Dictionary, Census of Population, 2021
Highest certificate, diploma or degree

Release date: November 17, 2021


Highest certificate, diploma or degree is the classification used in the census to measure the broader concept of 'Educational attainment.'

This variable refers to the highest level of education that a person has successfully completed and is derived from the educational qualifications questions, which asked for all certificates, diplomas and degrees to be reported.

The general hierarchy used in deriving this variable (high school, trades, college, university) is loosely tied to the 'in-class' duration of the various types of education. At the detailed level, someone who has completed one type of certificate, diploma or degree will not necessarily have completed the credentials listed below it in the hierarchy. For example, a person with an apprenticeship or trades certificate or diploma may not have completed a high school certificate or diploma, nor does an individual with a 'master's degree' necessarily have a 'university certificate or diploma above bachelor level.' Although the hierarchy may not fit all programs perfectly, it gives a general measure of educational attainment.

This variable is reported for persons aged 15 years and over in private households.

Statistical unit(s)


Reported in

2021 and 2016 (25% sample); 2011Footnote 1 (30% sample); 2006, 2001, 1996, 1991, 1986 and 1981 (20% sample). For availability prior to 1981, please refer to Appendix 2.1.

Reported for

Population aged 15 years and over in private households

Question number(s)

Derived variable: Questions 33, 34a), 34b) and 34c)



The following qualifications are to be noted:

A. For this variable, the category 'High (secondary) school diploma or equivalency certificate' includes persons who have completed the requirements for graduation from a high school or who have obtained a high school equivalency certificate, but have not completed any postsecondary certificate, diploma or degree. Examples of high school equivalency certificates are General Educational Development (GED) and Adult Basic Education (ABE).

B. The category 'Non-apprenticeship trades certificate or diploma' includes pre-employment or vocational certificates and diplomas from brief trade programs completed at colleges, institutes of technology, vocational centres and similar institutions. Persons who obtained qualifications from secondary-level vocational training programs in the province of Quebec - such as the Diplôme d'études professionnelles/Diploma of Vocational Studies (DEP/DVS) - are also included in this category.

C. The 'Apprenticeship certificate' category includes Certificates and Diplomas of Apprenticeship, Certificates of Qualification and Journeyperson's designations. A Certificate of Apprenticeship (C of A) or Diploma of Apprenticeship is obtained by successfully completing a registered apprenticeship training program, consisting of supervised on-the-job training which may be accompanied by course work or 'in-class' technical training. A Certificate of Qualification (C of Q) or Journeyperson's designation (JP) in the trades is obtained after successfully passing a provincial/territorial examination. Candidates for the exam must either have a Certificate or Diploma of Apprenticeship, or have several years of work experience in their trade.

D. College, CEGEP and other non-university certificates or diplomas are obtained from a public or private college, CEGEP (both general/pre-university and technical programs), polytechnic, institute of technology, school of nursing, business school or vocational school. Included in this category are teaching and nursing certificates awarded by provincial or territorial departments of education, with the exception of teachers' or nurses' qualifications at the bachelor level or above. College certificates or diplomas of two years or more usually have a minimum entrance requirement of a high (secondary) school diploma or equivalency certificate.

E. University certificates or diplomas (below or above bachelor level) are awarded for non-degree programs of study completed through a university. They are often connected with professional associations in fields such as accounting, banking, insurance or public administration. If the university certificate or diploma program does not require a bachelor's degree to enroll, then it is classified as below the bachelor level. If a university certificate or diploma program normally requires a bachelor's degree as a prerequisite, then it is classified as above the bachelor level.

F. Bachelor's and master's degrees are obtained through universities and other degree-granting institutions, including degree-granting colleges.

G. Examples of postsecondary institutions include public or private colleges, CEGEPs, polytechnics, institutes of technology, schools of nursing, trade schools, private business schools and universities.


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