If studying a postgraduate course will help you to achieve your career goal but you don't want or need to take a full Masters degree, a PGDip or PGCert may fit the bill perfectly

What are postgraduate diplomas and certificates?

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

Available in most subject areas, 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.

You can study full or part time, with a full-time PGDip usually taking two terms (30 weeks) of study to complete, compared with one term (15 weeks) for a PGCert. These courses 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 typically offer the same subjects as Masters, PGDips and PGCerts, 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 find PGDips and PGCerts in most subjects that are offered as Masters degrees. This is because they consist, for the most part, of the same content, just without certain modules and the dissertation component. Postgraduate diplomas and certificates will usually be 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 postgraduate courses 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 for a PGDip or PGCert?

In most cases the entry requirements for PGDips and PGCerts are the same as for the equivalent Masters course. You'll typically require at least a 2:1 degree or better, or in some cases a 2:2, often in a relevant subject. Some professional training courses will 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 always 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. Search postgraduate diplomas and certificates to find out the entry requirements for specific courses.

How much does a PGDip or PGCert cost?

Although fees vary by subject and university, PGDips and PGCerts are typically cheaper than Masters degrees, as they're shorter courses and are therefore more affordable. For example, the average cost of a postgraduate diploma is around £5,000 for UK and European Union (EU) students. International students will pay more. Check university websites for up-to-date tuition fees.

It's important to bear in mind that, while they're cheaper than Masters degrees, funding options may be more limited if you study a PGDip or PGCert. Many scholarships are available only to those enrolled on the full course, and English postgraduate loans are not on offer for students on PGDips and PGCerts.

Nevertheless, some funding options may be 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 can be beneficial because they:

  • give you the opportunity to obtain a postgraduate qualification without the same 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
  • give you specialist knowledge, for example to progress to a 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 find a postgraduate course in the UK?

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?
  • 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 PGDip or PGCert?

Apply directly to your chosen university using their website. Deadlines are often set a few months before the course start date. However, apply as early as possible to avoid missing out, as places on popular courses are usually 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, will 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?

  • 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. You can browse upcoming events.
  • Tutors - they will be able to tell you about the course content and whether it will help you achieve your career goal.