These are qualifications for students who wish to continue their studies in a particular field or subject after they have attained a bachelor’s degree. The four main types of postgraduate qualifications are;

  • postgraduate certificates
  • postgraduate diplomas
  • masters degrees
  • doctorates

For those wishing to continue their studies beyond an undergraduate degree, a variety of options are available.

Postgrad certificates and diplomas allow students to study something new or build on the skills and knowledge already gained during their first degree.

Types of qualifications

As well as postgrad certificates (PGCert) and postgrad diplomas (PGDip), there are also specific qualifications available for those wanting to enter teaching or law. Graduates striving to become teachers can opt to study for a postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE), known as a postgraduate diploma in education (PGDE) in Scotland. Those of you interested in a career in law can take a graduate diploma in law (GDL), formally called the postgraduate diploma in law. For further details, see teacher training and the law sector.


Why study for a postgraduate qualification?

People choose to study at this higher level for many reasons. Some want to study an interest or passion in great depth; others want to further their studies in order to progress on to a PhD and then in to academia. Many need to further their study at this level in order to succeed in a particular profession, such as teaching and law. Whatever your reason, be sure that you are committed to your course, as postgraduate study is demanding, time-consuming and often expensive.

What does it involve?

Postgraduate certificates and diplomas can be academic or vocational and an array of subjects is available to choose from. Often made up of a combination of lectures, seminars, projects and research papers, each course differs according to the institution and programme chosen. To find a course that interests you, search courses and research.

How long does it take to complete?

Certificates are often shorter than diplomas, with each taking a number of months (but less than one year) to complete full time. Students who successfully complete a postgraduate certificate or diploma have the option to continue their studies (usually in the form of a dissertation) in order to turn their qualification into a Masters.

At postgraduate level, the main qualifications offered are:

Master's degree

A master’s qualification gives you the opportunity to further your knowledge of a particular subject or to go in a completely different direction using the skills you’ve gained from your undergraduate studies. A master’s degree is an academic qualification awarded to individuals who successfully demonstrate a higher level of expertise in a particular field of study. You can study one in almost any subject, but there are two main types of master’s: taught and research.

MBA courses

A Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree is an internationally recognised qualification which gives you the skills you need for a successful management career. MBA courses cover topics such as business policy and strategy, operational and strategic management, marketing, market research, finance and accounting, IT, human resource management, leadership, entrepreneurship and international trade.


A Doctor of Philosophy or doctorate (PhD/DPhil) is the highest academic level a student can achieve. These degrees are very demanding and often lead to careers in academia. Doctorate courses can be applied for by students who achieve at least a 2:1 result at undergraduate level. Although you don’t necessarily need a master’s degree, it is usual practice to undertake one before a PhD.

Postgraduate diplomas and qualifications

For those wishing to continue their studies beyond an undergraduate degree, a variety of options are available. Postgrad certificates and diplomas allow students to study something new or build on the skills and knowledge already gained during their first degree.

Professional and vocational qualifications

A professional or vocational qualification is usually taken to improve skills or gain attributes required by specific jobs. Most awards will involve practical training, giving you the opportunity to experience a job first-hand.

Conversion courses.

A conversion course is a vocational postgraduate qualification usually taken by graduates wanting to change subject area after their first degree and better prepare themselves for the job market.

Taught postgraduate programmes consist of a series of lectures and exams and/or coursework assessment. Research postgraduate programmes involve in-depth study of a specific field, usually over a period of two or three years. You then report on your research by writing it in the form of a thesis or dissertation.

Subjects and modules

Most higher education courses have a ‘modular’ structure. This means that you can build a personalised course by choosing modules or units of study from different subject areas. For example, if you are studying English literature, for your first year you could choose one module on Science fiction, one module on Children’s literature, and one module on Short stories. If you are interested in more than one subject, you may be able to study a combination as part of your course, e.g. English literature and psychology. You can often decide for yourself how much time you would like to spend on each subject. ‘Joint’ means the two subjects are studied equally (50/50), ‘major/minor’ means the time spent is usually 75%/25%.

Work experience

Some courses include a year of working in industry – for example, working for a business, charity or public sector organisation. This will usually be for the third year of a degree course or the second year of an HND and, depending on the employer, may be full-time paid employment. The purpose of this is to introduce you to the world of work, while gaining valuable experience in a profession you might consider after completing your higher education course. Check your visa status allows you to do this before applying.

Study modes

Most full-time undergraduate courses take three years to complete (typically four years in Scotland). Full-time postgraduate courses can be from one year upwards.

Part-time courses are normally taken over a longer period, so that you can work alongside your studies or learn at a more relaxed pace. There is no set length of time for part-time courses – it varies from one course to another. If you need a visa to study in the UK, please check your immigration status allows you to do a part-time course at As well as studying on campus in the UK, you could choose to study outside the UK – for example, by distance learning or by joining a UK overseas campus. Find out more in our Study for a UK qualification… outside the UK article.

The academic year

In the UK, the standard academic year starts in September or October and runs until June or July. Some courses are more flexible, however, and offer a range of start dates.

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