What tertiary qualifications can you study for?

Want a tertiary qualification but not sure which one?

Here’s a guide to all the tertiary qualifications you might be able to study for. They show a natural progression up the chain of higher learning, and there can be a qualification there for everyone if they really want to get it.



  • Certificates can be offered by universities or polytechnics to boost you into or prepare you for higher-level study (eg Bachelor’s Degree), or they can be an essential entry step for specific occupations.
  • National Certificates are related to industry training courses and recognise skills or achievement; offered by polytechnics, Industry Training Organisations and PTEs
  • Can be from NZQF Level 1 through to Level 6 and can be 6 months or a year of full-time study.


  • Generally require between one and two years of study, and this can be done at both universities and at polytechnics as well as through some approved training providers. (see the various Diploma levels available)
  • Diplomas can be a great pathway to get into a job or occupation. They are increasingly being designed with help from employers to focus on specific areas or sets of tasks, so you graduate with the skills employers are looking for.
  • Can in some cases be converted into a Bachelors degree with one or two further years of study.
  • Diplomas can often be required qualifications for some advanced trade and technical occupations (eg National Diplomas in Construction Management and Surveying, or the range of Diplomas in IT and ICT.

Bachelor’s Degree 

  • This is the undergraduate degree you start when it’s your first time at university, and many polytechnics also offer approved Bachelor’s Degree study.
  • Bachelor Degrees can be three, four or five years in length, depending on the degree programme you choose and whether or not you enrol for a conjoint degree.  
  • Students normally 'major' in the one or two subjects that they study over three or more years in papers taught at first, second and third-year levels. 
  • A Bachelor's Degree usually requires a minimum of 360 credits from NZQF Levels 5 to 7, and generally a minimum of 72 of these credits need to be at Level 7.

Conjoint degree (or double degree) 

  • You can choose to study two degrees at the same time, cross-crediting some papers, to give yourself a conjoint degree. Popular examples are a Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Laws (BA/LLB) or Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Teaching (BA/BTchg). Some really interesting combinations are available these days, making it easier to follow your passions with study.
  • Conjoint degrees usually take at least four years to complete. 


  • An extra 1 year of study done following a successful Bachelor’s Degree.
  • This can also be the first year towards your Masters degree. 

Postgraduate Diploma 

  • If you want to do an extra year of study in a slightly different subject after completing your Bachelor’s Degree, a Postgraduate Diploma is the best option.
  • It is a one-year qualification which can also count towards your Masters qualification. 

Master’s Degree 

  • A Master’s Degree is normally two years of study in a specific field following getting a Bachelor’s Degree.
  • Can often be achieved in one year if you already have a Bachelor’s Degree with Honours or an appropriate Postgraduate Diploma.

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) 

  • A PhD is a major research qualification that takes three to five years to finish.
  • It is studied once students or researchers have finished their Master’s Degree and looks at a topic in real depth.
  • Graduates who have a PhD will have Dr. in front of their name referring to the academic achievement, not the medical kind. You will deserve it after perhaps 9 or 10 years of study!

Find out more about tertiary study in New Zealand