If you'd like to pursue postgraduate study but aren't keen on writing another dissertation consider a postgraduate certificate (PGCert) or diploma (PGDip). They're shorter in length and cheaper than a Masters

What are postgraduate diplomas and postgraduate certificates?

More advanced than an undergraduate degree, postgraduate diplomas and certificates are taught postgraduate qualifications at the same level as聽Masters degrees, but they take less time to complete.

There are several variations of the abbreviations used by universities for postgraduate diplomas and certificates. For example they are known as:

  • PGCert聽- PgCert, PG Cert, PGC and PgC.
  • PGDip聽- PgDip, PG Dip, PGD and PgD.

There are differences between the two. While you can study both qualifications full or part time a PGCert is the shortest postgraduate course you can do. Worth 60 credits postgraduate certificates take one term (15 weeks) to complete. By comparison a PGDip, worth 120 credits, usually takes two terms (30 weeks).

Bear in mind that PGDips and PGCerts are slightly different to聽conversion courses, which compress a three-year undergraduate course into one year of study for those who want to enter a career unrelated to their first degree.

How do PGDips and PGCerts differ from Masters degrees?

Masters degrees are made up of three terms, take one year to complete when studied full time and in total are worth 180 credits. The majority of Masters courses also require you to complete a thesis.

While PGDips and PGCerts are at the same level as聽Masters degrees and the work involved is just as challenging, the most obvious difference is that they're shorter, worth less credits and don't require students to write a dissertation. For example, a PGDip requires you to complete all the elements of a Masters except the research project (dissertation).

Think of it like this, PGCerts and PGDips are equivalent to the value of one third of a Masters and two thirds respectively.

When considering whether to study a PGCert, PGDip or Masters it's important to point out that one qualification isn't 'better' than another. The best option for you will depend upon the needs of your career and your personal circumstances, such as your finances and the amount of time you can dedicate to postgraduate study.

Who are they aimed at?

If a postgraduate qualification would boost your career prospects but you aren't really interested in undertaking significant amounts of academic research then a postgraduate certificate or diploma is for you.

PGDips and PGCerts are popular with recent undergraduates, working professionals looking to upskill and add value to their CV and career changers.

Because they take up less time and money they're also a useful option for those who have other commitments, such as a family.

Can I switch between courses?

Yes, universities offer the same subjects at Masters, PGDip and PGCert level, meaning it's possible to switch between courses. For example, if you enrol on a PGCert you can study additional modules to turn it into a PGDip and those studying a PGDip can go on to complete a dissertation to convert it into a full Masters degree.

Conversely, if you're studying for a full Masters degree but want or need to leave your course early, you may still be awarded a PGDip or PGCert providing you've gained sufficient credits. Always check with your institution to find out whether this is possible.

What subjects are available and where can I study?

You can study for a PGDip or PGCert in a variety of subjects at a range of universities. In fact, almost all institutions that run Masters courses also provide postgraduate diplomas and certificates in the same subjects.

For example, alongside their Masters programmes the University of Liverpool offer PGCerts and PGDips in:

  • artificial intelligence
  • big data analytics
  • computer science
  • cyber security
  • digital marketing
  • finance and investment management
  • health leadership
  • international human resource management
  • mental health psychology
  • project management.

Search postgraduate diplomas and certificates.

PGCert and PGDip programmes can be academic, vocational or professional in nature, the latter allowing you entry into regulated professions - for example the PGDip in Social Work, and the聽Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching (PGCE)听辞谤听Professional Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE)聽for those seeking a career in the classroom.

If you'd like a career in law as part of the new qualification route the traditional Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) is being phased out and replaced by newly designed courses such as the postgraduate diploma in law (PGDL). See law conversion courses for more information.

What do PGDips and PGCerts involve?

PGDips and PGCerts are usually made up of the same content as Masters degrees, so you'll study modules alongside students taking the full course in order to gain the required number of credits (120 for a PGDip and 60 for a PGCert). Teaching is typically through lectures, seminars and practical assignments.

Depending on your subject you'll be assessed mainly through essays and practical work - exams are uncommon and you won't have to do a dissertation. If successful, you'll be awarded a qualification with pass, merit or distinction.

Remember that PGDips and PGCerts are postgraduate courses, meaning the content will be more advanced, intense and at a higher level than your undergraduate studies.

Postgraduate courses are most often taken on a full-time basis, but part-time study, distance learning and online options are commonly available. For example, you can study a part-time PGCert in Medical Education at the University of Cardiff, while the University of Essex offers an online PGDip in Business Management.

Search for distance learning and online PGDips and PGCerts.

This flexibility means you can combine your studies with聽work experience, which can improve your employability. Learn more about online learning.

Do I need a degree to study a PGCert or PGDip?

The entry requirements for PGDips and PGCerts are the same as for the equivalent Masters course. In most cases you'll need a 2:1 in a relevant subject, although some programmes may accept a 2:2. Some professional training courses need a certain level of work experience as well as a degree.

For career-changers, universities may accept extensive professional experience in place of a degree, so contact the institution to check your eligibility.

If you're an international student, you'll also have to show a strong grasp of English.

How much does a postgraduate diploma or certificate cost?

The good news is as courses are shorter, PGDips cost less than Masters degrees and PGCerts are cheaper still. Tuition fees vary depending on the subject of study and university. International students pay more than those from the UK.

For example, UK students on the Criminology PGDip at The University of Manchester will pay 拢9,000 in 2024, while international students (including those from the European Union (EU)) have to pay 拢17,667. Those on the Social Work PGDip at Middlesex University London can expect fees of 拢11,500 (拢16,800 international).

While the part-time PGCert Clinical Education at the University of Leeds costs UK students 拢4,500 (拢10,333 international), while the same course at the University of Plymouth costs 拢3,300 (拢6,300 international).

It's important to bear in mind that, while PGDips and PGCerts are cheaper, funding options are more limited. Many scholarships are available only to those enrolled on the full Masters course, and English聽postgraduate loans聽are not on offer for students on PGDips and PGCerts. However, postgraduate diplomas are covered by Scottish postgraduate loans and PGDips and PGCerts studied at a UK university are eligible for Northern Irish loans.

Other funding options are still available, such as discounts for alumni or employer sponsorship. For more information see聽funding postgraduate study.

What are the benefits and drawbacks of PGDips and PGCerts?

Postgraduate diplomas and certificates are beneficial because they:

  • give you the opportunity to obtain a postgraduate qualification without the financial or time commitments of a full Masters degree
  • allow you to kick-start a career in professions such as law or teaching, or change careers altogether
  • give you specialist knowledge, for example to progress to a Masters or PhD
  • allow you to further your knowledge without having to write a dissertation
  • improve your career prospects and increase your earning potential.

You should also consider the following drawbacks:

  • they don't hold the same weight as a Masters degree. You'll need to find out what qualifications are required for your chosen career before making a decision what postgraduate course to choose.
  • funding options are more limited with PGDips and PGCerts than they are with Masters study.
  • postgraduate diplomas and certificates could be an unnecessary expense if employers in your field prefer extensive work experience to additional academic qualifications. Therefore, you need to be sure that a PGDip or PGCert is right for you before committing, especially given the cost of taking a course.

How do I choose a course?

As you聽search for postgraduate diplomas and certificates聽and attend聽university open days, you should think about the following:

  • Course content聽- how many lectures and tutorials will there be? How many days a week do you need to attend?
  • Personal/professional commitments聽- will you be able to fit the course around previous family or work commitments?
  • Department ranking聽- which universities excel in your subject area in the various rankings that are available?
  • Employment prospects聽- is the qualification necessary for progression in your career? How many graduates have jobs, and what jobs are they?
  • Fees聽- are there cheaper courses available?
  • 贵耻苍诲颈苍驳听- are there any scholarships, bursaries or grants on offer?
  • Institution's reputation聽- what impact will the university have on your employability, and what support will they give you following graduation?
  • Student satisfaction聽- how does the institution perform on the National Student Survey (NSS)?
  • 罢耻迟辞谤蝉听- is the course taught by industry professionals, and what will your relationship with tutors be like?

It is also worth researching聽universities and departments聽to help you make your decision.

How do I apply for a PGDip or PGCert?

Apply directly to your chosen university using its website. Deadlines are often set a few months before the course start date. Applying as early as possible is a smart idea to avoid missing out, as places on popular courses are filled on a first-come first-served basis.

Different institutions have different admissions processes. You may be required to attend an interview, provide work examples, or even sit an exam. Some, however, make a decision based solely on your application form. Get advice on聽applying for Masters degrees聽(which is a similar process) and writing聽personal statements for postgraduate applications.

Applications for PGCEs use a different system - see聽applying for teacher training.

Where can I get more advice on postgraduate diplomas and certificates?

  • Careers services聽- advisers can help you to explore your options and decide which course best suits you. They can also help with applications.
  • Current students聽- those taking PGDip and PGCert courses can tell you about the work that's involved.
  • Postgraduate fairs聽- take the opportunity to meet representatives from universities.
  • 罢耻迟辞谤蝉听- they will be able to tell you about the course content and whether it will help you achieve your career goal.

Find out more

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