Do you know your MSc from your PGDip? Postgraduate Study Explained: Taught Courses

We get asked lots of questions about postgraduate study, so wanted to explain a little further what different postgraduate courses involve. Below we have outlined details of the various taught postgraduate courses available. And remember, it’s always a good idea to research what your potential employer or chosen career requires in terms of postgraduate qualification to help you decide which is best for you.


What is it? – Taught Masters involve modules taught by the university, whether through lectures, seminars, laboratory work or distance learning. You would have to pass a number of modules and possibly write a dissertation in order to gain the qualification. Types of taught Masters include:

  • Master of Arts (MA)
  • Master of Science (MSc)
  • Master of Education (MEd)
  • Master of Engineering (MEng)
  • Master of Business Administration (MBA)
  • Master of Music (MMus)
  • Master of Research (MRes)

How long? – One full year full time or two full years part time.

Why do it? – A Masters gives you the opportunity to either further your knowledge of a particular subject or take off in a completely different direction. They can also provide an opportunity to distinguish yourself from your peers by having more than an undergraduate degree.

Postgraduate Diplomas and Certificates

What is it? – These qualifications can be academic or vocational and an array of subjects is available to choose from, such as languages, event management or accountancy. Often made up of a combination of lectures, seminars, projects and research papers, each course differs according to the institution and programme chosen. Types include:

  • Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert)
  • Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip)
  • Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE)

How long? – Certificates are often shorter than diplomas, but each take no more than one academic year.

Why do it? –Certificates and diplomas take less time to complete than a Masters, and so can be good introduction to s subject. Should you wish to, you also have the option to turn the diploma or certificate into a Masters, usually by taken a few more courses and/or completing a dissertation. However, not all employers require a Masters and a PGDip/PGCert might be enough on its own. Again, it is worth while researching your planned career to see what you will need.

Professional and Vocational Qualifications

What does it involve? –The application process and examination route will depend on the type of qualification and the body you are applying to. Most awards will involve practical training, giving you the opportunity to experience a job role first hand. At the highest level, some courses can lead to you becoming chartered – registered as a member of the body with a certain level of knowledge and skill. Some examples of institutions include:

  • National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ)
  • Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM)
  • Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE)
  • Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)
  • Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC)

How long? – The duration depends on the sector and type of award, and can vary from a short course lasting a couple of weeks to chartered certification, which can take several years. Professional qualifications are often offered as part-time courses and can also be completed through distance learning and e-learning, as many study for them while working full time.

Why do it? – In order to enter many careers it is compulsory to have a professional or vocational qualification. Professional qualifications can also help you to gain recognition, achieve a higher level of competency and improve your employability in your chosen field.

Conversion Courses

What does it involve? – A vocational postgraduate qualification, there are different courses to choose from and each is particular to a specific industry. For example, conversion courses are available accountancy, business, engineering, human resources (HR), marketing, property and social work. Modes of study will depend on the course subject, but will usually involve work placements and a hands-on approach with exams being taken alongside essays. Some of the popular conversion courses available include:

  • Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL)
  • Graduate Diploma in Psychology (GDP)
  • IT conversion courses
  • Medicine conversion courses

How long? – Usually one year, but this can depend on the subject (e.g. a medicine conversion course could take 4 years). Fast-track routes compile programmes into shorter time scales for individuals looking to boost their skills and enter the job market quickly.

Why do it? – If you wish to change careers or continue studying in a different subject area you could take a conversion course. Because conversion programmes are largely vocational, many are accredited by a professional body. If you are working in an industry that acknowledges a professional body, your employer may sponsor you to complete a course, which can lead to improved job prospects and fast-tracked career development.


2 thoughts on “Do you know your MSc from your PGDip? Postgraduate Study Explained: Taught Courses

  1. Pingback: Lifesciences » Do you know your MSc from your PGDip? Postgraduate study explained: Taught courses

  2. Pingback: Do you know your MSc from your PGDip? Postgraduate study explained: Taught courses | Lifesciences

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