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What is a Postgraduate Degree?

What is a Postgraduate Degree?

by Newcastle University

Focused, challenging and intensive, postgraduate study can be hugely rewarding , and help you achieve your academic and career goals. Read on to find out all you need to know about postgraduate study.

In this blog post, we will cover four types of postgraduate courses in detail - including the length of study, part time and full time options, and the entry requirements:

  • Masters Degrees

    • Taught

    • Research

  • Postgraduate diplomas and certificates

  • Conversion courses

  • PhD, Integrated PhD and Professional Doctorates


What is the difference between undergraduate study and postgraduate study?

As the name suggests, a postgraduate degree is the next step after you’ve gained an undergraduate (Bachelor’s) degree.

There are a number of postgraduate routes available, but they all have three things in common:

  • You’ll dive deeper into your chosen subject, specialising in a field that you’re passionate about, and develop advanced skills

  • Learning will be faster paced than undergraduate, with greater emphasis on independent study, in-depth reading, and analysis

  • With more people than ever before holding an undergraduate degree, in a competitive jobs market your postgraduate qualification can help set you apart


What is a Master's degree?

The most popular type of postgraduate degree is a Master’s degree and these typically come in two forms – taught and research:

Taught Master's degrees

If studied full time, taught Master's degrees usually last 12 months from start to finish, and normally include subject-specific taught modules and a dissertation or research project.

Research Master's degrees

Research Master's degrees can take one to two years to complete, and include a more extensive independent research project. Many research Masters’ degrees include some taught modules that introduce specific subjects or relevant professional and research skills.


All Masters’ degrees are equally valued, leading to qualifications such as Master of Science (Msc), Master of Arts (MA) or Master of Research (MRes).

To apply to Newcastle, you’ll typically need a 2:1 at Bachelor’s level or an equivalent qualification. Courses are normally full-time, with part-time and online options available in some subjects.

An example of one course that's different is the Master of Business Administration (MBA). Although it’s studied at the same level of education as other Masters’ courses, you’ll need at least three years of business and management experience gained after your undergraduate degree in order to apply.

MBAs are designed for working professionals to develop the skills they’ve gained through their professional experience.


What are postgraduate diplomas and certificates?

To achieve a Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip) or Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert), you’ll study at the same level as a Master’s degree.

The work is just as challenging as a Master's, but the programmes are shorter in length and you won’t have to complete a dissertation.


What are conversion courses?

If after completing your undergraduate degree you want to study a different subject area or change your career path, you might decide to complete a conversion course.

In most cases, you’ll need a 2:1 at Bachelor’s level to apply for a conversion course. During the course, you’ll complete a combination of lectures, exams, work placements and practical study.

Some conversion courses lead to specific professional careers such as the Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) if you want to become a teacher, and the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL) if you want to enter the legal profession.


What are PhD, Integrated PhD and Professional Doctorates?

PhD stands for Doctor of Philosophy and is the highest level of degree a student can achieve.

Most PhDs require a Master’s degree in a related subject and take three years of full-time study to complete. You can also study towards a PhD part-time, balancing your PhD around your career or family commitments. PhD qualifications are available in most subjects.

As a PhD student, you’ll undertake independent, original research that makes a significant, new contribution to your field. You’ll develop your project with help from an academic supervisor or team of supervisors, and will complete a supervised thesis of around 80,000–100,000 words. Your completed thesis should be suitable for publication.


Different types of PhD funding

Some PhDs, particularly in the sciences, are advertised as studentships. These funded positions are highly competitive and more specific in what you will study, with the topic and supervisor already in place.

An Integrated PhD lasts three to four years and is studied full-time, though some PhDs can be completed part-time over a longer period. An integrated PhD combines advanced taught elements with original research, and at the end of your research project you’ll write a thesis.

Integrated PhDs are only offered by a select consortium of leading research-based universities in the UK, which includes Newcastle.

Professional Doctorates integrate professional and academic knowledge, combining original research with taught modules and work placements. Your research will be shaped by your professional work and will usually relate to a real-world problem within your field.

A number of Professional Doctorates are accredited by professional bodies and can lead to a professional qualification.


Postgraduate study is a real opportunity to gain a rare, in-depth understanding of your specialism. Though it requires a lot of hard work and determination, postgraduate study is more than worth the time, focus and funding it requires.
If you're Interested in finding out more about postgraduate study, explore your options and find inspiration by reading our list of postgraduate courses
If you're a current Newcastle University student, don't forget to explore your postgraduate options by getting in touch with our Careers Service


Discover Postgraduate Study at Newcastle