Postgraduate diplomas and certificates

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Postgraduate diplomas and certificates are an increasingly popular choice for Bachelors graduates looking to improve their career prospects by building on their existing skills and knowledge

Both qualifications offer Masters-level specialism without the dissertation, while allowing students to discover a greater range of career options. Most graduates quickly enter jobs directly related to their subject, with others using the qualification as a springboard for further study.

In short, postgraduate diplomas and certificates are perfect if you're looking to give yourself the best possible chance of fast-track entry into a new career or field.

What are postgraduate diplomas and certificates?

Postgraduate diplomas (PGDip, PgDip, PG Dip, PGD or PgD) and certificates (PGCert, PgCert, PG Cert, PGC or PgC) usually follow Bachelors study in a similar subject. They are both at level 7 on the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) and generally vocational in nature, which makes them a popular choice for professionals looking to boost their CV.

The key difference between the two is that a postgraduate diploma is more extensive. Postgraduate diplomas require that you gain 120 credits, the equivalent of 30 weeks' full-time study. Meanwhile, a postgraduate certificate usually requires just 60 credits, the equivalent of 15 weeks' full-time study. Diplomas take around 6-12 months to complete when taken on a full-time basis, but part-time study can take up to a few years. Both diplomas and certificates are usually classified into distinction, merit and pass.

Types of postgraduate qualifications

Specific qualifications are available for certain occupations. The postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE), or postgraduate diploma in education (PGDE) in Scotland, is for those looking to enter teaching. It usually lasts for one year. The Legal Practice Course (LPC) or graduate diploma in law (GDL) is catered for those looking to enter a legal profession.

How does it differ from a Masters degree?

The postgraduate diploma is often vocational, or at least allows the student to pursue a new study direction. It is, however, on the same level of the NQF as a Masters, and students often complete a dissertation to reach 180 study credits and turn their diploma into a Masters.

What does a postgraduate course involve?

Courses are usually taken on a full-time basis, but part-time study is preferred by those already in a career. Its structure is usually similar to a standard postgraduate degree, with lectures, seminars, essays and exams forming a large part of the programme. You'll also be expected to commit at least ten hours every week to your own study.

Some subjects - especially the more vocational ones - will have a slightly bigger focus on individual research and work experience than others. Projects and papers are common, while many courses have a portfolio or field work element. You'll usually be encouraged to regularly document self-reflection.

What are the entry requirements?

Most universities ask for at least a 2:2 at Bachelors level, but some qualifications - such as the PGCE - may demand a 2:1. Many universities consider students with lesser qualifications but with significant practical experience. English requirements vary, but generally your grasp of English must be very strong.

How much does a postgraduate diploma cost?

Costs range dramatically, but it's generally not as expensive as you'd expect. Both postgraduate diplomas and postgraduate certificates usually cost less than a Masters. Many programmes are available for around £5,000 for UK or European Union (EU) students, but non-EU students can be charged twice this amount.

The availability of funding is often dependent on your course. For example, PGCE students specialising in certain subjects may be awarded a bursary. Universities may also offer special rates for undergraduate alumni. Otherwise, specialist bank loans are the preferred option, unless your employer - if you're already in a career - is willing to pay.

What are the benefits of postgraduate study?

Postgraduate diplomas and certificates are beneficial because they:

  • allow you to change career, or kick-start careers in professions such as teaching or law;
  • allow you to study your interests or passions in greater depth;
  • give you specialist knowledge, enabling you to progress onto a PhD;
  • improve your career prospects and increase your earning potential.

The employment prospects of postgraduate diploma and certificate graduates are extremely strong, with 94% of 2013/14 graduates in employment six months after leaving university, according to data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA). Even more impressively, 97% of these were working in professional or managerial jobs.

How do I find a postgraduate course in the UK?

Before drawing up a shortlist and attending university open days, you should think about the following during your course search:

  • course content - how many lectures and tutorials will there be? How many days a week do you need to attend?;
  • department ranking - which universities excel in your subject area, according to the QS World University Rankings?;
  • employment prospects - is the qualification necessary for progression in your profession? How many graduates have jobs, and what are these jobs?;
  • fees - are there cheaper courses available?;
  • funding - are there any scholarships, bursaries or grants on offer?;
  • institution's reputation - what impact will the university have on your employability, and what support will they give you following graduation?;
  • student satisfaction - how does the institution perform on the National Student Survey (NSS)?;
  • tutors - is your course taught by industry professionals? What will your relationship with tutors be like?.


How do I apply for a postgraduate diploma or certificate?

Apply directly to your chosen university. The application deadline is often a few months before the course start date. Some subjects and locations are in extremely high demand, so begin the process early to ensure that you don't miss out.

Different institutions have different admissions processes. You might be required to sit an interview or an exam, or even provide work samples. Some, however, will make their offers based solely on your initial application.

Where can I get more advice before I decide?

  • Careers service - advisers can explore your options, help you decide which course is best for you, and assist your application.
  • Current students - they'll tell you how much work is involved, and recommend books and other sources.
  • Postgraduate fairs - you can meet representatives from numerous universities.
  • Tutors - they'll tell you more about the course content and how your career goals match up.