Types of postgraduate course

If you are considering postgraduate study, it can be very confusing at first due to the sheer number of different types of courses available. Some will be more suitable for you than others depending on your plans, and with some you may not yet have met the entry requirements needed to start the course.

So here we'll look at the the main types of courses available and give you a little bit of info on each one.

Taught Courses

Taught postgraduate courses are probably the most similar to to undergraduate degrees in that you will take a series of 'taught' courses and be assessed on them. They may also contain a research project, practical project, dissertation or placement. They can usually last from a third of a year to a whole year (if studied full-time), but may last two or three years if studies part-time.

Postgraduate Certificate

  • May last about 1/3 of a year
  • Worth 60 credits

Postgraduate Diploma

  • May last about 2/3 of a year
  • Worth 120 credits

Taught Masters

  • Usually lasts about one full year.
  • Worth 180 credits
  • Often the same course as the Postgraduate diploma with an additional project, placement or dissertation for the extra 60 credits.

Research Courses

Research courses are usually where the main aim of the course is to produce one (or possibly more) pieces of original research. Depending on the subject you study the format of this can vary widely. The depth of your study may also vary depending on the length/type of your course, which can vary from a year to three or more years of full-time study.

In some instances you need to attend certain undergraduate or taught postgraduate courses - though you will usually not be assessed and any grades will not 'count' towards your qualification. This is often likely in science in maths based subjects where you may need specialist knowledge from an area you haven't studied before.

Research Masters

  • Most last a year, sometime two.


Doctorate/Doctor of Philosophy - e.g. DPhil/PhD.

  • Often last at least three years
  • Lead to the publication of a thesis.

Specialist Courses

As well as the main types of courses above, which can be studies in most subjects, there are also specialist postgraduate courses. These are often in specific subjects or are aimed towards people going in to specific careers. Many will be similar to a taught masters course, but often they will contain theoretical, taught aspects alongside lengthy on the job placements. Often some aspect of research may also be incorporated.


Master of Business Administration.



  • The PGCE (postgraduate certificate in Education) is for people wanting to train to be a teacher.
  • It usually lasts 1 year.
  • Apply through the GTTR website.
  • Funding is similar to that for undergraduate degrees in addition to various levels of training bursaries.
  • The course is most popular way people train to be teachers.
  • The PGDE (postgraduate diploma in education) is the equivalent course in Scotland.

See the PGCE article for an in depth look at PGCEs.

Law Courses

The Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL)[1] - occasionally referred to as the Common Professional Examination (CPE) - is a one-year course for graduates of subjects other than law who then want to go on to train so they can practice law. It covers Contract Law, Constitutional and Administrative Law, Criminal Law, Equity and Trusts, Land Law, Law of the European Union and Tort Law.

The Legal Practice Course (LPC)[2] is a one-year course which all intending solicitors must take (whether they did an undergraduate law degree or the GDL) before they start work as trainee solicitors. The Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC)[3] is the equivalent course for intending barristers.

The GDL, LPC, and BVC are all available part-time spread over two years.

Also See

Got postgrad questions which aren't covered above? Then visit the Postgraduate Forum to get your answers.

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