Postgraduate study

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Postgraduate study is a popular option for graduates. Whether you’re thinking of studying in the UK or abroad you’ll need to plan well in advance, which will involve assessing the suitability of each course and finding out about application procedures and deadlines.

Funding can be a major issue for some people, so make sure you give plenty time to investigate scholarships, awards, loans and other sources of finance, many of which will have specific eligibility criteria and early deadlines.

Different types of postgraduate course

Firstly consider your motivations carefully and research the different types of course available to you.

Taught programmes

  • Masers programmes (e.g. MA, MSc, MBA) – 12 months full-time or 2 years part-time
  • Postgraduate diplomas and certificates – 6-12 months full-time 2 years part-time

Research programmes

  • MRes or Research Masters – the MRes is a Masters degree that emphasises independent study over taught instruction. You will still complete some taught units on an MRes but you will be focusing mainly on your own research project. Effectively it’s a self-contained research training qualification that can prepare you for a PhD. Usually takes 1-2 years full time, longer part time
  • MPhil or ‘Master of Philosophy’ – is a pure research degree. Instead of completing taught units and assessments, an MPhil consists entirely of your own independent project. An MPhil can be part of a PhD or a step towards PhD registration, but you can also study it as a standalone qualification
  • Doctorate – there are 5 ways to gain a Doctorate:
  • Standard PhD (doctorate by thesis) – three to four years full-time or five to six years part-time
  • Integrated PhD also known as the ‘new route PhD – involves studying a one-year research Masters degree (MRes) before progressing onto a three-year PhD
  • Professional Doctorate – geared primarily towards current professionals in vocational sectors such as healthcare, teaching and education (EdD), and engineering (EngD). This type of Doctorate includes a significant taught component – and, therefore, a smaller research project. Typically takes 2-8 years.
  • PhD by publication – often taken by mid-career academics who have not had the opportunity to undertake a standard Doctorate degree
  • Distance Learning PhD – this is when you study away from the university. It’s for those who want to combine their research with professional and personal commitments

Benefits of Postgraduate study

The benefits of postgraduate study include:

  • Providing you with specific vocational or technical skills and expert knowledge
  • Opportunities to work on projects with experts outside the university environment
  • Impressing employers in industry sectors where postgraduate study is recognised
  • Providing you with a wide range of contacts that could be helpful in the future
  • Complementing relevant work experience
  • Occasionally attracting a higher starting salary

Disadvantages of Postgraduate study

  • It won’t necessarily help you decide on a career
  • Not all employers regard it as a bonus
  • You could become ‘over-qualified’ for some jobs
  • It does not necessarily compensate for a poor first degree
  • Relevant work experience might still be necessary
  • High course fees and living expenses can add to debts you may already have

Points to consider

To help you choose the right course for you, it might be helpful to think about:

  • The type of course you would like to study
  • What you hope the course might lead to and how it fits in with your career plans – check out what others have done after the course
  • Entry requirements needed to proceed
  • Availability of funding and your own financial circumstances
  • Reputation of the institution or department
  • Course structure and teaching and assessment methods
  • Academic facilities and support services available
  • Location and travel considerations


For further information and resources to help you plan for postgraduate study click on the yellow button above and log in to our Student Hub portal