What is a postgraduate degree?
A postgraduate degree takes place after you've received your bachelor's degree and is considered a Level 7 qualification in the UK, Wales and Northern Ireland, and a Level 11 qualification in Scotland.
Whilst the type of postgraduate qualification will vary depending on the type of course you choose, they all have the same purpose, which is to deepen your knowledge in a particular field of study.
The difference between undergraduate and postgraduate
When we say undergraduate, we're referring to your bachelor's degree. For postgraduate, we're referring to the second qualification gained after you have completed your undergraduate degree. To study a postgrad degree, like a Master's or PhD, you will need to first have a bachelor's degree.
More independent study
As you will have already gained foundational knowledge on your undergraduate degree, your postgraduate will explore your chosen subject in greater depth. This will be the most independent you will ever study, so you'll need to motivate yourself to work and ensure you make the most of your course.
Whilst a typical, full-time bachelor's degree is three years, postgraduate study varies a lot more, for example, a Master's is usually just one year. This will mean the intensity of study will be challenging, so get ready to push yourself and your knowledge!
By the end of your bachelor's, you're likely to turn in your undergraduate dissertation, which is typically around 10,000 words. This is your assessment, alongside other exams and coursework. For your postgrad, you'll be looking to turn in a dissertation between 15,000 and 50,000 words, depending on the postgraduate option you decide.
Sounds scary? Don't worry, there will be lecturers and advisors to support you through it!
Types of postgraduate
When it comes to postgrad, it isn't one size fits all. There are plenty of different options to consider – think about which works best for your interests, career, and area of study.
A Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip) is usually offered for vocational courses that focus on extending your knowledge and to help boost your career prospects. They are popular amongst recent graduates looking to continue their study straight from an undergrad, as well as other professionals looking to add qualifications to their CV or re-train in a different area.
A Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert) is one of the most commonly found postgraduate studies. Compared to other types of postgrad study, they offer a similar level of teaching as a Master's, but not to be confused as the same thing. A PGCert is fewer credits than a PGDip but is completed in roughly half of the time.
You can use your PGCert qualification to work towards a PGDip or Master's, or it can also be seen as a stand-alone qualification to show your continued knowledge of a particular area.
Probably the most widely known, a Master’s degree, requires you to write a thesis in your year of study to demonstrate the knowledge and specific expertise you've gained over the course. There are two main types of Master's – taught or research-based Master's. The options available will depend on your area of study, but all will expect you to study independently and specialise.
A PhD is a type of doctorate you can receive after completing an original thesis which contributes new knowledge to your subject. It can be taken across any number of disciplines and is the highest degree level you can achieve. The PhD type will depend on your area of study, but they will all involve writing a unique thesis made up of 60 to 100,000 words.
Student finance and funding for postgraduates
You can access funding through postgraduate student loans, studentships, bursaries, and grants. Support from Student Finance, like you probably had for your undergraduate, is available for those taking a Master's degree or PhD. This way of gaining funding isn't available to PGCert and PGDip students, however.
PGCert courses tend to cost around £3,000 and PGDip around £5,000. Each university will have their own options to gain funding as well. If you're also taking this postgraduate to increase your knowledge on the job, it may be that your employer will contribute towards this qualification.
Master's and PhD courses can be pricey, and Student Finance may not be enough. Depending on your interest, there may be research grants and fellowships, or extra funding within certain departments to continue to support your study.
Applying to a postgraduate degree
To apply for a postgraduate, you can either apply through UCAS or directly through certain university websites. You will need to provide a postgraduate personal statement and will likely need to take part in interviews before being accepted onto the course.
Most postgraduate courses start in September and October each year, and you can apply as late as July of that same year for many. However, don't leave it until then to consider your options and hand in your application. The earlier, the better! Be sure to check the entry requirements and application timeline for individual courses, as these can vary.
Why should I do a postgraduate degree?
A Master’s degree gives you the frameworks and skills to think critically and creatively, which, incidentally, is what the economy wants. The Education Marketer, Kyle Campbell shares with you some advantages of a postgrad to see if it’s the right path for you.
Turn yourself into a specialist or change your path
So why do a Master’s? There are two broad reasons for doing a Master's.
- You want to deepen your knowledge of a specific area of your undergraduate degree, for intellectual or professional advancement.
- To change direction. For example, if your degree in English isn't getting you very far in your ambition to become a corporate lawyer, you may want to do a Law conversion Master's to develop some core competencies.
Master's are versatile. Whatever your background, you can use a Master's to position yourself as an expert in your chosen topic and open doors to new opportunities. Director of Admissions and Recruitment at Buckingham University, James Seymour, says: ‘A lot of students opt to study a Master's as a way of converting a general degree, like English, into something more vocational, like Marketing. The skills you gain in an undergraduate programme will be useful, but you can use your Master's to focus them and make yourself more attractive to a particular industry.’
It’s a cost-effective way to network
Your Master's is more than a collection of lectures, seminars and research.
A good Master's degree will invite speakers from industry to share insights and practical advice on advancing in your sector. These sessions are as valuable as your core course content, and would normally be charged at a premium. To attend the most popular industry conferences, you can sometimes pay over £1000 per day to share a speaker with hundreds of other people.
Your Master's will give you closed access and the chance to speak 1-to-1 with key figures at a fraction of the price. Conversations like these make it much easier to get started in a career.
Progress in your current role or access more professional opportunities
While undergraduate study gives you a general subject overview, the majority of postgraduate degrees are focused on applicability. Your postgraduate degree demonstrates to existing or prospective employers that you have a niche, relevant and exploitable skillset in your area of study. Institutions like Birkbeck University of London and The Open University trade on this approach, delivering teaching out of typical working hours, encouraging students to think about the direction of their career and keeping teaching focused on ‘skilling up’ for a particular field.
Hannah Bartlett, Reader in Optometry at Aston University Says:‘My discipline is health sciences and having a postgraduate degree is very useful for those who wish to create opportunities away from traditional healthcare settings. For example, postgraduate study will support careers in research and clinical science, management, leadership or even the industrial side of health.’
You are more attractive to the international job market
If you are interested in having a global career and not being tied to one country, a Master's degree will certainly open doors. Business qualifications, in particular, have a strong international emphasis and some even have heavily subsidised trips overseas to visit university and employer partners.
Katie Fisher, International Promotion and Admissions Manager at NEOMA Business School, says: ‘More companies are looking to hire staff with an international outlook. If you have either studied or worked abroad, due to the skills gained during such experiences (i.e resilience, communication skills and adaptability) you have a real advantage when it comes to entering the job market.