As we approach the end of the academic year, for many of us graduation is becoming a real fear instead of a distant point somewhere over the horizon. It’s hard to know what options are out there, especially for those of us considering staying on at uni. Postgraduate Education is the catch-all term for educational qualifications offered by universities after attaining a Bachelor’s degree. A postgraduate degree or diploma offers students a progressive level of education in their chosen area of study, and usually requires obtaining a Bachelor’s degree first. Some people progress straight into postgrad after their undergraduate degree and others pursue higher qualifications after they’re already established in their careers.
Postgraduate courses are for people who want to continue their studies in higher education after they’ve graduated with a bachelor’s degree or equivalent qualification. They are normally studied as postgraduate certificates and diplomas or Master’s degrees. A postgraduate course takes 1 year full-time and 2 years part-time. Postgraduate courses are designed to advance the knowledge attained at an undergraduate level. The benefits of earning a postgraduate qualification are gaining specialised knowledge, building on your current abilities and developing new skills, all of which give you the edge in the workforce.
When choosing a postgraduate course, make sure you know what you want to do. It is important to choose a course which suits your learning style. Ask yourself what kind of course you want and what you expect to achieve at the end of it. Many Masters and diploma courses are linked to specific careers. Be sure to get as much information as possible. Course descriptions are useful, but your research should go beyond this. You can always return to uni to do one of these courses if it isn’t the best option for you right now, so there’s no need to rush into this commitment.
Type of Postgraduate Courses
The main types of postgraduate degrees are Masters degrees, diplomas, certificates, and doctorates, which come in the form of PhDs, integrated PhDs and professional doctorates. Some of these are taught courses, and some are primarily independent study and research. A taught course is run by a tutor and includes Masters degrees and postgraduate diplomas or certificates. Taught courses consist of seminars, lectures, practical assignments with work assessed through exams, essays and projects. PhDs and their variants usually involve producing a thesis based on your own independent research, with the guidance of a senior professor.
Masters Degree 1
A Masters degree is an academic degree that takes place during postgraduate study. It is a level 7 qualification – above Bachelors degree but below PhDs. A taught Masters usually takes place over 1 or 2 years and involves the completion of a dissertation or project. Research Masters Degrees, on the other hand, are much more independent as they are more intense and required advanced independent study. Some examples of Master’s degrees are Masters of Arts (MA), a Master of Business Administration (MBA), a Master of Engineering (MEng) or A Master of Science (MSc). A Master’s degree costs up to £7,392 but can usually be funded by student loans.
Postgraduate Diploma and Certificate
A diploma is a qualification issued by an educational institution, such as a college or university, that shows the recipient has successfully completed a course of study. A diploma program can provide valuable specialised skills, knowledge and experiences and is generally less commitment than a degree. A postgraduate certificate can give you the eligibility to practice a particular profession and/or provides advanced skills in a specialisation. It is earned after taking a series of courses in a particular subject. 1 to 2 years of full-time study is generally required to complete a postgraduate diploma and certificate. The average cost of a postgraduate diploma and certificate is around £5,000.
Doctorate – A doctorate is the highest level of academic degree. You can earn a doctorate in any subject area. Doctorates take up to 4 years to complete, but some can take longer. There are 3 types of doctorates:
PhD – A PhD is a postgraduate doctoral degree awarded to students who complete a thesis. It is the highest level of degree you can achieve. PhD students independently conduct significant and original research in a specific subject, before producing a publication-worthy thesis of 60,000-90,000 words in length. PhD qualifications are available in all subjects. The cost of a PhD falls between £3,000 and £6,000 per year for UK students.
Integrated PhD – Also known as the ‘New Route PhD’, this 4-year qualification, involves studying a one-year research Masters degree before progressing onto a 3-year PhD. Integrated PhDs are supported by the Government and British Council. This qualification involves a combination of taught materials, practical experience and advanced research. This allows you to learn subject-specific methodologies while building the transferable skills that will enable you to become a leader in your chosen profession.
Professional Doctorate – This type of doctorate includes a significant taught module and a smaller research project. They are often taken on a part-time basis and can last anywhere between 2 and 8 years. Professional Doctorates focus on a specific professional context and are designed primarily for current professionals in vocational sectors such as healthcare, teaching and education, and engineering and manufacturing. They’re structured so that they can be completed alongside working an existing professional job, and very attractive for those wishing to upskill without making the financial commitment of leaving work.
Benefits of Postgraduate Education
Postgraduate education is not for everyone. However, by studying a postgraduate degree, you will develop skills that will support you through daily life, in addition to the specialised skills assessed during the course, such as time management, researching, presentation and management skills. If you’re considering postgraduate study, here are some benefits:
Enhance your prospects: A postgraduate qualification is an excellent way to enhance your prospects. It will help you stand out from the crowd and shows your commitment and dedication to your field. Research degrees demonstrate your ability to think independently and work towards a goal, while taught courses highlight your ability to learn new skills and ideas.
Advance your career: A postgraduate course can further your skills and knowledge in your chosen sector. Employers value experience and trust postgraduate qualified applicants with greater responsibilities. They will also give you niche skills that give you the edge in a competitive job market.
You can change your career: Postgraduate courses provide the opportunity to change your career. You might have studied law at undergraduate level, but want to swap the courtroom for the classroom on a permanent basis? Well, you can use postgraduate study to transition into the academic side of your industry or another field altogether. This will require some research, but this decision is more common than you might think.
Paying for it:
While postgraduate courses are not free, there are loans you can apply for. Bear in mind your postgraduate course won’t be all you have pay for: you’ll have to cover accommodation expenses such as rent, food, transport, entertainment and other living expenses. Therefore, you’ll need to think carefully about how you will manage your living expenses, in addition to the repayments you’ll be making in years to come. If you want to reduce the size of your loan, you could take on a course that makes it possible to work part-time to support yourself, or make a major reduction to your living costs by moving in with a partner, family
If you’re starting a full-time or part-time taught or research master’s course, you could get a Postgraduate Master’s Loan. A Postgraduate Master’s Loan can help with course fees and living costs while you study a postgraduate master’s course. Masters students can apply for a graduate loan of up to £10,000 from the Student Loans Company. Eligibility for a Postgraduate Masters Loan depends on your course, university and personal circumstances.
Repaying your Postgraduate Loan:
You’ll have to start repaying your Postgraduate Masters loan at the start of the tax year either four years after the start of your course or after you leave your course, whichever comes first. You’ll repay 6% of whatever you earn over the income threshold, which is £21,000 a year or £1,750 a month. This means that if you earned £30,000 a year, you would pay 6% of the £9000 earnt over the £21,000 repayment threshold, which would work out at £540 a year. This doesn’t sound like much, but you’ll also have to pay any undergraduate student loans you have at the same time and you will be charged 6.3% interest from the day you get your first payment until your loan is fully repaid or cancelled. This means you could find yourself still making repayments decades after you graduate, so make sure to weigh the benefits of postgraduate education against its costs.
If you are employed, repayments are taken from your salary before it hits your bank account, along with tax and National Insurance. If you’re self-employed, you’ll make payments at the same time you pay tax through self-assessment. If you already have a student loan, borrowing the Postgraduate Masters loan won’t affect the payment of any other student loans you already have for any undergraduate course. If you decide to leave your course early, you’ll still have to repay your loan, but the process of repayment might be different.