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What Are The Key Differences Between Undergraduate & Postgraduate Studies?

Postgrad V Undergrad studiesWhen considering a postgraduate course there are a few differences between studying at an undergraduate level and what is expected as a postgraduate. The key difference between undergraduate and postgraduate studies is the increased focus and specialisation that a postgraduate course will have on a subject. 

Level of expertise 

The experiences that students are expected to bring to a postgraduate course will vary with the subject but the vast majority of courses expect everyone to have completed an undergraduate degree. Many students will also have a wealth of work experience to draw on.

A postgraduate course will be a much deeper analysis and include detailed study of the subject rather than covering the broader themes that an undergraduate degree would cover. Students should come away from a postgraduate course with a strong understanding of the relevant issues and will probably be considered an expert or specialist in that field. 


Length of time 

Rather than the three or four years of an undergraduate degree a postgraduate course might be as short as a year (however if it's a PhD you're planning on studying then the course durations is a lot longer!). Don't think that this means it is an easy quick-fix option when comparing an undergraduate degree with a postgraduate degree in the same subject. Students are expected to already be able to read and write at an experienced academic level and most courses do not allow for the spare time that might have been present during many undergraduate degrees. Many postgraduate courses are very intensive as most students have settled on their future career paths or have taken time away from their work to complete the course. 

Learning experience 

As postgraduate courses are at a much deeper more intensive level of study into a chosen field the learning experience will be different to that of an undergraduate degree. Students are expected to undertake more individual study and not everyone on the course will be focussing on the same areas. During tutorials students participate and engage more than perhaps was expected as undergraduate students. If the postgraduate course is entirely taught, then there will still be a great deal of independent learning in addition to the lectures and classes. 

Contact with academic staff 

Once students have moved into postgraduate study, relationships with lecturers and other academic staff change slightly moving towards a relationship closer to colleagues. If students are continuing at the same university, then it is understandable that they have got to know their teachers. Academic staff will be available to help students to explore a subject that they love at a deeper level and this results in a different relationship compared to the experience as an undergraduate. 


As undergraduates most students find an essay of two or three thousand words a challenging task and postgraduates are expected to write at length with in-depth analysis of their subject. In addition to this many postgraduate courses require the production of a thesis of 30,000 words as well. Students are also often challenged to produce short and concise works explaining a complex topic in as few words as possible. Compared to an undergraduate degree a postgraduate degree will have a variety of different essay lengths to develop the students’ communication skills further. 


Many postgraduate courses have higher annual fees than undergraduate courses. However, it can be cheaper to study a subject for one year rather than three or four, although postgraduate students don't tend to have the spare time to take up part-time work. Many courses have additional areas of funding including places that are fully funded or bursaries or grants for many students and this means funding and finances are not as simple at the postgraduate level as they are for undergraduate students.


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