Postgraduate Study: What's Involved?

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This article will discuss the differences between undergraduate and postgraduate courses to help you decide whether further study is for you. It is designed as a complement piece to our recent article on e-learning postgraduate courses.

Time taken

Undergraduate: usually three years

Postgraduate: usually one year full time or two years part time.

What does this difference mean for the potential student? Obviously you don't have to commit as much time to a postgraduate course. If doing the course means you have to take time off work, or study alongside working,  then you only lose a few months rather than a few years. However, there are some other timing factors to be considered.

Because a postgraduate course is much shorter, you do not have the same luxury of time to settle in that you do in undergraduate degrees. A PG course demands that you immediately focus on your work, and start working at an intense level straightaway, whereas in a degree that lasts three years, there is some leeway for lecturers to offer introductory sessions at the start of the year or term.

Teacher supervision

Undergraduate: close guidance

Postgraduate: independent study

Although not all postgraduate degrees leave you completely alone without classroom time, the ethos of teaching is different at postgrad level. As the student you are supposed to drive your own learning, which means being more self-motivated and independent of your teacher.

Of course if you need guidance you will have lecturers and supervisors who are more than happy to help, but the intended learning experience is very different at postgraduate level. You are supposed to come up with your own ideas and theories rather than just learning about other people's findings. You will be encouraged to do research around the topic you are interested in, but will not always be given set tasks to complete within a time frame.

Personal Experience

Undergraduate: for many, it's party time!

Postgraduate: dedicated work, perhaps some feelings of isolation

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that undergraduates do no work and come to university to have three years' worth of socialising! Of course this is definitely not true and most undergrads do work really hard. But it would be fair to say that social activities and hobbies are a big focus in an undergraduate's life.

This is not so true for postgrads. They are less likely to live in university accommodation and more likely to live at home with families or pre-existing groups of friends. The fact that their degree is shorter and the work is more challenging (not to mention postgraduates being a few years older) means that hopefully their minds are more focussed on work.

In fact, sometimes postgrads can become a little isolated. Universities and students' unions provide fewer facilities for postgraduates to meet each other. And the very nature of the study means that PG students are often working alone. So, the risk of loneliness is high if you are living outside the university, especially so if you are doing a distance-learning course of the type discussed in the e-learning article. However, if you are dedicated to your course and take every opportunity that your university offers to engage with other students in the postgraduate community you should be able to combat these feelings of isolation.


Undergraduates: c. £9000 per annum for a UK student

Postgraduate: depends on the course and the university, averaging at approximately £6000 per year for a full time taught course. Fees for overseas students are often significantly higher.  Each UK University has their own fees structure, so it is always best to check individually.

The funding situation for postgraduate courses is different too. Many postgraduates get outside funding to cover fees and possibly expenses, either from an employer or from a public funding body or charity relevant to their field or from their university itself. Others choose to fund themselves and perhaps study part time in order to hold down a job to pay those fees.

This is something to consider when thinking about postgraduate work, especially if you have recently finished your undergraduate study and have debts already. However, in today's working climate, many people are deciding that the financial cost of another year's study is worth the pay-off you will get in enhanced employability.

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