A postgraduate degree is an academic qualification that is undertaken after an undergraduate degree. Postgraduate degrees range from certificates and diplomas to Master's degrees, PhDs and specialist professional qualifications.

A postgraduate degree is an excellent way to specialise, retrain and develop new skills to enhance your career options. Postgraduate study gives you the opportunity to learn and gain a deep understanding of your chosen subject and can provide the first step to an academic career.

Master's degree

In the UK a Master's degree can take various forms and most require a thesis or dissertation to gain the full Master’s qualification. Generally, Master's degrees are one year in length although some professional Master's courses are longer. 

Taught Master's

You can study a taught Master’s course in which you follow a set curriculum. This can lead to the award of a Master of Arts (MA), Master of Science (MSc), Master of Music (MMus), Master of Business Administration (MBA) or Master of Surgery (MCh) depending on the subject area. 

Master's by Research

You can also take a Master's by Research degree that is awarded entirely through independent study. In this case you follow your own research interests, guided by a supervisory team. You can register for either an MA or MSc by Research depending on the academic subject area. 

Professional Master's 

Some Master's courses are linked to specific professional careers and are an essential part of the qualification route. For example, a Master of Engineering (MEng) is taken after you complete an undergraduate engineering course providing advanced skills and knowledge and is usually a pre-requisite to becoming a chartered engineer.

Other careers, such as in health care or medicine, allow you to focus or specialise your skills in a particular aspect of that profession. For example, if you want to be a surgeon you might pursue this aim by taking an MCh in Surgery.

There are also Master's courses that allow graduates with a first degree to change career path by retraining in another subject. In these cases, transferable skills from a previous undergraduate degree or from your life experience will be taken into account.

Postgraduate Certificate/Diploma

In the UK some professions have a Postgraduate Certificate/Diploma that enables graduates to qualify for a career even if you didn’t study a relevant undergraduate degree. An example is the Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE), teacher training course, although it is slightly different to a standard Postgraduate Certificate as it includes work-based placements.


A PhD is a major step and involves undertaking significant in-depth research.

PhD students have often already undertaken a Master's course in a relevant subject. A PhD may be a choice if you wish to pursue an academic career in lecturing or research or would simply like to expand your research interests, experience and skills.