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).

What's the difference between achieving NCEA Level 3 and getting University Entrance?

University Entrance (UE) describes the minimum requirement for entry into degree-level 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.

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

Find out more: NZQA's NCEA Level 3 Certificate page >>

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

Find out more: NZQA's University Entrance page>>

Bridging/Foundation Certificates

Most tertiary providers offer bridging/foundation courses 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.

Learn 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.
  • 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.
  • Some certificates are designed as preparation for diploma- or degree-level study.

NZQF Level 5-6: Diploma

Diplomas can be a great way to get quickly 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 in engineering, as they have strong technical expertise and hands-on skills.

  • 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.
  • The New Zealand Diploma in Engineering (NZDE) is an internationally recognised qualification leading to a rewarding career as an engineering technician.
  • 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.

NZQF Level 7: Bachelor’s Degree, Graduate Certificate or Diploma

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).

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
  • 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.

NZQF Level 8: Honours Degree, Postgraduate Certificate or Diploma

An Honours degree involves study at a more advanced level than a Bachelor's degree, and generally involves an independent project or short research thesis. It may be an undergraduate degree in itself, or a separate postgraduate degree that follows completion of a Bachelor's degree. Completing an Honours degree to an approved standard is necessary preparation for further postgraduate study, for example a Master's degree or doctorate.

  • 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. Not every degree follows this ‘3 + 1’ format.
  • 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.

Postgraduate certificates and diplomas generally involve completing courses at Honours level, but don't usually include a research project or thesis.

  • A postgraduate certificate or diploma can be a flexible way to study at a more advanced level once you've completed a Bachelor's degree
  • The Futureintech Course Finder lists specialist postgraduate certificates and diplomas in subjects such as Geographic Information Science and Forensic Science, which might not be offered as a specific undergraduate major.

NZQF Level 9: Masters' Degree

A Master’s degree is a postgraduate qualification open to students who have completed an undergraduate (Bachelor’s) degree. It generally takes either one or two years to complete, and may involve courses at an advanced level or a thesis based on a research project. The Course Finder lists specialist Masters' degrees in subjects which may not be offered at undergraduate level.

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