What Is A Postgraduate Degree? A Definition

A postgraduate degree encompasses a range of qualifications that require an undergraduate degree to be
considered for entry, these include courses at Postgraduate Diploma level all the way to a PhD.

Postgraduate degrees are taken for a number of different reasons, such as to move into academia and research or to specialise a career path or change track entirely.

Masters Degree

A masters degree can take a number of different forms but what they all have in common is that they usually require an undergraduate degree to gain entry. The majority of masters courses require a thesis or dissertation to graduate in addition to any coursework. In the UK most masters courses are a year in length, apart from some professional masters courses such as Masters of Architecture (MArch) which are generally between two and three years. Most masters courses in the US are also a year in length and many masters courses in Europe are two years in length. 

Masters degrees are gained either through a taught or research course. In a taught masters students are awarded a Masters of Arts (MA), Masters of Science (MSc) or a Master of Philosophy (MPhil). There are variations between countries, for example in Scotland students can study towards a Masters of Letters (MLitt) in subjects such as Creative Writing, History and Theology. Masters are also available through research (MRes) and these are awarded entirely on the basis of your own independent study. The designation of a masters course is important as for some subjects it shows the emphasis of the course as some subjects such as Anthropology can have courses with radically different approaches depending on the designation of the degree. 

Some Masters courses like an MArch or an Masters of Engineering (MEng) are taken after completing the relevant undergraduate course with a long-term view to qualify as an Architect or Engineer. These masters programs are essential parts of the qualification routes and those who wish to become Architects or Engineers must complete them to be able to practise in their chosen career. Other masters courses are about specialising or focussing a career choice, especially those in the Law or Medical professionals. There are some masters courses that are for those graduates who already have a first degree but wish to retrain in another subject, such as a Masters in Town Planning or Journalism, for these courses it is assumed that the student has a number of academic skills that are transferable to the new subject. 

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PhD 

A PhD is a significant undertaking and often involves an element of both working and researching at an institution. The majority of students who go on to complete a PhD have already undertaken a masters course in a relevant subject. Often this will be an MPhil or MRes but this is not exclusively the case. It is mostly those who wish to go into academic research or teaching who decide to complete PhDs. The whole point of a PhD is further specialisation and it's not an option for changing career path. 

Postgraduate Diploma 

There are some professions, of which in the UK, teaching is the main one, that have a Postgraduate Diploma (PGCE in Education) that allows graduates who did not study Teaching to quickly qualify. Postgraduate Diplomas are taught courses that do not have a dissertation or thesis. If you undertake a masters course but do not compete the dissertation this is the qualification you will probably find yourself finishing with. Postgraduate Diplomas can be a great way for those unsure about whether they need or want to complete a full masters course to specialise their careers. 

In Conclusion…

A postgraduate degree is an excellent way to specialise, retrain and develop new skills in an efficient manner once you've learnt the academic basics with an undergraduate degree. Further postgraduate study gives students the opportunity to learn and gain a deep understanding of their chosen subject.

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Related Articles

What is a Masters Degree?

What is a PhD?

Postgraduate Diploma

What is an MBA?

Master of Arts: What is an MA?

Master of Science: What is an MSc?

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