If you're interested in further study but you don't have time for a full Masters and you're not keen on writing another dissertation a postgraduate diploma (PGDip) or certificate (PGCert) could be the perfect qualification for you

PGDips and PGCerts at a glance

  • PGDips and PGCerts are Masters-level qualifications equivalent to two thirds of a Masters and one third of a Masters respectively.
  • They can be studied full or part time.
  • Available in a range of subjects.
  • No dissertation required.
  • You'll need either a 2:1 or 2:2 in a relevant subject for entry onto a course.

What are postgraduate diplomas and certificates?

Postgraduate diplomas and postgraduate certificates are qualifications at the same level of study as Masters degrees, but they're shorter and you don't have to write a dissertation.

That means they're more advanced than undergraduate Bachelors degrees.

Available in most subjects, they're ideal if you think a postgraduate qualification will boost your career prospects, but you aren't interested in undertaking significant amounts of academic research.

The difference between them is that a PGDip takes longer and is worth more credits than a PGCert.

You can study full or part time, with a full-time PGDip usually taking two terms (30 weeks) to complete, compared with one term (15 weeks) for a PGCert.

These qualifications are popular with students carrying straight on from their undergraduate degree and professionals looking to improve their CV or change careers.

There are several variations of the abbreviations used by universities for postgraduate diplomas and certificates:

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

Bear in mind that PGDips and PGCerts are slightly different to conversion courses such as the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), 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?

As PGDips and PGCerts are at the same level as Masters degrees, the work involved is just as challenging, and depending on the subject can be a mix of academic and vocational study. However, they differ in some key ways - the most obvious being that they are shorter.

Masters degrees usually take one year to complete when studied full time and consist of modules worth 180 credits. By contrast:

  • PGDips take two terms with modules worth 120 credits.
  • PGCerts last just one term with modules worth 60 credits.

In effect this means they're equivalent to the value of two thirds of a Masters and one third of a Masters respectively.

Universities offer the same subjects at Masters, PGDip and PGCert level, meaning it's possible to switch courses. For example, if you enrol on a PGDip you can go on to complete a dissertation to convert it into a Masters degree.

Conversely, if you're studying for a full Masters degree but 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.

Which subjects are available?

You can study for a PGDip or PGCert in almost any subject that is offered as a Masters degree. This is because they consist, for the most part, of the same content, just without certain modules or the dissertation component. Postgraduate diplomas and postgraduate certificates are usually listed alongside Masters degrees on university websites.

Some common professional training courses that allow you entry to regulated professions are also classified as postgraduate diplomas and certificates - for example the Legal Practice Course (LPC) for aspiring solicitors, the PGDip in Social Work, and the Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching (PGCE) or Professional Graduate Diploma in Education (PGDE) for those seeking a career in the classroom.

Search postgraduate diplomas and certificates.

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. This flexibility means you can combine your studies with work experience, which can improve your employability. Some courses, such as the PGCE, include work placements as a core feature of the qualification.

Search for distance learning and online PGDips and PGCerts.

What are the entry requirements?

In most cases the entry requirements for PGDips and PGCerts are the same as for the equivalent Masters course. You'll require at least a 2:1 degree, or in some cases a 2:2, often in a relevant subject. 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 the English language.

How much does a postgraduate diploma or certificate cost?

As courses are shorter, PGDips and PGCerts are cheaper than Masters degrees. Fees vary depending on your subject and university and international students will pay more.

For example, UK and European Union (EU) students on the Criminology PGDip at the University of Manchester will pay £6,334 in 2020, while those on the social work postgraduate diploma at Middlesex University London can expect fees of £8,650.

PGCerts are cheaper still. The part-time Clinical Education postgraduate certificate at the University of Leeds costs £3,500 (UK and EU students), while the same course at the University of Plymouth costs £3,150.

Check university websites for up-to-date tuition fees.

It's important to bear in mind that, while PGDips and PGCerts are cheaper, funding options are often more limited. Many scholarships are available only to those enrolled on the full Masters course, and English postgraduate loans 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 funding postgraduate study.

What are the benefits of postgraduate study?

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
  • improve your career prospects and increase your earning potential.

However, it's important to remember that postgraduate study is not the best option for everyone. Employers in some sectors 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 PGDip or PGCert?

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

  • Course content - how many lectures and tutorials will there be? How many days a week do you need to attend?
  • Personal/professional commitments - will you be able to fit the course around previous family or work commitments?
  • Department ranking - which universities excel in your subject area in the various rankings that are available?
  • Employment prospects - is the qualification necessary for progression in your career? How many graduates have jobs, and what jobs are they?
  • 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 the course taught by industry professionals, and what will your relationship with tutors be like?

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

How do I apply for a course?

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 applying for Masters degrees (which is a similar process) and writing personal statements for postgraduate applications.

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

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

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

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