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What Is A Postgraduate Student? A Definition

What is a postgraduate student?

There are plenty of people studying at university and in the UK about half a million of them are postgraduates. In simple terms, a postgraduate student is anyone who is studying a postgraduate course, including a masters course, an MPhil and a PhD, and usually these courses require the student to have an undergraduate degree as part of the entry requirements.

There are a few different ways that postgraduate students can study, and various study strategies that they may choose to employ, and it doesn't matter if they study full time, part time or even online, whatever their schedule, they are all postgraduate students.

Full-time postgraduate students

Studying full time is a popular choice for students who have just completed their undergraduate degree and already know that a postgraduate qualification is required for their career plans. It can be a difficult transition for students who have given up full-time employment to return to university as a full-time student.

The majority of postgraduate students in England are studying full time, attending a taught course and in England, only a quarter of these students are over the age of 36 with the majority of them being 25 and under.

Most full-time postgraduate students study towards a masters degree over one to three years and if they are taking a postgraduate course that doesn't require a thesis, they are working towards a Postgraduate Diploma instead. A smaller number of postgraduates go onto study an MPhil or a PhD, and the vast majority of students working towards a PhD are full-time students who also work, often teaching in the department they are researching in.

It is usual for international students in the UK to study full-time due to visa restrictions. Full-time postgraduate students often have quite intensive study programs and usually, have less spare time than those studying at an undergraduate level, making part-time employment difficult.


Part-time postgraduate students

Studying a postgrad program part time is a popular choice for students who are slightly older or have more responsibilities such as looking after children, caring for others or working full time. Many professionals will have long-term career plans in mind and might have the backing or sponsorship from their employer for a part-time course, especially professional courses that lead to a professional qualification.

Working and studying part time is a significant undertaking as most part-time masters courses last at least two years, and unless the university arranges special lectures for part-time students then most classes will be during the day. There are some PhD students who study part time, and this is usually because they do not have the necessary funding lined-up or it is not available for their subject.

Distance learning and online postgraduate student

There are a large number of universities and institutions that cater for postgraduate students who need or want to study by distance learning or online, and most universities have some form of online learning.

Distance learning is usually a combination of textbooks and reading materials that is sent to the student, as well as the possibility of a couple of residential weeks of lectures throughout the year. Online students tend to be based entirely online and there may be no need to ever attend the campus where the course is based.

Postgraduate students who work this way tend to be professionals working full time as the coursework can be completed in the evenings. This makes the courses an intensive undertaking and the postgraduate student will need to be highly motivated to continue working without other students around them. Some postgraduate students find this way of working isolating and difficult compared to a campus-based full-time course.

Getting the balance right

Postgraduate students are all experienced in the academic work and research necessary for their subject and spend a great deal of time completing independent study projects. This means that the little free time that they spend socialising and relaxing outside of their courses is important as many postgraduate students are very focused on their future careers.

It is vital for postgraduate students to take time to view the long-term picture by networking with people in the industry or area they want to enter after completing their course.

Different types of postgraduate student

Stereotypes exist for a reason, and when it comes to postgraduates there are some student stereotypes that you are likely to encounter during your postgraduate journey. Here are five of the most common postgraduate students that you are likely to encounter.

The Panicker – despite presumably having done well in SATs, GCSEs, A-Levels, a bachelors degree and perhaps even a masters degree, ‘The Panicker’ still freaks out about every single exam. Even the hint of an upcoming essay sees their nails bitten down to the root and blurry evenings of Pro Plus and books piled high.

The Wise Mature Student – like Gandalf mixed with Yoda, ‘The Wise Mature Student’ spends most of their time nodding and smiling to themselves about the things us mere mortals say in seminars. When they do deign to speak, make sure you’re listening and be ready to write it down because it’s going to be the best thing you’ve heard all day!

The Over-Enthusiastic Postgrad – at this point in your educational journey, you probably love your subject in the same way that one loves a slightly-errant brother: yes you love them, but a lot of the things they do irritate you to the core. Not so with ‘The Over-Enthusiastic Postgrad’. When they say they love their subject they mean ‘LOVE’ in capital letters.

The Quiet One – it’s a cliché, but it’s a particularly true one, it’s always ‘The Quiet One’ that you need to watch. They’ve spent years observing and listening rather than talking, and this means they not only know everything there is to know about the course, but they probably also know all your deepest darkest secrets too. It’s well worth taking them out for a drink: not only will they reveal their wisdom, but they’re famously fun when they’ve had a drink and it’s after midnight, kind of like postgrad Gremlins!

The Sport's Team Terror – they must study at some point, but you will never see them doing it. Instead, you’ll see a lot of photos on their social media streams from their nights out with the sports team and hear many stories about their exploits. They’ve been like this since school and have never lost that party spirit, yet still they succeed in their postgraduate academic qualification.

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