It's never too late to change career direction with a vocational postgraduate qualification…
What is a conversion course?
Conversion courses are intensive postgraduate programmes that allow individuals to pursue a career that their undergraduate degree or professional career hasn’t prepared them for. They are usually vocational, lasting between a few months and several years depending on the qualification and whether you choose fast-track, full-time or part-time study.
Conversion courses are most commonly taken by recently graduated Bachelors students. This is because many Bachelors students choose an undergraduate degree based on their personal strengths and interests, rather than having a specific career in mind. Many conversion courses condense an undergraduate degree into a shorter timeframe.
Types of conversion courses
There are different types of conversion courses to choose from, depending on the specific industry. Some of the most popular are:
- Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) - The GDL is for students wishing to become law professionals. To become a solicitor or a barrister, you’ll need to complete the Legal Practice Course (LPC) or the Bar Professional Training Course (BPTC) respectively, and taking the GDL is the fast-track route onto these courses for students without an accredited undergraduate degree in law.
- Graduate Diploma in Psychology (GDP) - The GDP gives students who’ve not studied a degree accredited by the British Psychology Society (BSP) access to a professional psychology course.
- IT conversion courses - Many graduates choose to undertake courses in this field when considering careers in technical and business roles, as specialised theoretical and/or practical IT knowledge can significantly improve your prospects. There are a variety of different courses that can be combined with your undergraduate degree to make you more attractive to employers, increase your chances of getting a job in the information technology sector, and even specialise in a certain field that combines your undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.
- Medicine conversion courses - If you didn't study medicine as your first degree, you can take a four-year, fast-track course. Some courses accept graduates from any discipline, while others require you to have studied a relevant subject such as biology or chemistry. However, you’ll need to have completed relevant work experience to gain entry.
- Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) - The PGCE is the qualification to take if you want to become a teacher. It’s intensive and involves teaching in classrooms so you learn while you work. Students from all disciplines can take the PGCE and it often leads straight into a job. Find out more about applying for teacher training.
- Property conversion courses -These will equip you with all-round knowledge of the property and construction sector, though many are from a business perspective.
Other subjects that conversion courses are commonly available in include accountancy, business, engineering, human resources (HR), marketing, nursing, physiotherapy and social work. To find a conversion course to suit you, search postgraduate courses.
What does a conversion course involve?
Programme length and structure depend almost entirely on the individual qualification. However, courses are usually hands-on, involving work placements, exams, essays and coursework - alongside taught tutorials. Courses taken at universities on a full- or part-time basis will usually follow the same time structure as standard degree programmes.
Fast-track routes are popular, as these full-time short courses allow individuals to obtain the skills that they need to enter the job market in the shortest possible time. This intensity is perhaps the key difference to undergraduate study, and you’ll be expected to do plenty of private study outside of your contact time.
Part-time study, however, will allow you to gain greater amounts of work experience, and study during the evenings and weekends - so there are benefits to all three modes.
What qualifications do I need?
Entry requirements depend on the qualification, course and institution. You’ll almost always need at least a 2:1 Bachelors degree - although, due to the nature of conversion courses, it can be in any subject. You may get onto a course with a 2:2 providing you have reasons for your underperformance or sufficient work experience in the corresponding field. Contact the institution if you don’t quite meet the entry criteria to see whether they’ll accept you.
International students should check individual requirements with their chosen university, though UK NARIC may help you to understand the equivalency of your qualifications.
To check entry requirements for your chosen career, see our job profiles.
How much does it cost?
Tuition fees for conversion courses range widely. However, GDLs and PGCEs - the two most notable conversion courses - usually cost £6,000-£11,000 and £9,000 respectively. International students should expect to pay more.
You should never enrol on a conversion course without first understanding your funding options, because their vocational nature means that financial help, especially employer sponsorship, is commonplace. Your employer - or future employer - may be willing to sponsor you, especially if your qualification is accredited by a professional body and will prove beneficial to the organisation. For example, non-law graduates who secure a training contract with a law firm often have their GDL fully financed.
Other sources of funding, such as Masters loans, professional and career development loans, and scholarships and bursaries, may also be available. However, this depends on the subject and your personal circumstances. For example, government bursaries are available for PGCE students with a strong first degree. For more information, see funding postgraduate study.
Should I do a conversion course?
Taking a conversion course is essential if you’re looking to fast-track a career change or continue studying in a completely different subject area from your undergraduate degree. They can also allow you to improve your job prospects, achieve professional accreditation, and increase your confidence of landing work in a specific field.
Changing career can allow you to increase your earnings potential, grow your skillset, and pursue a vocation that you find more fulfilling. However, it may result in short-term stress and an initial drop in income. Before committing to taking a conversion course, ask yourself:
- Is the qualification necessary for your profession?
- Is the qualification valued by employers?
- How many graduates get jobs?
- Will it lead to a PhD, if that’s what you want to do?
For more information see what can I do with my degree?
How do I find a course?
Before you choose a course, find out which programmes, if any, potential employers prefer. If this information isn’t available, you should think about:
- course content;
- department ranking;
- entry requirements;
- external course validation;
- institution reputation;
- relationship with tutors;
- student satisfaction;
- whether it’s taught by industry professionals.
To find a conversion course to suit you, search postgraduate courses.
How do I apply?
There’s no single body that covers all postgraduate admissions - for most postgraduate courses, you apply directly to the university. Each will have its own process and deadlines; however, the rule of applying as early as possible still applies, as institutions may fill their places early. For more information, see applying for a Masters degree.
Be aware, however, that teacher training conversion courses and GDLs have their own application processes.
The ultimate guide to postgraduate study
The essential guide to funding, choosing and applying for your ideal postgraduate programme.