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Continuing Education Degrees: Certificate, CAS, Master – What is the difference?

A colleague recently said to me: “Certificate of participation, certifcate of advanced studies, diploma – sounds like the same to me.” Phew, first I had to take a deep breath. But he is not alone in his opinion: in the field of continuing education there are many degrees and sometimes that leads to confusion.

Some terms are clear: most people intuitively understand that a certificate of participation is much easier to obtain than a master’s degree. But there is a wide, often opaque, field inbetween those terms. To lump them together, as happened to my colleague, can happen easily. Time to clear a few things up!

What defines the continuing education degree?

There is a system behind the degrees! The most important criteria are exams, depth and scope.

The scope is measured with the help of credit points, which are also called ECTS. Anyone who completed a degree in the past ten years should be familiar with them. They indicate the workload of a course. How much time does a person invest on average to successfully complete the course?

In continuing education one credit point stands for 25 to 30 hours of work. This includes attendance in seminars or lectures as well as other study activities. The workload comprises classroom and online seminars, self-study, writing papers and time for exam preparation.

Continuing Education Certificates and Degrees from Certificate of Participation to Master’s Degree

Let us introduce six continuing education degrees that you can obtain at university.

  • Formats for Introductory courses: Certificate of Participation and Certificate
  • New formats: CAS and DAS
  • Advanced Level: Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree

Certificate of Participation

It is exactly what its name indicates: It certifies participation in a continuing education programme. Mostly you receive it for smaller formats, such as a one-day seminar or a three-hour online training. The main criterion is attendance. You don’t take exams or receive credit points.


The certificate goes one step further: mere presence is no longer sufficient. In order to receive a continuing education certificate, you have to participate actively by taking exams, writing term papers or giving presentations. A course that concludes with an exam comprises up to 9 credit points. The duration of a course is variable but most formats last several weeks.

Certificate of Advanced Studies (CAS)

A CAS is awarded for university-based continuing education programmes. A CAS is awarded for university-based continuing education programmes. To complete such a course you have to fufill a workload of 10 credit points and pass an exam.
The programme is typically spread over one to two semesters.

Diploma of Advanced Studies (DAS)

A Diploma of Advanced Studies takes you one step further: The programme requires completion of at least 30 credit points and an examination.
This type of programme typically spans two to four semesters.

Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree

Undeniably, the continuing eduaction programme with the largest scope is either a bachelor’s or master’s degree. Part-time master’s degrees are particularly popular and are offered as an opportunity to combine working and studying. If you are aiming for an academic degree, it is important to know that it is not only about gaining expertise but also about learning how to work in an academic (work) environment. Therefore, a thesis is a must. Für einen Bachelor-Abschluss erbringen Sie 180 bis 240 Credit Points. A master’s degree requires 60 to 120 credit points. As you can see, there is a considerable variation regarding the scope of these different programmes. Even the duration of a programme can vary significantly since a degree that can be concluded while working can be also extended accordingly.

More Transparancy for Your Continuing Education Opportunities

CAS and DAS are relatively new degrees that were developed in Switzerland. The aim of these new formats is to give the varying degrees within the field of continuing education a new structure. As Toni Bünemann, Head of the Continuing Education Department at the University of Freiburg, explains:

“In Switzerland, quality-assured programmes based on the ECTS system, such as CAS and DAS, were specifically developed for continuing education. The formats worked out so successfully that they were first adopted in the southwestern Germany at the University of Freiburg where they continued growing across Baden-Württemberg and Germany.”

The most important characteristic of these programmes/formats is that they can be compared more easily, which is essential for employers as well as employees. It is easier for participants to assess the scope of a programme. When confonted with such a degree on a CV, employers get a more concrete idea of the scope and level of a programme. Für TeilnehmerInnen steht dabei oft die Flexibilität und die Vereinbarkeit mit Beruf und Familie im Vordergrund. This an aspect that convinced Dana Müller, a research associate at the Foundation Exilmuseum Berlin:

“I chose the Certificate (CAS) and Diploma of Advanced Studies (DAS) in Museum Studies because it is particularly compatible with my job. I had already completed a Master’s degree. Therefore the degree was less important to me. It was the content and the flexibility of blended learning that made me choose this particular programme.”

Prof. Dr. Ralf Haderlein, professor for social management and course convenor for the CAS Health Care Management is of the opinion that

“especially for employees, the formats that are offered are an ideal opportunity to continue learning on an academic level.”

Universities offer a broad spectrum of continuing education programmes. You can make your choice: Find the right continuing education program for you, not only in terms of topic, but also in terms of scope and level.

Tip: At südwissen you canfilter all our offers according to certificate or degree, in order to find exactly what fits in your life!