It's never too late for a career change. By taking a postgraduate conversion course you'll be able to transfer your skills to a new field

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're usually vocational and last 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 undergraduates. 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 time frame.

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 Psychology (GDP) - The GDP gives students without a degree accredited by the British Psychology Society (BPS) access to professional psychology courses.
  • 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. The GDL is the fast-track route onto these courses for students without an accredited undergraduate degree in law.
  • 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 to learn while you work. Students from all disciplines can take the PGCE and it often leads to employment. Find out more about applying for teacher training.
  • 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. Search medicine conversion courses.
  • Nursing conversion courses - Approved by the Nursing and Midwifery Council, accelerated programmes allow you to complete training in two years (full time) instead of three or four. You can train in adult, children's, learning disability or mental health nursing. Universities set their own entry requirements, so contact departments directly to find out how to apply. Search nursing conversion courses.
  • IT conversion courses - Many graduates choose to undertake conversion 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. Search information technology conversion courses.
  • Engineering conversion courses - Courses are available in a range of specialisms, from civil and structural to biomedical and energy engineering. Most include an industrial placement in their structure. While many courses list a degree of at least a 2:1 in either a science or maths-related subject as a requirement, some are designed for graduates of non-related subjects. Engineering conversion courses play a part in bringing a range of perspectives to the field, while tackling the sector's urgent skills shortages. Search engineering conversion courses.
  • Social work conversion courses - Graduates hoping to convert to a career in social work can complete the Masters in Social Work. Typically taking two years to complete, the Masters involves assessment through group projects, essay assignments and a compulsory dissertation. If you don't want to submit a dissertation, your course provider may still be able to grant you a postgraduate diploma (PGDip). As part of your application, you'll need to demonstrate a passion and commitment to social work through plenty of prior work experience - either from paid or voluntary positions. Search social work conversion courses, or find out what else you'll need to become a social worker.
  • Property conversion courses -To start your career in real estate you'll need a postgraduate qualification accredited by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). This will equip you with all-round knowledge of the property sector, typically delivered from a business perspective. Search property conversion courses.

Conversion courses are also available in accountancy, business, economics, human resources (HR), marketing and physiotherapy. To find a conversion course to suit you, search conversion 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 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 the key difference to studying the same subject at undergraduate level, and you'll still be expected to do plenty of private study outside of your contact time.

By studying part-time, you'll be able to gain more work experience before you graduate, and study during the evenings and weekends.

There are benefits to whichever study method you opt for, and the choice on offer means you can find a method that suits your needs.

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 sufficient work experience in the corresponding field to strengthen your application. Contact the institution if you don't quite meet the entry criteria to see whether they'll accept you.

If you're an international student, you should check individual requirements with your chosen university. UK NARIC may help you to better understand the equivalency of your qualifications.

Browse job profiles to learn more about the entry requirements for your chosen career.

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 to £12,000 and £9,250 respectively. International students should expect to pay considerably 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, 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. You may even consider crowdfunding to cover some of the costs. 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 first degree. Completing one will widen your range of skills, increase your confidence of landing work in a specific field and you'll achieve professional accreditation, all of which will improve your job prospects.

Changing career can increase your earning potential and allow you to 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 a conversion course, ask yourself:

  • Is the qualification necessary for my profession?
  • Is the qualification valued by employers?
  • How many graduates get jobs after doing the course?
  • Will it lead to a PhD or further study?

If you're an international student, you'll also need to factor in additional costs and requirements, such as securing accommodation and a visa to study in the UK.

To help you make the decision, see what can I do with my degree? to discover where having a conversion course could lead.

How do I find a course?

Before you choose a course, find out which programmes potential employers prefer, or if they state a preference at all. 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
  • timetable
  • whether the course is taught by industry professionals.

To find a conversion course to suit you, search conversion courses.

How do I apply?

There's no single body that covers all postgraduate admissions - you'll apply directly to the institution for some courses, while for others, such as nursing, you'll be required to use UCAS. Each university has its own process and deadlines, but the rule of applying as early as possible still stands as institutions may fill their places early. Find out more about applying for a Masters degree.

Be aware that teacher training conversion courses and GDLs have their own application processes and deadlines.