Effiko's Blog
Foreign Admissions


The differences between the Nigerian educational system and that of the United States are quite multifaceted. From the terms used, to the number of years spent in each level, to the number of levels, to the curriculum being taught in schools, the differences are quite obvious. Some of them are easily understood, others are not quite so simple to understand.

For instance, some people might not know that while the Americans would call all their tertiary institutions “colleges”, there is actually a difference between a college, a university and a polytechnic. And yet for some others, this the first of them hearing that there are actually polytechnics in the United States.

So, yes, it is safe to say that there are lots of misconceptions and areas of the American educational system that Nigerians are yet to fully understand. And no, it’s not just on the part of Nigerians, the Nigerian educational system is yet to be fully understood by the Americans too.

Today, we are going to be addressing one of those confusing areas, and that is the area of the Nigerian Higher National Diploma and how it competes in the American educational system. It’s no news that here in Nigeria, the HND is most often snubbed by most organizations, establishments, as well as universities. When placed side by side with its university counterpart, the B.Sc., the HND pales very much in comparison, and opens fewer doors for its holders.

Normally, in the Nigerian educational system, one with an HND degree would have to do a post graduate diploma first before applying to a university for a master’s degree, even if it’s in the same discipline as his undergraduate programme.

Also, in order to get some jobs, some HND holders would have to “convert” their HND into a B.Sc. first before they can even get considered.

This narrative, therefore, provides a basis for the expected confusion of the average Nigerian HND holder who intends to get a Masters degree in the United States. The questions therefore hang: can I get my masters degree in an American university with my HND? Or would I have to do a PGD first too?

The Truth of the Matter

The truth of the matter, and the straightforward answer to this question would be “no”.

From research and one-on-one conversations with people who have had firsthand experience with situations like this, we can categorically tell you, in all honesty, that American universities do not look down on the Higher National diploma degree like their counterparts in Nigeria and the United Kingdom.

In the United States, the HND is treated the exact same way as the B.Sc. degree. No difference at all.

There are numerous Nigerians who have gone on to the United States and even Canada with just their HND degrees and got into master’s programmes without breaking a sweat. Many have even gone further to obtain their Ph.D. as well! And they did this without having to first go through any remedial course, or postgraduate diploma.

In fact, this might be a good time to add that American universities do not even give postgraduate diplomas in the first place, so that is not even an option.

A funny Story

While researching for this article, I stumbled upon a funny but true story of an incident that happened in America with a Nigerian HND holder.

So, this person had obtained his HND degree from a polytechnic in Canada and wanted to get his master’s from a university in America: University of New Orleans to be precise. When he presented his certificate to the admissions committee at the University of New Orleans, they actually mistook it for a master’s degree!

Now here is why that confusion came up. In America, “diploma” is the generic term for any document that certifies the successful completion of any course of study, whatever level it might be. So what we and the British would call a certificate, to an average American, is a diploma.

Yes, even if you’re studying for a Ph.D., the certificate you end up with will be known and addressed by an average American as a diploma. Funny yeah?

Anyway, moving on… against this backdrop, it becomes quite easy to understand why the admissions committee at the University of New Orleans mistook the “Higher” National” Diploma” as a masters degree.

Funny and relieving as this story may sound, this is not the only reason the Americans will not snub your HND degree, there are still, at least, four other reasons for you to feel even more relieved. Ready to see them? Then, let’s do this!

The HND degree does not exist in the American University System

Okay, first things first, in the American university system, there is nothing like a Higher National Diploma. The American University system has no concept whatsoever of the HND degree.

In the United States, tertiary institutions simply award associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, master’s and PhD degrees alone. The associate degrees are usually awarded by community colleges, usually after two years of study. So you could say that the associate degree is similar to the Nigerian Ordinary National Diploma. Or you could also compare it to the Nigerian (also British) A levels in some sense.

Bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, as well as PhD’s are awarded by colleges and universities. And those are the only post-secondary degrees you can get in the United States.

Difference Between a College and a University in the US

We mentioned something about colleges and universities being different in the first paragraph and we are going to give you a brief summary of what that difference is right now.

Again, the word “college” is a generic term. It’s the name given to any institution that awards a Bachelor’s degree. So, universities are also referred to as colleges. But what’s the actual difference?

The major difference between a college and a university is the size. Colleges are smaller than universities and offer fewer programmes than a university. For instance, a university will have multiple schools (faculties) in one as compared to a college, like a school of arts, engineering, sciences, etc.

Again, universities offer a Master’s degree while colleges do not.

Polytechnics in the American and Nigerian Educational System bear little Resemblance

Although both Nigerian and American educational systems have polytechnics, they bear little in resemblance.

For example, the Southern Polytechnic State University, 15 miles north of Atlanta, awards Bachelor’s degree in technical, vocational, as well as science and social science programmes.

Again, many other universities in the United States have the word “polytechnic” in their names.  Examples are the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, the California State Polytechnic University, etc.

Now, if someone comes to an American university presenting a qualification from a polytechnic, it is most likely to be regarded as a university degree since most universities which also award bachelor’s degrees are also regarded as polytechnics over there.

HND Degrees are awarded After Four Years of Post-Secondary Education

To the American university system, the fact that the HND degree is awarded after four years of post-secondary education makes the degree equivalent to a bachelor’s degree.

Also, added to this is the fact that the degree is referred to as a “diploma” (a generic term for any certificate) and it is awarded by a polytechnic (which is a name often associated with universities in America). Adding all these up, you possibly get a clearer picture as to why an HND degree would be regarded as an equivalent of a bachelor’s degree.

Now, let’s do a quick compare and contrast with the Indians. Indians, with a background in social science and humanities, can never present a bachelor’s degree to American universities and expect to get accepted. The reason for this is because it takes just three years to get a degree in the social science and humanities. In America, it would take a master’s degree from an Indian tertiary institution to match up with an American bachelor’s degree.

A GRE Score

The final reason your HND degree will not be snubbed by an American university is the fact that you have a GRE (or GMAT) score, if you have a GRE (or GMAT) score.

Getting into an American university is resultant of a multifaceted process. However, the most important part of this process is getting an acceptable GRE score. So, having a HND degree with a high GRE score will get you into an American university for your post graduate faster than simply having a first class bachelor’s degree with mediocre GRE scores.

So you see, with all the reasons as we have stated above, you can understand why an average American university won’t be too bothered about your HND degree.

Not so with universities in the United Kingdom though. They are still quite snobbish to the HND degree.

Part of the reasons might be because of the fact that polytechnics ceased to exist in the United Kingdom since the year 1992. All of them have transmuted into universities by nomenclature and curriculum. Expectedly, therefore, HND holders will face stiff discrimination in universities across the United Kingdom.

Bottom line? Universities in the United States are more welcoming to HND degrees than their counterparts in the UK and even Nigeria.

We are sure this post brought some hope and probably put a smile on your face. Why not do the altruistic thing and share it? Ciao! And goodluck!