Postgraduate Studies

Postgraduate Studies

A postgraduate qualification can open many doors to your future and satisfy the endless yearning for new knowledge in the dreaded time after university. Over 230,000 people leave university with a postgraduate qualification every year according to Higher Education Student Statistics. The most common kinds of postgraduate qualifications that people choose to pursue are a Masters and a PhD.

Generally, you will be required to have completed an undergraduate degree before pursuing a postgraduate option, but there are some exceptions. There are four key types of postgraduate degrees: taught courses, research degrees, professional qualifications and conversion courses.

For some postgraduate qualifications you may be required to have a specific bachelor’s degree of at least an upper-second class honours, however, there are some courses that may be open to those holding a lower-second class. Furthermore, if you are considering entering university as a mature student you may find that you do not need to hold a degree at all, often your professional experience is enough to qualify you for a postgraduate course.

A postgraduate qualification can be an excellent option for those looking to enter into a career in academia or study for a PhD as you’ll be able to specialise in a particular field you are interested in. If you’re in the sciences, you may be able to pursue a combined masters and PhD course if you perform well at an undergraduate level. The transferable skills gained from a postgraduate degree, for instance, critical thinking, research and independent working, will not only give you the training required to pursue a career in academia, but will also be highly attractive to employers who value employees with these qualities.

Alternatively, a postgraduate degree may grant you further career prospects, especially in a role that requires expert knowledge as some professions require further professional degrees in order to take on the role. Careers, such as teaching to name a popular example, require a specific postgraduate qualification (a PGCE) to fulfil the position. Moreover, employers may be more likely to hire someone if they have obtained a further qualification against someone with an undergraduate degree as it may indicate that you’re able to take on a deal of responsibility.

One of the main reasons people choose to pursue a postgraduate degree is to change career direction. Some courses are specifically designed for those who lack previous training in a subject and provide an intensive training into a new specialism. One popular example is the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), a 12-month course designed for graduates without a law degree as an equivalent to a three-year undergraduate qualification. If you’ve decided after university that your degree topic wasn’t for you, or even if you fancy a new challenge, this may be the perfect opportunity for you.

To help you consider whether a postgraduate qualification is the right option for you, we have put together some responses to the most frequently asked questions on the topic. Don’t be swayed by what your friends may be doing – you must pick the best choice for you in order to get the most out of your experience.

What is the difference between undergraduate and postgraduate study?

Depending on which type of postgraduate qualification you choose to take on, you may find that there is little difference from an undergraduate degree. You will often find a lot of continuity between them, and it’s important to not feel intimidated by this option – after all, you’ve probably already completed an undergraduate degree and shown your academic strengths.

However, as most Masters qualifications only take a year (or sometimes two) to complete, you may find that this is a little more intensive than an undergraduate degree, so you may find that you’ll choose modules that are directly related to your area of study. Another key difference is the way that your lecturers will treat you. The freedom and granted to you by a Masters to explore the deep depths of academia means you’ll be encouraged to take a lot more risks in your research and work much more closely alongside your advisers.

One difference you might find at postgraduate level are the people you’ll be studying alongside. Most undergraduate year groups are comprised of those who have just left college or took a year out after finishing their A-Levels. A Masters course will have plenty of students who have just completed their Bachelor’s degree, but you may find there will be a sizeable cohort of mature students who have taken wildly different journeys to the same degree. This is especially true is this is an area, such as business or HR, where experience is also an entrance requirement onto the course.

What are the options for postgraduate funding?

There are a multitude of ways to fund postgraduate study, and this process is vastly different to that of an undergraduate degree. The main method of funding is through a government postgraduate loans of up to £10,906 are available to those starting a course and is not dependent on your family’s income. The loan is paid directly to you and you can use it for your course fees and living costs; this loan is available to apply for by visiting the GOV.UK website.

Other ways to fund postgraduate study include scholarships and bursaries (either from the institution you wish to study at or even charities and private companies) normally based on academic excellence. These may be based on the understanding that you’ll work for a specific organisation once you graduate or due to a financial need.

If your chosen course is aimed at building your performance at work and benefit the business in some way, you may be able to get your employer to foot the bill. Courses such as MBA’s, professional qualifications or conversion courses in particular can aid your progression and many employers are often willing to sponsor their employees. However, it is important to note that your hours may be rearranged to fit your studies, so this is not a decision to take lightly.

What is the difference between a research degree and a taught course? There is a big difference between a taught course and a research programme, and this could fundamentally impact your choice on which you choose. A taught Masters course will take place one or two years and will involve the completion of a dissertation or project – a lot like an undergraduate programme. You’ll have modules following a timetable of seminars and lectures and be responsible for studying in your free time but lead by the academics at the head of your course. However, a research Masters degree is more independent in nature. You will probably not have as many timetabled sessions (or you may not have any at all) and instead you’ll focus your time on your own projects. You will still receive support from your supervisors, but the concentration of your course is on your own research. An MRes may be more suitable to those considering an academic career as excellent preparation for a PhD. What is a conversion course? A postgraduate conversion course can be vital if you wish to pursue a career in a profession if you did not study a relevant undergraduate degree in this area. These courses are often highly vocational and are designed to prepare you for a role in a certain industry. For instance, a Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) offers the opportunity for those who did not study law at undergraduate level to get their foot in the door of a law career. There are also conversion courses available in other subjects, for instance, medicine, social work, psychology, business, teaching and IT. What is a professional qualification? A professional qualification is offered by professional bodies as an essential entry qualification for a specific industry or career. These courses are aimed at practical, vocational training, normally linked to a specific industry to develop the skills necessary for a particular career path. It can take anywhere from a few weeks to years to complete a professional qualification, most people choose to study while working full-time, so flexibility is often required for a successful completion of the course. Though a professional qualification may be provided at a university, they are also offered at other institutions, such as a college. So, when considering a professional qualification, it may be worth bearing this in mind. You may find that some courses are offered at varying levels, from the equivalent of a GCSE, all the way to those offered at a postgraduate qualification. If you’ve already left university with a degree, pursuing a professional qualification of a higher rank may prove to be more impressive to employers due to the hard work that goes into one. A professional qualification is sometimes required for a specific role so everyone employed in this particular job meets a basic requirement. For example, in order to become a solicitor, you are required to take the Legal Practice Course (LPC) or to become a chartered accountant you’ll need to pass the relevant exams. In other roles, a professional qualification may not be essential, such as in marketing, but will look impressive to employers on a CV to demonstrate your knowledge.

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