Vocational Education VS Higher Education

Which Is The Right Path For Your Career?

When it comes to pursuing tertiary education, there are two main paths that students can take: vocational education and higher education. 

Both types of education have their own unique benefits and drawbacks, and it ultimately comes down to individual goals, preferences, and career aspirations. In this article, we will explore the differences between vocational and higher education and help you determine which path might be the best fit for you.

Qualification vs Education 

A qualification is certification that signifies an individual is qualified for their job. Education instead is a process or program for imparting knowledge to equip an individual for a job.

What Are Tertiary Qualifications?

The meaning of tertiary qualifications is any type of certification that you can receive from a post-secondary education institution such as a university, college, TAFE or an apprenticeship/traineeship.  In simpler terms, qualifications from education after high school.

What is Vocational Education?

Vocational education, also known as career or technical education, focuses on providing students with hands-on training and practical skills that can be applied directly to a specific career or industry. Vocational education programs are typically offered by community colleges, vocational schools, and trade schools and can range in duration from several weeks to a few years.

Short courses can take a few days or weeks to complete. While larger certificates take years. 

Benefits of Vocational Education:

  1. Job-Specific Skills: One of the primary benefits of vocational education is that it provides students with job-specific skills that are directly applicable to their chosen career path. This means that students can hit the ground running once they enter the workforce with a completed certificate, as they already possess the necessary skills and knowledge.
  2. On-the-Job Experience: One of young people’s greatest gripes with finding work across job sites online is employers’ need for experience. Vocational Education helps foster environments where apprentices and trainees can learn safely and be supervised on the job, to make sure that they can get the experience and proven competency they need to become employed. 
  3. Shorter Time to Completion: Vocational education programs are typically shorter than traditional higher education programs, which means that students can enter the workforce sooner and start earning a salary.
  4. Lower Cost (or Fee-free!): Vocational education programs are generally less expensive than traditional higher education programs, which can be particularly beneficial for students who are on a tight budget. In fact, most apprenticeship and traineeship program fees (which are undertaken underneath an employer) are fully paid for by the employer. So they won’t add on massively to your debts later as a HECS or HELP loan would.
  5. Higher Success Rate: More people report finding work compared to higher education, within the first year of completion.

Types of Vocational Qualifications – 

  • Certificate I
  • Certificate II
  • Certificate III
  • Certificate IV
  • Diploma
  • Advanced Diploma
  • (Vocational) Graduate Certificate
  • (Vocational) Graduate Diploma

Is A Diploma Vocational?

As a Group Training Organisation (GTO) in Australia, we frequently receive inquiries from potential students and apprentices who are interested in pursuing a diploma qualification. One common question we often hear is, “Is a diploma vocational?”

The answer is yes! A diploma qualification is considered vocational and is attached to courses that are taught with a more practical, hands-on approach. Diplomas often take 1-2 years to complete and offer students more of an in-depth understanding of their interest over a certificate. 

Diplomas in Australia are generally offered by TAFE or other registered training organisations (RTOs). 

What is Higher Education?

Higher education refers to formal academic education pursued through an institution like a university or college. Higher education programs are more theoretical in nature and provide students with a broad range of knowledge and skills within an area of interest that can be applied to a variety of career paths. 

The most widely recognised higher education qualification is a bachelor’s degree, which often takes 3-4 years to complete. However, they can take 6 years to complete if you choose to study part-time. 

After completing an Undergraduate degree like a Bachelor’s, some students also have the opportunity to commit to further study with a Graduate degree to further specialise. 

Benefits of Higher Education – 

1. Focused on Professional Careers: While TAFE and other VET providers emphasise practical vocational skills, higher education courses tend to focus on conceptual knowledge and critical thinking that individuals need to work as professionals. 

The broad range of subjects offered at universities and colleges have different requirements and prepare students in different ways depending on both the subject and individual institution, so we can’t give you just one example of what a day in the life of a higher ed student would look like. 

Many students may get some work experience or get to apply their knowledge, especially in their final years, but this work tends to be remembering information, critically or creatively applying learned principles, and creating reports of evaluation for better results in the future. However, higher education tends to be theoretical for the most part and taught from a classroom.

2. Flexible Curriculum: Undergraduate degrees take a focus through a major, which allows students to get good coverage of their chosen discipline as well as others that closely relate to it. Most degrees in these programs also allow students to select electives to further broaden their knowledge or minor in another closely related discipline.

3. Well Established: Universities have a reputation for helping students achieve high outcomes in their future work opportunities and salaries. 

Types of Higher Education Qualifications – 

  • Bachelor Degree
  • Bachelor Honours Degree
  • Graduate Certificate
  • Graduate Diploma
  • Masters Degree
  • Doctoral Degree
  • Higher Doctoral Degree

Vocational vs. Higher Education: Which Path is Right for You?

Deciding on a vocational or higher education route is a very personal decision, that will be different and unique depending on the individual. Even two people with the same career goals may need to consider what steps would suit them best, based on the way they learn, their financial situation and what knowledge they can get out of their training to make themselves attractive and more irreplaceable as individuals with unique strengths on the talent market. 

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help you get a better understanding of which option would be the for your career path:

  1. What are my career goals? Do I have a specific career in mind, or am I open to exploring different options?
  2. What are my personal preferences? Do I prefer hands-on learning and practical skills, or do I enjoy more theoretical and abstract concepts?
  3. What is my financial situation? How much can I afford to spend on education, and how quickly do I need to start earning a salary?
  4. What are the requirements for my desired career path? Does it require a specific degree or certification?

By answering these questions, you may get better at determining which path might be the best fit for you.

Remember, you also don’t need to stick with one. Many students, especially in IT, Engineering and Business, decide to study both education models to get a more well-rounded education that includes both practical and theoretical knowledge. 


In conclusion, both vocational and higher education have their unique benefits and drawbacks, and it ultimately comes down to individual goals, preferences, and career aspirations. If you are looking for job-specific skills and a shorter time to completion at a lower cost, vocational education might be the best fit for you. If you are interested in a broad range of knowledge and more career opportunities, as well as personal growth, higher education might be the better choice.

Ultimately, the decision to pursue vocational or higher education should be based on careful consideration of your personal and professional goals, as well as your financial situation. Regardless of the path you choose, it’s important to remember that education is an investment in your future, and the skills and knowledge you gain in either route will serve you well throughout your career.

Get Started in your Vocational Education

If you have decided on pursuing vocational education for your career, 1300apprentice is a Group Training Organisation with a network of jobs and host employers to help. 

Look through jobs based on Traineeships or Apprenticeships, Industry and Location. 

If you’re a bit unsure about your next step after high school (or your next career change) you can also contact our helpful and friendly recruitment officers. 

We have helped connect over 2,000 apprentices and trainees to successful outcomes in work, and we can assist you in realising your talents.

Subscribe For Updates