As with everything new, every new step you take, some of the terms and decisions can be daunting not to say confusing.

Chances are if you’ve chosen a place of study then you’ve decided what it is you want to study. There are some tertiary providers who specialise in certain courses or who develop a reputation for delivering particular courses.

So you understand what the actual qualification is you will be studying for here’s a quick break-down on what the basic qualifications are and what they entail…

Bridging Programmes (Foundation Courses)

There are two reasons a bridging or foundation course becomes a must

a.    if you haven’t yet achieved the required entry level qualifications or

b.    if you are over 20 years old, have gained entry to the course on this basis and the provider is not sure of your abilities.

These courses are fairly generic in what they offer the student. Because the outcome of them is to ensure the student can cope with further study the courses are commonly offered in Maths, English and Science subjects. There are often also courses in essay writing and study and time management.


A certificate usually takes one year of full time study and training to complete.

Nationally recognised certificates usually have the same course content and structure at all tertiary providers.


A diploma normally requires two years of full-time study. Diplomas can stand alone as a qualification or can be completed as a follow-on from another qualification a student may have completed. This is where the term ‘postgraduate diploma’, (postgrad) is commonly used. A good example of this – a student who has gained a degree may want to teach at secondary school level. This person could then complete a post graduate diploma is secondary teaching.


A bachelors degree usually requires three years of full time study. This qualification is theory based as opposed to the more practical training certificates and diplomas may consist of.

A student completes a degree in one particular area of study moving progressively from the basic study and concepts to the more advanced levels of the subject area. The subject area chosen becomes known as the ‘major’ in which the student completed the degree.

More and more commonly students are choosing to ‘major’ in more than one subject area meaning they often tag another year or so to their study but they come away with an arguably more valuable degree.

Alternatively a student may choose to continue with more postgraduate study to complete their degree with honours or to complete a masters degree.


There are often options for those who haven’t achieved the grades they needed at school to complete a tertiary qualification. This involves building up qualifications, often starting with a certificate in the chosen area that then leads to being accepted for study in a diploma course that, when completed means the student can study in the degree. Make sense?

This is called staircasing. Many people use this method of gaining qualifications to begin anew and start their life on a different track.

Be sure to check out our other articles ‘An Introduction to Tertiary Education’ and ‘Where can I study?’.


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This information was compiled by the Kiwi Families team.

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