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Postgraduate Diplomas (PGDip) and Postgraduate Certificates (PGCert)

Finding the perfect postgraduate course can be challenging, especially when there are multiple kinds of courses you can take. You’ll find yourself sifting through masters degrees, PhDs, postgraduate certificates (PGCert), and postgraduate diplomas (PGDip). Knowing which one is the right one for you can be difficult to determine. 

Postgraduate diplomas and postgraduate certificates offer shorter alternatives to masters degrees. This makes them a popular choice amongst those looking to get a postgraduate qualification in a shorter amount of time. 

That’s why we’ve decided to outline the differences between the two lesser known courses; a postgraduate certificate and a postgraduate diploma. 

Postgraduate diplomas and postgraduate certificates can be abbreviated and referred to in a few different ways, depending on the university: 

  • Postgraduate Diploma: PgDip, PgD, PGD, and PGDip

  • Postgraduate Certificate: PgCert, PG Cert, PGC and PgC

 

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What is a Postgraduate Diploma?

A postgraduate diploma (PGDip) is more advanced than a bachelors degree and holds the same level of qualification as a masters degree, though takes less time to complete and only requires 120 credits. There are a variety of courses that come under the heading of a postgraduate diploma – it can be a vocational course, such as a legal practice course, or an academic course.

What is a Postgraduate Certificate?

A postgraduate certificate (PGCert), like a postgraduate diploma, provides the same level of qualification as a masters degree, but is shorter than both – only requiring 60 credits to complete. PgCerts are ideal if you’d like to study a higher education course without the time commitment, or without the need to complete a dissertation that PgDips or masters degrees usually require. 

What is a Masters Degree?

A masters degree is a postgraduate qualification that usually requires you to write a thesis or dissertation and requires 180 credits in order to complete. These qualifications are achieved after a bachelors and before a PhD. They typically offer in-depth research and information into a specialised subject that allow you the opportunity to further study and research the topic.

How are Postgraduate Certificates and Postgraduate Diplomas different from Masters Degrees?

With academic courses, postgraduate certificates and postgraduate courses differ from masters degree in the way that they don't involve having to complete a dissertation. You will most likely be assessed by exams, assignments, coursework or a combination of these. Beyond this, however, you can expect the level of work required to be similar to other postgraduate courses, especially in terms of content.

  • A masters degree will take three terms (about a year) to complete and will require 180 credits. 

  • A postgraduate diploma will take two terms and require 120 credits.

  • A postgraduate certificate will take one term and require 60 credits.


In most cases, you will be able to change the type of course you are studying. For example, if you are part way through studying a masters course, you will usually have the option to change to a postgraduate diploma. Masters students may find that a postgraduate diploma is more suitable for them and decide to change. 

Changing from a masters course to a postgraduate diploma is ideal for students who decide that a full three-term course is not for them, and that a shorter two-term alternative would be more suitable for their circumstances.  

This option is also ideal for students who decide they don’t want to do a dissertation, since a postgraduate diploma does not require this.

The option to graduate with a postgraduate diploma ensures that you haven’t spent six months and the rest of your studying to achieve nothing. Conversely, if you begin studying with the intent to achieve a postgraduate certificate, you can further this study into a diploma or a masters degree.

Postgraduate diploma

Vocational courses

With vocational courses, it depends very much on the subject, but the intent is that it will prepare you for a career in that area, so postgraduate diplomas in areas such as business, marketing and so on will not just be theoretical, but also practical.

Why study a Postgraduate Diploma or a Postgraduate Certificate?

Why would you choose to study a postgraduate diploma initially? They are extremely useful if you’d like to continue working alongside your studies. This allows you to avoid putting your career on hold. In addition, the shorter length of time and lack of research makes PGDips and PGCerts good for those wishing to gain a practical qualification to advance their careers, rather than perhaps to research a particular area in so much depth. PGDips, and PGCerts are particularly useful for those intending to practice law, or to go into teaching. 

There are often links to work programs, residential courses, or other such options that allow you to continue your career whilst gaining a qualification. These links to business are great for those with this goal in mind, as very often the work experience gained on a course can lead directly into paid employment.

Additionally, a Postgraduate diploma is great forr someone who may not be sure about going into academia, or perhaps who wants to study further but not to the extent a masters degree requires. It’s also good for moving into an area that may be linked to your undergraduate course, but not fully covered (for instance, religious studies after a philosophy degree).

Other benefits of postgraduate diplomas and postgraduate certificates include:

  • The opportunity to further your studies without the time and financial commitment of a masters degree

  • Begin specialising your studies before moving into a masters degree

  • Improve career prospects

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What are the requirements for a Postgraduate Diploma or Postgraduate Certificate?

As with most postgraduate degrees, a bachelors degree is required, or at least an advanced certificate in a relevant area (i.e. marketing). For those who may have been working, rather than studying, it is often possible to enter with relevant work experience, such as having been at marketing management level for a marketing diploma.

Where can you study a Postgraduate Diploma or a Postgraduate Certificate?

Not all universities offer postgraduate diplomas, so you will want to ensure you do your research thoroughly, and bear in mind that there is also the option to study postgraduate diplomas online at universities including the University of Essex Online and the University of Liverpool. 

Our A to Z of universities is a good place to start looking for a PGDip or PGCert, but if your intention is to study a vocational style diploma (such as law) you are best looking at universities that specialise in these areas.

When choosing a PgDip or PGCert course, it’s important to take some things into consideration:

  • Is the course content linked to what you would like to learn? 

  • How many days a week will you need to attend lectures?

  • Will you be able to fit the course around your current commitments?

  • Are the qualifications necessary to further your career?

  • What does the course cost?

  • Are you able to gain funding for the course?

  • Will  the university provide proper support during and after your studies? (What is the university’s reputation?)

PGCerts and PGDips: Summary

In summary, postgraduate diplomas and certificates are perfect for those looking to enhance their career prospects with a postgraduate-level qualification, without the intensity and commitment of a masters degree. Both types offer shorter alternatives, letting students expand their knowledge and skills in a shorter period of time. This makes postgraduate diplomas and certificates highly suitable for students who have a clear idea of what they’d like to study, but don’t feel it would be beneficial to do a final dissertation project.

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