturers.

Why is it called a PhD? A Doctor of Philosophy – Philosophiae Doctor in Latin – is the highest degree awarded in any area other than theology, law or medicine. Traditionally, philosophy – 'love of wisdom' in Greek – included natural sciences and maths as well as history and social sciences.

Doctorate (PhD) >>

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