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Undergraduate and Postgraduate: What is the Difference?

Undergraduate and Postgraduate: What is the Difference?

by Anna Brown

If you're interested in studying a postgraduate degree but keen to know how it may differ from your undergraduate studies, look no further. In this blog post we've compared both undergraduate and postgraduate degrees and explored the key differences. 

In this blog post...

What is an undergraduate degree? 

An undergraduate student is someone who is studying their first degree and has yet to graduate. Undergraduate degrees, or Bachelors degrees, involve the in-depth study of one or more subjects; they're the next step in higher education after A Levels and typically last for three years. 

The two most common Bachelors degree are Bachelor of Arts (BA) and Bachelor of Science (BSc), but you can also study for a Bachelor of Education (BEd), Bachelor of Engineering (BEng) and Bachelor of Laws (LLB).

For more information on the types of undergraduate degrees, read our blog on the difference between a BA and a BSc. Alternatively, if you're interested in becoming an undergraduate, browse our range of undergraduate degrees


What is a postgraduate degree? 

A Postgraduate degree is a higher degree studied after an undergraduate degree has been completed. Postgraduate study covers a wider range of qualifications,

What is a Master's degree?

The most common form of postgraduate study is a Master's degree. Master's applicants usually need to have completed an undergraduate degree or, on some occasions, have relevant industry experience. 

Master's degrees can either be taught or research based. During your degree you'll specialise in a field you’re passionate about and develop advanced skills.

The majority of Master's degrees involve coursework and other assignments, as well as a thesis or dissertation in order to graduate. The types of Master's are:

  • MSc (Master of Science)
  • MA (Master of Arts)
  • MEd (Master of Education)
  • LLM (Master of Law)
  • MBA (Master of Business Administration)
  • MRes (Master of Research)

You can discover the full range of Master's degrees offered by Newcastle University here.

What is a PhD?

A PhD is a the highest level of degree a student can achieve. You'll carry out original research that should make a significant contribution to the knowledge of a specific subject, becoming an expert in your chosen field.

While there may be some elements of a PhD that are taught, most PhDs are assessed on the quality and originality of your argument in your independent research project. If you're interested in studying a PhD, why not find out more on our Doctoral Awards page?

What is a Postgraduate Diploma?

In the UK, there are some professions that require a Postgraduate Diploma. The most common example of this is a PGCE in Education, which students study to qualify as a teacher. 

These are taught courses that don't involve writing a dissertation or a thesis. Postgraduate Diplomas can be a great option for those who don't know if they want or need to do a full Master's course.


What are the key differences between undergraduate and postgraduate study? 

Freedom and independent study

In many ways the change from undergraduate to postgraduate study isn't as much of a step as the move from sixth form or college to university.

During an undergraduate degree you'll broaden your knowledge of your subject, learning through lectures and seminars, as well as practical sessions and group work. You'll develop your research skills and fieldwork, as well as your self-study skills.

As a postgraduate student you'll be encouraged to research new areas of your chosen field. and your degree will involve a lot more independent study, Your learning will be faster paced than at undergraduate level, with greater emphasis on independent study, in-depth reading, and analysis.

This level of academic freedom can feel quite different to postgraduate students, but you will develop a strong support network with other postgraduate students, and your dissertation supervisor.

Seminar sizes and sense of community

As an undergraduate student, you'll be mixing with students from many different backgrounds, but the majority will be young adults who have recently studied at college or school, or have taken a gap year. 

Postgraduate students can be people of all ages and experience levels, and their paths to postgraduate study can differ widely - from recent graduates to mature students returning to university, possibly after many years out of education.  

In most postgraduate degrees the seminar sizes are much smaller, and students may find their peers get more actively involved in debate and discussion.

The smaller group sizes can help develop a greater sense of community, while engaging with new and different perspective makes for a stimulating learning environment.  Being part of a postgraduate community means you'll associate with people who share your academic passions and interests, and can offer supportive, constructive feedback on your work.

Networking and relationships with lecturers

Due to the number of students in undergraduate lectures and seminars, as well as the broader range of modules that make up an undergraduate degree, it's rare that you'll work with academics in great depth, over a long period of time. 

During postgraduate study, students engage with academics and their research regularly and on a much deeper level. They'll also be involved in more extra-curricular academic activities, such as conferences. These events are a great way to network with people within your field, and hone your professional skills.


What support is available to postgraduate students?

Postgraduate students can access similar financial and wellbeing support as their undergraduate counterparts.

Here at Newcastle University, we invest millions of pounds in providing our students with a strong support network. We can provide support that is specific to your needs, including help with disabilities such as dyslexia, and we even have a mature student orientation programme for those who have chosen postgraduate study later in life. 

If you need help financing your postgraduate degree, we offer funding opportunities throughout the year. For more specific help and advice on this, refer to our Postgraduate Funding & Finance page. We also have an award-winning Careers Service to help you achieve your career goals and fulfil your true potential.

We hope you have found our blog post useful. From funding your Master's to managing the transition from undergraduate to postgraduate, you will find answers to all your burning questions in our postgraduate blogs.